I once meant to say something about Coetzee's thoughts on the future of higher education, but I don't remember doing so. (Actually I do remember doing so, but I assume it's a false memory since I can't find it by searching the blog.) And then I just read this TED talk on TED talks by Benjamin Bratton, which left me with similar pessimistic thoughts. Coetzee writes that:
All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.Bratton says:
If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.Both seem right. And of course the economy does not want transformation. Nor do most people. So universities won't provide it.
I used to think that I went to college because I wanted to learn, but of course what my peers were doing and what my parents expected had a lot to do with it. Money and social class were probably the underlying concerns. And today people don't seem to care about social class very much, except to the extent that it has become something that money can buy. All you really need is money. So I don't see much hope for the humanities except in the form of the courses Coetzee describes: "Reading and Writing" and "Great Ideas," for instance. (Except that they won't have these names because they are too honest to be taken seriously by the people in charge of naming.) Perhaps a few boutique humanities programs will survive, but I can't really see why they would. It just doesn't make much sense to get a PhD in a humanities subject any more, and who will teach in these programs if no one has a relevant PhD? Nor can I imagine the politician who will fight to increase public funding for the humanities. So, doom.
But it's not all doom. I don't think the end will come overnight. I don't think it is certain. And I don't believe that philosophy, art, etc, will just disappear if they aren't much taught in universities any more. Perhaps they will even make a comeback after the 'exciting' integration of disciplines (philosophy only being taught by business ethicists, literature only taught by historians who want to add a bit of colour to their courses, etc.) turns out to be a dead end.