Hacker Newsnew | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Save the Libraries. Cut University Funding Instead. (jbgst.tumblr.com)
70 points by johnnybgoode 1191 days ago | 61 comments



This is a terrible article and I don't know why it's near the top of HN.

Libraries do a much better job of directly serving the poor. Universities, at best, tend to do this indirectly, if at all. Most university students and professors are already middle class or higher.

This came off as a rhetorical device with little meaning. First, there's an implicit value judgement that "serving the poor" is better than serving the "middle class". It's not clear why this should be true and even if the judgement itself were true, the author does nothing to backup his claim that libraries serve the poor and universities don't.

Maybe serving the middle class by producing a highly qualified workforce eventually helps the poor more than just throwing money at libraries. I don't know if this is the case, but if we're the in the business of throwing out assertions that we like I'd like to throw this one into the mix.

The author needs to do a much better job of convincing us that libraries are more of a social good than universities. And we're looking for more than just a few nicely written anecdotes.

Universities, while sometimes performing valuable research, are constantly wasting huge sums of money. Much of this money comes from loading up 17-to-21-year-olds with crippling student loans.

Universities are constantly wasting huge sums of money? How and where? I'd like to see some citations please. And why is the student loan system a criticism of the university rather than the financial aid system currently practiced in the US. Awfully muddled thinking here.

Libraries are famously impartial and nonjudgmental, and have no agenda other than to provide equitable access to information to anyone who desires it. Most university departments are rife with ideology and are hostile to conflicting views.

I'm going to ignore this bit which sounds suspiciously like right-wing propaganda.

Libraries are open and free to everyone. What they do only improves people’s prospects. The primary purpose of universities, granting credentials, is by definition exclusionary. They improve the prospects of a few at the expense of others, by fostering an environment where people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value, and erecting unnecessary barriers to individual prosperity.

This is a laughably poor argument. Who says people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value? Many of the most important innovators of our times do not have college degrees. And certainly nobody is erecting an unnecessary barrier to "individual prosperity".

If society or more specifically big business values college degrees, this isn't an indictment of the university itself and the solution certainly isn't to reduce funding so that fewer degrees are given out. Also, it's not a zero-sum game. Granting certifications to a few doesn't improve their prospects at the expense of others.

I think it's ironic that the OP used a computer and the internet to publish his propagandist rant; an action that would've been impossible without all the academic research into computing and networking systems in the last few decades. I'd argue that the economic fallout of that research alone has more than paid back whatever money the US government has invested in universities.

-----


  > terrible article
  > Awfully muddled thinking
  > right-wing propaganda
  > laughably poor argument
  > propagandist rant
All of the above were unnecessary. I'll address the rest of your comment now.

  > First, there's an implicit value judgement that "serving the poor" is better than serving the "middle class".
Typically, when cuts are being made, people across the political spectrum prefer to cut services for the middle class before cutting services for the poor. Most people agree that cutting services for the poor is a last resort. I am not arguing here that this is necessarily correct or that you have to agree, but that is the reason for the emphasis on "serving the poor" when discussing cuts to government programs.

  > Universities are constantly wasting huge sums of money?
Administration costs, questionable research, credentialing, etc. That huge increase in tuition costs is going somewhere, isn't it?

  > And why is the student loan system a criticism of the university rather than the financial aid system currently practiced in the US.
They are part of the same system. The connection between the increase in student loan limits and the increase in student tuition has been noted many times. See elsewhere in this thread.

  > Who says people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value? Many of the most important innovators of our times do not have college degrees. And certainly nobody is erecting an unnecessary barrier to "individual prosperity".
In addition to what monochrome and yummyfajitas have said, anywhere you look, you can find job listings for relatively simple, entry-level positions that unnecessarily require university degrees. Ever since we started pushing the idea that everyone should go to college, we've seen a signaling arms race where you'd better get a college degree or face being passed over for someone else who did -- whether or not the job really needed someone with a degree. This is the unnecessary barrier. Now you have to spend money and time to get a degree just to keep up. If you can't do that, you're worse off.

Yes, many great innovators do not have college degrees. They help prove my point.

  > Granting certifications to a few doesn't improve their prospects at the expense of others.
Of course it does. yummyfajitas has covered this already.

  > would've been impossible without all the academic research into computing and networking systems in the last few decades
You're suggesting the only possible way to do this kind of research is through the university system as currently structured. This is an outlandish, unsupported claim, and you denigrate the people who performed this research by claiming they could only have done it within the modern university system.

-----


Hmm. I think is a poor article because it lacks depth and simply makes a bunch of assertions many of which don't even follow from the premises in the article itself. I might have refrained from saying so explicitly had I thought you were actually interested in exploring the question and were gathering information, but it seemed to me that you've made up your mind and are working backwards from your conclusion.

You haven't really addressed my first point. What's the evidence that libraries serve the poor more than universities? I was trying to point out that we can make all the assertions we want, but none of them might be true, so we need to guided by data not opinions or anecdotes. You seem to have missed this point.

Administration costs, questionable research, credentialing, etc. That huge increase in tuition costs is going somewhere, isn't it?

My understanding is that tuition is rising because of university funding being cut. In fact, some of the first few articles when you google for this are [1, 2, 3] which clearly couple tuition increases with budget cuts. Are you not aware of this?

Are you seriously claiming that university tuition is being increased simply to fund "questionable research" etc.?

This is the unnecessary barrier. Now you have to spend money and time to get a degree just to keep up. If you can't do that, you're worse off.

This is a product of the economic system we live and I fail to see how reducing university funding will solve this problem.

Yes, many great innovators do not have college degrees. They help prove my point.

No, I don't think it proves your point. You said people can't do anything of value without a college degree and the existence of people who have done things of value without a degree disproves your point.

Of course it does. yummyfajitas has covered this already.

yummyfajita's claim, if valid, is a much weaker one than yours.

You're suggesting the only possible way to do this kind of research is through the university system as currently structured. This is an outlandish, unsupported claim, and you denigrate the people who performed this research by claiming they could only have done it within the modern university system.

That's not what I'm claiming. What I said was that given that this happened, that research has already more than paid for itself.

If you want to claim all of this research could have been done in some different setting (which you haven't specified), that might or might not be true depending on what you're proposing.

I'm skeptical though that a system that eschews public funding of research will work better than the current one. I think it's not a coincidence that the US is the pre-eminent leader in high-technology research and also houses some of the best graduate schools in the world.

[1] http://www.highereducation.org/reports/affordability_supplem... [2] http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2012/feb/01/florida-college-u... [3] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/cuny-board-approv...

-----


  > What's the evidence that libraries serve the poor more than universities?
I take it you've agreed universities are skewed towards the middle class and higher in terms of direct enrollment (and this is easily verifiable). To counter this, you talked about indirect effects:

  > Maybe serving the middle class by producing a highly qualified workforce eventually helps the poor more than just throwing money at libraries.
How can you prove this? I don't think it's possible, but if you can I'm all ears.

  > Are you seriously claiming that university tuition is being increased simply to fund "questionable research" etc.?
I'm claiming one of the reasons university tuition is being increased is that we're in an environment where degrees are seen as being necessary, whether or not they are. In other words, degrees are being treated as an inelastic good. Therefore students are willing to pay whatever they can afford. As student loan limits increase, what students can afford to pay increases, so tuition increases as well. If even part of the tuition increases come from this, and your college president is making $1 million/year, I think it's fair to call that waste.

  > This is a product of the economic system we live and I fail to see how reducing university funding will solve this problem.
It's a product of the system we live in because we created and subsidized that system. Lowering the subsidy is the first step to solving the problem. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3608680

  > You said people can't do anything of value without a college degree
This is completely false. I did not say anything of the kind. In fact, I'm making the exact opposite point, so now I'm wondering if you understood what I was saying at all. I said universities are "fostering an environment where people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value".

  > yummyfajita's claim, if valid, is a much weaker one than yours.
No, I was referring to this post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3608628

yummyfajitas directly counters the same claim I was referring to.

  > That's not what I'm claiming.
No, that is exactly what you claimed. You said, word-for-word, that it "would've been impossible [for me to publish the article] without all the academic research into computing and networking systems in the last few decades".

  > If you want to claim all of this research could have been done in some different setting
Yes, I'm claiming there is more than one way to do research. Your claim, that what was done was the only possible way to do it, is extraordinary to me. And again, that is what you're claiming when you say it "would've been impossible" for me to publish an article on the internet.

-----


>Who says people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value?

Professional guilds - legal bars, medical boards, engineering, academia - you're pretty much excluded from all those fields lacking a formal degree accepted by the mentioned institutions, even tough you can have the required skills and even experience (as a skilled immigrant for eg., you can even have a degree from a non-accredited/foreign education institution). The monopolistic nature of this system is nicely illustrated by the "diploma mills" that allow people to get hired for the job requiring a diploma without completing the education program, perform their jobs successfully for considerable amount of time and then when/if discovered "cheating" get fired - without actually failing to do their job at any point, just because they don't have the degree. Granted this is logical from the employers point of view as the legal liability is huge but that's the result of the system.

>I think it's ironic that the OP used a computer and the internet to publish his propagandist rant; an action that would've been impossible without all the academic research into computing and networking systems in the last few decades. I'd argue that the economic fallout of that research alone has more than paid back whatever money the US government has invested in universities.

I'd argue that you don't consider the opportunity cost and the crowding out of R&D investment in that assertion and implied that without public funding the academic work wouldn't be done. Here's a different view of that argument : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_PVI6V6o-4 , also he has a book on topic.

-----


Professional guilds - legal bars, medical boards, engineering, geology, academia - you're pretty much excluded from all those fields lacking a formal degree accepted by the mentioned institutions, even tough you can have the experience (or even a degree from a non-accredited/foreign education institution).

I think you're being generous to the author here. He said "people are expected to have degrees before they can do anything of value" which is different from your claim that you can't do some things of value that without a degree.

In any case, none of this is an indictment of the university itself. While I agree that it's possible that some of these professions might be better served with looser guidelines, I don't see how the author's idea of cutting university funding will improve this situation.

I'd argue that you don't consider the opportunity cost and the crowding out of R&D investment in that assertion.

I'm not sure what you mean by "crowding out of R&D investment". If you're suggesting that the federal grant money would've been better spent on private entities doing research, isn't that what NSF and co. are already doing when they fund, say, professors at the likes of Princeton and Harvard?

I'm not disagreeing with this statement of yours, but I hope you realize that you're arguing a much weaker and better articulated position than the OP. If the OP is suggesting that we re-examine how federal grant money is allocated, I would consider that a defensible position. But he's clearly not saying that and has chosen instead to launch a broadside against the university institution and seems to have no evidence backing up his assertions.

-----


>If you're suggesting that the federal grant money would've been better spent on private entities doing research, isn't that what NSF and co. are already doing when they fund, say, professors at the likes of Princeton and Harvard?

Sorry it should have been private R&D investment. I'm saying that there is evidence that suggests that public grants to R&D crowd out private investment, that public R&D doesn't correlate with GDP growth, that private R&D does and that grants are inferior to market approaches such as tax breaks for R&D. I think that video I linked overstates the strength of the evidence and it's conclusiveness but it's still a valid point and goes against the accepted view. Also the argument that the Internet is here only because of public R&D is very hard to make because at every instance I've looked at where public R&D gets credited (eg. CERN) there is similar work done separately in the private sector (eg. Xerox PARC). I'm not saying that the evidence is definitive, that all public science funding doesn't generate GDP growth, that GDP growth is a good metric of the value created by public R&D or that public funding is inferior to private, those are all empirical questions (or even unanswerable/subjective) and can't be generalized. I'm just saying that the position you seem to take - without public funding it wouldn't get done - isn't true both historically (eg. check out Nobel prizes from IBM and Bell labs in pure research) and you can make a theoretical argument why that is the case.

As for the authors post, yeah it's a rant but I get where he's coming from.

-----


Fair enough, this is a viewpoint I can agree with. I don't think this is what the OP had in mind, though. Or if he did, he didn't do a good job of articulating it.

-----


...I don't see how the author's idea of cutting university funding will improve this situation.

If you reduce subsidies for wasteful signalling, people will do less of it. Employers will then find signal based discrimination more difficult and expensive, and will reduce their dependence on it.

-----


The assumption here is that education has a significant component which is "wasteful signalling". If this is true, and that's a pretty big if, what you say follows. If the assumption is not true, reducing funding would result in a poorly educated populace which could spell economic disaster.

My point is: (1) this is not an issue we can decide without looking at the data and (2) making a claim one way or another without carefully looking at the data is not justified.

-----


Here is a blog post discussing data. After graduation, the sheepskin effect is about 50% of the value of a degree. (Over time, as a worker builds up a track record, this goes down.)

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2a012/01/the_present_val...

Unless you believe human capital jumps massively between 116 credits and 120 credits, this is strong evidence in favor of the signalling model.

Another big chunk of the measured returns to education are merely ability bias.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/01/correcting_for.h...

-----


Also, it's not a zero-sum game. Granting certifications to a few doesn't improve their prospects at the expense of others.

Yes it does. Please learn about signalling.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)

If you want to argue that college is about human capital creation rather than signalling, be my guest. But insofar as college is signalling, it directly redistributes wealth from those without the signal to those with it.

-----


Interesting link but you seem to be missing the point.

I agree there may be an argument to be made that in cases, under certain circumstances, provided you can measure certain variables, the best action that results the "most public good" would be reducing university funding. If that's what you want to argue, then you'll need to do the legwork of gathering data that supports this conclusion.

The OP has not done that and is not even attempting to do so. He's made some overly simplistic arguments against university funding that are utterly lacking in depth.

EDIT: Can the downvoters please explain themselves?

-----


>Most university departments are rife with ideology and are hostile to conflicting views.

>I'm going to ignore this bit which sounds suspiciously like right-wing propaganda.

You don't like this part of the argument, so instead of refuting it you declare it "propaganda" and move on?

Look at the campaign contribution numbers of university professors and tell me that they aren't incredibly one sided.

I don't think you'll find anyone who will seriously argue with the premise that there are far more left leaning than right leaning professors.

Anecdote: When I was in college, I was much more conservative than I am now. I experienced outright disdain for my relatively moderate political beliefs from the majority of my professors and my peers; so much so that after a year or two I got tired of it and just learned to shut up.

-----


I didn't respond to that argument because of multiple reasons.

First, this is the same argument that many creationists, followers of intelligent design and other religious nuts use to discredit evolution. In fact, if you look up the wikipedia page for Expelled: No intelligence allowed, you'll see that the idiots who made that movie used very similar language to the OP and in fact, my instinctive response when I read this bit, thanks to having heard this so many times from creationists was to immediately assume assume the OP was one. I didn't want this to color the rest of my response so I decided to ignore this bit.

Also, it's seems like flamebait to me. I suspect the OP threw it in there to antagonize those who disagreed with that idea while simultaneously enlisting the support of everyone who was once slighted for his/her political views by a professor.

Finally, are you seriously suggesting that because university professors tend to have certain political views we need to fix this by cutting university funding? I must be missing something because this makes no sense.

Also, the OP's made a very broad claim that most university departments are rife with ideology and hostile to conflicting views. You are referring to some instances of ridicule relating to the specific subject of political views, which is a much much weaker claim.

PS. I believe there's research that shows that the political leanings of professors has little effect on the political views of students. And I'm sorry that you were ridiculed and I think this is unacceptable behavior.

-----


>Finally, are you seriously suggesting that because university professors tend to have certain political views we need to fix this by cutting university funding?

No. I don't even know if it could be fixed. It could be something inherent to academia for whatever reason.

>specific subject of political views

Political views tend to encompass a large portion of a person's identity. A suppressive atmosphere towards a particular political belief can have a much larger stifling effect (outside of mere political discussion).

-----


  > the idiots who made that movie used very similar language to the OP
  > immediately assume assume the OP was one
Come on. This is an obvious case of unwarranted guilt by association. For the record, I've never seen Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and from briefly looking up what the film is about, I don't think I'd agree with it at all.

-----


As I said, this was my instinctive response and I'm sorry about that. I'm glad you're not a creationist. :-)

-----


The article is, at best, heavy on the hyperbole and at worst factually wrong. The first sentence is:

"So, California is cutting library funding instead of, you know, anything else."

The state budget has forced cuts in many departments. We're talking a $12 million cut to libraries. Higher education has been cut hundreds of millions of dollars.

The article then goes on to claim that higher education serve poor people "at best, tend to do this indirectly, if at all." The next sentence says "Most university students and professors are already middle class or higher." If not all university students are middle class or higher then it is benefitting lower class students. Why say "if at all" when the next sentence implies that some poor people are helped? Does the author want professors to be poor? Of course most professors are middle class or higher. I expect all of them to be.

Then there is this statement: "The primary purpose of universities, granting credentials, is by definition exclusionary." This sentence, together with the sentence before it, suggests the author thinks this is a bad thing. Some students fail out of engineering. This is a good thing because not everyone is cut out for this type of work.

Libraries should be open for everyone. Universities should not grant degrees to everyone. The functions of libraries and universities are disparate. It's fine to think one is more important than the other. It's sloppy to not take into consideration the differences in focus between the two entities.

-----


I couldn't have learned necessary hands-on chemistry and biology from a library. Good technique can't be read about; it must simply be learned in the laboratory from repeated mistakes. After the hand-holding freshman year, half of the chem/bio curriculum is dedicated to working independently, in the lab, under time constraints and pressure.

Theory can be learned from a book, but it's not necessarily easy for everyone. Only highly-motivated self-learners can teach themselves a subject, and then they must take on the additional work required to cut through "information space" to find exactly the texts they need. I don't think even a quarter of university students today have the capacity to learn in this manner, completely detached from the university system.

CS students are very lucky. We have mailing lists, IRC, HN/proggit, stackoverflow, good tools, documentation and tutorials freely accessible. These resources aren't as plentiful or accessible for other STEM majors. Outside of a few IRC channels, they don't even exist for chem/bio. (You can't cite databases--they are too complicated for new learners.)

If we want a more autodidactic society, a lot of changes have to be made to early childhood education. Additionally, we have to provide a lot of tools (guided curriculum to keep learners on track, etc.) to support this manner of learning.

-----


I agree hands-on learning in a lab is important. I'm not suggesting everyone should stop this and only read books instead. But learning in a lab doesn't need to be tied to a $100,000-$200,000 four-year university degree program. As a society, we should be able to make this much more accessible. (I don't mean we have to literally put labs in libraries. I mean everyone should be able to learn this way cheaply, in the same spirit that a library makes information accessible for free.)

CS students are very lucky. We have mailing lists, IRC, HN/proggit, stackoverflow, good tools, documentation and tutorials freely accessible. These resources aren't as plentiful or accessible for other STEM majors.

You're right, and we should fix that. People interested in other STEM fields shouldn't be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years to gain access to this knowledge.

-----


People interested in other STEM fields shouldn't be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years to gain access to this knowledge.

They don't. The vast majority of my physics knowledge was gained for a few hundred bucks, most of it going to whoever publishes $MAJOR_PHYSICS_TOPIC, by Landau and Lifshitz.

What I paid $30-40k for was certification that I had this knowledge.

We really need to separate certification/credentialing from education. This is the main thing that will allow innovation in education - people need to buy the credential, and since it's bundled with education, they have no choice but to buy unnecessary education.

-----


We really need to separate certification/credentialing from education.

Agreed. I was giving possibilistic the benefit of the doubt. If some need access to a lab to fully learn a subject, that's something that should be addressed. If not, great.

-----


Proof that I agree: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=788702

-----


I got a degree in Biochemistry from UCLA. I've had good professors and bad professors, but it is not all about learning theory or even all about getting hands on in a lab. Technique should not be what everything should be centered on, if you are good, you can usually get technique down very quickly. There is so much more that you learn that is kind of intangible. If you take a lab course and just follow the procedure and don't take anything away then you missed out on a lot because anyone can follow a procedure, it is much more about learning to think critically.

Also, it is not only about learning, but having access to cutting edge research in the same building that you are learning in. If all you did in college was go to class and then went back home, then you missed out on one of the biggest opportunities you have in life. A lot of your time should also be spent trying to learn as much as possible from some of the top researchers in their field by volunteering time in their labs.

-----


Good article. Unfortunately while reading it, it's difficult to ignore the fact that neither of these should be cut at all before cuts are made to overseas military campaigns, CIA, war on drugs, DHS, corporate welfare, cronyism, etc. etc.

-----


Except the article is about a state cutting library funding. While California likely sends a fair amount of tax dollars to Washington, D.C., I'm fairly sure their state coffers are directly funding military campaigns and the DHS.

* Edit: grammar

-----


Thank you, and I agree with you. I'd hope nearly everyone agrees with what you said.

The way I see it, libraries are so incredible, and so important, that even the mighty university should be cut before libraries are.

-----


I think a lot of the argument for public funding of universities (and for K-12 education, even) is that public goods are created by having a highly educated population (workforce, voters, etc.)

To the extent that university education produces private goods (specific career training, credentials, etc.) there is a lot weaker argument for public funding.

The argument for public funding of universities is mostly not about it being a social safety net or producing equality of opportunity, at least not before the early 1990s or so, so that university students are generally from middle class or higher isn't as relevant.

-----


Ironically, what do the best libraries traditionally contain? Works created by highly educated individuals.

Yes, you will always have your pulp fiction, but if a library's job is to disseminate knowledge to the masses, doesn't that make libraries reliant on a source to develop that knowledge?

-----


True... that would be relevant if the world began and ended on the borders of california...

-----


This isn't an either/or matter. I suspect that plenty of highly educated individuals came from private universities. And I also suspect that there's plenty of knowledge to be had from non-educated individuals, too.

-----


Given the skyrocketing costs of university education, I would think that there was a lot of waste to be found there.

Still I agree with another commenter. The real issue is why we spend so much money subsidizing corporations as well as our foreign adventures and the drug war. All of which are not sustainable in the long run.

-----


Hate to break it to you, but Universities also employ a LOT of trade workers as well, it's not all academics and students. I think it would be fair to say that cutting a similar amount of funding from the california university system would result in a similar number of janitorial, HVAC, maintenance, landscaping, administrative, _librarian_, technology support, and other job losses.

Sure, cutting something as important as state libraries sucks, but you'd be pretty naive to think that shifting the cuts to any other sector wouldn't result in the same amount of job losses.

-----


Libraries have a short life left. I don't know many people who go to them anymore considering the vast amounts of information on the Internet and now eReaders.

Libraries may offer other services than just the loaning of books and dvd's but in that case community centers will appear or other businesses to fill those needs.

I know some people don't have access to the internet or a computer but that is changing. I don't think libraries will disappear overnight but they are going (as we know them).

-----


I'm confused as to the popularity of this article, given California has cut funding to both universities and public libraries. It's not a zero-sum game; usually funding for both public goods follow hand in hand. Not to mention university libraries, a class of their own.

-----


I feel like access to people in the field is _much_ more valuable than access to books on the subject.

-----


It's been reported that a key factor in the rising end-user cost of State college tuition is that states are already deeply cutting this funding.

-----


Yeah, higher tuition is exactly what I wanted. There's a reason state schools are so much cheaper than private: state funding.

As much as I love libraries, I hardly visit one thanks to the thousands (millions?) of public domain books I can get free straight to my Kindle. The only thing I would want to visit a library for would be books like O'Reilly books, but my college pays a subscription to Safari Books that allows students access to literally thousands of such books completely free; O'Reilly, Apress, etc. so my thirst is quenched for now. The beauty is that as soon as a new book is published, it's on the site. And there aren't HTML3 books from the 90's still wasting (virtual) shelf space like my library.

Random thought, but that could be the future of the library. What if a little bit of tax money went toward an online directory like Safari Books instead of a huge expensive library building? Always updated, easy access, and a much wider selection? I'd go for it. I guess baby boomers wouldn't though.

-----


>state funding

Indirect state (and federal) funding, in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans, is one of the reasons tuition is so high in the first place.

If student loans weren't so plentiful colleges wouldn't cost 10-50k a year, because no one would pay.

-----


That is a very good point. Yeah, I completely agree with you that the easy access to such high sums of loan money for students has led to the high inflation of college prices, but we don't need anything to raise those rates even higher.

-----


Some more parts of the equation; deregulation, unemployment pressures, some job degrees aren't helpful, heavy cultural emphasis on degrees to be successful, culture of short-term thinking and lack of financial education.

-----


"heavy cultural emphasis on degrees to be successful, culture of short-term thinking and lack of financial education."

Wow, I'm glad there are others that realize this. I guess hacker news would be the place to find independent thinkers like yourself. One other I would add is:

Lack of school counselors, teachers, parents, etc. that believe entrepreneurship is a viable career option.

-----


>Lack of school counselors, teachers, parents, etc. that believe entrepreneurship is a viable career option.

Excellent point. Since kindergarten, when I tried to sell some crafts I made during play time to the other kids, I've been pulled towards entrepreneurship, but going through school you are eventually led to believe that running your own business isn't an option.

It's not that anyone ever sat me down and told me that I couldn't be an entrepreneur, but it's never discussed as a possibility.

-----


It looks like this whole story was manually pushed off the HN front page for some reason (or it was flagged and the sorting algorithm takes this into account?), but I just wanted to say while I'm here that I was really glad to read this particular subthread.

-----


True.

>heavy cultural emphasis on degrees to be successful

I think the cultural emphasis on degrees was in large part pushed from the top down. I.e., once more people started going to college (because of loans/scholarships), college became a necessity for jobs where it previously wasn't.

-----


Is it really worth comparing them so simplistically? This is a point-of-view from one side, pointing at a few flaws (of many, ignoring the positives) of universities, and a few positives (of many, ignoring the flaws) of libraries.

'Comparisons are odious' as they say....

-----


Yes, university funding has already seen some cuts, but I’d rather see more cuts to universities and fewer cuts to libraries. They’re not the same thing.

Of course they are not the same thing. So why are we comparing them as if they were? Rather than identifying a library's strengths and comparing that directly to universities, you should identify a library's strengths and a university's strengths, and compare the two sets.

-----


Respectfully, I don't think I've done what you say I've done. I say "they're not the same thing" because, as I said in the post, a lot of people lump them together as "investing in knowledge for society" or the like.

I didn't set out to identify a library's strengths. I believe many of the university's supposed strengths are actually better applicable to libraries.

-----


It's all about one's point of view. I'm assuming you're out of college and don't care about the cost of tuition. A college student couldn't care less about public libraries because...

   1. Colleges have their own libraries
   2. Cost of tuition is way more important to him/her
From my point of view, it looks like this:

How much information is in a library that can't be found elsewhere online? Now what about the other way around, though. How well can advanced college topics be taught with a book from a library?

-----


I'm not sure if universities should have their funding cut but libraries seem very foolish to keep funding. Wouldn't it be better to invest all the money currently spent on libraries in to an online library? Imagine the amount of information we could have easy access to?

-----


The top story on Hacker News right now, http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3607217 (also the link I start the post with), explains one of the problems with doing that. As many important functions move online, the library is one place someone without a computer and computer skills can use to gain access to the online world.

Libraries also provide a meeting place for the community, access to librarians, and many free classes.

I do agree it makes less sense now for libraries to have large physical collections. The shift to an online library seems inevitable there. But access to this from local libraries is still important.

-----


They should at least reduce the size, eliminate the books and just have computers.

-----


Good point. UCLA and its ilk are famous enough, it'd serve the public much better to fund public services like libraries.

-----


Libraries are also a great place to apply for jobs or file your taxes.

-----


While this post focuses on universities and libraries, and I'm serious about preferring university cuts to library cuts, obviously there are plenty of other things that could probably be cut first.

-----


If there are plenty of other things to cut first, why are we comparing the two? Why not complain that they should cut something else instead of universities?

I know the answer to this, and it makes me a bit sad. It's easy for Americans to resent their university system because, at least in CS, it is arguable that they don't actually need it. In some cases, it even hurts American kids. But before we all jump on this bandwagon (again) let's consider that we are perhaps being a bit myopic.

In the first place, libraries are a great repository of knowledge. But knowledge does not equal production, and whether you or I or anyone else here wants to admit it, a tremendous amount of stuff has been invented, either totally, or almost totally, as a component of university research. What would the world be without transactional databases, A* search, quicksort, cryptography, the idea of programming languages and so on ad infinatum. I could probably fill up literally a whole book listing the things in CS that were invented at Universities. There are more for other fields. You might contend that they all would have been invented eventually, but the question still remains: what would the world look like if universities had not been around to foster these ideas? New ideas need friends, and Bell labs can't employ all the geniuses.

I know, I know, you might contend that most research in universities is either pointless or close to pointless. Unfortunately, you'd be right. But remember, that's the Zipf curve. The ideas that are big are really, really big. Not just in universities, either: ideas produced by universities (for example, the ones I listed above) have changed the way that the world operates at a fundamental level, and they continue to do this. And when people come to universities and engage in work related to it, they carry it home, they carry it to their job, and they carry it out of the country. This is the way the world works. I know HN hates this opinion, but it is true.

The other thing I want to mention is that the vast majority of these life-changing ideas come out of American universities. This is a truly global system now. People come from all over the world to study here, and when they do, they sometimes stay here. Do people come to America to study at libraries? The simple and fact of the matter is that not all talented people are born in the US, and American universities are a very important gateway to get talented people into the US. In contrast, the library system is a purely domestic product for the public that happens to be inside US. I know that you think that universities don't "help the poor", but consider that this is really only true for the domestic poor. They are an irreplaceable resource for the poor outside. I'm not pitting "our" poor against "their" poor, but it's just something to think about.

The last thing I wanted to point out is that the fact that libraries are a useful repository of knowledge does not mean that it will make people productive. Universities are not good at this either, but the consistent usership of public libraries is pitifully small. The fact that they exist does not mean that people will use them, since they do exist, and people clearly mostly do not.

The bottom line is this: your points all have some grain of truth to them, or they are true outright. But when you don't bother to examine why this system exists to begin with before you state that another systems should be preferred, you are undermining your own point in a huge way. In particular, to say that we should toss an incredibly important and global system for some domestic system that people don't use is utterly wrong. That all said, the correct answer is: cut neither, and instead cut part of the military.

-----


To be perfectly clear, I'd love to cut military spending, bailouts, drug war spending, etc. This article was about a state funding issue, but I'm fine leaving that aside, since ultimately it's all government spending.

In the first place, libraries are a great repository of knowledge. But knowledge does not equal production, and whether you or I or anyone else here wants to admit it, a tremendous amount of stuff has been invented, either totally, or almost totally, as a component of university research.

I don't mind admitting some useful things have come out of universities. But this doesn't mean we need to continue propping up the university system as it exists today. You admit it has many flaws. There are plenty of ways to bring smart people together to learn and do research. They could be nonprofit; they could be separate from teaching or integrated with it. You could even call them "universities" if you like. But there's no reason they have to resemble the current monster.

True, most research in universities is either pointless or close to pointless, but that's the Zipf curve. The ideas that are big are really, really big.

Sure, but the university system isn't sold that way. We're meant to believe the research done in universities is all useful.

People come from all over the world to study here, and when they do, they sometimes stay here. Do people come to America to study at libraries?

Universities have special privileges when it comes to fostering immigration. If America had world-class research centers with the same privileges, people would still love to come here and they'd be able to do so.

The last thing I wanted to point out is that the fact that libraries are a useful repository of knowledge does not mean that it will make people productive. Universities are not good at this either, but the consistent usership of public libraries is pitifully small. The fact that they exist does not mean that people will use them.

As you point out, universities aren't very good at this. Maybe a lot of people won't use libraries, and many who do won't be very productive. But as you suggested in one of your other points, the instances that pay off really pay off. And libraries do this much more efficiently than universities, in terms of money spent. There are a lot of university students burning tens of thousands of dollars without learning very much.

-----


  > There are plenty of ways to bring smart people together to learn and do research.
  > They could be nonprofit; they could be separate from teaching or integrated
  > with it. You could even call them "universities" if you like. But there's no
  > reason they have to resemble the current monster.
Can you name some ways to actually do this? I'd love to hear about them, but have never actually seen a system like that. Even if there was though, before you go yanking money out of the system, you should actually try to replace it. And that will take time and money, and you will have to convince great scientists to make the switch, in spite of the fact that they will probably have less money, less resources, and spend more time doing something other than interesting research in order to build said system. That's all really hard.

Recently a lot of academics have been pushing for open journals, even going so far as to boycott closed ones. Even this is fairly controversial. :(

  > Sure, but the university system isn't sold that way. We're meant to believe
  > the research done in universities is all useful.
Sold by whom? Guidance counselors? Other students? I don't believe I've ever met a professor who thought that all, or even most research, is life-changing, or even very interesting. I just don't buy that you heard that from a reliable source.

  > Universities have special privileges when it comes to fostering immigration.
  > If America had world-class research centers with the same privileges,
  > people would still love to come here and they'd be able to do so.
It's not only about privilege: schools are known by foreigners as a system that allows them to get to the US. In order for this transition to be effective, you'd have to supplant the educational system, then get everyone to know about your alternative system.

And besides that, the institutions that do the hiring are incredibly biased towards American schools. I work for a reasonably prestigious lab, and the people in charge are (charitably put) deeply suspicious of research from Chinese and Indian schools. When given a choice, they will hire a PhD from an American school almost always. Exceptions include University College at London, Oxford, Cambridge, Utrecht, etc., but it is a vanishingly small list, and even they I would say are much less likely to be hired.

  > As you point out, universities aren't very good at this. Maybe a lot of people
  > won't use libraries, and many who do won't be very productive. But
  > as you suggested in one of your other points, the instances that pay
  > off really pay off. And libraries do this much more efficiently than universities, in terms of money spent. There are a lot of
  > university students burning tens of thousands of dollars without learning
  > very much.
Oh man, I'd really love to believe that, but I just don't see it. Science is still pretty much a communal affair, and the mere availability of knowledge does not make science happen. You need a robust social framework to evolve it. I just don't see that in libraries.

-----


I hope you're still here!

  > Can you name some ways to actually do this? I'd love to hear about them, but have never actually seen a system like that.
  > Even if there was though, before you go yanking money out of the system, you should actually try to replace it.
All I'm getting at here is that today we have a single university system that generally operates a certain way (a policy that everyone out of high school should enter one of them, and at each university, students attend four years of classes graded A-F, then potentially attend grad school, and the university also houses researchers/professors), and there's nothing intrinsic to learning or doing research that requires all of these things. In other words, there could conceivably be a variety of different institutions that lacked one or more of the characteristics I mentioned, but it's hard for that to happen when the current system is so fully entrenched and subsidized. We could see more research-only labs, more teaching-focused institutions that have their own unique approaches (a la charter schools, Montessori, etc. in K-12), more institutions that integrate learning and research in a different way, or other arrangements I haven't thought of.

One example of something like this is simply universities 100+ years ago, when not everyone was encouraged to attend university. We all know about places like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC. I see no reason more variety is not possible.

And you're right, replacing it would be hard, but one reason for that is all the money going into the system. What you're asking me to do is sort of like starting a car company while General Motors is being bailed out by the government. Still possible, I suppose, but more difficult when the other guy is being subsidized.

  > Recently a lot of academics have been pushing for open journals, even going so far as to boycott closed ones. Even this is fairly controversial. :(
Yes, this just shouldn't be controversial at all. In the context of a library, where the whole point is that everything is open, it certainly wouldn't make sense.

  > Sold by whom? Guidance counselors? Other students? I don't believe I've ever met a professor who thought that all, or even most research, is life-changing, or even very interesting. I just don't buy that you heard that from a reliable source.
I'm sure most professors are aware that not all university research is useful. But in principle, every Ph.D. thesis is supposed to be original and worthy of publication. We know most of them aren't really so great, but in theory they meet a certain standard. When you hear people push for more govt. funding for university research, you won't often hear them say most of it won't be useful. And anecdotally, I've seen a lot of people who are urged to get a Ph.D. without regard to the usefulness of what the student would be doing.

  > It's not only about privilege: schools are known by foreigners as a system that allows them to get to the US. In order for this transition to be effective, you'd have to supplant the educational system, then get everyone to know about your alternative system.
  > And besides that, the institutions that do the hiring are incredibly biased towards American schools.
What I mean is that if we had, for example, plenty of world-class research labs that were able to "hire" people into the country as easily as universities can admit foreign students, they'd still want to come. The bias you mention is understandable, but someone who'd worked in an American research lab wouldn't be affected by the "foreign school research" problem.

  > Oh man, I'd really love to believe that, but I just don't see it. Science is still pretty much a communal affair, and the mere availability of knowledge does not make science happen. You need a robust social framework to evolve it. I just don't see that in libraries.
You're right that it's often important for people to do research together. I'm just saying there are other ways to bring people together for science. Will your average local library suddenly become a major scientific center? Probably not, but I can envision something like a modern-day Library of Alexandria where great research happens, and I could see something like that being better than today's universities. Why not?

-----


It's really not that difficult. Adjust the income tax brackets and raise the rates. Oh yeah, and go flush your disgusting self-serving libertarian/objectivist philosophy down the drain, too.

-----




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: