The National Catholic Review

Cambridge, MA. I am sure many of you read Mark C. Taylor's "End the University as We Know It" op-ed piece in the New York Times on April 27. It is about the need for radical reform in higher education/academe, including a radical refashioning of what counts as scholarly research. But be sure also to check out the response by David Bell, "Defending Academe," in The New Republic. Bell gets it right, and speaks to the issue I was raising in my more mellow reflection on ESITIS and Salzburg the other day: academic research — including theology, an ever endangered species — takes time, proceeds slowly, and requires the 'luxury' of seemingly arcane research that does not pay off in the short run.

    

While Taylor is right in suggesting that we need to think of ways of adapting our academic institutions and practices to current needs, there is also a compelling need to continue to provide room for scholars to work in the painstaking and slow fashion that research requires. Modernization and efficiency will not change the basic facts of scholarship. In the humanities, and particularly in theology, it will continue to be hard to produce certifiable payoff in quantitative and short-term units that meet immediate cost-effective standards. Such is the life of the mind. But read Taylor and Bell, and take another look at my piece, and see what you think. Particularly if you are NOT an academic, your reactions will be welcome.

Comments

Anonymous | 4/28/2009 - 8:23pm
Okay, a comment. Are the best theologians really in the universities? Or, are they in the contemplative orders. Running around the world is a job in itself, perhaps not the best venue for theologians anyway; same for teaching although it has it's purposes and advantages. Also, I really thought universities would fade with the rise of the internet - why not have the best-in-the-world protein chemist be seen and listened to by all the world's budding chemists. Why thousands of lectures by the second-rate types? Then, I realized the baby-sitting aspect of universities. Yep, they are places to "hold" the sprouts until they mature a bit more; what would be a good substitute (besides military training, for example)? So, universities plod along sucking up parents money and doing what? That is the question. Any real hopeful to-be scholar could just Google the latest on her specific interests, it seems. I am just amazed at the access the internet affords to even the arcane. This from one who used to browse the stacks and sometimes live in the library. I remember my amazement at the books one Jesuit had donated to the library on Roman coins - he had taught in the 1920-30's. Almost no place else on earth had these books in the 1970's. The information they contain is at anyone's fingertips in 2009!
Anonymous | 4/28/2009 - 3:31pm
A possibility not raised is whether research should be separated out from universities. Is it so shocking to think that teachers in colleges should do just that - teach. Another aspect often overlooked is that most successful teaching is directed at the techniques of the subject. To teach literature teach how poems are composed, hos plays are constructed, how novels. And perhaps go back to the basis of study - languages and mathematics.