A brief article by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley appeared recently in the July 20 edition of The Wall Street Journal under the provocative title of “Academia’s Crisis of Irrelevance.”
In this delightfully acerbic piece, Ms. Riley basically notes the disconnect between the fact that the financial foundation of most institutions of higher education is undergraduate teaching, while most professors in those same institutions see their primary function not as teaching, but rather as conducting research.
The article largely consists of amusing anecdotes of professors who appear clueless when challenged about the irrelevance, self-indulgence, or downright harmfulness of their research and of the Academic culture and lifestyle that have grown up around such research. She mentions, for example, Academics who rush to the defense of the egregious Professor J. Michael Bailey, who made news last year when he brought a live sex show into his Northwestern University psychology classroom.
Ms. Riley expatiates on these issues in her new book, The Faculty Lounges . . . and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For (Ivan R. Dee, 2011).
Much of the same terrain has been covered, albeit in a more philosophical register, by philosopher John Haldane, in an article recently reported on here. He reaches pretty much the same conclusions as Ms. Riley: To survive in the twenty-first century, colleges and universities are going to have to redirect many of their resources from research to teaching.
Of course, that raises the question: What should undergraduates be expected to learn?