Tired of doing theoretical research, I’m now learning about how to build good universities. It turns out that to build good universities is really difficult, you need a lot of good conditions, and decades or even centuries. But to destroy universities (literally or figuratively) is much easier, and there are policies and actions with “good intention” (aiming to improve universities) which actually destroy universities. (As they say, the road to hell is paved with good samaritans). So even if you don’t want to destroy universities and instead want to build universities, you should also know about those “good-sounding” policies which destroy universities in order to avoid them.
I’m collecting here the “most effective methods” to destroy universities. If you know of other methods, please send them to me. Thank you !
Eliminate the scholars
No university can survive without scholars, so eliminate scholars and you are done. How to eliminate them ?
- The religious way: kill them ! They (the Church) burned Giordano Bruno alive for his heretic theory. (Un)fortunateely, the religious powers don’t have the legal power to eliminate scholars who dare say things opposite to their doctorines now, but they can still assassinate them. A number of scholars in Iraq had been assassinated in this decade, some of them probably for political or economical reasons, and some of them for religious reasons ?
- The Maoist way: send them to reeducation camps. Chairman Mao of China once said “intellectuals are worth less than sh*t” or something like that, and during the cultural revolution, he sent them to labor camps so that those “worthless profs” could become useful as laborers. Needless to say, Chinese universities were devastated. But this episode didn’t last very long: after Mao died, Chinese people went back to building universities again.
- The Soviet way: imprison “anti-Marxist” profs. Stalin was not as categorical as Mao. He sent to gulags only those profs who were “anti-Marxist”. Genetic biologists for example. After Stalin died, the Soviet Block continued to fire or imprison dissident scholars. (Well, not only the East, but the USA did a similar thing, by chasing out “communist profs” from universities ?)
Starve the scholars
You don’t have to eliminate the scholars. You can render them useless by starving them. Hungry scholars will be too busy finding something to feed themselves and their family, and have no time for research or serious teaching.
- The Russo-Vietnamese way: pay the profs less than simple workers ! That’s actually happining right now in 2010. A hard-working taxi driver in Hanoi will make about 10M VND per month (a bit more than 500 USD), but a full prof’s official salary is much lower than that! Unless he has other sources of income or do lots of extra work on the side, he will not be able to feed his family. No wonder why the quality of research and teaching of Vietnamese profs is so low. Russia seems to do the same thing: they pay Moscow State Univ. full profs a misery, equivalent to the salary of very low-qualified workers. So in Russia, professors also have lots of side jobs or go abroad from time to time to make their living.
The situation in France is better than that, of course, but it may also approach the ridiculous: when a young CNRS researcher in Paris went to a real estate agency to rent an appartment, they looked at his salary and then laughed and said: with such a salary you can’t rent anything. And recently a guy from another country in Europe got a full prof position in France but then declined, when he learned about the salary. I have a friend who is a member of the Academy of Sciences of France, and his wife is a high school teacher, but his wife always made more money (as a high school teacher, with additional pay for extra teaching hours) than himself.
Corrupt the people
You can be sure that corrupted scholars, staff and students can do lots of harm to the universities. So corrupt them if you want to destroy the universities.
- The Russo-Vietnamese way again: by way of starvation. It’s easier to currupt hungry people than well-fed people. Many people became thieves, not because they wanted to, but because they didn’t know how survive otherwise. In Russia and Vietnam, there are many corrupted professors (who can, for example, write a PhD dissertation for you, or give you a high grade in a exam even if you know nothing about the subject, for money).
- The English way: dumbing down performance measures. To measure the performance of research and teaching is a very complicated thing, but politicians don’t like that. They want simple measures, say just 1 or 2 numbers, easy for them to understand. That’s what Mme Thatcher’s administration did to English universities. They reduced journal quality to impact factor, and research achievement to H-index or something like that. The problem is, these numbers are easy to game. So the profs, instead to trying to do the best research, spend their time to game the system and do the kind of reasearch work & publications that produces some big numbers that the administration likes. This scary trend is propagating to many other countries.
England is not the only inventer of “dumb measures”. In the Soviet Union, they also used dumb measures, e.g. the success of a glass producer was measured only by the volume of produced glass. What came of it was that they made very thick glass (huge volume), which was in many cases useless!
- The union way (or socialist way): anti-merit system. Under this system, people who do their job well get paid basically the same as people who do their job badly, and it’s impossible to fire people with poor performance. After a while, many excellent people will either leave (for a better place where they are better valued) or stay and become mediocre (because there was no incentive for them to work hard and to remain excellent). With mediocre faculty and staff, the university will automatically become mediocre.
In theory, unions can be good (in defending workers’ rights) but when the unions get too powerful they can also have an enormous destrictive power by becoming too greedy (they’re not interested in working well, they just want job security and more pay for less work). France is currently a victim of the unions: for example, public transport in France became very unreliable, and it’s bad for everyone. Many universities in France are so dirty (mine is an example) partly beacause no one can force the cleaners to clean well.
- The communist way: red is better than competent. In Vietnam there is a slogan saying something like “cadres must be red and competent”. In practice, red was often considered much more important than competent. For example, in an evaluation of university teachers, you’ll get 10 points for introducing someone to the Party, and 5 points for excellence in research. As a result, people who pretend to be red get promoted to important positions even if they are incompetent, much more easily than those people who are really competent.
- The “democratic” way: Let students grade profs. Israel tried that method and the result was a disaster. Professors try to “please” students by giving higher grades for the same work in hope that in turn they’ll get high grades from the students. The result is an inflation in grades.
Students should be able to complain about profs who don’t teach seriously, of course. They should also be able to make suggestions, wishes, etc. in order to improve teaching and learnings. But profs should have authority over students, and should not fear “retaliation” if they give bad grades to bad students.
- The “performance” way: insist on high “success” rates. Force profs to let even very bad students pass so that the university can have a high success rate in graduation. The diplomes will become cheap to the point of useless.
- The mafia way ?
Destroy the facilities
Universities can’t function without facilities either. so to destroy universities, you can destroy their facilities physically
- The imperialist way: bomb them (during the wars). US bombed northern Vietnamese universities. Israel also bombed universities in Palestine.
- The terrorist way: bomb them. In Pakistan, universities are also targets of terrorist attacks.
Destroy the student base
This is a “subtle”, non-violent method. Just make sure that the universities can’t attract good students !
- The French way: model “université-poubelle”. France wanted to have “university for all”. Nice idea, but the practice is not so nice: there are “grandes écoles” (definitely “not for all”) which take all the good students, and the universities are left with bad students. As the “grandes ecoles” are getting bigger and more powerful, the universities are getting worse and worse in terms of students, and become the “poubelle” (trash-bin). One of the crazy paradoxes is that, during their first 2 years, best students in France learn in “classes prepa” taught by high school teachers (who don’t know much about research and modern sciences), and not by higher-qualified professors, while bad students are taught by research professors.
- The Vietnamese way: high tuition fees, and not good academic records, required to enter “elite” universities. As a result, only bad kids of rich families enter those universitites.
Cut the fundings
No fundings, no university
- The American way (or corporatist way): reduce public fundings and turn universities into corporations. Those departments which don’t “bring in money” will get killed or at least become miserable. Only those things which can bring in money from the outside will be supported. Direct victims will be: basic research, arts and humanities. (Things that all people can profit from but no one wants to pay for).
- The Irish way ?
Waste time and other resources
Assume that you can’t kill the profs, destroy the facilities, or chase away the students. In such a situation, you can still destroy the universities, by wasting the time and resources of profs and students, diverting them to useless stuffs.
- The Vietnamese way: wasting 40% of student time on political stuffs. The former Soviet Union “worried” about the idiology of their students. So they installed a lot of politicall courses: scientific communism, histroy of the communist party of the Soviet Union, historical and dialectical materialism, political (Maxrist) economics, etc. … Vietnam went even further, by adding an obligatory course called “HoChiMinh’s ideology”. A colleague of mine estimated that, 40% of classroom time in an average undergraduate scientific programme in Vietnam is about politics.