Stanley Fish discusses a new book, “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the University,” at his NYT blog. It raises some interesting questions, that may or may not directly related to the economics department split at ND. The basic gist of the book is that given the transformation of higher education into an enterprise (see University of Phoenix), a liberal arts education filled with tenure-track scholars will soon become a thing of the past.
“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past. In “ two or three generations,” Donoghue predicts, “humanists . . . will become an insignificant percentage of the country’s university instructional workforce.”
How has this happened? According to Donoghue, it’s been happening for a long time, at least since 1891, when Andrew Carnegie congratulated the graduates of the Pierce College of Business for being “ fully occupied in obtaining a knowledge of shorthand and typewriting” rather than wasting time “upon dead languages.”…
The best evidence for this is the shrinking number of tenured and tenure-track faculty and the corresponding rise of adjuncts, part-timers more akin to itinerant workers than to embedded professionals.
Humanities professors like to think that this is a temporary imbalance and talk about ways of redressing it, but Donoghue insists that this development, planned by no one but now well under way, cannot be reversed. Universities under increasing financial pressure, he explains, do not “hire the most experienced teachers, but rather the cheapest teachers.” Tenured and tenure-track teachers now make up only 35 percent of the pedagogical workforce and “this number is steadily falling.”
The author of the book, Frank Donoghue, does not hold out much hope for the future:
And as a corollary “professors will come to be seen by everyone (not just those outside the academy) as unaffordable anomalies.”
I’ve been chewing on this for a while, trying to think about how it relates to the situation at ND. I think ND, and many of its aspirational peers, come closest to living up to the ideal that Donoghue says is dying. However, you could also argue that this is more of a trend that is creeping in slowly, and that even universities like ND are putting more of an emphasis on “marketable” skills, rather than a liberal arts education. From that perspective, the application to the economics department split becomes obvious. I’m not sure if it’s the correct one, though. There are a number of forces at work at this university, and others: ideology, an emphasis on research, and others. At very least, Donoghue’s argument that the liberal arts university holds little hope in the future makes me think that a return to the pre-split days is well out of reach.