Après Taylor, le déluge

What a scurrilous little piece Mark C. Taylor, public intellectual and superstar in my very own field – religion and postmodernism – has just produced (in the NYT, and here).  “End the University as We Know It” is the title, and the argument is that because many graduate students can’t get good jobs in the fields in which they’re trained, we ought to (a) abolish departments in favour of continually-shifting, momentarily-relevant, interdisciplinary programmes, (b) invest in teleconferencing tools so that courses across the nation can be taught at several institutions at once by many fewer faculty members, (c) abolish tenure, and so on.  I thought I might write a long rant about it, but I’m frankly almost speechless with annoyance.

I will, however, repeat Z’s comments:  An enormously successful academic, aged 64, Taylor wants to abolish the academy at exactly the point where he’s got from it everything he can get.  He is, like, sooo over the university; therefore the university is, like, sooo over.  Ego anyone?  But there’s more.  Because in one instance only might Taylor not quite be finished with the academy, namely if it falls.  If the called for apocalypse does take place, Taylor will be one of its high priests.  He’s setting himself up for real power here.  Already vastly famous within the power structure that exists, he can spring to further fame only on its ruins.

And so now look at that.  Z is working outside disciplinary boundaries with three of Taylor’s proposed programme topics:  Language, Life, and Money. And he comes up with a highly relevant argument.  Hah!

If Taylor had told the university to go to hell when he was a rising academic of 35, I might have given him some respect.


5 thoughts on “Après Taylor, le déluge

  1. Please stop dragging me in to your petty arguments with clever paraphrases of something I never even said. Pick on Louis XIV once in a while. For example: “Sun King” Taylor at deathbed — “The university departs, but I shall always remain.” Wouldn’t that have been a wittier headline? (I confess a secret passion for the Fourth Estate.)

  2. That’s management speak promoting “Matrix” environments. Many corporations fell for it (including my workplace). That is, people are “matrixed” into departments along functional lines. Each project manager then pulls together a team out of the matrix with the appropriate skill set for the problem at hand.

    It can work or fail, for a variety of reasons.

    I am not sure how I feel about being in a matrix. I haven’t seen Keanu Reeves lately, though.

  3. I, too, was speechless with annoyance after reading this rant online this morning. I got even more annoyed after reading a number of comments posted. And then remained speechless. I felt similarly to Z in that I couldn’t help but think that this was all about ego and “the end of an era” for poor Mark Taylor.

    Thanks for posting something on this. I wish I had a smart response to post, but sadly I don’t. I just remain annoyed. So I’m glad I’m in good company.

  4. Oh, I love that kind of gianormous ego. It never fails to go off somewhere and show itself as batshit crazy. All the problems of post-secondary education would be solved if I were in charge, or everyone just did as I say, implies Taylor – funny, every species of such a dream I’ve ever heard has come from religion and culture or political theory folk ;) And Dean Dad reminds us, writing about Taylor, why admin so often think faculty are more than a little nutty. (http://suburbdad.blogspot.com/2009/04/project-based-education-response-to.html)

  5. Once again there was wine involved, so the paraphrasing is still a bit too Oonian. I remember saying that Taylor’s list wasn’t new. It’s every university President’s secret desire, now being stated openly and shamelessly everywhere, but usually supported only by administrative climbers in the faculty. Taylor stands out as the quintessential Boomer, though — an academic Polyphemos willing to devour anyone and destroy anything in order to stand alone and bellow loudly. He’d be laughable — like Bottom trying to play all the roles — if his dream weren’t fully backed by university administrations and coming soon to laptops everywhere.

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