Drew Gilpin Faust writes on “The University’s Crisis of Purpose” in the current NYT book review. Most of the essay is superb, about not just justifying college education by its vocational payoff, but also the study of truth & beauty for their own sakes. I liked also this: “Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt…to serve…as society’s critic and conscience.” (wow, thanks for justifying my own approach towards the society of foreign aid!)
Alas, after that high point, the Harvard President recommends what is already everybody’s favorite form of social criticism: amateur economics!
As the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism, should universities – have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? Should universities have presented a firmer counterweight to economic irresponsibility? … Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?
I don’t think the President is talking about the technical study of perverse incentives in financial markets and regulation, such as those that caused the crisis. I’m not sure WHICH academics in WHICH department she is calling upon to supply shallow moralizing and bad economics (certainly not the superb Harvard econ dept or the great economists at the Kennedy School).
I don’t mean to pick on the Harvard President in particular, many heavyweight figures are dispensing sophomoric rhetoric ever since the crisis made it open season on economics. I'm just following her counsel to supply some inconvenient doubt about the social value of such rhetoric.