Thinking about the future of academia

I’ve been thinking about the number of strikes happening in academia. Low pay, frequent free labor, long hours, and abusing workers at every chance they can get. But, I’ve also been thinking about climate change as well. Can academia survive climate change? The 2 mixtures of already treating employees poorly combined with the fact that most universities are not equipped to handle climate change (or a pandemic for that matter) makes me think that academia in its current form might have 50 years at best. We’re seeing stuff give. We’re seeing people push back. We’re seeing demands for higher wages, more breaks, and to stop the publish or perish mentality.

With climate change occurring and projected to get worse over at least the next decade, I am thinking of how academia will survive the more frequent floods, heat waves, blizzards, and more extreme weather events. I was a Hurricane Katrina victim. When that hurricane hit, the city never fully recovered. It did a number to our academic institutions there too. How would academic institutions outside of the most prestigious recover if something like that happened to them? Harvard, MIT and them have more than enough funds to rebuild and the amount of people who want to go there far outstrips their capacity, but what about places that don’t have that branding? What about the local universities that are only known regionally? Climate change could absolutely have a lot of places close down just due to not being able to handle that shock.

I am also thinking how academia will handle climate change in relation to energy. I think most programs at the bachelor’s level would be fine in that regard. My concern are programs that tend to be more energy intensive, such as computer science and electrical engineering might be impacted by this. I am not concerned about programs that are probably going to nose dive, such as petroleum engineering because that directly contributes to climate change.

My bigger concern on energy is not so much how programs will be impacted at the bachelor’s level, but more so at the doctoral level. Think about how often physics does energy intensive activities with specialized equipment. Humanities in this regard will fare much better as they generally do not tend to have as high of energy requirements. However, this also begs the question of something that is usually takes up a lot of energy that is common in most doctoral programs: Conferences and traveling. Traveling by plane? Huge energy cost. Conferences themselves in those big buildings? Also huge energy cost. How will academia adapt to this?

As I said, I think academia is probably going to have a big shift within the next 50 years. The shift will likely be to programs that are not energy intensive, fewer conferences, and more makeshift or temporary buildings as climate change worsens. I do not think all is gloom or doom- I think academic costs will go down if only because people are putting pressure on this, academia will likely become more sustainable out of necessity, and that academia will treat its workers better. Anyways, next post will be my imagination going wild and more free flowing.

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