21 Jun 2008

Higher Education in America Today

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The excerpt below is from an article, titled “On the Sadness of Higher Education,” by Alan Charles Kors, which appeared in New Criterion, was later quoted by the Wall Street Journal, and was subsequently republished here.

Under the heirs of the academic ’60s, we moved on campus after campus from their Free Speech Movement to their politically correct speech codes; from their abolition of mandatory chapel to their imposition of Orwellian mandatory sensitivity and multicultural training; from their freedom to smoke pot unmolested to their war today against the kegs and spirits-literal and metaphorical-of today’s students; from their acquisition of young adult status to their infantilization of “kids” who lack their insight; from their self-proclaimed dreams of racial and sexual integration to their ever more balkanized campuses organized on principles of group characteristics and group responsibility; from their right to define themselves as individuals-a foundational right-to their official, imposed and politically orthodox notions of identity. American college students became the victims of a generational swindle of truly epic proportions. If that part of the faculty not complicit in this did not know that it was happening, it was by choice or willful blindness.

In the academic university-the curriculum and classroom, and the hiring that underlies them-it all varies by where one looks. To understand why and to understand one of the few vulnerabilities of universities to actual accountability and reform, one must understand the hierarchy that predicts academic institutional behavior: sexuality (in their language, “sexual preference”) trumps neutrality; race properly conceived easily trumps sexuality; sex properly conceived (or, in their language, “gender”) easily trumps race; and careerism categorically trumps everything. From that perspective, the careerists who run our campuses have made a Faustian bargain (though they differ on which is the devil’s portion).

Being careful, on the whole, to keep the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, and a variegated Column A of departments (sometimes psychology, sometimes philosophy, sometimes linguistics), and the professional schools that relate symbiotically to practical America relatively free of political agendas-though even in these cases, the barriers to crude politicization may break down-the careerist administrators have kept largely intact those disciplines where added value might be measured. From diverse motives of ideological sympathies and acute awareness of who can blackball their next career moves, they have given over the humanities, the soft social sciences and the entire university in loco parentis to the zealots of oppression studies and coercive identity politics. In the latter case, it truly has been a conspiracy, with networking and common plans. In the former case-the professoriate and the curriculum-it is generally, with striking politicized exceptions, a soft tyranny of groupthink, unconscious bias and self-inflated sense of a mission of demystification. Most of the professors I meet are kind, indeed sweet, and certainly mean no harm. It is profoundly sad to see what they have become. …

Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individual- ism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten “minorities,” including women (the majority of students), about the “internalization” of their oppression (today’s equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them?

The power of universities comes from their monopoly of credentials. As Richard Vedder so deeply understands in his “Going Broke by Degree,” they are the only institutions allowed to separate young individuals by IQ and by the ability to complete complex tasks. They do not add value to that, except in technical fields. Recruiters do not pay premiums because of what the Ivy League or the flagship state universities teach in English, history, political science, or sociology. They hire there despite, not because of, that. Recruiters do not pay premiums because our children have been sent to multicultural centers for sensitivity training. Recruiters pay premiums for the value already there, which universities merely identify. So long as recruiters pay premiums, however, it is rational for parents who wish to gain the most options for their children to send them to the university with the most prestigious degree. That will not change in the current scheme.

We now have closed-shop, massively subsidized, intolerant political fiefdoms, and they are the gatekeepers of society’s rewards. Without incentives for different models of higher education, we shall have this same system of colleges and universities as far as the mind can foresee. The tax-free mega-endowments will grow. The legislators and the public will not end the subsidy. The alumni will continue their bequests. The trustees will proudly attend the administrative dog-and-pony shows, the most efficient act on any campus. Well-intentioned donors will support ghettoized “centers” (without faculty lines, cross-listed courses, graduate fellowships, or degrees) that marginalize inquiries that should be central to the academy. These provide protective coloration for administrators, help with fund raising in certain quarters, and permit a transfer of funds to the accelerating thirst for ever new forms of regnant campus orthodoxies. Until civil society makes administrators pay a price for the politicized hiring, curriculum and student life offices they administer, nothing truly will be reformed.

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