11.4.11

THE TRAGIC VISION.  Stephen Balch wonders whether liberty and prosperity are unsustainable for lack of appreciation of what makes it possible.
The vale of tears once taught us that it was wise to underscore the relationship between talent and reward so as to promote maximum effort. In our virtual heaven-on-earth we yearn to deem everyone a winner so as to ice prosperity with a rich coat of self-esteem. This psychological redistribution is a nice luxury, but in less favored lands there are calloused, more driven folk who have escaped its temptation.
Peter Wood, who has made the step from Cold Spring Shops's favorite academic administrator to president of the National Association of Scholars, finds much not to like in a call to religious revival in support of the ancien regime in higher education.
Of course, we can have a very good system of higher education in the United States without “substantially more public investments over current levels.”  Those current levels, driven by the delusion of mass higher education, have had the paradoxical effect of driving down academic standards and luring millions of students into unnecessary debt.  I don’t expect the federal government to extract itself from this mess anytime soon, but I do think it unlikely that Congress will substantially increase the public funds it currently squanders on higher education.
There might be a higher education bubble, and a call for additional resources in access-assessment-remediation-retention is as if a call to jump off a bridge.  And yet it is incumbent on observers of higher education's failures to draw the correct conclusions.
But [Pay Pal founder Peter] Thiel’s issues with education run even deeper. He thinks it’s fundamentally wrong for a society to pin people’s best hope for a better life on  something that is by definition exclusionary. “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.”
There's a reason I quip about the thirty claimants to the top ten spots in the economics league tables, and it's not just because Wisconsin is the Mother of CEOs.  We're all in the same business as Harvard, and I cannot rest until I hear a chancellor at a state flagship or a mid-major acknowledging that, and committing unapologetically to a course of upgrading his institution's academic profile.  You help the people that didn't go to Harvard (or to Yale, to remember the punchline of a song) by offering the same academic material at ZooMass or ZooConn or Northern Illinois or Anonymous Community.  (Heck, Penn State was motivated to become more like Indiana than like ZooConn upon affiliating with the Big Ten, and perhaps Nebraska's academic administration will do the same thing.  Those not skinning can hold a leg.)

1 comment:

David Foster said...

"You help the people that didn't go to Harvard (or to Yale, to remember the punchline of a song) by offering the same academic material"

You also have to *market* the excellence of your institution once you achieve it...People doing hiring are generally clueless about the academic quality of the education which was *really* received by students at University X, which is one reason they so often tend to go for the brand names. Maybe there needs to be a "Hiring Manager's Consumer Report" on the true quality of various colleges and programs within them.

From a university president's viewpoint, it probably would take 5 years to materially affect the quality of education at his place, and another 5-10 years to get the improved quality recognized...pretty daunting for most humans.