" For better or worse, universities seeded the very changes—neoliberal economics, technological innovation, and the education of the Calvinists who now declare a reformation—that Shirky sees as inevitable Oedipal threats to the academy. Agency, contingency, and complexity never figure into the baby-simple analysis of discredited public monopolies of knowledge falling before the spontaneous liberating sway of crowdsourced intellectual inquiry. Predestination, or maybe some oracle, explains everything.
The market surely can’t—and shouldn’t. The richest nation in the history of the world subsidizes all sorts of luxuries and inefficiencies. Football stadiums, bridges to nowhere, bases and planes that even the military does not want, churches, temples, cathedrals, and vacation homes. Yet in the present consensus on the future of our higher learning, the notion that perhaps we can afford a reasonable level of public investment in the inefficient institutions that gave us the Green Revolution and Google is deemed unrealistic. The public debate is locked on measurable outputs. But the opportunity costs of failing to reinvest never come up. What is the public expense, for instance, if we continue to gouge funding for research on communicable diseases or climate change? How do we measure the cost of failing to inspire and guide the student who might write the next great work of political thought that can guide us safely through the challenges of this century? Why can’t the richest country in the world afford to adequately support passionate potential scholars in the pursuit of their calling? We make explicit value choices in this republic. We have chosen tax breaks over history, poetry, and science. Nothing is inevitable. We can choose otherwise.
When we scholars explain our passions—the deep satisfaction we feel when we help a nineteen-year-old make a connection between the Mahabharata and The Iliad, or when our research challenges the surprising results of some medical experiment that the year before generated unwarranted headlines—many of our listeners roll their eyes like my fellow students did back in that classroom in 1995. How embarrassing that people find deep value in such uncountable things."