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.