Will the Universities Start to Collapse?

4 philosophers

People used to talk about the ends of the university and how the academic establishment was failing its students. Today, more and more people are talking about the end of the university, the idea being that it is time to think about closing them rather than reforming them.

Last month at a conference in London, the distinguished British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton added his voice to this chorus when responding to a questioner who complained of the physical violence meted out to conservative students at Birkbeck University.

There were two possible responses to this situation, Sir Roger said. One was to start competing institutions, outside the academic establishment, that welcomed conservative voices.

The other possibility was “get rid of universities altogether.”

That response was met with enthusiastic applause.

Sir Roger went on to qualify his recommendation, noting that a modern society required institutions to pursue science and engineering. But the humanities, which at most colleges and universities have devolved into cesspools of identity politics and grievance studies, should be starved of funding and ultimately shut down.

It’s an idea that is getting more and more traction.

In a remarkable essay in Quillette titled “After Academia,” Allen Farrington summed up the growing consensus. “We need to stop wringing our hands over how to save academia and acknowledge that its disease is terminal.”

Is he right? It is too soon to say for sure. But if so, Farrington is correct that its demise “need not be cause for solemnity.” On the contrary, the end of academia “can inspire celebration,” because it could “allow us to shift our energies away from the abject failure of modern education and to refocus on breathing new life into the classical alternative.”

A huge amount of attention and public anxiety has been expended on the plight of free speech on campus. Every season the situation seems to get a little worse. Guest speakers are routinely shouted at, de-platformed, or disinvited. Students and teachers alike are bullied into ¬silence or craven apology by self-appointed virtue-crats in college administrations and among designated victim groups among the students.

But the issue isn’t really, or not only, free speech. Bret Weinstein, a former biology professor, was hounded out of Evergreen State College when he objected to a “Day of Absence” rally that insisted that all whites stay off campus for a day.

Since then, he has been frequently invited to talk about free speech on college campuses. But he notes that the real crisis in education isn’t about free speech. Rather, it is about “a breakdown in the basic logic of civilization.”

Academia is the crucible, the engine room of this rot. But the breakdown of which Weinstein speaks isn’t confined to college campuses. The revolutionary intolerance that has made college campuses so inhospitable to free expression and the impulses of civilization has also deeply affected the woke mandarins of social media and Big Tech. It has made serious inroads into the HR departments of the Fortune 500 and elsewhere in the world of business. And it has insinuated itself into the values and practices of most governmental agencies, many of which have yet to meet a politically correct left-wing cause they do not embrace.

The economist Herb Stein once observed that what cannot go on forever, won’t. In the coming decade, we will see many so-called liberal-arts college close their doors. We will also see more alternatives to traditional colleges. Many of these will be online. Some will be local, ad hoc ventures. All will be rebelling against the poisonous hand of identity politics.

Thoughtful citizens will want to hasten this process. Their best bet is to pursue strategies to starve Academia Inc. of funds. No public monies should be feeding institutions that claim to be educating students but really are simply indoctrinating them. Parents and alumni, rightly disgusted by what these institutions have done to their children, should refuse to subsidize their perversion.

Once upon a time, universities were institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the transmission of the highest values of our civilization. Today, most are dedicated to the destruction of those values. It is past time to call them to account.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Post

Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor of the New Criterion.

21 thoughts on “Will the Universities Start to Collapse?

  1. Shutting down colleges and universities may seem a fantasy, but many beliefs that were once fantasies are now reality. Every idea starts with one person and then blossoms.

  2. A bunch of comments on this article were posted earlier, but seem to have disappeared.

    One of the comments was kind of disturbing, but the rest seemed OK to me, including my own.

    There are few enough comments posted on this blogsite as it is, without taking removing those from one of the few articles that do get enough interest for people to post comments.

    1. Actually, there are a number of companies that maintain databases of universities that they will not hire from, based on the academic idiocy that is published in mainstream and social media.

  3. “One was to start competing institutions, outside the academic establishment, that welcomed conservative voices.”

    Residential colleges are a bit of an anachronism these days. They were places where a collection of people, separated from the cool commercial climate, could struggle with ideas and concepts to develop their intellectual and emotional discipline. An “intellectual hothouse” as Percy Marks described it in 1923. Modern communications and transportation have broken up that environment. In the past, after a couple weeks on campus everyone knew all the personal stories so the conversations naturally progressed to discussing the “ideas” in the latest class, thus enhancing the real definition of education. This peer to peer debating, kept on track by the knowledgeable guide (professor) forced thinking rather than regurgitation that results when deference to the sage on the stage dominates.

    On the other hand, dissenting academies and alternative paths to learning have in the past created the environment for a dramatic leap forward by humanity as happened in the 17th century.

    =========
    “Newcomen’s religion had consequences greater than absence from a local census.  Dissenters, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others, were as a class, excluded from universities after 1660, and either apprenticed, or learned their science from dissenting academies.”

    “At the same time that he chartered the world’s first scientific society, Charles II had created an entire generation of dissenting intellectuals uncontrolled by his kingdom’s ever more technophobic universities.”

    –p29, Rosen, Willam, ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World’

  4. Student loans were the relief valve to placate the young for a few years, just as welfare supports the misbegotten and medicaid and social security disability provide an udder for the leftovers of society. Throw in the indoctrinating K-12 debacle and the foundation of a cannibalistic, feudal state is complete. At least two generations right now wander around with a sense of entitlement and seething resentment at their vassal like status. The state solution is the introduction of millions of more misbegotten from around the world to be the new Solyent Green for the bureaucratic maw. The university now is simply another feeding tube. Civil liberty destruction is the product of the bureaucracy. The end of the feudal university would occur only as part of a larger collapse now taking form. Trump is the last anachronism as The Great Failing unfolds. The cannibals in the university already eat themselves; they soon will join with the bureaucratic state to consume every resource. AOC is not an anomaly; she is the future, the fine young totalitarian cannibal; the end product of the university as a facility to indoctrinate. She is the face of tyranny already extant, if an exception by her aggressive persona. Tyranny prefers to go about its destructiveness behind a mask of largesse and beneficence and AOC will be sidelined soon enough while the real work goes on. The university as an institution of society ended some time ago; along with the Constitution and checks and balances government that went into the Smithsonian. What we see about us now,The Great Failing, has only begun. 12 years might be just about right, things ought to get real hot around then.

  5. The indoctrination started in the Marxist teacher training departments in the 70’s and 80’s. Those coopted teachers spread the virus to our primary and secondary schools, which must soon also be starved of public funds. The majority of students are already primed to be thoughtless and reactive upon entering universities. As long as the teacher colleges are in play, we are failing to address the root cause.

  6. I’m pleased to see other people coming around to agreeing with me about the necessity for separation of School and State.

  7. This alarmist and apocalyptic article is out of the place in the usually sober “Minding the Campus” website. Its distorted perspective about modern universities is easily corrected. Simply go to the Fall 2019 course schedule of any university or liberal arts college and count the courses devoted (wholly or in large part) to “identity politics” and grievances against the US or the West. Then divide that figure by the total number of classes offered. You will see that contemporary higher education is not dedicated to destroying truth or Western values. The identity-based departments are minuscule compared to economics, psychology, biology, biochemistry, engineering, etc. Disciplines like English, Sociology and Anthropology are internally diverse; depending on the school, they may contain no courses whatsoever that fall under Mr. Kimball’s critique. Many public universities play a crucial role in local and state economies; they supply the nursing, engineering and accounting work force that keeps the health care and corporate sectors alive. Bottom line: Roger Kimball’s alarmist soundbite is irresponsible, and it policy makers take up his call, it will seriously harm the economic well-being of many parts of this country.

    1. Might I suggest you attend a few of said courses in “economics, psychology, biology, biochemistry, engineering, etc.”? Perhaps look at a few of their syllibi?
      Perhaps read the CVs of the “tenured radicals” now teaching these courses?

      Simply looking at the postings for vacant faculty positions speak volumes to the issue — successful candidates must have a “demonstrated commitment to social justice” and “contribute to campus diversity” amongst other things.

      “Socially just” engineering — it used to be about teaching kids how to build bridges that didn’t fall down, but not anymore….

  8. “I’ll just call up my local legislator and suggest that they close the state universities.”

    Legislators facing demands elsewhere might just be so inclined — we live in an aging society and the Baby Boomers will be demanding ever increasing services. As will others, the costs are jaw-dropping — Massachusett’s share of MassHealth (Medicare) already exceeds 40% of the state budget, just for that alone. Then there are the roads & bridges needing to be fixed, along with all the other stuff people want money for, and limited funds.

    So your legislator well might be inclined to allocate elsewhere.

    1. Dr. Ed — they certainly do allocate elsewhere — the drop in state support over decades is the main reason for soaring tuition at public universities — despite the idea from the right that if it weren’t for student loans and federal support, everything would be like it was back in the old days.

      So, the public universities are happy or at least willing out of necessity to raise tuition. That doesn’t in the least mean that much of anyone actually wants to shut them down. The legislators are happy to have students pay more tuition so they can fund more medicaid, welfare, homeless relief, etc.

      1. “they certainly do allocate elsewhere — the drop in state support over decades is the main reason for soaring tuition at public universities”

        NO!!!

        UMass tried this argument this year — a 38.9 million dollar INCREASE is not a budget CUT, UMass just wanted an additional ten million dollars on top of this increase! In other words, UM demanded $568.3M and “only” got $558M…

        While the UMass budget has waxed and waned over the past 40 years, it actually has increased (in inflation-adjusted dollars), the UM lagress has just increased MORE….

        The top 31 state employees, and anyone who made more than $375,000, were all on the UMass payroll, as were 95 of the highest paid 100. Other examples abound….

  9. “Parents and alumni, rightly disgusted by what these institutions have done to their children, should refuse to subsidize their perversion.”

    Employers should refuse to hire their graduates, or at least refuse to pay a premium for the degrees — if a sufficient number of employers were to do this, 90% of students in college wouldn’t be…

    The problem is the 1971 SCOTUS decision of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (401 U.S. 424) which had the effect of outlawing aptitude tests for professional and management positions on the basis of disparate impact racial discrimination. So employers instead required a college degree (in something, from somewhere) and that’s what created the situation where one “must” go to college.

    Griggs was nearly a half century ago, in a different time, and if Congress were to give employers some other sort of racially-neutral means of screening applicants, a lot of the foolishness in academia would implode overnight.

  10. ‘The other possibility was “get rid of universities altogether.”
    That response was met with enthusiastic applause.’

    Right, I’ll just call up my local legislator and suggest that they close the state universities.
    Maybe just in time to spoil graduation. He’ll love it. Somebody else can call the Harvard trustees.

    Really, this might be a fun fantasy for some people, but far worse than useless for the real world.

    1. Perhaps gently cutting down on state largess over time, making institutions wholly dependent upon student service and athletic program revenues, would be more appealing to you.

      1. Tom, what you suggest has already more or less happened, big time. Why do you think tuition has skyrocketed? But that doesn’t remotely mean than much of anyone wants to shut down the universities.

    2. “Really, this might be a fun fantasy for some people, but far worse than useless for the real world.”

      The question comes to mind, …Useless to who???

      Here in the Portland Metro area, the products of the local universities are at best, technically competent and quietly guarded, and in the worst, a violent physical threat to anyone disagreeing with them. As long ago as 2002, I was in a class on Geopolitics, at Portland State University. It was taught, interestingly enough, by the 88 years-old father of Nicholas Kristoff, the then NYT Journalist. Being non-progressive in that class was a constant revelation of how far the “activists” had already taken over PSU. My questions of the professor were so annoying to the “progressives” there that about 2/3rds of the way through the class, I was greeted outside the door to the classroom one afternoon, by the young female leading the “activists”, and about 10 of her coterie.

      She demanded to know why I thought I could keep asking questions so that their ideas were not what the class was about. She was wanting to talk about current politics, instead of long-term geopolitics. As she said this, she stepped forward, and at the same time, all 10 of her followers did so. I folded my arms across my chest, and said that I thought that was obvious. She replied “There is *nothing* obvious about it!” I then told her, outright that I could do it, because I was better at killing than anyone standing in that hallway. This addressed the threat obvious to even an Aspie like me that the group had tried to convey. I was carrying the muscle to back that up.

      She promptly backed down. That was what free discussion inside a classroom in the university required even in 2002. By now, non-progressive reporters are threatened, by campus “activists” at “demonstrations” they are covering, with M-10 derivatives that are, TMK, only semi-automatics. The police here are rather obviously at the riots to protect the “demonstrators” from private property owners who don’t want their storefront windows broken in.

      The university administrators are today engaged in throwing out faculty that showed up several “woke” academic journals as junk shops willing to publish any twaddle that seemed to criticize industrial society. They actively encourage, and coordinate with, “the activists” in their riots. There are still some competent technical and science groups on campus, who are *very* focused on their tech. They would be that elsewhere, though.

      The question comes to mind, …Useless to who???

      1. You were lucky it was 2002 — saying anything like that today would get you immediately expelled.

      2. Tom Billings — OK, suggest shutting down Portland State University to the Oregon Legislature or the Portland City Council — you will give them a great laugh — think what you may about them, they are probably about as leftwing as Portland State itself.

        Be that as it may, I imagine that most graduates of Portland State (and the other public campuses in Oregon) are pretty happy with what they have gotten, as are their employers …

        I may not like everything that is going on at Portland State and places like it — but talk of shutting them down is just a fantasy — it really is “worse than useless” for anything practical or politically realistic in the real world.

        Roger Kimball seems to be in an increasingly eccentric orbit — I hope he stays in the solar system, because I have appreciated him for a long time.

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