Daniel Lemire's blog

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End the University as We Know It: My Commentary

Mark C. Taylor is quickly becoming famous for his New York Times piece End the University as We Know It. The paper makes some good points:

  • Universities rely on graduate students as cheap labor. Graduate students accept their fate on the illusion that they will become professors. Unfortunately, most of them will never achieve their goals. They will have to settle for jobs they could have done just as well without a Ph.D. (Yes professor Mitzenmacher, this includes Computer Science Ph.D.s!) We can do better! Either train fewer people for research, or create more government and industry research jobs.
  • We should rely more on online learning. We need to dramatically scale up the broadcasting abilities of our teachers. This revolution is coming up. (If you doubt me, watch professor Mitzenmacher teach, online, now.)

Unfortunately, it falls short on other criticisms and proposals:

  • Universities are overspecialized? Ever tried to hire a biologist when you are a Computer Scientist? It is not fun! We need clusters of specialists so that they can review each other. Multidisciplinary programs are great, but a multidisciplinary professor is like a greased pig. He may taste great, but you first have to catch it!
  • Do away with tenure? Tenure is a great way to save money on salaries. In Computer Science, it would entice the best professors to move off to industry. You cannot do away with tenure in all fields without fundamentally changing the university job market, and it would not all be for the benefit of students and universities.

Further reading: See Vellino’s commentary and Mitzenmacher’s rebuttal.