I closed the last post with a question: Having abandoned the vision on which the medieval university was built, what are modern universities organized around? The answer is “Nothing in particular.”
They are queasy alliances of interest groups which have no ultimate commitments in common.
Among the more respectable things the university tries to be are a job training center, a place for technological research, and an accreditor of fitness for employment. But universities don’t do any of these things well, and each of them can be better and more cheaply by other kinds of institution.
You don’t need to go to college to learn how to manage a hotel, or to prove that you can program a computer. Government and industry can carry out technological research just as well at their own facilities. And college prepares people for employment so poorly that some corporations are now forced to run their own classes in math and English composition.
The university also tries to be a place for doing things that just don’t need to be done at all, like giving young people a place to “discover themselves.”
This which means giving them a place for a protracted period of dissipation while avoiding adult responsibilities. Parents who think this is the best way for their children to grow up could save money by just sending them on cruises.
Universities offer places for preserving failed ideologies and validating faddish “identities,” but we have politics for that; we don’t need universities.
And they are massive public-works programs for keeping a larger number of people employed as scholars than could otherwise find that kind of work. We do need scholars, but let us be honest: Most scholars would be better employed at something else.
The things universities do which other institutions can do better eventually will be done by other institutions. The things they do which don’t need to be done will eventually lose public support. I will not mourn these changes. They are overdue.
I will mourn the loss of the one thing universities can do well, which was done in medieval universities, but which the modern university no longer believes in: Pursuing the vision of the coherence of reality and its friendliness to the mind, and forming minds which are capable of sharing it.
We will have to find another way to do that. I don’t know what it will be. I believe it will be found, but it will not be found in my time. There are signs on the horizon, but they are faint.
And so to reply to Vedder and Denhart: Gentlemen, you are mistaken. These are the reasons why the college bubble will pop; this is why the higher education system will collapse. Not because it is “still tied to its medieval origins.”