The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Here is an idea whose time is, I think, fast approaching: some State will discontinue funding for university courses outside Science and Engineering.

The reasons are clear. The idea of State universities open to all qualified applicants, as a helping hand to increase their freedom and prosperity, originated in the 1950's and '60's -- and received a huge boost from the draft deferral given to all college students. At the time, a university education was presumed to mean an education in science or engineering; the liberal arts were a luxury for those who did not need to make a living.

This original purpose was suborned by the growth of humanities and social science departments, but this very growth kept the problem out of the public eye, since ever more professors were hired to teach the next generation of students.

A supply of qualified technical graduates can be expected to be beneficial to a State's economy, encouraging insourcing of high-quality jobs (and the multiplier jobs that will accompany them). Eventually, some State will ask what societal purpose is served by other sorts of education. But which State?

It cannot be one which is dedicated to the ideals espoused in the Academy (California, Washington); or an insecure state frightened of the criticism that would ensue (North Carolina, Mississippi). And it will most likely be a State with budget problems and growing debt. But when the case has once been made, it will shift the terms of debate. Instead of thinking of Ward Churchill's "right" to retain his fraudulently obtained tenured sinecure, we will begin thinking of his entire department's "right" to a constant flow of State-subsidized students through its degree mill. Spring Break will never be the same again.

Update [4 March]: Chicago Boyz has a cutting analogy on a similar topic.
Update [4 March]: An example of the wrong approach: Mike Rosen wants to fight fire with fire.