Building Education for the Commons
A worker was digging the foundations for a new road. After several hours of hard toil, he hits his shovel on something hard in the ground. His master finally joins him and they work quickly to dig the object out and discover that it’s a treasure chest. On opening it they find jewels, coins, gold etc. beyond their wildest dreams. Both are wild with happiness and dance around madly.
When they have calmed down, the master takes the worker’s hand and says with sincerity “Comrade, we will share this just like comrades should” and the worker replies, “Oh no, 50 – 50”!
Does this joke not reveal the truth of the theorist/professors relationship to the contemporary university? The worker (as the professor) discovers gold while his master (a university administrator) sits lazily beside him until the former discovers amazing truths, “gold”. But instead of taking the treasure for herself, she readily settles for sharing it equally with the administrator. But, it turns out, in real life, the administrator would claim the entire treasure for himself and give the professor barely enough to keep surviving.
Has not the current situation with universities, especially in the US, and soon in the UK, followed this scenario? We might say that the history of philosophy has been, with some strange divergences, an attempt to discover life’s deepest secrets. Life’s treasures of truth, justice, the good and the beautiful have been the destiny of many forms of philosophy. But today, the philosopher and theorist has sadly been reduced to a nervous wreak wondering when her or his department might one day be cut from the college because, as a dean might say, “It just doesn’t bring money in, like the science departments.”
With this real threat lingering above the heads of many professors in the humanities, it sends the signal that their worth is measured only by how much funding they raise, how many students they have in their courses, and how many books and articles they publish. We live in strange times, these days, when the search for truths in the world is measured by its worth in money and not the quality of life such reflections may lead one to live. And, in the process, many professors pass on their wisdom to students seeking to be fulfilled as they take the first steps on their own journey.
I think it’s time to call into question the very way universities treat faculty who have devoted their lives to seeking out wisdom and truths in the world, and living a life that seeks to share these intangible but precious gems of what makes life worth living.