Decline & Fall

Someone asked me about the faculty situation in the University the other day, and I gave my conspiracy theory response, which is as follows.

The big problem with universities is that none of them are hiring new faculty. The market for new PhD’s is terrible; the Chronicle of Higher Education consistently has horror stories where very well-credentialed, intelligent people have put 20-40 job applications to schools across the country and can barely get hired at a community college, if they get hired at all.

I surmise that the failure of academic jobs to exist has nothing to do with a lack of funds on the part of the universities, but rather a congruence of interests. There are two major actors involved in creating positions that need to be filled: the administration of a school, and the current faculty there.

The administration of any given school usually has business types in it, people who “know” from business that the way a cost-effective unit is run is that production is maximized and labor hours are kept to a minimum. You would think faculty are up in arms about this, but the same logic which leads one to want more power – and faculty, as we all know, are tyrannical by nature – also leads one to be paranoid about their standing. The safest position a faculty member can be in is that of being necessary to the existence of the University. The fewer in a department, the more indispensible – and there will be, of course, more opportunities for serving on committees, etc. – those faculty members will be. Also, to create a top notch academic department in a given field means a faculty member has to put aside his own ego, and admit someone is better, and try to pay that someone more than he is being paid. So why not eliminate the problem of having bright, thoughtful colleagues from the start, and just have fewer colleagues to begin with?

This congruence of interest is why I think the University, as an institution, is finished. We are expert at churning out mediocre academics that can barely even manage to be trendy nowadays; the most boring blogs I’ve read have been created by academics (my blog is boring, too, so I guess I’m not exempt from this). As always, the question of what needs to happen now, or whether I drew this picture correctly, is for you to consider.

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