Den fremragende John Tierneys klumme i New York Times i denne uge handler om universiteter–og særligt de amerikanske Ivy League-skoler. Årsagen er, at Harvard Universitys rektor, fhv. finansminister Larry Summers (som uden US Supreme Courts Bush v. Gore afgørelse i januar 2001 let kunne være blevet fungerende præsident …), i sidste uge tog sin afsked, foranlediget af et kommende mistillidsvotum fra universitetets fastansatte forskere. Årsagen er–udover at han blev et offer for amerikansk akademisk politisk korrekthed, når den er værst–at Summers forsøgte at tvinge forskerne til at interessere lidt mere for, hvad der egentlig er nyttigt for de studerende. Men Tierneys pointer er generelle, og her kommer nogle af dem:
“[As] Adam Smith observed two centuries ago, the university tends to be organized “not for the benefit of the students” but “for the ease of the masters.” And nowhere is this more true than at an elite college like Harvard.
In most industries, a company would cater to customers paying $41,000 per year, but Harvard has been able to take its undergraduates for granted. … Harvard has long known that the best students will keep coming, not for its classes but simply for its reputation. Smart students want to go where the other smart students go.
Suppose people picked hotels based on how intelligent they expected the other guests to be. Once a hotel got the reputation as a brain magnet, smart people would automatically go there, and hotel employees could afford to get complacent. They’d be more interested in their own welfare than their guests’ especially if their jobs came with lifetime tenure.
At a university, the senior employees not only have tenure but are also used to controlling their own fiefs: departments vote on who’s hired and decide who teaches what. Unless a university president is willing to be less than collegial and is backed by a board with more gumption than Harvard’s there’s not much that can be accomplished.
Senior professors can shunt off the more tedious jobs, like teaching freshmen or grading papers, to low-caste graduate students or visiting lecturers. Or they just neglect the jobs that don’t appeal to them. That’s why Summers had to push them to teach survey courses and other basics.
You might expect the Harvard history department to devote a course or two to the American Revolution or the Constitution, but those topics are too mundane. Instead, there’s a course on the diaries of ordinary citizens during the Revolution, and another, “American Revolutions,” that considers the American and Haitian Revolutions as “a continuous sequence of radical challenges to established authority.” …
They’ve been insulated from reality in a political monoculture. The faculty discourse or at least the discourse among those who bother to go to faculty meetings has been so dominated by paleoliberals that Summers, a Democrat and a Clinton appointee, struck them as reactionary.”