Sunday, February 01, 2009

Back to the Middle Ages in Arizona Higher Ed

by J J Cohen

All monks, please don your Slankets: Arizona State University may need an as yet undetermined number of you. Or so says John Kavanagh, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, of proposed budget cuts there:

Back to the Middle Ages . . . There are many ways to measure the impact of state-budget cuts. There's the obvious dollar amount. There's the effect on people's lives. And then there's the historical perspective.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee were debating the cost of photocopying at Arizona State University and whether those costs decline as the semester wears on and students drop classes.

But committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, interrupted to say the conversation was way too 21st century.

"Since our cuts are going to send ASU back to the Middle Ages, the question is how many monks will they need?" he said.

Kavanagh warmed up to the Middle Ages metaphor, noting that the Department of Chemistry should be changed to the Department of Alchemy.

Department of Alchemy? I could be in to that (as would my vaguely Harry Potteresque son). Just don't change my English Department into a scriptorium. And please also void logic from the philosophy department, since the linking of budget cuts to medieval-destined time travel makes very little sense. Did Arizona really have an institution like Cambridge or Oxford or Bologna or Paris during the Middle Ages, and if so who was attending it? Was their budget truly that slender?

Story pasted from here. Thanks to my colleague Margaret Soltan for sending it my way.


Karl Steel said...

Strange to see a Republican standing up for higher education!

A funny thing here is that photocopying is the outdated technology. If they could invest more money, give the students all tablet computers [loaded w/ some good open source software], and convert all the rooms to smart classrooms, then they could dispense w/ photocopying altogether. With all that in mind, the temporal/technological heterogeneity of the present becomes much more interesting than the facile present vs. middle ages cliché.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I'd go for that, if they could figure out a way to limit classroom access to just the server on which the documents resided.

i said...

Really, Karl? I think there are brands of conservatism which place a lot of value on (and money in) education. Maybe not neo-cons so much, and maybe it's an education that upholds a conservative canon, but it's still worth keeping in mind.

I'm thinking of Southern Germany, with its conservative bent and excellent high schools and universities, I'm thinking of Alberta's conservatism and very good system of public education, and I'm thinking of all manner of Christian colleges, homeschool programs, etc., that emphasize reading the classics and picking up the linguistic skills to do so in the original.

The ideology might not be your ideology (or mine, for that matter), and hey, the pedagogy might not be our pedagogy either, but that doesn't diminish the fact that there are conservatives who value education highly at all levels.

Karl Steel said...

I think there are brands of conservatism which place a lot of value on (and money in) education.

I can't speak to the right [and note that my use of "the right" rather than "conservative" is deliberate] in other countries, but...

Generally speaking, that's not the case in America. Putting aside my own anecdotal experience of contempt for higher education from certain right-wing members of my extended family....

First, there's the disdain for curiosity endemic to the American right, which itself dampens at the very least a liberal humanist education.

Second, valuing education, to my mind, means valuing educators, which means valuing their autonomy, job security, and providing them with a living wage, since without these things, research is stymied, and without research, there's not much difference between secondary and higher education. Corporatism [which is not identical to the American right in all its guises] of course values none of these things, at least not in the humanities, and when corporatism's almost realized goal for an entirely contingent academy is combined with the American right's anti-intellectualism, we have a poisonous environment for academics. Setting aside the 'contempt for the expert' in evidence in various sections of the American Right [e.g., Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, &c], we then have a respect for the degree without respect for either the academy or the educator.

This is precisely the environment Horowitz and his ilk favor. For more on all this, see Dinshaw on national funding for the humanities in Getting Medieval; Michael Bérubé, What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts; and the assembled works of Marc Bousquet, well-represented here.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I feel the need to call everyone's attention to this book on Amazon as well, a link also pirated from Margaret Soltan. Read the reviewers' comments.

No wonder if universities are having hard fiscal times, with books costing $8K each.

Lucia said...

They should void logic from the philosophy department? On the contrary ... the absurdity of this medieval connection is proof that we need more logic in schools, not less! ASU should look to 13th-century Paris as an example, and ditch the overpriced textbooks for Aristotle. Maybe they can even teach the students to copy their own texts by hand, and then they won't need photocopiers either. Problem solved!

Rick Godden said...
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