Wednesday, 21 July 2010

And While We're Talking about Universities, Seems Things Aren't Any Better in the UK and in UT, Well, Take a Look

As noted yesterday, the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young Univesity in Provo, UT sounds like a pretty great place to study.

But just how much that video cost to make would be an interesting question to ask. On reflection I wonder how much concern about university profitability lies behind its genesis. As noted last spring, universities in North America are doing some pretty funny things to cut costs, raise profiles, and attract funds. My concern then was McGill University's plan to charge $30,000 for a new MBA program, which is clearly outside the rules for government-funded universities in Quebec. Also in question was the way that the Université de Montréal, which now has something like 30 per cent of its undergraduate classes taught by part-time staff, was being stingy during contract talks with part-time profs.

But it seems that the idea of the university as a place for serious thought which may seem to have no immediate pecuniary benefit now extends to the cradle of English-language higher education. In an interesting essay in the April 8 New York Review of Book, Anthony F. Grafton deplores the "disgrace" of British universities.

"British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy," he writes. "Universities become great by investing for the long term. You choose the best scholars and teachers you can and give them the resources and the time to think problems through...

"Accept the short term as your standard—support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now—and you lose the future. The subjects and methods that will matter most in twenty years are often the ones that nobody values very much right now. Slow scholarship—like Slow Food—is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their way. The British used to know that, but now they’ve streaked by us on the way to the other extreme."

Things are only going to get worse under the new Conservative government, he warned even before the British elections. He closes: "The language of “impact” and “investment” is heard in the land. In Iowa, in Nevada, and in other places there’s talk of closing humanities departments. If you start hearing newspeak about “sustainable excellence clusters,” watch out. We’ll be following the British down the short road to McDonald’s."

The same could be said for many Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto which is considering shutting down the Centre for Comparative Literature, founded by Canadian intellectual icon Northrop Frye.

Pretty depressing, eh?

In the meantime, take a look at what some students to in the BYU library for real:


Anonymous said...

The BYU Library New Spice video was made by library student employees. They filmed it all on one Saturday. The cost was minimal and it should be a big plus for their resumes if they go into media fields. The library provides scholarly database and online journal access to the students and faculty of the university. The video was a great way to communicate that information.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Glad to see that the library is being careful of its public/endowment funds. It's a great video, and I do hope it is of benefit to the young people who made it.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Here's the link to the video which shows how the clip was made, BTW.