The world of higher education is changing. The models are changing and they way we teach students is also changing. The role of the academic will be in question in the future. The use of adjunct instructors is increasing and the full time thinkers are going out the window because we can't justify their return dollars. We will need to rethink the role of the modern academic and encourage thinkers as a function of society even when we don't like what they have to say.
Let me rephrase that....its not that we can't determine their ROI its that we can't calculate all of it. Somethings don't lend themselves well to the dollar. A single thought or idea put in the mind of a hopeful youth may create the next Bill Gates or inspire gifted students to create something that caries on from generation to generation.
The true academic is not the person who seeks to gain promotions simply to show to themselves they are valuable people. They don't need prestige and constant praise but they do need recognition when earned. It is important to remember that schools who promote people into administration should not be promoting upward mobile business professionals but should be encouraging inspiring academics so they can encourage others to also be inspired.
A true academic is a philosopher and a teacher. He/she is loved and hated by society for saying things that may not be popular. They are motivated by learning, creating, engaging, and promoting. They don't hide their discoveries in a vault but share them with the world so that there is a chance it can change things.
Academics are also unsung leaders. Today's political landscape may have tainted the academic world and made them "party men" but this should never have been the case. The true scholar, academic and philosopher is free from the constraints and selfish motivations of people so they can drag society kicking and screaming to a higher state of existence.
Academics should be diverse, come from different thought backgrounds, should debate modern problems, and seek to make the world a better place. They should be independent from the whims of their bosses, managers, and administrators. They have a responsibility to think outside the fray of daily life and give back that knowledge to society.