Did the Purpose of College Change on February 28, 1967?

Ronald Reagan is to blame.  On February 28, 1967 the Governor of California announced that he was going to remove certain “intellectual luxuries” from college campuses in the University of California system.  In doing so, he sent a clear message that the purpose of college was less about intellectual curiosity and more about finding a job.

At least this is the argument of Dan Berrett in a recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  It is a compelling one.

Here is a taste:

As his second term and the 1970s began, demographics, economic uncertainty, and world events reinforced Reagan’s ideology. Two philosophical shifts, toward social egalitarianism and free-market orthodoxy, took hold.

Higher education felt those shifts. Professorial authority diminished. The unraveling consensus on the curriculum accelerated. Colleges increasingly viewed students as customers. Economic inequality and insecurity rose, as did the wage premium of a college degree. And that became one of higher education’s main selling points.

The long postwar boom, for both the economy and for higher education, was ending, and the oil embargo, in 1973, further strained the economy. Enrollment data showed students fleeing from the liberal arts, disciplines commonly associated with a liberal education, and flocking to professional and pre-professional programs.

Higher education became more of a buyer’s market. Overall enrollments dropped. As that trend continued, colleges sought out new customers, especially adults and first-generation students, many of whom wanted their investments to pay off in jobs.

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “Did the Purpose of College Change on February 28, 1967?

  1. Many places like Brown, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Swarthmore and Rochester took the money and immediately cut their religious ties). Not too long before that, most colleges in the US intended to produce graduates of Christian character who would serve in many roles in society. The Chronicle of Higher Ed wouldn't like a narrative that places the blame on an alliance between secularists and corporate leaders, instead of Republican governors

    Awesome, Jay. The mention of the now-risibly PC Bowdoin College sent me to google, and damned if history didn't repeat itself:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324100904578404502145771288

    The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World
    The tale of a teed-off philanthropist and the head of Bowdoin College, where identity politics runs wild.
    By DAVID FEITH
    April 5, 2013

    It sounds like the setup for a bad joke: What did the Wall Street type say to the college president on the golf course?

    …the paper's true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren't required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

    One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”

    Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that “four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative.” In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama. Not that any of this matters if you have ever asked around the faculty lounge.

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  2. I think I would put that date at 1905 instead. That's when Andrew Carnegie established a pension fund for professors that required universities to cut ties to denominations or other “sectarian” religious organizations in order to receive the money. Carnegie wanted pragmatic college graduates who were primarily trained as accountants, chemical engineers, lawyers and the like who would serve the economy and his steel mills. (Many places like Brown, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Swarthmore and Rochester took the money and immediately cut their religious ties). Not too long before that, most colleges in the US intended to produce graduates of Christian character who would serve in many roles in society. The Chronicle of Higher Ed wouldn't like a narrative that places the blame on an alliance between secularists and corporate leaders, instead of Republican governors, so I doubt that they'll be picking up this story that Christian Smith laid out a few years ago. In fact, they didn't pick up the story, did they?

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  3. Reagan was correct. The state's compelling interest in financing education is to provide equal opportunity.

    The education establishment serves as a gatekeeper to career opportunity, and uses its monopoly to put our kids in half a lifetime of debt for the privilege of learning a curriculum that's indistinguishable from the Democratic Party platform.

    The final irony, the only justice, is the elite edu establishment's own brutal exploitation of its truest believers, the “adjunct professors” who work for minimum wage, no bennies, no future.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/adjunct-professors-fight-for-crumbs-on-campus/2014/08/22/ca92eb38-28b1-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html

    Benefits, retirement packages, health insurance? Hardly. Job security? Silly question. An office? Good luck. A mailbox? Maybe. Free parking? Pray. Extra money for mentoring and counseling students? Dream on. Chances for advancement? Get serious. Teaching assistants? Don’t ask.

    AAUP reports that part-timers now make up 50 percent of total faculty. As adjuncts proliferate, the number of tenured jobs falls. Why pay full salaries when you can get workers on the cheap?

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