I read this morning of the appointment of Pat Gamble as the new president of the University of Alaska system. As I perused the article, it seemed like his credentials were certainly impressive.
Then - whoa - what was his comment tucked in at the end of the piece: The university system needs to be "more supportive in the business of economic development, and showing a return on the investment that's being made by the state." It's hard for me to conceive of a university to be seen as an economic machine for state development.
It has always been my understanding that universities generally seek to promote critical thinking, creativity, understanding, stretching one's boundaries and furthering the learning process of its students and faculty. Since learning is an ongoing and dynamic entity, having to consider the business of economic development within the realm of education could surely cast a pall on the idea of exploring the world of man and nature in a free and creative manner.
While we can acknowledge the occasional dichotomy in our state with economic development versus wilderness preservation, shackling the university system into this potential conflict would cast a pall over the ability of students, researchers, faculty and allied professionals to have the freedom to develop intellectual, academic and scientific studies and information.
I would vigorously defend the university's right to engage freely in the pursuit of knowledge without being beholden to economic interests. The big return on the investment is graduating and nurturing critical thinkers in all realms of study and research, so that our understanding of the world is enhanced and improved for all of us. Some things just can't be measured in dollars and cents as they are priceless.