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Friday, March 02, 2018

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As a freshly minted Ph.D. currently employed as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at an institution I prefer not to name in public, I'm afraid that I must agree with Bill's assessment of academia. Like Bill's correspondent, I love learning, reading, and writing. But unless you are fortunate enough to land a prestigious position at a top-tier research university, you will do precious little learning, reading, or writing as a professor. More likely, you will find yourself at the mercy of a culture that values publishing for its own sake (as opposed to publishing when you have something worth saying) and treats students as customers who must be accommodated at any cost.

Why am I still an academic then? Very likely I won't be after this academic year comes to a close.

Thanks for commenting, John.

>> More likely, you will find yourself at the mercy of a culture that values publishing for its own sake (as opposed to publishing when you have something worth saying) and treats students as customers who must be accommodated at any cost.<<

Exactly right. The triumph of the business model. Make as much money as possible from the customers by giving them whatever they want. An unholy trifecta: the government insures huge loans without oversight as to the courses of study; greedy administrators increase tuition and fees knowing that the loans are available; foolish students waste thousands and thousands on economically useless and intellectually vacuous majors.

John, your leaving academe is probably a wise move for your ultimate well-being, but it is also too bad for the universities that the best leave.

The business model of the university goes hand-in-hand with the general attitude that an education is only instrumentally valuable. A current student of mine who is majoring in graphic design, but is taking a general education course with me called 'Philosophical Thinking', came to my office hours to ask why the university was requiring her to take such a course. Given that we were then reading several early Platonic dialogues, I took her question to be tantamount to "Why should I read Plato?" It is difficult to know what to say to someone for whom that is even a question. The gulf between her worldview and mine was probably too wide to bridge. There are, of course, the standard talking points that administrators peddle in response to such questions, about how the critical thinking skills one learns in a general education course like this will translate into higher earnings across a lifetime, but these points entirely miss the point of studying Plato.

The business model also encourages students to challenge the curriculum in a way that I never would have dreamed of just fifteen years ago when I was about to begin my undergraduate education. I read what my professors assigned because I assumed they had a good reason for assigning it. After all, they were the ones with the doctorates, not me. They knew better than I did, and I was there to get an education from them. Now, students expect professors to justify their syllabi to them. While I can see some sense to this in extreme cases, questioning the value of studying Plato just strikes me as entirely ridiculous. If that's what students are like these days, they are not worth teaching.

I'm beginning to rant, so I'll leave it there. Great thanks for your kind words, Bill, but I doubt I'll be greatly missed in the halls of the ivory tower. Given how the job market has gone these past two years, my exit from academia will almost certainly be mutual.

John,

It is amazing how closely we agree. I could endorse every word of yours above.

>>It is difficult to know what to say to someone for whom that is even a question.<< I had similar experiences. And of course the stock responses that admins and even the APA peddle are worthless.

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/10/should-one-stoop-to-a-defense-of-philosophy-or-the-humanities.html

In your second paragraph you allude to the fact that the business model leads to the abdication of authority on the part of admins and faculty. The lunatics are now running the asylum. The Catholic universitites are now in total abdication.

I think back to my reading of John Henry Newman's *The Idea of a University* and reflect on how utterly irrelevant that book now is to what is going on at the universities, with only a handful of exceptions.

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