Mark Taylor’s Op-ed from last week received a good deal of (warranted) criticism. The Times has published some responses to Taylor’s piece. Here are two:
Re “End the University as We Know It,” by Mark C. Taylor (Op-Ed, April 27):
Scholars in the United States have grown accustomed to the crass anti-intellectualism of some of their critics outside the academy. It is alarming and embarrassing to hear the same rhetoric within the ranks of my own institution.
Mr. Taylor’s absurd and dangerous proposals to abolish departments and tenure would risk trading serious — and sometimes, yes, specialized and unpopular — scholarship for fashionable but intellectually shallow and incoherent commodities.
Good interdisciplinary work often presupposes expertise within traditional disciplines, just as tenure protects scholars and teachers from prevailing prejudices and the whims of the market.
Mr. Taylor’s bizarre comparison of academic peer review with unregulated financial markets demonstrates incomprehension of the nature and purpose of higher education.
New York, April 27, 2009
The writer is a professor of philosophy at Barnard College, Columbia University.
And another, which acknowledges the attraction (but limitation) of the move towards interdisciplinary “problem-focused” topics:
To the Editor:
Michael C. Taylor’s admirable vision of the university is one in which scholars from varied disciplines and institutions are in continual dialogue, where words, topics and problems are evolving with new discoveries and insights, and where teaching is intertwined with learning. But it is not clear that the reforms he proposes will bring us there.
To take one of Mr. Taylor’s proposed “problem-focused” topics: it is nice to imagine that the topic of “Mind” would be pursued by neuroscientists, psychologists, novelists and philosophers working together, and that they would draw on both Aristotle and the latest experimental findings.
But would that actually happen? Or would a powerful kind of groupthink concerning what is important arise, as less “useful” and “relevant” forms of knowledge were shunned?
Whatever its flaws, the present structure of universities is preferable to what Mr. Taylor proposes, unless it is accompanied by a radical change in ethos.
Cambridge, Mass., April 28, 2009
The writer is a graduate student in the department of government at Harvard