The hard economic times are forcing governments to slash their budgets both in the U.S. and abroad. Since much of higher education has traditionally been supported by government spending, retrenchment in government subsidies to colleges and universities is inevitable.
This raises an interesting and little-discussed question. Should government cutbacks to educational institutions be across the board, irrespective of content? Or should some attempt be made to identify those areas of spending on higher education that deserve continued support and those areas that deserve to be cut?
In any other sector of the economy, the answer to these questions would be a no-brainer. Of course, one should provide continued support to programs that are indispensable to the aims of the institution in question and are performing well, and cut programs that are peripheral and/or are performing poorly. What could be more obvious?
But in the context of higher education, the question is explosive, because it raises the further vexed questions: What are the aims of higher education? and Do all disciplinary subjects and scholarly approaches serve those aims equally well? Answers to these questions command no consensus within present-day Academia, to put it mildly.
John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, as well as a brilliant and outspoken Catholic public intellectual, raised hackles in the U.K. recently by raising these important questions in a recent essay, in which he suggests that the axe ought to fall on the dead wood of higher education, in order to spare the living tissue.
To read a news report on this controversy, go here.