Hacks hold the reins

February 21, 2003

Tom Hickey asked "why didn't we say no" to the degradation of academia (Soapbox, THES , January 24)? It is true that the state has forced much of this on academia, but it could hardly have done so without its willing complicity. I suggest some reasons:

* If there exist only the alternatives of "learning for its own sake" and learning as utility, then the utilitarian end will win as it is more "realistic" and socially useful

* Far from affirming its role as truth-pursuer, academia has surrendered to the Faustian temptation of seeking knowledge as power, and through this to make common cause with the state as power-source, putting itself in thrall to the state

* Academia tends to be statist rather than libertarian in outlook (as Hickey's remarks on Adam Smith reveal) and therefore hostile to individual or private efforts, while fostering collectivity

* Academic habits of thinking frequently become utilitarian and assume a virtue in aggregating information and skill at mediocre levels, rather than pursuing high knowledge and insight

* So academia stultifies itself and derides the cultivation of rare talent as "elitism" and pure research as "snobbery"

* Education is bureaucratised, and this, despite complaints, is by no means unpalatable to the natural apparatchiks

* So academia becomes part of "the real world" and tries to model itself on the motivations and procedures of business and industry

* There is perennial tension in academia between the originals and the hacks: all of the foregoing favours the hacks.

Nigel Probert

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