Academia vs. university

I have recently opined on the status of academia, and I am more pessimistic about the survival of the current model in the United States than in Europe, in particular with respect to their research and teaching missions. I find it interesting to see that Bruno Frey seems to share some of this pessimism. But for somewhat different reasons.

Frey longs for the old model where the university is an untouchable and well-funded institution where academics spend their day thinking about research with little regard to what happens around them, While I think some ultra-talented researchers should have such privileges, this does not apply to the very vast majority of current university faculty whose research contributions are very marginal at best. While it important that they carry out research to get their teaching current, research should not be a resource draining focus.

Frey is afraid that his utopia of university is falling apart not because of market forces and costs, because of internal governance. He complains that research is nowadays too specialized. I am afraid this is unavoidable at the frontier, yet in Economics it is probably the least so as many publish in very different fields (and even outside of Economics). I agree with him that there is too much pressure to publish in mid-range universities where teaching should be the focus. He also claims that academia is rife with fraud, something I cannot testify to, but maybe I am naive. He finds also that academia is withering because universities admit too many students (I fully agree) and because people do not need to network within a physical university location to conduct research.

But the main reason for which academia is falling apart is, according to Frey, the emphasis ("mania") on rankings. While I agree that rankings are abused, they have a major justification: holding the university and its members accountable. Every university can (and does) claim it has the best teachers and researchers, but rankings put some realism in this. But what surprises me most in Frey's claim is that he is himself ranking obsessed to the point of venturing in unethical behavior. Indeed, he is managing editor (with his brother) of Kyklos, an old journal that has considerably lost in reputation. To improve its impact factor, he requires that accepted papers cite other articles from Kyklos...

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