March 18, 2010


Anthony T. Grafton has an essay, 'Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities,' in the New York Review of Books, April 8, 2010, at 32. It underscores some of the reason universities are under attack as places of scholarship and learning. "At King's College London, the head of arts and humanities has already informed world-famous professors--one . . . in paleography, the study of ancient scripts, and two in philosophy--that their positions will be discontinued at the end of the academic year. . . . "The cuts are not intended to stop with the first victims. All other members of the arts and humanities faculty at King's are being forced to reapply for their jobs. When the evaluation is finished, around twenty-two of them will have been voted off the island. Even the official statement makes clear that these faculty members will be let go not because they have ceased to do basic research or to teach effectively, but because their fields are fashionable and don't spin money. . . ." "Accept the short term as your standard-support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now and--and you lose your future. . . . Slow scholarship--like Slow Food--is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their own way. The British used to know that, but now they've streaked by us [Americans and American universities] on the way to the other extreme." None of this will be new for those who have been paying attention the last two decades. The ability to entertain has replaced the ability to actually teach substance. Glibness has replaced intellectual depth. The comfortable quarter-truth preferred over the unpleasant truth. The money-culture has replaced . . . CULTURE. Ideas dont' matter; only revenues and profits, balance sheets, and cost-benefit analysis matter. 'Keep the Customers Satisfied.' The barbarians are winning. Without the arts and without the humanities--or, to be more accurate, without the people in the arts and the people in the humanities--, the barbarians win. Win period.