The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Entitlement (II)

Back in March, I wrote [in part]:
Here is an idea whose time is, I think, fast approaching: some State will discontinue funding for university courses outside Science and Engineering.
... 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.
It is time to revisit this idea. Via Stephen Green, we find a Washington Post editorial by Norman Augustine subtitled "Our Education System Isn't Ready for a World of Competition".
Today, high-technology firms have to be on the leading edge of scientific and technological progress to survive. Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett has said that 90 percent of the products his company delivers on the final day of each year did not exist on the first day of the same year. To succeed in that kind of marketplace, U.S. firms need employees who are flexible, knowledgeable, and scientifically and mathematically literate.
But the U.S. educational system is failing in precisely those areas that underpin our competitiveness: science, engineering and mathematics. In a recent international test involving mathematical understanding, U.S. students finished 27th among the participating nations. In China and Japan, 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively, of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering, compared with 32 percent in the United States.
Mr. Augustine's solution -- unsurprisingly, since he has been chosen by Congress to chair an investigative committee on the problem -- is more government promotion of science:

We recommended the recruitment of 10,000 new science and math teachers each year through the awarding of competitive scholarships. The skills of a quarter-million current teachers should be improved through enhanced training and education. We recommended establishing 25,000 competitive science, mathematics, engineering and technology undergraduate scholarships and 5,000 graduate fellowships.

To boost scientific and technological innovation, we recommended that the U.S. government increase research funding by 10 percent annually over the next several years, with primary attention devoted to the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and information sciences.

But this is not only expensive, but unnecessary. Rather than increase government funding for science and mathematics, we should first decrease our subsidy of economically unproductive pursuits. Mr. Augustine cannot or will not propose this, because his premises -- localized to science and mathematics, and focused on finding a need for more government intervention -- do not permit it.
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.
Neither professors nor their prospective students have any moral claim on us. There is no right, enumerated or otherwise, for anyone to be paid by society for tasks from which that society does not benefit. Let's start doing the things we all agree are necessary; and the first of these is to reward only those who are helping to move us forward.