The University on the Market

The University on the Market

Open the Sunday New Y ork Times, and you’ll see three or four pages combine the tactics of advertising with the wisdom of the universities. What will draw you in? Advance at work? Occupying your leisure time? Meeting glamorous people (or professors, politicians, or bureaucrats)? Self-knowledge? Discovery of hidden resources you’ve never known? You can have evening courses, weekend courses, even courses for theearly riser; try a minicourse or a weekend retreat; or, if you live on Long Island, you can take business courses offered on commuter trains. Do you need a diploma? Credits are offered for “life experience” (half tuition is better than none). Are you bored, frustrated, in doubt? The university offers a revaluation of all values, in an idyllic atmosphere where you can chat leisurely about the great and small ideas shaking the world or your neighbors. And all this takes place through courses renamed for the occasion: since departmental funds are allocated on a per-head basis, a veritable race has begun: who will invent the most tempting packaging for whatever academic fare he or she will offer?

There appears to be a double crisis in the American university. False predictions and great investments led to increased plant and faculty during the ’60s, when the demographic curve had already begun to sink. Two strategies have emerged to confront this situation. Competition among universities for a share of the youth pool, and/or extension of the university beyond the usual age groups, thus realizing in a sense the dream of a permanent education. In both cases, the university has to change its agenda, ideals, and methods. This is where the economic crisis is transformed and becomes a crisis of values.


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