Adventures in Academia: Ten Predictions for the Awkward Teens

Opinion by Danny Crichton
Jan. 5, 2010, 1:10 p.m.

Introspection is an important trait, but how can one write an obituary for the past decade? The typical lament that comes with eulogizing the end of something dear tends to be positive, but really, the first 10 years of the new millennia was a real loser in the span of American history.

So, instead of looking backward at the hellish morass we just discarded, I am seizing the opportunity to play Miss Cleo and identify the top 10 news stories of the coming decade. Events abound–a couple more presidential elections, another season of American Idol, the end of the world perhaps. The true stories of change in the coming decade are going to be subtler, but far more important.

In higher education, the tuition bubble of the past two decades will crash, beginning a second wave of realignments across universities. In the process, the core mission of universities will become more specialized as unpopular programs and tenure lines are cut. Long term, a renaissance of higher education is in order, focusing on more interdisciplinary skills and higher standards.

Students entering universities will be better prepared than their predecessors due to the new K-12 Core Standards currently close to implementation. As teachers begin to teach math and science skills again in American public schools, the country will note a general improvement in international test scores and an influx of new STEM majors in universities.

Those STEM majors will continue developing automated systems that replace humans in more and more industries. First it was the cashiers at Wal-Mart, but soon it will be your local lawyer. The bread-and-butter cases of law are simple matters–trusts, wills and estates–that will slowly be replaced with intelligent computer programs that can write legitimate–and legal–text. This change, coupled with the opening of additional law schools, will lead to a major glut in lawyers that could make law school quite unattractive for all but the best students.

In California politics, the state will reach an untenable level of dysfunction, driving up support for a new constitution. Whether the constitution is replaced or significantly revised remains an open question, but it will be a good bet that direct democracy provisions will be curtailed.

Dysfunction will also come to a head at the national level, where the U.S. Senate will vote to end the filibuster, either replacing it with one more sane and robust or eliminating it completely. As legislation from both parties continues to be stopped by the minority faction, the Senate will be left with little choice but to change the current system or risk a severe response at the ballot box.

The rancorous partisanship and extreme positions of both parties leaves a gaping hole in the moderate middle, and I believe a small but influential third party will fill that hole. That party will begin at the state level, but will pick off just enough seats in the House to be the balance of power. If history is any suitable indication, it will not last long, but will be a spark for change in its brief existence.

The major issues facing the legislature will continue to be jobs and the economy for the foreseeable future. Structural unemployment–incongruity between the skills of job-seekers and the skills needed by employers–is the central issue. While it will take most of the decade to transfer people from dying to growth industries, America will reach a strong level of economic competitiveness by 2020.

At the international level, the biggest story of the next decade will be the climax to the Taiwan question, which will finally be answered (what way is unclear). The forces pulling Taiwan into the mainland’s orbit and the reactionary forces that will attempt to stop it are gathering in strength. The battle of the two sides will be surprisingly swift and final.

Despite the prominence of Copenhagen, climate change will not be the primary motivator of international discussion next decade. Instead, tightening supplies of oil will be the crisis of the moment. Whether peak oil has happened or will shortly, supply will never match the growth in demand from developing countries. As the world responds to this new energy situation, it will largely eliminate the climate problems in the process.

Finally, despite that new California constitution, the legislature will finally eliminate UC-Berkeley from its budget. Maybe it is my inner Stanford talking, but I just cannot see that other Bay Area institution making it through another decade.

The 2010s may not be rosy, but it will be a vast improvement over the one we have just finished. A decade of renewal is also a decade of dynamism, and the changes that are wrought will strengthen the nation and the world.

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