Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Disgrace of the Universities

Anthony Grafton, in considering the drastic budget cuts British universities are facing, has written a brief, but compelling, essay considering the dangers higher education is facing in this country. You can read it in the current New York Review of Books as “Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities,” NYRB vol 57 (April 8, 2010): 32 or at the NYRB blog,

Here are some interesting statements to reflect on:

“The realities that this cloud of ink imperfectly conceal are every bit as ugly as you would expect. Humanists who work on ancient manuscripts and languages or write about premodern history or struggle with hard issues in semantics don’t always make an immediate impact or bring in large amounts of grant money—even when other scholars around the world depend on their studies. If you don’t see the point of their work, why not eliminate them? Then you have room for things that pay off immediately.”

“Universities exist to discover and transmit knowledge. Scholars and teachers provide those services. Administrators protect and nurture the scholars and teachers: give them the security, the resources, and the possibilities of camaraderie and debate that make serious work possible. Firing excellent faculty members is not a clever tactical “disinvestment,” it’s a catastrophic failure.”

“Accept the short term as your standard—support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now—and you lose the future. The subjects and methods that will matter most in twenty years are often the ones that nobody values very much right now. Slow scholarship—like Slow Food—is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their way. The British used to know that, but now they’ve streaked by us on the way to the other extreme.”

These are some observations that we need to keep in mind. How will the I-School movement address such matters? Is there anything in the LIS community that we should protect as the shift to I-Schools continues that address such issues?

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