The University in Ruins?
I disagree entirely with Bill Readings’ arguments in The University in Ruins. Here, I will focus on two points he established that to me seem incorrect, and not grounded in the reality of the university as it stands today.
Firstly, Readings states that the university is a failing institution because it has become increasingly bureaucratic in sense. It is true that compared to the university 50 years ago today, there are more managers and administrators than ever before. It may be true that these managers and administrators create red tape when it comes to the educational standpoint- courses and funding have to be reviewed and approved before a professor can move forward. However, I do not agree that this management has created a stagnant learning environment at the university, and neither does Tariq Tahir. Tahir wrote an article for the Guardian explaining the necessity for an increase in management for the university. In Tahir’s words, because the university has expanded into a multi-faced institution, bureaucratic measures are necessitated. Tahir quotes Maureen Skinner from Thames Valley University as saying, “Universities are massive social and economic structures – the equivalent of small towns. It is public money and we are accountable for the money we spend.” The university’s growth is also implicative of the university’s influence. As a “small town”, the university influences the surrounding community in terms of culture, education, and structure. Imagine how Madison would have developed without the UW in place. It is the expanding bureaucracy of the institution that established offices like the UW Continuing Education Program, which is obvious in its positive influence on the community. Because of these reasons, Readings’ argument against bureaucracy in the university sounds like a professor complaining that he doesn’t get to do what he wants without any checks and balances.
Secondly, Readings argues that today’s university has neglected the humanities, and is therefore ‘in ruins’ because, in Readings’ mind, the humanities are the only ‘positivist project for the neutral accumulation of knowledge.’ However, I would argue the exact opposite of humanities studies. It is true that an increasing amount of undergraduate students choose a natural science degree over a humanities degree. But I believe that is because they are focused on their end-game. As a student with a B.A. in English Literature, my technical scope was very limited. The job market wanted me to have financial, managerial and technical experience, and all I could do was analyze a novel. Diane Auer Jones speaks about this in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, saying, “ Perhaps the problem isn’t that there are too many graduate students in humanities doctoral programs, but instead that the education and training provided to those students is misguided and irrelevant given that few will end up in academic careers.” Although you will be at the forefront of instigating cultural revolutions with a PHD in Philosophy, you’ll be doing it in a cardboard box. I see how the university has broadened it’s scope for preparing students for a world outside of education as an adaptation to the state of the union, but disagree that it has destroyed the university. In my opinion, it has only made the institution stronger and more desirable for students. If the university had kept a focus on humanities, it would have alienated the majority of the population and therefore lost influence and attendees.
In these ways, I disagree with Readings. I do apologize that this is so wordy.