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Post Democratization of Universities?
Created by John Eipper on 02/03/22 3:25 AM

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Democratization of Universities? (Tom Hashimoto, -UK, 02/03/22 3:25 am)

Apologies to David A Westbrook, as I am writing this post before I finish reading his essay. Reading through, I got a very loose idea, but I seem to have this fear that I have to verbalise these ideas before they evaporate into the cold air of February. Curiously, both good liquor and ideas tend to vanish quickly from my sights in this climate, as we are embraced (read "intoxicated") by them.  A contrast is made for good victuals and well-thought ways of thinking--they become a part of our body and shape our behaviour.

I think that universities are increasingly "democratised" such that the management seeks guidance from the stakeholders (most notably students and their parents/sponsors, as well as governments) as to what to teach/research. Our (i.e. educators') performance is constantly measured by how they perceive our role in society and what they receive. Politicians (are supposed to) listen to the constituents, firms listen to the market.

What we are missing in universities these days is the artist--ones who are truly passionate about what they do, but perhaps constantly irritated by their own imperfection, driving them to another cycle of creation. Now, of course, if you are passionate about teaching, the university is the realm for those people as well.

Just like an art scene, I would love to see authoritative artists with excellent traditional skills, skillful art teachers among townspeople, starving artists who challenge the traditional techniques, and critics who "excavate" these artists even after their death. I have a feeling that in the 1960s and '70s, we still had such a diversity.

Scientific outlets are not as standardised. We judged with and were judged by our own views on quality, not society's view on quality. Maybe this is the cost we pay for our effort to reduce financial inequality--everyone is too busy following the societal consensus, to justify the salary they receive, and to fulfill a duty as an informed member of society. I cannot imagine a starving thinker who is stubborn and passionate, living noisily in a dirty corner of a megalopolis, scratching his/her ideas on whatever medium is found in the vicinity. I think, we are too neat for that.

Or, maybe, I am just unaware of such grassroots movements.

On another note, I recently read a novel called The Liar by Stephen Fry. It largely takes place in "the other place" (which starts with the letter C), but it is eccentric, elegant, and funny (yes, I intentionally used "but" here as I somehow think these characteristics do not fit with the C-place... kidding). The main character in this novel could be an example of such non-standardised thinkers (although he was hardly starving).

JE comments:  Always a joy to hear from my friend in Warsaw, Hashimoto-Sensei.  Tom, in the above you make one observation and an interesting appeal.  Are universities growing increasingly "democratized"?  Most of us faculty types would argue the opposite--that decision making is ever more in the hands of administrator-bureaucrats, while the university structure itself is growing more unequal, with a handful of highly paid superstars and the unwashed masses of adjunct and "term" faculty. The widespread disappearance of tenure is emblematic of this shift.

I applaud your call for more artists--the quirkier the better, I'd say.  Yet even (especially?) artists are beholden to the Muse of Mammon, where one's value is determined by the marketplace.  Can a starving artist successfully land the fellowships and grants required for advancement?  The successful ones do, but then they are no longer starving.

As for the "C" place, I had to shift my thoughts to the UK:  Cambridge.  By calling it "the other place," Oxonians are grudgingly giving Cambridge its due.  Rather like Harvard and Yale, only two "places" are worthy of consideration.

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