Exclusion and elitism must be eliminated in order to free the university
The academy and the university are often confused with one another. We have come to believe that the elitist and exclusionary institutions that confer degrees represent the university.
In our overindulgence with the allure of degrees and prestige, we have forgotten the true function of the university: The generation of new knowledge.
Academic institutions all over the world are riddled with useless bureaucracy, corruption, elitism, nepotism, and other maladies. The current form of the academy, or the institutional rendition of the university, is squeezing the life out of the idea of the university.
Corruption scandals, even out of the ongoing debate about the influence of money and power in the admissions testing and acceptance process, are aplenty.
In this day of rising authoritarianism, the institutions are often used as a method of silencing dissenters and creating a uniform social consciousness trained to obey. This is the exact opposite of the idea of the university.
But the idea of the university originated as a medium for the expression and origination of knowledge through a communitarian approach. The very word derives from the Latin expression universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which means a community of scholars and teachers.
Now, does this community need to have an institutional form, especially one that is elitist and exclusionary? Must the university be bound within the walls of shiny buildings?
The answer is a resounding “No.” A large list of scholars can be produced who never attended a university, even in this day and age. A larger number of scholars attained excellence and created new knowledge in fields that they did not have a degree in.
But in the present, with the expansion of the oligopoly of the academy, the space for a non-institutional scholarship is being limited. The academy has produced degrees as a signal of expertise, a signal that is dishonest and farcical. But the system has been built around this faulty signal, which makes life difficult for those who are excluded. Getting a publication out in a scholarly journal has become more and more difficult without a shining degree. Your research will probably not even be read or taken seriously if it does not come from an authoritative source, ie the academy. Even getting an op-ed published in a regular newspaper becomes difficult.
Why do we have these academies that erect tall buildings that exclude those who don’t have the means to feed fancy tutors or have a rich uncle from a university education?
Because, much like many insidious institutions that reign supreme, they have concentrated resources.
They have amassed a huge amount of money and power.
They have closed the access to books and papers.
They have contracted teachers into closed-off classes and they have stolen the market for independent universities.
The best method for access into the scholarly and professional community is, therefore, to submit to the will of the oligopoly and fight for a spot, however narrowed down by the influences of money and power, in the top universities, a vice that I myself am guilty of.
This provides one with access to resources and access to a network, both academic and professional. So yes, the academy, sold as the emblem of meritocracy, is basically a tool for and of systematic elitism.
But the oligopoly of the academies that falsely advertise themselves as universities will not hold. The future of education belongs to the class outside the classroom. It belongs to massively open online courses and employer certifications. It belongs to independent researchers and open-access journals. It belongs to the open-source and to the creative commons.
The age to come is the age of the universal university.
And the professional community agrees. In the real world, the future of the degree seems to be reverting the trend of the present.
The value of the degree is eroding. There is a growing concern among employers that the degree-granting academy is leaving the students unprepared for jobs and they are having to train the students from the ground up in order to make their work productive.
Even the research publication problem presented before is now being solved with more and more journals welcoming studies from non-affiliated researchers.
The scholarly community is beginning to be more inclusive and accepting, and it will continue to be so with the tools for research becoming more and more accessible due to the advent of new technology.
Alternative educational institutions will replace the current elitist version of the academy and the university will be freed to the public. David Gelernter, a Yale computer scientist predicts that over 90% of U.S. colleges will be gone within the next generation.
For the sake of intellectual honesty, I must admit many academies are now leaving their rigid structures behind and opening up to the idea of the university.
Many have instituted distance learning courses that are open for all. Many have instituted methods for certification exams without taking classes.
And most allow people to audit classes without having to be registered. They do this, I argue, not out of pure generosity, but also from an urge to stay relevant and productive. If they continue to become more open, cut corruption, exclusion, and elitism, they may become more like a university they promise to be.
Until then, we must continue our work to break the academy, both from within and out. When the academic administration takes actions that are corrupt, elitist, nepotist, and exclusionary, we must protest.
We must walk out, we must demonstrate and we must push for the more open campus. We must demand open courses, we must demand more seminars, we must demand open access and we must demand opportunities.
It is our duty, for the sake of the advancement of knowledge, to destroy the ivory tower of the academy and allow the university to reign free.
Anupam Debashis Roy is an incoming graduate student at Boston University and a JD candidate at Harvard Law School. He is also an editor of Muktiforum. Reach him at [email protected]