Christian Smith’s Stinging Critique of Higher Education

South Bend

In his piece at The Chronicle of Education, the Notre Dame sociologists argues that higher education is drowning in BS.

Smith claims that colleges and universities no longer grapple with life’s “Big Questions,” are too “hyperspecialized,” too bureaucratic, too interested in the pursuit of money and prestige, too committed to an archaic system of tenure, too reliant on adjunct labor, too committed to online and distant learning, too captivated by a particular world view, too wed to “hypercommercialized” athletic programs that drain money from academics, too driven by a “culture of offense,”  and too removed from the “liberal arts ideal.”

Smith concludes:

Ideas and their accompanying practices have consequences. What is formed in colleges and universities over decades shows up for better or worse in the character and quality of our public servants, political campaigns, public-policy debates, citizen participation, social capital, media programming, lower school education, consumer preferences, business ethics, entertainments, and much more. And the long-term corrosive effects on politics and culture can also be repaired only over the long term, if ever. There are no quick fixes here. So I do not speak in hyperbole by saying that our accumulated academic BS puts at risk decent civilization itself.

The world is always being overrun by political, economic, religious, and social unreason, violence, stupidity, deception, and domination through sheer power. But I have long believed that, despite its flaws, American higher education should, could, and often did stand as an elevated island, a protected reserve for the practice of open inquiry, reasoned debate, critical and self-critical reflection, persuasion through argument and evidence, and genuine progress in shared learning.

Grievously, for me that belief has become implausible. Under the accumulated weight of the mounds of BS, the island has been swamped, the reserve polluted, by many of the destructive outside forces that the academy exists to hold in check and correct. Much of American higher education now embodies the problems it was intended to transcend and transform: unreason, duplicity, refusals of accountability, incapacities to grasp complexity and see the big picture, and resorts to semi-masked forms of coercion.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, there is not much here to disagree with.