In an insightful, if depressing, post commenting on the shutting down of university presses, Walter Russell Mead warns that the nation’s fiscal problems are going to be very hard indeed on its public universities, and on non-rich private ones. Excerpt:
There are two ways for the system to respond. One is by cheese paring: cutting costs on “extraneous” or “non-core” activities while trying to preserve the heart of the old model. This looks like simple common sense to most administrators, and it is often the thinking that leads to the closure of university presses as well as other activities that, in the cold light of a budget crunch, suddenly look like frills.
The second way is more difficult, but it is ultimately what the academy must do: it must reinvent itself and radically restructure. This would involve not merely closing down an expensive university press but rethinking the relationship of scholarship to teaching, and re-examining the relevance of the “publish or perish” system for the large group of disciplines and institutions where it doesn’t really make sense.
That personal preference, however, is irrelevant to the choices universities face. As the blue system implodes, politicians are going to come after universities the way Henry VIII went after the monks. The blue meltdown pits the universities against the public service unions, against the public schools, against families and students struggling under student loan burdens, against everyone else who wants or needs a share of the state budget. Academics are among the weakest and most vulnerable of those who depend on the state; the universities are fated to lose badly in the money wars.