It's the End the University as We Know It, wherein the chair of the religion department at Columbia makes a case for completely restructuring universities, and in particular graduate programs. His six major points synopsized:
1: remove individual departments in favor of an interdisciplinary web
2. create disciplinary focuses around current problems
3. increase collaboration between universities
4. let people do their dissertations in hypertext and web pages and... video games.
5. expand graduate student options (meaning teach them something practical)
6. abolish tenure, have regular reviews of professors
He definitely makes some interesting points. He starts by pointing out the stiltedness of a lot of graduate academic research. He reflects on how there are too many graduate students for too few faculty positions, and that they will be overworked and accrue massive debt and likely end up doing something else entirely. He also talks about the way that individual departments are isolated and inflexible, preventing a free flow of ideas.
Overall he seems to be saying that the university system as a whole is too rigid and needs room for new staff and completely new frameworks. And y'know, free flow of information and ideas, who is against that? It would be would be like voting against democracy. Interdisciplinary web: hot. Who knows, perhaps I too am merely an ossified relic of the system, but his arguments just don't add up and even make me a little cranky. Are people still really arguing about academics being too removed from reality? I mean, isn't it kind of the point to have a space in society where knowledge is pursued for its own sake, and is that not valuable, oh head of a religious studies department?
And naturally not everyone in higher academia will remain in higher academia. This is already allowing for a certain freedom of academic movement as our scholars of religion and politics and art move in to the fields of... oh I don't know.. religion, and politics, and art. Jesus.
Okay, sure, our system is not all love and rainbows and puppies. Let me frame this in terms of another "I theoretically sympathize but still think it's a bad idea" moment: let's get rid of marriage. Why bother with it? If people want to make a lasting commitment to one another before their communities and God, why does that need to affect how they file their taxes? Why put families and communities through the trauma of divorce proceedings instead of couples who are no longer compatible simply parting ways? And why should we have such a complicated legal framework of rights and privileges, most of them relating to property, when people could simply expand the use of the will system (living or otherwise) to make it clear who has rights over their person and property?
Well, lot's of reasons, actually, and that's kind of my point. People like a certain amount of structural rigidity, probably because it makes you feel secure. People also like to be plugged into a social institution that has been around for pretty much ever. Same thing in academia, really. After all the crap you have to go through (and would still have to go through) as a grad student, at some point I think you've earned your tenure. Besides, imagine how much more ruthlessly professors would squeeze their grad students if they had to constantly worry about job performance reviews? They already have to worry about keeping their names published to avoid sliding into academic irrelevance. And of course grad students would pass much of this on to their lowly undergrads, who would be crushed underfoot like grapes at harvest, their cries of agony echoing unto the heavens.
Besides, organizing departments around current world problems? Really? Besides the fact that you would risk having departments of "Getting Bush Impeached" and "Behaviorism Rules Freud Drools," the nature of the subject matter is likely to change a lot faster than the bureaucracy of the department. And the cost of maintaining the department would skyrocket. And it would be impossible to organize effectively. And people's foundational education would become less globalized as it became tailored to one individual world problem (ie. learning biology only as it relates to water conservation). And it would take a lot more time and energy to maintain institutional memory if you keep changing your academic framework. And if your department is under review every so often, it might get abolished or massively restructured halfway through your degree. And what the hell would a degree even mean anymore?
There have to be better methods of reforming academia than this.