Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean tells us that the purpose of Harvard is not to educate people. Lately, there has been a dustup between Harvard, with its fat endowment, and various groups, including the Massachusetts state government, which think that money could be better spent elsewhere. Harvard educates just a small number of students - so what is it doing with all that money? Maybe Harvard could do better things with its money, but as Sean argues, educating more students is not one of them. I'm often asked where I want to work after I finish my postdoctoral fellowship. When I answer that I'm looking for a faculty job at a research university, the inevitable comment I get is "oh, so you want to teach." I don't want to teach. Well, maybe a little, but the primary focus of a professor at a major research university is in fact research. Educating students is useful and good for a healthy university environment, but it is not the overriding concern of a research university. The best science in the world is done at major research universities, where scientists have the freedom and the funding and the time to pursue research programs directed by their own sense of what is worthwhile. Research universities are generally (not exclusively, but almost) the places where the best basic science research can thrive. Some schools are good at teaching and research, but a university can still be extremely successful if undergraduate education takes a secondary role. Harvard is doing what it does best, and it has no reason to be ashamed of not taking more students.
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