Category Archives: Essays

The Betrayal Of The Academy

[This is an excerpt from a paper delivered by James Piereson at a Manhattan Institute conference on October 3, 2007, marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. He is Executive Director of the Center for the American University and President of the William E. Simon Foundation. The New Criterion will publish the full text of papers from the conference, some of them in slightly different forms. The proceedings of the meeting will soon be available on C-SPAN. Speakers included Robert George, Roger Kimball, Peter Berkowitz, James Miller, Heather Mac Donald and Mark Steyn.]

[Allan] Bloom claimed that the West faces an intellectual crisis because no one any longer can make a principled defense of its institutions or way of life. This is most evident in the university, which has reformed itself according to the ideas of openness, tolerance, relativism, and diversity – all of which claim that no political principles, institutions, or way of life can be affirmed as being superior to any others. This is the near-universal view among students and faculty at our leading institutions of higher learning. The tragedy here, according to Bloom, is that relativism has extinguished the real motive behind all education, which is “the search for the good life.” If all ideas and ideals are equal, there is little point in searching for the best ones.

This open-mindedness, as Bloom said, is thought to be a moral virtue that counters a dangerous vice called “absolutism,” which involves the affirmation of any set of principles or morals as objectively true. The operative assumption here is that if someone or some group affirms something to be true they will be led to oppress those who disagree. Tolerance and openness are thus the virtues required for democracy and freedom. Hitler, as it is believed, was an absolutist; his crimes followed from his absolute conviction that he was right and Germans a superior people. Democracy thus seems to rely on the belief that no one has access to the truth.

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“Why Was I Unfit?”

After 25 years in the corporate world, I decided to head back to the campus. In a way, I hadn’t really left since my dissertation. I had published several refereed articles in academic journals, five academic books (one a best seller in the field) and had conducted large research studies, collected a lot of data, written “white papers” and shared a good deal of that with my academic friends.

I found a position in the business school of a well-known Midwestern university. In my first semester I was asked what my political associations were. The question seemed irrelevant. I said so, adding that in presidential elections I had voted for three Independents, three Democrats and three Republicans. I was a free market guy, believed in lower taxes, less regulation, individual performance and personal accountability. I also believed in a secure retirement, health care support for the needy, a social “safety net” for those who could not work, education for everyone starting in kindergarten, a strong national defense, a sustainable ecological future for our children and grandchildren, smaller government, more local control, law enforcement – in short, sort of a libertarian, and one who believed in helping those who were less fortunate.

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Professors: Just As Liberal, Or More Moderate?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the voice of liberal academia, says that an important new study shows that liberal dominance among professors is much less than commonly believed. Not really. The study, by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, found that in 2004, 78 percent of faculty voted for John Kerry (77percent) or Ralph Nader (1 percent), while only 20.4 percent voted for President Bush. Among social science professors, Ralph Nader and “other” received a percentage of the 2004 vote as large as that of President Bush.

Other findings:

* Liberals outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors.

* 25.5 percent of those who teach sociology identify themselves as Marxist. Self-identified radicals accounted for 19 percent of humanities professors and 24 percent of social scientists.

* Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.

* Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any type of conservative, compared to 62.2 percent who say they are any type of liberal.

* At elite, Ph.D-granting schools in general, 60.4 percent of faculty members are Democrats, 30.1 percent are independents and 9.5 percent are Republicans.

* Gross and Simmons believe that liberals are losing ground to moderates among faculty, though conservatives are not gaining at all. Faculty members who are 35 or younger are less likely that their elders to be left-wing, and less likely to be conservative as well.

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College Admissions, Let’s Not Break The Law

David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for the New York Times, recently visited the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and took a careful look at the current admissions process of that campus in the wake of Proposition 209, the California ballot initiative that outlawed race and gender preferences in public education, as well as in public employment and contracting. In particular, Leonhardt examined the application and the fate of one Francis Harris, a black student from Sacramento, who became the case study for his article. Here is how Leonhardt describes Ms. Harris:

She has managed to do very well in very difficult circumstances, and she is African-American. Her high school, in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, was shut down as an irremediable failure the spring before her freshman year, then reopened months later as a charter school. Midway through high school, her father developed heart problems and became an irritable fixture around the home. She also discovered that he was not actually her biological father. That was a man named Leroy who, when her mother took Harris to see him, simply said his name was George and waited for her to leave. In Harris’s senior year, her mother lost her job at a nursing home and the family filed for bankruptcy… Harris, for instance, scored a 22 on the ACT test – slightly above the national average and well below the U.C.L.A. average.

The underlying question posed by Leonhardt with regard to Harris is the extent to which her “disadvantages” should factor into her application for admission to U.C.L.A. As did Leonhardt, most college admissions officers look primarily at one facet of Harris’s life: “…she is African-American.” They start from the premise stated by Peter Taylor, a good friend mentioned in Leonhardt’s column, that “race has an enormous effect on the lives of applicants.”

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The Humanities: A Laughing Stock?

An excerpt from the new book Education’s End, Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life by Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School (Yale University Press)

By the early 1970s, the humanities were floundering. Ideological rifts were widening. Traditional ways of teaching had lost much of their authority, and there was worried talk of a “crisis” in the humanities. To many it seemed less clear than it had a quarter century before, when Harvard published its famous report on the aims of liberal education, what the humanities are supposed to do and why their doing it is important. In this anxious and excited environment, a new set of ideas began to gain currency. The first idea was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and is associated with the concept of diversity. The second generally goes under the name of multiculturalism, and reflected the deepening suspicion of Western values provoked, in part, by the Vietnam War. The third, which provided philosophical support for the other two, I shall call the idea of constructivism, though its supporters have given it a variety of other names (“postmodernism”, “antiessentialism,” and the like). Loosely inspired by the work of philosophers as different as Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, constructivism affirmed the artificiality of all human values and the absence of any natural standards by which to judge them. It insisted, in particular, that the values of the West have no inherent superiority over those of other civilizations and are merely instruments of power in disguise that must be unmasked and resisted as weapons of colonial oppression. Together, these three ideas are the source of the culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past forty years.

Each has something to recommend it. Each has a core of good sense with intellectual and moral appeal. And each draws its appeal from a feature it shares with secular humanism, which also acknowledged the diversity of human values and the need to construct one’s life by making a choice among them. Together these ideas have helped to maintain the confidence of many in the humanities that they do in fact have something special to contribute to the work of higher education. They have helped define a new and distinctive role for the humanities, organized around attractive moral and political values – one that fills the void that opened up when teachers in these fields abandoned their role as guides to the question of life’s purpose and value in favor of the research ideal. And they have done this in a way that appears consistent with the values of secular humanism itself.

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Second Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“The Hungry Student: Reopening After The Closing of the American Mind”

At the end of the introduction to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Bloom mentions that only Socrates knew that he was ignorant, albeit “after a lifetime of unceasing labor.” Bloom observes at the time of his writing that every high school student knows he is ignorant. Like the psychology professor Bloom describes in his introduction, the goal of many a professor is to rid students of prejudice so that they can know that they do not know, so that like Socrates, they can be open-minded. But as Bloom finds, harkening back to Plato’s Republic, the professor’s endeavor to rid students of prejudice enervates the very imagination that projects images onto the cave wall. That is, the professor’s endeavor actively dissembles civilization and burns its parts so that they may never be reassembled into a whole. And students are somehow more like Socrates as a result? At issue in Bloom’s essay is the end to which education, particularly higher education is directed. Does opening minds, as liberal learning through reading Great Books, involve some taste, as remote as it may be, of a love or eros of wisdom? Where does such liberal learning cease? And has it? Bloom finds that while the endeavor of American higher education has sought to open minds, it is directed toward ends which do the opposite. Perhaps Bloom is correct. But after Closing, perhaps there is some conscious attempt among a select few to rekindle the eros that characterizes liberal learning in the university.

Cosmopolitanism, tolerance, specialization, and devouring nature’s fruits. These are the ends to which the modern university would appear to be directed. My own university places a premium on these self-described virtues. But it does so having uttered the language of its Jesuit heritage: ‘educating the whole person.’ Presumably the university attempts to implant in its students the theoretical and practical knowledge which together are crucial to love of truth and passion to live a good life, as the elementary reader of Aristotle knows and Bloom is quick to note. Nevertheless, in practice, these classical ideals, which surface in Closing, today often materialize as something less than the liberal learning that Bloom describes. That is, while students are required to study literature, theology, philosophy, and perhaps even political philosophy, much less is made of reading great old books than of learning critical methods for denigrating the thought of “dead old white men” or conceptualizing them as products of history. Few are those courses that engage in sincere dialogues with the great old writers who perhaps are esteemed enough to be regarded as lovers of wisdom. While American students are fortunate to have some attempt at liberal learning, gone are the days when Alexandre Kojeve could read his students’ term papers and see that they refer to Aristotle as ‘Mr. Aristotle’ as though he were a contemporary engaging in living discussion on matters of truth, right, and beauty.

Replacing ‘Mr. Aristotle’ is too often a mode of education that intends to ‘educate the whole person’ as a citizen not of any particular city but of a soulless world. And in order to graduate from such education, one must be void of all prejudices. One must be simply a material animal without any activity of soul that exhibits excellence. As in Plato’s Republic, the civilization that resides in the cave and the philosophic endeavor to ascend from the cave are usually not the ends of most cities today. That is, rather than cultivating one’s soul within one’s own city, as is the original meaning of culture, citizens abandon their cities for a more cosmopolitan place, the world. Culture is no longer an activity of cultivation within cities but a source of understanding without prejudice. In Max Weber’s thought, which Bloom in light of his teacher traces to the root of most modern social science endeavor, the student cannot make a truth claim as to the value of one culture or mode of cultivating one’s soul over another. The end of the professor is to foster not love of truth but love of toleration. Toleration in this light precedes truth. In opening the student to a cosmopolitan world, the university then closes the student from any interest in truth.

There are students at almost all American universities who dedicate their time to more inward pursuits than this brash cosmopolitanism, which Bloom sees as replacing dialogues with the great writings of human history. These are often the students who not only embrace the division of labor in Western thought, but do so without any desire for a vision, misguided or not, of the whole. And if they seek some vision of the whole, it is usually not a vision at all but a taste of nature’s fruits. These students, in their course of study, do not seek to be graced by nature’s grace in tasting nature’s fruits. Rather they seek to conquer nature and to devour it. For them, my own university is currently constructing two new buildings to occupy the physical center of campus, a business school and a science research center. Indeed, the economics of the household, which characterizes the pursuit of the businessman, occupies sizeable space in Book I of Aristotle’s Ethics and thereafter in much of the Western canon. And science as natural philosophy teaches any student a great deal about his nature as a human being. But both these pursuits in their current states are instrumental to overly specialized utilitarian ends at best. They are hardly concerned with the meaning of human nature. Much of the research that will take place in the new science center on campus will not seek some knowledge of the whole aware of the “sanctity of human nature.” Rather, it will seek to conquer human nature and nature more broadly. That these buildings should occupy the physical center of campus reflects a withdrawal from the dialogue for love of wisdom and passion for the good life in place of some utilitarian ends. It is still true today that the physicist gains nothing but mild “spiritual uplift” from reading Shakespeare and seeks nothing more too often.

Cosmopolitanism and the tolerance it requires redirect the student’s interest in truth. Specialization marked by a desire to devour nature’s fruits through conquering nature limits the student’s ability to make even an attempt at grasping knowledge of the whole. As a student, I fear that if the university does not look back to an earlier pursuit, one interested in cultivating virtuous citizens and teachers, then our society more broadly will be susceptible to the danger that Bloom evokes from Tocqueville – a society’s enslavement to public opinion or passions. Our universities still lack the philosophic experience that Bloom sees as the lifeline to philosophic endeavor more broadly. If we as students cannot distinguish the laws that killed Socrates from laws that enable his survival, philosophy is doomed. And if philosophy is doomed in our society, we find ourselves living in nihilism. The university as the bastion of liberal learning can be the preserve of philosophy. The university can be the place where we the citizens and students bring ourselves from the cave that our ancestors dug beneath the original cave. To do this, we must read things which much of our core curriculum has abandoned in place of things cosmopolitan or things specialized for the sake of instrumental knowledge. We must ask those ultimate questions in the academy, and not limit ourselves to learning techniques in glorified trade schools. Our professors must let students know about classic philosophers. With all these needs facing our starving universities, Bloom leaves us with a choice: embrace a rebirth of liberal learning or fall deeper into the cave.

Despite the replacement of cosmopolitanism and tolerance for citizenship and truth in most curricula, and despite the new epicenter of the college campus in the instrumental sciences, the neo-Gothic towers of the old campus have not yet been demolished. Like the pseudo-Gothic spires of the University of Chicago, which Bloom describes as his first discovery of life, or the life dedicated to contemplation, these Gothic towers still reflect the contemplative life in the university. And while few and far between, courses are available for the student to read the writings of great thinkers and engage in a living dialogue about truth, beauty, and right. Academic forums for students that seek to revitalize liberal learning are sprouting up across the country. But these forums are still in their infancy. Perhaps a few students with the help of a few professors at leading universities will start to seek those ultimate questions from education. Perhaps those students and professors will call for a reopening of the American mind in true liberal learning. For love of truth, beauty, and right, the last bastions, a few professors and a scant offering of courses, I the hungry student feed on the only food I find nourishing. And I hope. I hope that the American moment in world history, “the one for which we shall forever be judged,” as Bloom describes, is a success. A reopening of the American mind.

Third Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“Bloom’s Closing Revisited”

It may well be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself.

Introduction:
Fifteen years after his death, Allan Bloom still commands a rapt audience. This past April, his thoughts once again filled a University of Chicago lecture hall. Though he was a brilliant essayist, translator, and educator in his own right, he is remembered for his New York Times Bestseller.

On the Twentieth Anniversary of the publication of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, we are confronted by a sort of intellectual imperative to re-examine the arguments contained therein. However, I wonder if I – as former St. John’s College student and someone whose present coursework at the University of Chicago consists principally of the study of the Greek language and of dead white males – should truly have much first hand experience of “the state [of] intellectual pluralism at today’s universities.” Nonetheless, my experiences as an American youth and as a student on various campuses have prepared me to attest to the veracity of much of Bloom’s analysis. However this may be, twenty long years after Bloom’s devastating critique, I can feel some confidence in asserting that humane learning does still continue in North America – though not as we should like it to be.

The Closing, 2007:

As someone born in the 1980’s, I write as a second generation student of Bloom – myself, a student of a student of Bloom’s. Though dedicated “To [his] students,” Bloom’s Closing was purchased in droves by the parents of his students, who yearned for insight into the minds of their close-lipped sons and daughters. Twenty years later, my generation has accidentally become the new – although, perhaps anticipated – audience of this book.

Few of us still revel in the music of Mick Jagger. Yet we are in the peculiar position of both living the world that Bloom describes and are simultaneously prepared with the critical tools and insights presented in Bloom’s Closing. Like the generation of the late 1960’s, we too are the generation afraid to say to his lover, “I love you.” But we are the first generation to know that we are afraid to say the words, “I love you.” We are the first generation both to fit Bloom’s description and to be equipped with – i.e., to know well – Bloom’s criticism.

Kulturkrise:

Bloom’s book, I believe, helped me to articulate and understand my upbringing and beliefs of youth. It provided me some of the language and analysis not yet present in my own thoughts. Though I am tempted to say that this very observation sufficiently attests to the truth of the criticism, it might be objected that Bloom’s book simply became for me a false hermeneutic by which to understand my experiences of post-adolescence. To this I would rejoin that although the trans-Atlantic etiology of the cultural crisis Bloom describes may be up for debate, his description of the phenomena is as insightful as it is accurate. I have sufficient insight into the psyche of my post-adolescence to attest to the accuracy of Bloom’s portrayal.

Today, any child can flatter his hollow intellect in declaring everything to be culturally relative. But this is simply the “insight” of the lazy. It is non-philosophical and strictly dogmatic. Unwilling to confront difficult questions, they instead withdraw into their pseudo-intellectual cave. In zealously undermining all traditions of men, modern theory has created a void, which presently yearns to be filled. The truly educated and civilized yearn for higher things.

Bloom – following Tocqueville – aptly teaches that the founding principles of our society (freedom and equality) exist in a fundamental tension with one another. Unfettered and unrestrained freedom can be, and frequently is, inegalitarian. Freedom commands that the dictates of equality be muted, but equality will not have this.
The confusion over the relationship of the one to the other (freedom to equality) probably manifests itself as a confusion in our own minds regarding what is good. Owing to this confusion, these principles were further radicalized in my mind. They came to mean for me permissiveness and license, and the unseating of authority. For reasons still difficult to articulate, I grew, unawares, into an adolescent who believed in no ultimate principles but the principles of self-indulgence and Karamazovian sensualism, the expression of “individuality,”and the pursuit of worldly gain or the satisfaction of my vanity (which seem to be one in the same thing today).

Have America’s youth become a mass of relativists, of nihilists, of hedonists, of materialists? Perhaps. But underlying it all, they are simply in a state of confusion stemming from a more fundamental confusion about the appropriate ends of a human being. But, as Bloom has so aptly put it, “All this is a thin veneer over boundless seas of rage, doubt and fear.” Worse yet, American democratic culture appeared to be permissive of this confusion. Is it a coincidence that every American adolescence is haunted by pangs of loneliness, alienation, and dejection? Bloom accurately saw this in our preference for Catcher in the Rye – my favorite novel of youth – and Camus. We may be said to have become souls without longing, as Bloom had originally titled his manuscript – emotionally absent, psychically impoverished, and “flat-souled.”

The State of Education:

There is no word for “culture” in Greek. The closest word, one might say, would be the word paideia, or “education.” As such, a scholar of the classical world, would see the failures of a culture inextricably linked to that culture’s education. Having co-opted the method of the social scientist, Bloom examined the psyches of the “sample” available to him: the best and brightest in American universities. The psyches of the students at America’s elite universities are an image of the state of American culture, insofar as they are the product of a very high, intellectual tradition filtered down through the schools.
According to Bloom, we face today a profound educational crisis, coextensive with the crisis of our civilization. That crisis consists in the observation that we have formally defeated reason through the use of reason. Whatever we might understand liberal education to be, it is at least clear that it has partly – or in some cases, altogether – withered and died at some of America’s most prestigious universities and colleges.

There no longer exists a coherent image of what it means to be an educated human being. The departments within academia today deny the natural unity of human thought, yet they present their individual, partial perspectives as complete and comprehensive. The “new kind of education,” which Bloom saw, militantly sought to reduce all highs in man to lower motives, thereby stunting the growth of the minds of our nation. Multiculturalism in the humanities – for the mere sake of multiculturalism – has further obscured our purposes in education, having become an end in itself: openness to the “Other.”

What is Liberal Education?:

As stated above, education plays a reciprocal role with culture. Strangely, however, Bloom departs from the subsequent inference that Dewey had made, that higher education should become the handmaiden of liberal democracy. In point of fact, Bloom’s book was written in implicit but essential opposition to Dewey. Higher, theoretical thought – and hence, the university – is not naturally in the service of the city. Rather, at its best, it is the healthiest aristocratic element within a democratic society, promoting what is best and highest in man, without concern for the common denominator.
As Socrates is symbolic of the function of the university, the civilized and “humanizing” themes of a true liberal education involve the Socratic-Aristotelian question of the good life for a man. Education is said to be truly liberal (i.e., liberating) only if it promotes that single life that exercises that part of man that is peculiar to man, his mind. Humane learning should be dedicated to higher things and provide those “ideals” to which we might aspire.

True liberal education must actively engage us as human beings. Liberal education has as it end “the goal of human completeness,” but we may only fulfill our humanity in the use of reason. Philosophy – or any simply theoretical science – may be indefensible in terms of utility, but it represents something in man that establishes him as a being worthy of dignity. The static quality in all considerations of man is his nature. Humane education must pose those sempiternal questions which belong to man as man.

The very essence of liberal education for Bloom is the cognitive liberation borne of the knowledge of alternatives. True intellectual freedom is awareness of alternatives, a breadth and wealth of perspectives. However imperfect that tradition may be, the “best [minds] of the past” provide us with more reliable standards of thought and life than the ephemeral and present pieties and opinions. Thus philosophy is most needful, insofar as it is the function of philosophy to dismantle popular pieties and received opinions in the ascent from opinion to knowledge; darkness to light.

All this requires a return to the philosophical books undergirding our society. However, we must not read Rousseau, Socrates, or writers of their ilk as historical artifacts, but rather as living ideas. In order to treat of them seriously, we must understand them as they understood themselves. In so doing, we are under obligation to lay aside our faith in the superiority of modern knowledge, which we can do in recognition of the fact that the progress of the modern mind has borne rotten fruit: it has given us value-relativism and nihilism. This is what liberal education can do for us, but always with an awareness that liberal education is not essentially instrumental. (Even the things most needful can be also non-instrumental in the last appraisal.)

The Future of Humane Thought:

Humane learning is not yet dead in North America. Today one place with which I am familiar is that tiny enclave called “political philosophy” within many of North America’s departments of political science. There, scholars of the highest caliber still treat of the classics, with the seriousness of a Machiavelli. It is troubling, however, that this group represents a specialization, which definitionally seems to defy the concept of humane learning. Nevertheless, this group, and others like them, have answered the imposing question, why study Greek books? They have taken to heart Bloom’s exhortation:

For the first time in four hundred years, it seems possible and imperative to begin all over again, to try to figure out what Plato was talking about, because it might be the best thing available.

Today, there are still those who come to the university yearning for that je ne sais quoi that will complete them. There are even those who, like myself, came to the university eager to push through to a JD, MBA, or MD but somehow got diverted along the way by the ideas they encountered there. Today, it is not entirely uncommon to find eighteen and twenty year-old lovers of Mozart or Bartok – some of whom are without much formal music training or encouragement from their parents. Some of us do still long for the Continent and everything high which it represents. We long for Europe: to visit, to study, to live. Contrary to Bloom’s pronouncements, some of us do use Aristotle both as a means to understand ourselves, but also as source for reflection on our own practical or theoretical quagmires.
Humane learning is not altogether dead or dying in North America.

First Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“The Permanent Questions Are Still Permanent:
A Reflection on Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind”

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, “a meditation on the state of our souls, particularly those of the young, and their education”, ultimately reflects on a problem that goes back to Socrates: the tension between the philosopher and the regime that he or she inhabits. Because this problem is a perennial one, this book is just as relevant as it was when first published twenty years ago, and it will remain relevant so long as there are people who courageously seek answers to the permanent human questions about the true, the good, and the beautiful. While philosophy has always been at odds with various factions, attitudes, and opinions within society, the crisis of philosophy in liberal democracy today is that the institution that had become its last home, the university, has embraced those premises of the regime that threaten the philosophic way of life. Through his discussion of students, the universities they attend, and the ideas that have come to animate the American regime, Bloom challenges us to reconsider the nature and purpose of a liberal education, as well as examine whether we are living truly human lives.
“The essence of philosophy,” according to Bloom, “is the abandonment of all authority in favor of individual human reason” in “the quest for and even discovery of the truth according to nature.” The person who undertakes this quest is generally moved by a sense of being incomplete and has a desire – indeed, an Eros – to achieve wholeness through knowledge of the truth. Therefore, he or she must maintain, initially at least, that there is a truth to be found and reason is capable of finding it. Although the true philosopher will never find perfectly satisfactory answers to the permanent questions – “Socratic dialectic.. always culminates in doubt” – the philosophic enterprise does promise liberation from one’s previously held opinions, typically false and typically those of society-at-large. As Bloom states, “One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation.”

Today’s brand of American democracy, however, has formed the souls of its inhabitants in such a way as to make them especially resistant to making the Socratic turn. In observing the students of elite U.S. colleges and universities, Bloom recognized that the vast majority of young people lack both prerequisites for the philosophic life. First, they lack the belief that there is an objectively good and just life to be pursued. As Bloom claims in the Introduction, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student… believes… that truth is relative.” Second, most undergraduates lack the angst and yearnings that would drive them to seek answers to the permanent questions; “The eroticism of our students is lame.” This condition of their souls has resulted from growing up and living in an environment that is relatively comfortable and pervaded by a “mood” that Bloom describes – and explores in Part II – as “American nihilism… [a] nihilism without the abyss.” The students’ unreflective relativism, access to immediate gratifications, and pursuit of happiness in “ways determined by [the] language” of this nihilism have seriously enervated their interest in the permanent questions, and consequently, their disposition towards liberal education.
The ways in which the lives of today’s undergraduates reflect this “American style” nihilism differ little from those that Bloom observed in the 1980s. For starters, students are still addicted to rock music – if Bloom could have only seen the iPod. Likewise, televisions, DVD players, and video game systems are to be found throughout dormitories, and the Internet, with its plethora of mindless delights ranging from YouTube to Facebook to Homestar Runner provides added distractions from reading and contemplation. Furthermore, with an ever growing gym culture, it is still quite accurate that “students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But… they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.”

Students’ relationships, another target of Bloom’s critique, can also indicate and contribute to their being “flat-souled.” His observation of the “pervasive feeling that love and friendship are groundless” does apply to the lives of some students, though it is somewhat exaggerated since he is arguing in terms of the philosophic life. While few undergraduates at elite universities become friends in common pursuit of wisdom via philosophy, there are not a few students, many of whom share religious, political, and other convictions, that forge friendships that go beyond superficiality; and there is a portion of students that actually dates during college and gets married after graduation. Yet at the same time, the “privileged debauchery,” to quote a friend, exhibited in Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons should not be understated. Many college parties resemble what Bloom writes of the “youth culture” of rock music: “so loud [that] conversation [is] impossible, so that much of friendship must be without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essence of friendship and the only true common ground… illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas… are the basis of association.”

Another factor that discourages students from pursuing a liberal education is their own Lockean diligence. Like their fellow citizens, American undergraduates are good “Lockeans: recognizing that work is necessary… and will produce well-being.” Bloom notes that students who “have a fixed career goal” and are “obsessive[ly] concerned” with “[g]etting into… elite professional schools” are generally not open to a challenging, life-changing liberal education. Moreover, with people graduating from college in greater numbers, the top MD, JD, and MBA programs and prestigious entry-level jobs have become increasingly competitive. As a result, students feel an immense pressure to make top grades and do time-consuming internships to pad their resumes, making them, in many cases, more overworked and overstressed than when they enter the “real world,” an important reality of college life that Bloom somewhat overlooks. Even students who would be interested in contemplating the permanent questions simply lack the necessary leisure. Combine this state of affairs with the students’ desires to satisfy their “natural inclinations” and “passions,” though in a “balanced,” reasonable, “Lockean” fashion – in other words, to have a social life – what results on elite campuses is a hyper form of liberal democracy, in which “Nobody really believes in anything anymore, and everyone spends his life in frenzied work and frenzied play so as not to… look into the abyss.” Sunday through Thursday, many students are up until 2:00 a.m. hitting the books, only to descend into bacchanalia on Friday and Saturday, and then repeat the cycle during the following week.
The fact that numerous forces within the American regime fashion and encourage souls to be so remarkably impervious to philosophical inquiry gives even greater urgency to the university’s purpose, which is, “in the first place, always to maintain the permanent questions front and center.” Yet because the university has embraced elements of the same anti-philosophical spirit that has influenced most students, even those few undergraduates who go to college desiring a liberal education may be left disappointed. According to Bloom, the university “must provide [students] with experiences they cannot have [in democratic society] …The universities never performed this function very well. Now they have practically ceased trying.”
The university manifests its aversion to seriously facing permanent questions in numerous ways, beginning with the standard “core” curriculum. Bloom argues that for courses to provide a student with a liberal education – as opposed to a technical or vocational one – they must have “the specific intention to lead to the permanent questions, to make the student aware of them and give him some competence in the important works that treat of them.” Yet most universities do not present to students in the curriculum a “vision… [or] set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is” and the alternative ways of facing the permanent questions. Relativism has rendered all comprehensive responses to such questions to be of equal worth. Therefore, the content of introductory courses can vary depending on the instructors’ tastes, and students are free to fulfill their core requirements in remarkably haphazard ways. For example, a student may fulfill the literature requirement with courses on gothic horror and Italian autobiographies of the twentieth century and graduate without having studied seriously Shakespeare or Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This problem relates to and is exacerbated by the university’s division into natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and further subdivision into departments, which entails that the various disciplines “do not address one another” and “The problem of the whole… is never systematically posed.”

In addition, the university tends to avoid serious confrontation with the permanent questions about truth and justice because doing so necessarily entails praising certain ways of life and criticizing others, the latter of which now connotes intolerance. As Bloom explains in his discussion of what “openness” has come to mean in liberal democracy, “indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is discrimination.” To avoid appearing judgmental with respect to certain issues, universities have embraced some of the language and premises surrounding value relativism. Consider, for example, the way in which elite universities eagerly support students to form groups representing their cultural heritages. This is a perfectly safe route in a liberal democratic regime that values peace and seeks to avoid conflict, since “culture” actually originated in an attempt to maintain “the old attachments to family, country, and God” while ignoring that “real differences among men are based on real differences in fundamental beliefs about good and evil, about what is highest, about God.” The same can be said about institutional efforts to promote “dialogue” with no end beyond enhanced mutual-understanding, a far cry from dialogue in the Socratic sense that aims to distinguish true opinions from false ones.

Along with describing how the radicalized democratic spirit has flattened the souls of America’s youth and corrupted the university, in Part II, Nihilism, American Style, Bloom provides the intellectual history behind this mood’s development. Although Bloom’s analysis is interesting in its own right, perhaps more importantly, this section justifies his later claim that “Philosophy is still possible.” The command to “know thyself” will always exert a claim on human beings, and Bloom shows us how to pursue this knowledge by engaging the great thinkers, whose thoughts have been preserved in great books, who also took this mandate seriously. As Bloom states, “We need history, not to tell us what happened, or to explain the past, but to make the past alive so that it can explain us and make a future possible. This is our educational crisis and opportunity.”
For all its discussion of apathetic students and the debasement of institutions of higher learning, The Closing of the American Mind is really a book about the state of philosophy and its future in the United States. Towards the end of the book, Bloom remarks that the “story [of philosophy] defines in itself our whole problem.” Provided human nature does not change, there will always be souls inspired by the permanent questions. Concomitantly, there will always be forces in their regime that conspire against the pursuit of the truth. Therefore, the key question for the elite American university is whether it will once again provide a safe home for philosophy and encourage a liberal education for students. While the future in this regard is far from certain, the fact that people continue returning to Bloom’s book after twenty years is at least one promising sign.

Do Elite Universities Exclude The Poor?

In an Op-Ed in last Monday’s New York Times, UC-Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel painted an alarming picture of our elite universities as institutions that systematically discriminate against poor and middle-class students. In Karabel’s words, these schools are “serving less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.” This is a depressing analysis of our top academic institutions, but it also happens to be a false one.
While it is true that economically disadvantaged students sometimes get the short shrift in elite college admission, it is equally true that Karabel has used highly biased numbers to argue his case. When the statistical flaws are corrected, a truer picture emerges, one that suggests that the economic diversity at our top colleges is far greater than class warriors such as Karabel would admit.

Most of Karabel’s data in the op-ed comes from a single 2004 study done by the liberal Century Foundation. While the actual economic backgrounds of the students in the survey is somewhat difficult to determine because the study combined economic and non-economic factors, it is virtually certain that the study’s claims are dramatically exaggerated. To understand why, consider the similar claims Karabel made in his recent book, The Chosen.

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The Perils Of Fake History

The University of Colorado’s dismissal of Ward Churchill for academic fraud was not only a welcome decision in support of scholarly standards, it will also go some way towards discrediting one of the most depressing tendencies of our era, the politicisation of history.

In Australia, Churchill has long been frequently cited by historians of Aboriginal affairs. In their introduction to a special “genocide” edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History in 2001, the editors supported Churchill’s contentions that colonialism in America and the Pacific was worse than the Holocaust and that the British were the most murderous of Europe’s imperial powers.

Thirty-five years ago, when academic fashions were quite different than today, one of Churchill’s precursors in the history of American Indian affairs, Francis Prucha, put the traditional view of how scholars in the field should practice their trade:

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Another College Aid Boondoggle?

President Bush just signed into law the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed by both houses of Congress on September 7. CCRAA – think of a crow signaling to his buddies that dinner is served – comes with the tag line, “The largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill – at no new cost to taxpayers.” The legislation certainly rearranges student financial aid in the United States.
The basic idea is that some of the funds that used to be spent subsidizing private lenders to make loans to college students will now be spent to increase the size of Pell Grants, cut the interest rates students pay on federally subsidized loans, and – in principle – reduce the federal deficit. CCRAA is also stuffed with other morsels. Eligibility for Pell Grants will expand. Students who commit themselves to becoming teachers in “high-poverty communities” will get extra assistance. College graduates who pursue careers in public service will have their loans forgiven after ten years. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Institutions, and the brand new categories, “Predominantly Black Institutions” and “Institutions Serving Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American Students” will divvy up a $510 million windfall over five years. And a multi-partner scheme will provide “matching challenge grants aimed at increasing the number of first generation and low-income college students.”

What does all this mean? In part it means that the private lenders paid dearly for their transgressions. The still-unfolding student loan scandal that began in January with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into Sallie Mae, and that I wrote about here, put the (mostly Republican) defenders of “free market” mechanisms for distributing federal student aid in an untenable position. The “free market” in this case was never anything close to lean and efficient. To the contrary, it was (and still is) inefficient and frequently corrupt, dominated by players who found it easy to bribe college officials, wring favors from politicians by means of campaign contributions, bilk the Department of Education, and live off generous subsidies.

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What Happened At Hamilton

By Robert Paquette

On 17 September, Constitution Day, my two co-founders (professors Douglas Ambrose and James Bradfield) and I unveiled the Alexander Hamilton Institute in a historic mansion about a mile from the Hamilton College campus. Our goal is to promote the study of American ideals and institutions. This was not our first try. A little over a year ago , we were celebrating its founding at the college, as the Alexander Hamilton Center for the Study of Western Civilization. We intended to offer a rich menu of extras – conferences, colloquia, internships, fellowships, and awards – to Hamilton College undergraduates. In August 2006 we were toasting a signed agreement with the President and Dean of the Faculty; several weeks later, the initiative collapsed, only now reborn outside of the college. What happened?

The opposition was partly bureaucratic, partly ideological. On the modern campus, programs to study Western institution and culture tend to meet quick resistance. The activists win subtly and incrementally, in several different ways: by choosing the people who teach such courses; by abolishing core curricula that contain a strong American history or Western civilization component; by insisting that Western thought cannot be “privileged” at the expense of other offerings on, say, race, gender, class and sexuality.

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Administrators The Real Threat In Indoctrinate U

[this also appeared in the Washington Examiner]

Last week’s withdrawal of a speaking invitation to Lawrence Summers by the University of California’s Board of Regents placed the spotlight on a central member of the radical campus constituency – the administrator. Recent spats over radical professors have obscured this corner of the university – where the most solidly-entrenched threats to academic rights and the free expression of ideas can be found. In his new documentary, Indoctrinate U, Evan Coyne Maloney, sheds incisive light on university administrators. Maloney’s worthy film offers a brisk tour of the political afflictions of the modern academy, displaying repressive speech codes, expectations of minority behavior, and political imbalances and intolerance. As Indoctrinate U makes clear, the wild-eyed radical professor might be contained within their classroom; it’s the nondescript university bureaucrats that race to enforce their friendly dictums that pose the far-reaching threat to all students.

Widespread ideas of diversity have given rise to women’s centers, minority centers, and an assortment of items designed to advance particular, progressive causes. Most of these seem fuzzily nice, yet those questioning their utility are typically subject to swift punishment. Those who vocally disagree with these projects, making light of sacred doctrines of affirmative action, political correctness, or feminist politicking require a harsh lesson in civility, according to prevailing mores of college administrations. Indoctrinate U documents many such cases; a student at California Polytechnic was threatened with expulsion for circulating a poster for a black conservative’s lecture which read “It’s ok to leave the plantation.” This was labeled “harassment.” After months of pressure and legal threats, the university dropped its case. It never had much of one to begin with, but colleges never lose enthusiasm for quashing “objectionable” speech.

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AAUP To Critics: What, Us Biased?

Last summer, AAUP president Cary Nelson announced that the AAUP would be issuing a back to school statement on academic freedom in the classroom. Now that statement has gone public – and it makes for very interesting and informative reading.

Written by a subcommittee of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, “Freedom in the Classroom” acknowledges that professors have been accused in recent years of indoctrinating rather than educating, of failing to provide balanced perspectives on controversial issues, of creating a hostile learning environment for conservative or religious students, and of injecting irrelevant political asides into class discussion. And as such the statement is ostensibly meant to address the very real issues surrounding faculty classroom conduct that have arisen of late. As anyone who follows higher ed news knows, concerns about whether professors are abusing their pedagogical prerogatives have been repeatedly voiced; and, as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and other groups have repeatedly noted, those concerns should be addressed in a manner that is simultaneously respectful of students’ rights to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach as they see fit. The AAUP is right to take up the issue of classroom speech, and it is right to seek to parse exactly where faculty academic freedom begins and ends.
The trouble, though, is that the AAUP’s statement does not take seriously the questions and complaints to which it purports to respond. A small but telling indicator of the larger problem: When interviewed about the statement by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nelson said that it is ultimately designed to encourage professors to say to outside critics, “Don’t mess with me.” In other words – by Nelson’s own admission- it’s less a rigorously reasoned policy statement than it is a confrontational ultimatum disguised as a policy statement. This maneuver was not at all lost on The Chronicle’s Robin Wilson, who wrote that while the statement “is billed as a tool to help professors decide what they can and cannot safely say in the classroom – particularly when it comes to hot-button cultural and political issues,” it comes across “more like a defense of the professoriate in the face of heavy criticism” coming from outside the academy.

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The Unseriousness of Freshman Summer Reading

Many college freshmen face their first academic task before they even set foot in a classroom – the freshman summer reading project. Many colleges now select a single volume for all incoming freshmen to read, and construct discussion groups and attendant orientation activities around the book. Temple University’s explanation of its program is fairly representative: “the goals of the project are to provide a common intellectual experience for entering students” and to “bring students, faculty and members of the Temple community together for discussion and debate.” At a time when core programs and required courses grow increasingly infrequent, it is surprising to find such strong language about “common intellectual experience” from universities. This all sounds encouraging, right? Perhaps, until you find out what they’re reading.

An overwhelming favorite of these reading programs is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed – it’s a perennial from Baruch to Slippery Rock to UNC Chapel Hill. Nickel and Dimed appears a perfect class-conscious selection to expand students’ minds. Poverty is a running theme in recent years’ assignments, from Case Western Reserve’s The Working Poor: Invisible In America to One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All at Washington University to a variety of Kozol readings across the nation’s campuses. These assignments have not always been received happily – the 2003 Nickel and Dimed assignment at UNC Chapel Hill inspired a protest coalition, arguing that the book was an inappropriate assignment, as a radical and left-inclined critique of the American economy.

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Regents Asleep At The Switch

By Anne Neal

Question: What happens when you take a world-class public university, let political correctness run amok, and give it regents who are asleep at the switch?

Answer: You get the University of California.

Over the last week, UC faculty, administrators and regents have illustrated, in gory and public detail, a principle one would think is common sense: When universities focus on ideology, not excellence, everybody loses.

It’s no secret that UC Irvine’s new law school offered its deanship to Duke professor Erwin Chemerinsky and then retracted it – amidst signs of political interference. Then, to make matters worse, the UC Regents rescinded an invitation to former Harvard president Lawrence Summers after faculty objected to his views.

Now, after a national outcry, UC has apparently re-hired Chemerinsky – but it has not restored its invitation to Summers.
Which of course begs another question: Why would either man even want to come to a place that is run this way? Yet, the events of the past week – however disturbing – are totally predictable in light of UC’s history.

In the 1960s, UC Regents handed vast academic and financial authority over to faculty and staff. The results of this terrific abdication are now on full display. UC boasts what Regents chairman Richard Blum recently called a “dysfunctional” bureaucracy – a bloated administrative system with runaway salaries and perks. It also hosts a faculty senate that voted to eliminate a historic prohibition against “propaganda” in the classroom – on the grounds that it is outdated.

In that kind of environment, is it any wonder that deans and speakers are picked based on whose views are popular?

Likewise, we should not be surprised when a 2004 poll conducted by the University of Connecticut of students at UCLA, Berkeley and other institutions finds a substantial number who complain that book lists and panel discussions are “totally one-sided.” Or when “conservative” students are affirmatively discouraged from taking a course on Palestinian poetics, as they were at Berkeley in 2003.

Given this environment, it’s no surprise that decisions like those involving Chemerinsky and Summers are made. Instead of simply expressing outrage when such violations of fair procedure occur, we should recognize them as the logical outcome of decades of poor oversight and spineless accommodation of special interests.

And we should agree that enough is enough. That’s what the American Council of Trustees and Alumni told the Regents last Friday. In a letter addressed to Chairman Blum, we urged the Regents to put a stop to the degrading, damaging nonsense once and for all.
The Regents can do that by initiating a thorough review to ensure that political and ideological concerns don’t trump free inquiry on UC’s campuses – that personnel decisions are made on the basis of merit, not ideological congeniality, and that the classroom is home to healthy, rounded inquiry rather than proselytizing.

Regents are responsible for the academic and financial well-being of their institutions – and it’s time for UC’s board members to prove they’re up to the task. They must ensure that their university is actually a university – that it is open to multiple viewpoints, and that it fosters the free exchange of ideas. Doing that is not rocket science, and the nation is watching to see whether they get it right.

The Hidden Impact Of Political Correctness

It’s easy to think of Universities as a circus for wacky professors; their semi-monthly comparisons of Bush to Hitler or indictments of inherent American racism are hard to miss. Universities’ deviations from traditional education are far more serious than a few zany radicals, though. Something far more significant overshadows this ranting, namely how PC invisibly sanitizes instruction to avoid “offending” certain easy-to-anger students. This is the dog that does not bark – “safe lecturing” to use the STD vocabulary – and seldom recognized since it concerns what is not taught, and as such deprives students of a genuine education.

Let me offer some observations from my 35-year academic career but these undoubtedly apply more generally. Some facts. First, today’s students, especially in lecture courses, display rather desultory academic habits. Many arrive late, leave early, doze off, regularly skip classes, eat, drink or listen to iPods, gossip and otherwise ignore the dispensed pearls of wisdom. Even stellar teachers cast pearls. Dreary test results confirm that lectures are disregarded and assignments go unread. Sad to say, many African-American students who should be expending extra efforts to surmount academic deficiencies are particularly guilty though expressing this plain-to-see reality is verboten.

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Creating Activists At Ed School

In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice “from local to global level.” This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn’t long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight “oppression,” and sees American society as pervaded by the “global interconnections of oppression.” Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.

This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, “The Scandal of Social Work,” says these programs “have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints.”

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Harvard Long Gone

[This also appeared in National Review Online]

There was a time when Harvard stood for the Union. Almost 600 of its sons fought for the North in the Civil War, nearly one-quarter of whom gave their lives. Only the names of those Union dead are inscribed in the transept of Memorial Hall; the smaller number of Harvard affiliates who died for the cause of secession were not similarly honored.

But times have changed. In the current issue of the Harvard alumni magazine there is a profile of education professor, Howard Gardner, in which he declares: “The right wing isn’t just taking over the country, it’s shanghaiing all our values. If there’s a Republican administration after the next election, I would join in efforts for some sort of secession. It’s not the same country anymore.”

Keep in mind that these were not comments that spilled from Professor Gardner’s lips in an unguarded moment that were then exposed by “gotchya” journalism. They were in the University’s own publication that is used for promotional purposes. The profiles of faculty in alumni magazines are meant to portray the faculty and the University in a flattering light to generate support from alumni. Clearly, Gardner and at least some University officials believe that threatening secession conveys a positive picture of the institution.

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I’m Ok, You’re Not Ok

“Reclaim Your Rights as a Liberal Educator.” That’s the title of a short essay in this month’s Academe, organ of the American Association of University Professors. The phrase has all the imagination of a slogan unfurled at countless marches, but what it lacks in wit it makes up for in fortitude of the uniquely academic kind. Author Julie Kilmer, women’s studies and religion professor at Olivet College, sounds the standard “they’re-out-to-get-us” call and rallies her brethren to take back the classroom. We have, too, a vicious aggressor: conservative student groups that confront professors of perceived liberal bias, and they form a national network out to undermine the faculty, who come off as vulnerable and innocent professionals. While the professors uphold “freedom of inquiry to examine the worth of controversial ideas” and “teach college students to use analytical thinking in the development of new ideas,” groups such as Students for Academic Freedom do their best to subvert the process. Worst of all, they “encourage students to bring complaints against faculty to administrators.” To Kilmer, they are no better than spies, and they prompt her to wonder, “Each time a student is resistant to feminist theories and ideas, should I ask if he or she has been placed in my class to question my teaching? How is my teaching affected if I enter the classroom each day asking, ‘Is today the day I will be called to the president’s office?”

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Robert Dynes An Example Of Larger UC Problem

[This piece also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner]

Robert (Bob) Dynes is president of the University of California (UC) – and has been in that position since October, 2003. During my tenure as a member of the Board of Regents of UC, I worked with Bob while he was chancellor of the campus at San Diego and during his reign as president of the entire UC system. Bob Dynes has excellent credentials as a physicist and he is a very decent human being. But, in announcing his retirement from the UC presidency. Bob is doing something he should have done the day he was selected to head the UC system. In fact, it was a mistake from the outset to select him, for which I am just as responsible as all of the other regents.

Some contend that Dynes was “encouraged” to resign by the regents because of his handling of administrative compensation and other “perks.” This is undoubtedly true. Yet, while his departure is the right decision, the mishandling of executive compensation or the perception of him as a weak administrator are the wrong reasons for “encouraging” him to ride off into the sunset. It would be useful to examine some of the problems at UC.

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Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

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The Study Abroad Scandal

The New York Times has headlined yet another scandal in higher education: colleges and sometimes individual college officials have been receiving generous “incentives” to steer students into particular study abroad programs. The incentives include financial bounties and free trips abroad for the officials. As the Times points out, the self-dealing by college officials in these programs looks a lot like the self-dealing by college officials caught up in the student loan scandal.
How big a scandal is it that some colleges and some college officials have found another way to line their pockets at the expense of students? Not very big by itself, but coming on the heels of the student loan imbroglio, the study abroad scandal has stilts. From that height we can wonder if study abroad and financial aid are the whole of it: How many other aspects of the university enterprise offer college officials the opportunity to receive “gifts” at the ultimate expense of students?

Once upon a time, a certain kind of student yearned for a semester abroad or sought out opportunities to take a summer course in Salzberg or Poitiers. This was the American version of the “grand tour” with which wealthy Europeans once capped off the education of gentlemen. But Americans, being a pragmatic people, usually made sure that the venture included academic credit for courses that would meet degree requirements at the college back home.

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The “Fairness Doctrine” And Academia

In 1949, the United States Federal Communications Commission adopted a general policy which sought to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. This policy was based on the theory that station licensees were “public trustees” and, as such, had an obligation to give those with differing points of view an opportunity to be heard. The “Fairness Doctrine” was interpreted by many as requiring that those with contrasting views be given equal time whenever such controversial issues were being discussed. The “doctrine” was abandoned during the Reagan Administration when many government activities were deregulated.
When the bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies, specifically those relating to illegal immigration, was recently being discussed, several Democrat members of the United States Senate called for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” out of a sense of frustration that the public was not receiving a fair and balanced discussion of the legislation on talk radio shows, which the Senate Democrats regard as universally conservative and which they thought was having an inordinate influence on the deliberations concerning the legislation.
Personally, I oppose the “Fairness Doctrine” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it presumes the ignorance of the public and our inability to discern facts from horse manure. But, most significantly, broadcast stations are not owned by the government and should not be considered as government activity. With so many different sources of information – newspapers, major television networks, cable television and talk radio, for example – it is difficult for any one source to give us a “snow job.” But, there is one area of American life where I believe something equivalent to a “Fairness Doctrine” ought to be applied: the college classroom.

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The Mystery Of The “Diversity Commitment”

An epithet scrawled on a door, a brawl outside a football game, an ill-chosen costume for a Halloween party – over the course of the academic year, college campuses are bound to have incidents of racial friction. Some of them are indeed displays of outright bigotry. And when they occur, the diversity brigade is ready and waiting with its all-purpose solution: the idea that the cure for bigotry is a still warmer embrace of racial (and other identity group) preferences.
It has happened again, this time at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

In mid-July, Ralph Papitto, the chairman of its board, who had served for 39 years, was forced to resign after making a crude and racist remark. It is not clear exactly what he said, but all parties agree it included the N-word. The shake-up at the board sounds like it was overdue, and Papitto’s slur was only a nasty flourish at the end. Papitto’s racist tantrum came in response to a formal “notice of concern” issued on March 23, by the University’s main accreditor, faulting Roger Williams for its poor governance.

According to the accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) , the University board had stumbled in lots of ways – by failing to have a conflict of interest policy, by indulging numerous (apparent) conflicts of interest, by ignoring its own by-laws, by not having a separate audit committee, and on and on. But NEASC’s letter to RWU President Roy Nirschel also singled out diversity: “In addition, we understand that little progress has been made on the Board’s goal, established in 2003, to increase the size and diversity of its membership.”

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