Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Universe's Crisis of Stupidity

The fan club is after me to chastise Drewdie for writing such a boring essay in the NYT Book Review. The fan club is made up of my close personal friends, but really we cannot teach by scolding. We must teach by example. So I am going to write the essay as Drewdie should have written it. Post wit, to wit, ipso facto, and et cetera, dum spiro spero, following:

As my close personal friend Louie 'Lou-eye' Gates definitely did not say, 'I'll see yo mama outside.'

Don't be stupid! The world economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama does not change the fact that you have to be stupid not to see how important universities, both public and private, are. People go to universities to think and learn, and I don't care how smart you are, you can always benefit from thinking and learning.

So don't be stupid! Ask us to help solve the important problems of the day--from health care delivery to climate change to economic recovery. We are constantly thinking about things and doing research. Even when you ask us to do things impossible to do this side of science fiction, we manage to rise, almost nearly, to the challenge.

Educate the elite? Sure, we'll do that. Give opportunities to the downtrodden? No problemo! Manage our vast amounts of money so that it grows and grows and grows so tall we can climb up to the giant's castle in the clouds and steal the magic hen that lays golden eggs? We did that! A little problem arose when the giant got mad and came after us but we are working on it!

But ladies and gentlemen, listen up! We can do nearly everything but you have to trust us and let us fool around, experiment, get messy! Tolerate ambiguity! Embrace complexity! The most difficult problems are often solved when someone is working on something else entirely!

That's why we need English majors, and history professors, and other entities that don't have measurable ROI. They stir the pot. Even more obviously you can't follow people around with stop-watches and those little coin counters the ladies who sold you popcorn at the drive-in movies wear around their waists if you want the stew to stay rich enough to bubble up solutions to the problems of the present and future.

I am embarrassed that some of the ideas that are, well, stupid--like the market "knows" how much something is worth--came out of universities. I don't think English majors or history majors ever bought that crap, do you? Do you have any idea how many English majors and history majors are on Wall Street? Do you think that is not part of the problem?

Higher education is about not being stupid. You can't put a price on that.