The lede to this article on this weekend’s New York Times piece on the “globalization” of higher education is just priceless:
When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.
You really don’t need to read the rest of the article. (He gets the gift, and a campus in the Emirates is in the works). Thanks to the irresistible temptation put upon university administrators to be Chatty Kathys with the press, NYU’s Sexton just revealed what’s behind the globalizing trend: money.
If I were one of the hipsters paying $50k a year to live in the Village, explore myself, and cull a degree stamped with the name of NYU, one of the United States’ best universities, I’d be a bit peeved. Inexorably, when you start establishing satellite campuses of a prestigious university like NYU, you devalue its center.
There are several reasons for this. First, there is an explosion of people who hold a degree nominally from NYU, but really from an inferior institution outside of New York. Second, the globalizing trend is predicated on the belief that knowledge is digitalized and borders are meaningless. But anyone who lives on or near a campus cannot fail to recognize that the physical campus is of utmost importance. There are lectures, there are research libraries befitting a university, there are faculty offices where you can sign your name to a sheet and then have a meeting with an expert on anything from Shakespearean soliloquies to Sumerian cuneiform. But you can bet that in an attempt to correct the first problem and turn NYU-Abu Dhabi into something worthy of the name NYU, lots of those resources — many of which cannot be replicated or bought with mere dollars — are going to be exported abroad.
This doesn’t even touch upon the problems of academic credibility one encounters in teaching in a country, whether NYU in the UAE or Yale in China, that values technical learning at the forfeit of classical learning. If you thought American higher education was in a rotten state, bereft of a general education as it is, just go East! Indeed, even were these schools interested in offering the barest shreds of the Humanities, much of it would be censored outright.