Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rethinking Plan B

When I was in my early 20's, I wrote a letter to my community newspaper arguing for curbs on freedom of expression on college campuses. The letter was in response to an anti-abortion exhibit that displayed incendiary and flagrantly misleading photos in an effort to repulse and terrify the demographic most impacted by public opinion about abortion laws. Even though the display was repugnant, I realized pretty quickly that what I was calling for was a limitation on speech that I didn't approve of. So I changed my mind, of course. But it was too late—the letter ran, with my photo next to it, a week later.

A few weeks back I argued that the economic crisis might benefit academia by streamlining research and giving rise to increased academic rigor and commitment. All it took to change my mind was a recent campus recruitment visit for potential doctoral students. There were ten of us, all highly qualified and enthusiastic; and though no faculty mentioned it directly, we knew that not all of us would be offered financial support to begin doctoral work. There just wasn't enough funding to go around, as qualified as every recruit may have been.

This is the real damaging power of a recession--to limit the contributions of the many and call instead for the contributions of the necessary. Universities nationwide are likely considering ways to cut a few thousand dollars here and there; one easy way to do this, presumably, is to bring one or two fewer students than previously allowed for.

This phenomenon isn't limited to academia, of course. Cuts across all industries will limit the size of the table and the number of people who get to pull up a chair to it. The only groups who appear well positioned to benefit from the recession are cockroaches and mice.

Yet I can't help but try to look on the bright side. In the electronics industry, computer manufacturers are trying to keep costs low by recycling materials from older or unused electronics. The video game industry continues to profit, supporting the assumption that in tough times, people want cheap entertainment.

Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lev Gonick argues that:

Future generations of learners will no doubt look back at the global economic crisis of 2008-9 and reflect on which institutions were agile enough to make a difference by bringing the wisdom of their scholars together with the acumen of their technology officers and the ingenuity and determination of their university leaders. It’s actually not only the future of the university that is in play. How we produce, organize, and distribute open education resources is at the heart of the future of education around the world.

One of the enormous benefits of social networking tools is the access they provide to free or cheap educational resources. We haven't yet figured out how to leverage these resources to meet even a fraction of their full potential, but we can. And god willing, soon enough we will.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I just read that the chemical industry, and presumably other industries, are having to make the same cuts. Who knows what all these cuts will lead to. Do we just put on hold industrial and scientific progress here?


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