I read two articles/editorials yesterday questioning the long-term sustainability of the business model of public education. One was in the Financial Times, discussing how the UCLA Business School is separating from the University of California system and going private. (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d5745294-b9d9-11df-8804-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=rss) One would think the law schools at UCLA and Cal., at least, might be salivating to do the same thing. Both schools would compete quite well for private giving and surely could maintain their stature if private. Other public schools, mine included, likely would cease to exist if not supported by the state.
The other was an essay in the NY Times Review of Books (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/books/review/Shea-t.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&ref=homepage&src=me&adxnnlx=1283788874-EI3F/iQn5Pc+iZfNkzu3rQ) reviewing two recent books by academics -- Hacker & Dreifus, Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting our Money and Failing our Kids, and Taylor, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming our Colleges and Universities -- suggesting that emphases on scholarly output over teaching, and the resulting creation of a rock star professoriate, is not sustainable in the long term. One of the arguments in the books is that the tenure system should not continue. Both books appear to discuss undergraduate education rather than professional education.
I find both stories rather discouraging. This is a fun career, and well worth the rather extraordinary opportunity costs, when students, administrators and (for public school professors) legislators appreciate our dual roles of educating and contributing to the scholarly conversation. This career will not be worth the rather extraordinary opportunity cost if that circumstance changes. Others on this blog, who have seen trends in this industry over more years than I, including through prior periods of economic malaise, may have more optimistic views.