This is what may await mathematics if our funding drops to the level of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Since it’s much more fun to read anything by Terry Eagleton than whatever might come to my mind today, I have excerpted a few of the more memorable passages from his article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education. The full article is available online. Any similarities between Eagleton’s remarks and anything else you may have read on this blog are purely serendipitous.
Across the globe, [the] critical distance [between universities and society at large] is now being diminished almost to nothing, as the institutions that produced Erasmus and John Milton, Einstein and Monty Python, capitulate to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.
Education should indeed be responsive to the needs of society. But this is not the same as regarding yourself as a service station for neocapitalism. In fact, you would tackle society’s needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning.
According to the British state, all publicly funded academic research must now regard itself as part of the so-called knowledge economy, with a measurable impact on society.
At least one British university has restricted the number of bookshelves professors may have in their offices in order to discourage “personal libraries.”
Philistine administrators plaster the campus with mindless logos and issue their edicts in barbarous, semiliterate prose.
Academic merit is equated with how much money you can raise, while an educated student is redefined as an employable one.
In general, the idea is that universities must justify their existence by acting as ancillaries to entrepreneurship. As one government report chillingly put it, they should operate as “consultancy organisations.” In fact, they themselves have become profitable industries, running hotels, concerts, sporting events, catering facilities, and so on.
Educating the young, like protecting them from serial killers, should be regarded as a social responsibility, not as a matter of profit.
A British government that was serious about lifting the crippling debt from the shoulders of the younger generation could do so by raising taxes on the obscenely rich and recovering the billions lost each year in evasion.