September 29, 2004
Alice says universities are rubbish

Alice (as "in Texas") has some thoughts about universities:

>But that's the irony: universities probably would still have some kind of place, if they just updated their ideas and got real. The trouble is, they are too insecure to confront that. But unless they come to terms with the fact that knowledge is growing itself outside universities now, and that for all sorts of reasons, people are not going to pay huge sums of money just so an institution can rubber-stamp its learning-location as well as its examination score, they are doomed.

Which is to say, genuinely intelligent people will opt out of them, so their standards will spiral down and down. And the people at the Justin Timberlake conferences won't notice what parodies of themselves they have become, of course.

I don't think I agree. The great thing about going to university is all the other people who go, from among whom you are almost bound to find human gold. You get to drink and **** and talk all night with them, and unless and until the world invents another way for the semi-brainy and brainy-brainy to find one another at That Age, the university idea will still have plenty of life in it. People will curse and rage against these places for being so silly, but other people will still want to go. The Internet may well replace lots of the academics, but lots of other academics, instead of being rolled over by it, will learn how to make the Internet an ally rather than an enemy.

I mean, I'd love to have had someone like this as one of my professors. Reading him every day or two is good, but chatting with him every week or two would be even better.

Dare I suggest that Alice's fulminations are evidence of the geographical fallacy, as I like to think of it, which say: geography (i.e. geographical proximity) doesn't matter any more, because of Modern Communcations.

Also, universities have been through very bad times before. In the nineteenth century, it is my understanding that British universities, instead of, as now, being rotten with third-rate "humanities" bullshit artists who publish far too much, were rotten instead with third-rate theologians who didn't publish anything at all. Science, meanwhile, was being developed in spite of the universities rather than because of them. But eventually Science took over the universities and made a new golden age for them.

But that last bit is somewhat of a guess. Better-than-guess comments, anyone?

Gratuitous university picture:


… which I googled my way to via here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:39 PM
Category: Higher education