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You do sound rather gloomy.Are you thinking of going into admin?:)

You're assuming that universities will be able to compete with the policy you describe. If competing educational institutions arise without the universities insane cost structure, things may go differently. One can hope disintermediation will win again. (Remember, there used to be something called a bookstore. Seen many travel agents recently? Made any trips to Blockbuster Video.....) Otherwise, the economic consequences of weighing down students with debt to support universities' endless appetite for more funding is likely to be serious.

The result would be a delay in household formation and later a debt crisis. As with other debts, those than can't be repaid won't. Haven't we seen enough of this stuff? How many times do we have to drop the anvil on our foot to learn that it's heavy?

de Long posted this discussion of debt today. I'm surprised it has received so little criticism. Can the economic community finally be accepting Minsky? We can hope. Can we be done with "We owe it to ourselves", "One man's debt is another man's asset" and the rest...


Peter N: "You're assuming that universities will be able to compete with the policy you describe"

So we're all - eventually - going to be against the wall when the revolution comes?

Livio - I'm actually pursuing the strategic incompetence route...

Hi Frances,

I share your opinion that big changes are coming. I didn't understand this bit though:

"I believe there is a general tendency to see what male academics do as "real reseach", and what female academics do as - I don't know - something less serious, and certainly less worthy of public support."

What is the gender difference in research that you mean? Do you mean gender diffs across fields like labour or health economics vs macro or econometrics?

Kevin - there are definitely people like yourself - people who promote, cite and co-author with both men and women.

I would say that, in general, in most societies, over time, the work of women has been less valued than the work of men - one can quote that old testament passage about the worth of a woman and a man (that gives a female/male wage rate of 60%), or look at the work of Claudia Goldin, Francine Blau, Nancy Folbre and many others for a North American context. And it doesn't seem to matter so much *what* work it is - whether it's sewing or herding or shopping or whatever - the work done by men tends to have higher prestige.

I'd see a general social tendency to view academic research as less important/valuable when it's done by women as just a manifestation of this tend - call it an application of Claudia Goldin's pollution theory of discrimination, if you will. I've written about this before here: have universities reached the tipping point.

On whether academics view male and female work differently - wouldn't you agree that the more female dominated fields in econ tend to be the lower status ones? And there are a fair number of studies of citation patterns that find that men are more likely to cite other men.

Kevin - I don't know if I've answered your question - a la Goldin's pollution theory, I'd argue that *all* research is seen as less valuable when it's revealed that women can do academic research.

With all the recent developments in online education, it does indeed seem that changes are coming but that they will be very unpredictable; Glen Murray’s big plans will probably have mattered little in retrospect, should they happen. As someone who works a lot with the academic-industrial pharma complex, I think the question is primarily about what new coalitions will emerge, how universities will fracture in their internal politics, and what kinds of painful decisions governments will choose to make.

To some extent, you just have to extrapolate from the status quo. Faculties of medicine will become even more predatory (public image and industrial dollars), and we will probably see increasingly fierce behavior from engineering, nursing, and other professional schools. Eventually, I would guess that having humanities departments will become a powerful signal of institutional wealth, given the few universities able to keep them. If humanities profs want to survive, they may have to align themselves strongly with the leisured bourgeoisie (likewise, expect Quebec to take a different stance on this).

I’m not sure I have anything insightful to say about the gender issues though...perhaps it’s time to reconsider your previous post on occupational licencing for economists?

What revolution? It happened years ago. It's just that the sharp end of the utilitarian calculus has only just reached economics departments, after slashing through the rest of higher learning over the past two decades. The relevant quote is from the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre: "It's not that the barbarians are at the gates, but that they have been ruling us for quite some time".

I am biased, while man many of my key academic mentors are women and I admire them greatly. So I am likely to see a lot of value in what they do.

But, in a more general manner, universities have a lot of interesting structural problems. Back when I was an undergraduate student (and the caveman hunted the mighty dinosaur), there was a lot of perception that very senior professors were low in productivity compared to junior professors. And then they got rid of mandatory retirement (this was Ontario) which only accelerated some of these issues. But I could easily see the reaction being either way. The terms that happen to new professors are brutal (at least partially due to labor market competition) but the real savings are in the more senior faculty ranks.

I suspect it will be hard to be sure what will be the final approach taken. Or if there will even be one. 25 years ago people told me how unsustainable the university system was (it was the same time as the great retirement myth where the boomers retiring was about to create of shortage of professors -- strange that we never noticed this contradiction at the time) and it is still going strong.

What was the famous quote about shorting stock -- the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. I wonder if that can also apply to an institution?

Joseph "And then they got rid of mandatory retirement (this was Ontario) which only accelerated some of these issues" I can't tell you how strongly I agree with this - and how I wish, when the standard retirement age was being debated, I had the access to blogs and other media that I do now. I would argue that, if anything, a standard retirement age should be abolished for all jobs *except* tenured university professor, senator, and supreme court justice.

Love your last line.

"She's not tenured, so if she's not doing her job, she will be out of work soon enough anyways."

Am not familiar with employment law in DC and its application within academia (noting in particular the reference to "earned leave"), but I suspect that the asst prof had the impression that if she stayed home with the baby as proposed using 20/20 hindsight by many of the commenters to that article, "she will be out of work soon enough anyways."

I haven't seen the details of the story, but I can imagine it might relate to the fact that there is not good maternity benefits in the U.S. In Canada if they were under a year old, the mother would be at home with paid maternity leave would they not.. Not sure the details of the U.S. system, but I understand that they have one of the least generous maternity leave provisions in the OECD.

Just sayin...

People stood nearest walls.

The Restructuring Monster has visited many institutions and professions over the past 30 years. Welcome to the club.

So faculty pay is an issue. Tenure? You also have unions. Faculties have gone on strike. Tenure will die unless universities, like auto workers, agree to serious wage cuts or restructuring. I'm a lefty but the horse just can't pull the faculty wagon any more. Faculty will have a choice: higher pay or tenure, but not both.

Second, the quaint dream of scholars with tenure free to pursue their own agendas has been a sham for two generations at least. Every since governments started to pick up serious portions of the university tab through direct grants and student aid, university professors have been indirect public employees. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

As a scientist not an economist, I find tiresome to once again hear that what universities produce is not good value for money. As far as I can tell it is because the value of much of what we do is not easily quantified in those terms. For example, I suspect that students who make it through almost any degree at a decent Canadian university will have improved writing skills, more tolerance for nuanced discussion, have more appreciation for the utility of debate within a democratic society, understand that many problems are multidimensional and require careful evidence-based methods to evaluate and solve. I think all of those skills/ways of thinking are extremely valuable to not only that individual (whether he/she knows it or not), but also to the future of our society as a democratic nation. How does an economist put a monetary value on what I just described?

Andrew: "For example, I suspect that students who make it through almost any degree at a decent Canadian university will have improved writing skills, more tolerance for nuanced discussion, have more appreciation for the utility of debate within a democratic society, understand that many problems are multidimensional and require careful evidence-based methods to evaluate and solve."

There was a study carried out in the US that got a lot of publicity a year or so ago that actually tried to see whether or not your suspicions are right. It turned out that the "value added" of university depended quite a bit on the program of study. Humanities programs - often pilloried as "useless" - were actually associated with measurably improved writing skills. As one of my former students put it "my MA in Econ got me my job, but my BA in philosophy got me my promotions." Don't remember how science programs fared. Some programs - the study highlighted business, but I suspect that was in part a function of the types of skills they were measuring - really didn't generate much in terms of increased skills.

I think it's entirely possible to take a position like yours - that universities should be places for people to grow and develop as individuals - and still argue that our current university system is unsustainable. Because I'm not convinced that we are teaching writing skills, careful evidence-based evaluation, etc as well as we could be.

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