Public Spaces (Privatization of Higher Education in the Age of Big-Data-Big-Science)

If you are interested in what the privatization of public space of higher education looks like, check out the ongoing scandal at the University of Virginia. Surrounding the recent sacking of President Teresa Sullivan by the Board of Visitors is a lot of corporate yak about the need for “strategic dynamism.” What “strategic dynamism” really means is a race to the bottom, cost cutting, program gutting, and the monetizing of higher education. After some thirty years of market logic and I’m not sure how many years of big-data scientism, it’s time to re-commit financially and politically to the public spaces and places and to re-commit “morally” to the human element and to the humanities.

That, by the way, is another major wrinkle to the story. It’s the connection between the galloping privatization of our public life and big science-big-data. Big data and big science are the new modalities which are expected to explain “everything.” And if neurology and evolutionary biology-psychology can explain it all, if the important parts of human life are nothing but function, and if the technologists can jigger the genome, then who needs to study art, history, languages, literature, philosophy, and religion? And if it doesn’t make money, and you don’t need to study it, then you don’t need to fund it, which means you should cut it.

As a minor aside, academic departments of Religion Studies, once dedicated to the divine science, have become bastions of humanism and humane values. Perhaps that has something, ironically, to do with the innate conservatism of its subject matter, religion, and with the innate methodological conservatism of the humanities. Despite all the protestations of “the radical professoriate,” money and science, not the Humanities, today threaten to disrupt the old academic order, and to change the university as we know it. Not even sleepy little Jewish Studies is immune, once you assume that anything can be bought.

These links were posted by friends on Facebook, and are worth a peek:

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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