Popping the Higher-Education Bubble


Here is a letter I wrote to Mark Shapiro who periodically posts essays on trouble in the schools and Cindy Hill who is extremely frustrated with the treatment she is receiving at the hands of the universities for whom she shoulders an incredibly heavy teaching burden as an adjunct professor for almost no pay.  See http://irascibleprofessor.com/comments-05-01-11.htm.  I am familiar with John Taylor Gattoís criticisms of the schools without having read very much of his fine writing.  The thoughts below are my own. 

I was on the tenure track for four years at Clarkson and an adjunct at Prairie View as a huge favor to the chairman; and, yet, I was infuriated all over again by Hillís story.  Further, on the supply side, tenured faculty members often are not paid to teach since the universityís cut of their research funds, for which the university does almost nothing, far exceeds the professorís salary, which is supposed to pay for teaching, advising, and department and community service.  So, where does the money go?  Presumably, the money that is not stolen by the  universityís inner circle goes to pay for all of those elegant buildings the purpose of which is to delude students into imagining that their university is the gateway to the upper class even if their university is not Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

On the demand side, the university has practically nothing to teach in the vast number of disciplines because of the following reasons whether or not they act in concert:


∑    Many disciplines succeed only to convert people who might have become excellent plumbers or machinists into useless paper shufflers.

∑    Most disciplines seek to prepare students to live and work in a world that will soon cease to exist.

∑    Even in the valid disciplines such as math, physics, and engineering, the silo system will ensure that graduates have insufficient knowledge of related fields to have a good idea about what people in their narrow discipline ought to be doing.

∑    The purpose of the university is to provide obedient wage slaves for the great corporations.

∑    When all is said and done, what is left is essentially anti-communist propaganda.

∑    There is no one left who knows enough to teach the arts.

∑    The candle isnít worth the price of the cake.


This list is incomplete.  Please note, though, that many of these defects apply to K-12 education almost everywhere in the United States and perhaps abroad.


Note (March 14, 2014)† For a long time now I have been aware that one of the chief problems with formal education is that college students are forced to read serious books to pass courses.  When they have graduated and there is no one to force them to read anything, they rarely can get themselves to read anything serious; whereas, many intelligent people who have not attended college get tremendous pleasure from reading serious literature, as it satisfies natural curiosity and other natural tendencies. Very few college graduates have escaped this trap.† Thus, extrinsic motivation poisons intrinsic motivation. My book, On the Preservation of Species, has a number of references to the research of John Condry, Ed Deci, and Richard Ryan on intrinsic motivation in behavioral psychology. 



Tom Wayburn

May 6, 2011, Revised November 21, 2012

Houston, Texas


P.S.  The following is the start of a list of useful papers on the higher-education bubble: