12.7.06

LIVING IN A COMPANY TOWN. The dean at Anonymous Community notes that in a number of industrial cities rendered obsolete by air conditioning (or rendered unattractive by the welfare state?) the largest employer in town is a university. He is, correctly in my view, skeptical about viewing the university as an engine of economic development.
I foresee some public favor for research universities and community colleges, but rough sailing ahead for the nondescript four-year colleges. CC’s are cheaper than everyone else, and open to everybody. Research universities can sell the prospect of generating the next Dell. The local nothing-special former teacher’s college can, um, uh…
Up to a point. (That's from the perspective of a long-time faculty member at a converted teachers college with a few things going for it that is the largest employer in its home town, but its home town is now the westernmost suburb of Chicago.) There are two problems with selling your university as a local research incubator. The first is that Everybody Is Doing It. There may still be a few signs along the Reagan Tollway referring to the "Illinois Research and Technology Corridor," otherwise known as "Silicon Prairie," but those signs and access to Lake Michigan water and the rail grid get the region started ... what does Binghamton or Rochester or Elmira or Worcester have that compares? The second is that Not Everybody Knows How To Do It. That's one point in University Inc. (reviewed here) that I have no fundamental disagreement with. Research-lab chasing crowds out other desirable features of a university. So does building corporate-welfare stadiums and Coastie-welfare climbing walls.

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