Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My net worth

In a comment that I deleted because of its vitriolic irrelevance, a reader suggests that my proposal to take away the university faculty’s power of self-governance is not at all ironic, as Rand Careaga offers, but “deadly serious” and motivated by my “net worth.” “Apparently Dr. Myers thinks corporate profits and such,” the reader added, “are more important than people.” (Say what? You can see what I mean by vitriolic irrelevance. Acres of vagueness are covered by that shrug phrase “and such.”)

I plead guilty to believing unreservedly in the social good (or at least utility) of the profit motive, but the truth is that nothing I have done in my life has ever turned a profit. I don’t know about my net worth, but my 2009-’10 salary at Texas A&M University, which is a matter of public record, is closer to the median U.S. income than to the median university professor’s.

On this much the reader is correct. My proposal to end the faculty’s exclusive power to determine curriculum, set hiring priorities, and fill job openings is deadly serious. But my argument, although frankly sharing a nostalgia for the old discredited idea that the university is an institution created for the unique social purpose of seeking truth, is far more ruthlessly materialistic than my critic’s.

My argument is that a university faculty, once it redefines the university as a political system for the dissemination of radical thinking, will act to consolidate its interests and to exclude those who would sabotage its goals. For the campus Left, as Jeff Goldstein observes, “Being on the ‘right’ . . . is not considered being ‘political’ at all,” and is in fact to be “outside politics proper. . . .” Thus the exclusion of conservatives (or traditional humanists, for that matter) is entirely fair and just.

The problem, then, is the faculty’s power to redefine the university in its own image—through curriculum and hiring. When the faculty was still committed to the original idea of the university, its power posed no difficulties. That is, the unwisdom of placing exclusive power of self-governance in its hands did not become apparent until the faculty abused its power by departing from the university idea to pursue its own interests. Now that the abuse has exposed the threat from the power, the time has come to end it.

Not my net worth, but the faculty’s, is what motivates my critique.

Update: In the Wall Street Journal, an official at a “conservative think tank” that has proposed to measure faculty cost-effectiveness, is quoted as saying: “Taxpayers of the state of Texas” should get to decide whether “they should be spending two years paying the salary of an English professor so he can write a book of poetry simply to add to the prestige of the university or the body of literature out there.” I hate to say I told you so, but a decade and a half ago, I warned that redefining the professor’s role as one of political oppositionality would “creat[e] an opening for state reprisal.” If my proposal is not taken seriously—if the faculty does not find a way to share power with other interests—my prediction will rather quickly become a reality.


ADDeRabbi said...

I take it you've seen this:

Tom Beshear said...

I haven't spent a lot of time in academia, but what you describe (here and your original note) goes on in the business world all the time. It's a symptom of bureaucratic rule -- those who can fit their thinking, activities, interactions within the office's ruling paradigm have the best chance of succeeding and rising into the ranks of decision makers (who tend to protect one another, much like belonging to an exclusive club). Those who question policies, decisions, etc. -- those who "aren't on board" -- are marginalized. It doesn't matter if they're right -- in fact, that makes it worse.

If you take these powers away from the faculty, who gets them? And what will they do with them? How would we, in other words, get to a system that rewards truth seekers again, but doesn't become just a new bureaucratic system for suppressing a different set of inconvenient academic opinions?