On The American Interest’s website, Walter Russell Mead writes this week:
In the humanities and most of the social “sciences”, the Ph.D and peer review machine as it now exists is a vastly expensive mediocrity factory. It makes education both more expensive and less effective than it needs to be. There are islands and even archipelagos of excellence in the sea of sludge but we needn’t subsidize the sea to preserve them.
Mead is commenting on a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that highlights the critical eye increasingly cast on research efforts in academia. If you come here often, notions of the factory model of education and the glut of PhDs will sound very familiar.
Both Mead’s article and the Chronicle piece put into sharp relief the two biggest problems with the publish-or-perish model of academic tenure: (1) the perverse criteria for academic promotion that emphasizes the publication of work that the public doesn’t read and that even other scholars don’t cite, and (2) what this perversity costs to faculty, students, and the general public—both monetarily and otherwise.
Mead sums up the problem like this:
[O]ur current system encourages students to think that if you really love a subject, you should become a hack: a “serious” student of literature in our perverted world is someone who scribbles unreadable and unread treatises about minutiae rather than someone who takes that love into the public arena and encourages new generations to love, revere and, who knows, expand the literary heritage with which we are blessed.