Economics, Competition and Academia
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Economics, Competition and Academia

An Intellectual History of Sophism versus Virtue

Donald R. Stabile

Donald Stabile places current concerns over the commercialization of academia in a historical context by describing the long-standing question of the extent to which market economics can and should be applied to higher education. The debate between Plato and Aristotle on one side and sophists on the other provides a foundation for the modern debate of endowment versus tuition models. The author tackles the intellectual discourse over the mission of higher education and the effect markets and competition might have on it. The discussion encompasses the ideas on higher education of leading economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, Jeremy Benthan, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall, Thorstein Veblen and John K. Galbraith and identifies them as supporters of either sophism or virtue. Included, too, are the thoughts of educators and policymakers influenced by free market ideas, such as Benjamin Rush, Francis Wayland and Charles W. Eliot, as well as those opposed to them. In addition, the author explores the development of collegiate business schools in the US and how they were justified on the basis of virtue. The book concludes with a section on for-profit colleges and their relationship to sophism.
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Chapter 8: Academia in Transition: The Road to Sophism

Donald R. Stabile

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From its beginning in Greece to its current status in the US, academia has vacillated between two overarching ideologies, sophism and virtue. The material presented in this book has given examples of how a variety of educators and economists employed these two ideologies of academia to address two fundamental issues: What is the mission of higher education in a changing world? How does the need to find the resources to fund academia influence that mission? This chapter will briefly review the dispute of sophism versus virtue throughout its history. It will then describe the decline of the public funding version of the endowment model and how that decline has brought the pressure for sophism that comes with the tuition-driven model. Finally the chapter will describe the emergence of a new ideology in academia, the for-profit model with an emphasis on sophism, and will speculate on what its influence might be in the future. FROM SOPHISM TO VIRTUE For the first millennium of its existence academia operated under an ideology of sophism. Under this approach the ancient equivalent of college professors offered their services for sale in a market for higher education using the tuition-driven model. They used a variety of techniques to attract students and did so successfully. We have mixed anecdotal evidence about whether the sophists became wealthy because of their innovation of the tuition-driven model of higher learning. Plato and Aristotle portrayed the sophists as motivated more by the love of money than by the love of knowledge,...

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