I argued here that the recession might actually benefit academia and, specifically, scholarly research. I wrote:
[I]t's possible a more "austere" academic environment will have a positive impact, if not on emerging academics, then on the pursuit of scholarly research and the progress of Big Ideas. Academics who want a secure place in the ivory tower will increasingly need to rely on their ability to network and, more importantly, collaborate with other researchers. They will need—and want—to provide regular evidence of valuable scholarly work, and they may work to present themselves as innovators and crafters of important work. It's even possible that the days of the ivory tower are over, for good, for real this time.
That was February 10. On February 24, I wrote about the decision of my employer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to half-secretly move toward layoffs across departments and across the institute.
On March 4, I tried to look on the bright side but basically admitted I'd changed my mind: That the recession would, in effect, "limit the contributions of the many and call instead for the contributions of the necessary."
Bad for education, bad for research.
Now today I was forwarded this New York Times article that highlights the effects of the recession on state colleges—institution that rely on dwindling government funding. The article focuses in on the plight of Arizona State University, which has eliminated over 500 jobs, closed dozens of programs, capped enrollment and announced required unpaid furlough days for all employees. "While Arizona State's economic problems have been particularly dramatic," explains the article,
layoffs and salary freezes are becoming common at public universities across the nation; the University of Florida recently eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, laid off about 100 employees, and the University of Vermont froze some administrative staff salaries, left open 22 faculty positions and laid off 16 workers.
Interestingly, while state colleges are feeling squeezed by the recession, the economic downturn has at the same time led to an increase in applications to these self-same state schools.
Okay, so applications to state schools are up while programs, faculty, and facilities are down. Here's what's going to happen:
- Schools will be forced to reject otherwise fully qualified applicants, sending perfectly capable young thinkers and workers into a depressingly tiny job market.
- Students who are accepted to state schools will, at the schools hit hardest by budget cuts, receive an education that will be considered substandard when measured against the criteria of even a year ago. They will have fewer course options and fewer career paths to choose from (though I imagine the opportunities for unpaid internships will skyrocket).
- After years of work to break down the educational barrier between the Haves and the Have-nots, the expensive, elite private schools—the Harvards, the Yales, the Stanfords—will once again increasingly cater to the wealthy and the privileged--those whose families can continue to sponsor an elite education and the cultural capital that comes with it.
As Tevye would say, there is no other hand.