Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Celibacy Rule for Academics

I see that this morning's San Francisco Chronicle has outed the cost-to-taxpayers of the UC Berkeley athletics program. Bully for them, even if the story was just there for the taking and even conceding tht nothing--absolutely nothing--will come of it, unless you include the energy expended on a few rolled eyebrows.

It's the kind of story that has been on my mind off and on for some months now. I'm a happy duespayer at a "University" athletics club, although I expect my fairly modest mite doesn't in any way reflect the elegance and comfort of the facility in question. Meanwhile here in Palookville, the (former) proprietor of a private health club is telling anyone who will listen that he was put out of business with the University (different U) opened its facilities to paying customers.

These are just a more reminders of a story we've all known about for a long time: universities have long since lost any but the mot tenuous contact with their nominal mission statement. Rather they've become a loosely linked network of independent contractors persuing a heterogeneous range of more or less profitable enterprises ranging from wine-making to nuclear weaponry. They are, in short, more and more like medieval monasteries (plus nukes), where a small and highly privileged core live lavishly at the effort nd expense of a vast multitude of others.

The monasteries of course at last more or less choked on their own bodily fluids and I suppose the universities will as well. But I can think of one important differences between the medieval monastery and the modern university: celibacy. Or at least the appearance thereof. Celibacy is an elusive goal at the best of times, and I suppose the assembled monks, with the customary array of nuns, choirboys, goats and whatever were not much better than the rest of the human race. But keeping up the pretense can be onerous and the existence of the principle, however fraudulent, can be a handy whip for the authorities to use to keep lesser mortals in line.

There is an economy in nature. Now that celibacy (or the tattered pretense thereof) is at last abandoning the Catholic church, I wonder if it is time to impose a rule of celibacy on tenured University professors. Probably won't crimp their sails much but it might operate at least as an irritating encumbrance, like a hair shirt. Come to think of it, while we're at it, let's reinstitute the hair shirt.

Footnote: For generally fawning accounts of the career of a guy who deployed more than a billion dollars in public money to enhance his own private fortune, go here.

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