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School May Soon Be Out

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But perhaps it is enough to say that the reason we feel more “hated” than ever is that we deserve it. Instead of collaborating, we competed with each other. We focused on our research instead of on the needs of undergraduates. We even exploited our graduate students, using their labor to underwrite our privileges, and then we relegated most of them to marginal positions as adjuncts.

Dr. William Pannapacker (HT:Chronicle.com)

I confess to a mortal sin against the secular religion that dominates America’s modern intelligentsia. I, at times, am an anti-intellectual. I read a lot. I’ve recently re-read some of my Camus and dabbled, a wee bit, at Sinclair Lewis. The problem is that it wasn’t out of love. I did this for the same reason I run four miles, four days a week, even when I feel like regurgitation. I think I have to, or my mind will grow enfeebled.

That being confessed upfront, I’m not an anti-intellectual who hates intellectuals. I tend to vehemently disagree with the modish and fashionable ones who wear their leftism in a manner reminiscent of the latest sartorial concoction for Lady Gaga. This normally makes me sad, not angry. I think of it as a profound opportunity being fumbled away to the detriment of the United States of America.

The failures of academia have been both professional and moral. The professoriate came to care more about personal advancement, security and comfort than they did about the sanctity of the knowledge generation process. They became intoxicated with the collectivist temptation that they could truly be Platonic Philosopher Kings. America has to fix this problem soon, or our colleges and universities will soon accomplish nothing to make our nation a better, more intelligent place to live.

Now, having failed morally, the predictable result of this malfeasance is the impending collapse of their economic business model. In 1985, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote the following:

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, …..Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.

-Cardinal Ratzinger (HT: Acton.org)

In what manner has the economic model of the modern university collapsed? Dr. Pannapacker expounds on this below.

The price of a college degree has risen faster than the cost of health care….The cost increase is driven not by faculty salaries, primarily, but by the rapid growth of administration, massive athletics programs, and the amenities arms race—not who has the most full-time faculty members so much as who has the most successful football team and the fanciest dorm rooms. Some institutions have astronomical endowments and tax-exempt status, asking a mostly excluded population to support what looks like country-club indulgences for elites.

(The Chronicle – Ob. Cit.)

So how has this corrupted the engine of future knowledge generation in America? Dr. Pannapacker is a true credit to the academic profession with this article. He answers that inquiry as well.

For a long time, college has been marketed as a requirement for entry into middle-class occupations. A lot of students—surely the majority—now attend college for reasons that have little to do with education for its own sake.

Rather than just gripe about these problems, let’s put forth an intelligent solution. As an OR Analyst, I don’t get paid to gripe. (I use my blogging hobby to fulfill that function.) Dr. Gary North took to the pages of LewRockwell.com to propose a solution – Walmart University

Wal-Mart should start a college. As with virtually all colleges, it would be called a university. Why? Because of higher perceived value by the consumers. Why should Wal-Mart bother? Here is a good reason. The total expenditure in the United States on higher education is in the range of a third of a trillion dollars a year… You would be hard-pressed to find any industry with this level of income that is less efficient than higher education.

– Gary North (HT:Lewrockwell.com)

What North goes on to describe already has begun. My recent MSOR (UAH, Class of 2010 – Charge On!) came from an online program sponsored by the UAH college of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Engineering Management. I still had to defend my thesis live and sit on campus for tests, but the entire rest of the program was doable on my schedule, while I worked. (Check with your spouse first before signing up! How you spend your time effects your family life as well.)

This will migrate out of the realm of engineering schools and cross all academic disciplines. When it does, and when someone integrates the approach Dr. North suggests to knocking down textbook and instructional costs, there will be fewer and fewer brick and mortar universities. They won’t go away entirely, the gambling and media industries make too much money off of the BCS and March Madness.

However, the basic training of the clerical middle class does not need to cost over $25,000. The typical stockbroker, accountant, business manager or police officer should require no more than two intense years of academic training to be competent. It has become hard, if not impossible, for anyone to land a job in any of these fields until they’ve attended college for four. Would Harry Callahan really be better at getting the bad guys if he could also quote Latin Poetry?

Two things have to happen to make higher education a truly successful and useful part of American society again. The university has to bifurcate. The students who want to be trained should be trained via a different mechanism than the one used to produce the next generation of philosophers and intellectuals. Wal-Mart University could cheaply and efficiently crank out capable middle class professionals with a two year, not a four year, turn-around time.

People start sooner and owe a lot less when they land the first job. Education thus can again produce more wealth than indebted poverty. It can again be a place of opportunity rather than a ticket to the debt-driven existence of Sisyphus.

Professors at Stanford and Harvard could get back to actually knowing and interacting with undergraduate students again. The great universities can become more like families again. Alma mater may even be someone you recognize at the next family reunion.

Wal-Mart University may well be the death-knell to over-priced and under-performing universities which interrupt the drinking binges with an occasional term paper assignment. For the best and most renowned elements of America’s University system, this is a chance to refocus and renew.

Dr. Pannapacker, and many who sit in his lectures against their wills, would both be happier and much more professionally successful in a different academic milieu. I don’t hate this college professor. Instead, I wish he was put in an environment where he could do his best work. That could either be Duke, or Wal-Mart University. It can’t be the current dysfunctional hybrid of the two.