The Decline of Liberal Education

This is an excerpt from “The Higher Education Scandal,” an article by Harvey C. Mansfield in the Spring issue of The Claremont Review of Books. He is professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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It seems that liberals, even those critical of American education, are not inclined to investigate what their liberalism has done to it. Once upon a time, earlier in my life, liberals took pride in the high standards they set for the colleges that they had recently come to dominate and had made the headquarters of their liberalism. Now, they have made an unholy sacrifice of the devotion to excellence they once prized as a mark of distinction over fuddy-duddy, tradition-bound conservatism, and it is conservatives who stand for high standards in education.

 

Today’s liberals do not use liberalism to achieve excellence, but abandon excellence to achieve liberalism. They have effectually eliminated conservatism from higher education and intimidated–“marginalized”–the few conservatives remaining. These few are the only ones in academia who think something is missing when conservatives are gone. There was a liberal president of Harvard for a brief time recently who thought something was missing when conservatives are gone, and then, courtesy of the liberals, he was gone.

 

The National Association of Scholars study of Bowdoin College (available as a free download at www.nas.org) was done without the cooperation of Bowdoin, relying on the public statements of its president and faculty, its official documents, and its student newspaper to show what the college is about. Bowdoin, like other such colleges, is ruled by a certain principle today, the principle of openness. It claims to be “inclusive,” open to all claims, yet it does not include conservatives. The study counts perhaps a half dozen conservatives among the 182 faculty members. But according to Bowdoin, this absence doesn’t matter. One can be open-minded about conservatism without being conservative, the college believes, perhaps by being objective like a scientist, perhaps simply by doing one’s best to understand it. Of course, it’s true that the best understanding of conservatism doesn’t necessarily come from conservatives, nor from having conservatives present on campus. You need Hindus on campus in order to understand Hinduism? Actually, that is a multicultural imperative that liberals might well apply to Hindus, but will never use to bring in conservatives.

Bowdoin’s curriculum lacks the academic standards of excellence that conservatives mostly and mainly defend in academia with little or no help these days from liberals. It is conservatives who deplore and resist the brazen politicization of the classroom, the loss of the great books, indeed the disregard of greatness in general, the corruption of grade inflation, the cheap satisfactions of trendiness, the mess of sexual license, the distractions of ideology, the aggrandizement and servility of administrators, the pretense and dissembling of affirmative action, the unmanly advice of psychologists, the partisan nonsense of professional associations, and the unseemly subservience everywhere to student opinion. None of these was necessary or useful in order to welcome those non-WASPs previously excluded from our colleges.

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