Is the American mind closing?

College-classroom

James Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, makes some important points about intellectual inquiry in this piece at The National Review. 

I found this section useful:

Begin with higher education, the institution traditionally charged with presenting much of our youth with different perspectives and with asking them to explore alternative points of view. University mottoes often boast of just this kind of commitment, be it Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth,” Yale), Emet (“Truth, Even unto Its Innermost Parts,” Brandeis), or Scientia et Virtus(“Knowledge and Virtue,” Middlebury College). Many universities and colleges have become renowned for suppressing such inquiry, reversing course on plans to award honorary degrees, as Brandeis did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or allowing their students to prevent, through disruption, an invited speaker from giving his talk, as with Charles Murray at Middlebury. Such actions are taken today in compliance with decisions of university presidents or in acquiescence to student-activist demands. The institutions now insist on their new unlimited right to indoctrinate, not their old obligation to present uncomfortable ideas. The greater problem in universities is not, however, in the limits they place or allow on outside visitors, which can prove embarrassing for the media coverage they attract. The deeper challenge is found in the day-in, day-out operation of the institution itself, where the left-leaning positions of the faculty and administration are pervasive. Higher education has become a monoculture, serving as a plantation for progressive and leftist ideas. Conservative perspectives are rarely heard. Just a decade ago, when the imbalance of viewpoints was becoming more obvious, lip service was paid to making an effort to bring to campus a greater diversity of opinions. This concern has now gone by the wayside. The term “diversity” itself now carries a completely different meaning, no longer referring to different ways of thinking but to the gender orientations and ethnic and racial characteristics of the faculty. Applicants for many faculty positions are today required to present diversity statements, testifying to their views on this subject, as a condition for employment, while existing faculty in many institutions are asked to offer a report on their equity activities. 

Read the entire piece here.

I find myself in general agreement with this part of Caesar’s piece. I actually wrote something similar here. (If you want to see proof of what I am talking about, read the comments).

I have always enjoyed working at a Christian institution because of the academic freedom I enjoy. Do Christian colleges and universities limit academic freedom? Of course they do. I have to affirm the Apostles Creed to teach at Messiah University. But for those who teach from the perspective of faith, a Christian college can be an incredibly liberating place.

But when I read pieces like Caesar’s, I wonder where conservatives draw the line in their arguments for open inquiry and academic freedom. This is an honest question. I understand that there are different views on abortion and sexual ethics. Some faculty are Republicans or, dare I say, Trump supporters. I would argue, as I did in the Aeon piece above, that there should be plenty of room for diversity on these things. I wish there was more intellectual pluralism in universities. (I also wish there was more intellectual pluralism, within the Christian tradition of course, at Christian colleges and universities. But that is another matter for another post).

But what about a scholar who denies the existence of the Holocaust? Should a white supremacist be allowed to teach on a university campus? Someone who thinks COVID-19 is not real? What about a professor who denies systemic racism? How about a climate change denier or someone who teaches a Trumpian view of American history or thinks the earth is 3000-years-old or believes the past is best explained in a history course by invoking divine providence? Certainly free inquiry can’t be completely free, can it?

Since I do not teach at a secular university, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw such boundaries. Most of my battles on this front take place from within the Christian tradition. But whenever I hear conservatives complaining about a lack of free inquiry, I seldom hear anyone offering positive visions for what they want the university to look like or how to navigate some of the questions I raised above. If there are examples of this, and I have a hunch that there are and I am just not familiar with them, I would like to learn more.

By the way, the National Review is running what looks like an interesting series on American identity, but I can’t read it or engage it because of the paywall. Authors include David French, Joseph Epstein, Allen Guelzo, and Yuval Levin.

What American Historian and Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch Said to Mike Pence

13981-hatchHere is Nathan Hatch‘s op-ed at the Winston-Salem Journal:

Last week, I was invited to a conversation with Vice President Mike Pence and 13 other college and university presidents across the country to discuss what it will take to reopen campuses in the fall.

We talked about all of the considerations — public health and safety concerns, testing availability, robust containment measures and economic impact. We shared the various struggles and contingencies we are all working through. We agreed that universities are vital economic and innovative engines in their communities. And we admitted that there are no easy or predictable paths along this uncharted way.

When I was asked to share my perspective, I thought of a story that would illustrate our best way forward as a university and a community. I proudly talked about our “Mask the City” initiative with the vice president of the United States and shared the creativity, collaboration and unity of the Winston-Salem community. For this conversation is about more than returning to in-person classroom instruction at our nation’s universities; our concern should be about supporting our communities well as we seek to regain economic vitality safely.

As we have navigated these last several weeks, I shared how the people of Winston-Salem have learned to adapt to changing circumstances and adopt recommended practices. I told of the ingenuity of Dr. Bill Satterwhite and the specialists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who spent five days developing a prototype of a reusable mask. A few days later, the idea was shared with Renfro, which had the capability and the capacity to reconfigure their manufacturing enterprise from socks to masks. With the organization of Mayor Allen Joines, Don Flow and other community leaders, many businesses, civic organizations, colleges and universities, foundations and faith-based organizations have made it possible to purchase and distribute more than 300,000 masks — one for every person in the city.

What will it take to reopen our institutions of higher learning? The same principles that will allow us to reopen our communities, re-energize our economy and keep ourselves and our neighbors safe: adapting to our changing circumstances and adopting recommended practices to keep one another healthy. And so the people of Winston-Salem will “wear a mask, love your neighbor, protect yourself, and stop COVID-19.” We all are part of the solution. When we offer what we have — an idea, a quieted manufacturing operation, a monetary donation, an hour or two delivering masks to neighbors — we slowly become whole.

Read the rest here.

Why American Universities are Failing

HU-Campus

Political scientist David Schultz of Hamline University offers a scathing critique of the American university in his recent piece at CounterPunch. This hits close to home.

A taste:

American universities are failing. They are private or public schools. They could be religiously-affiliated or not. They could be in the east, west, north, or south of the United States.  They traditionally emphasized liberal arts. They are facing an enrollment and budget crunch for several years, seeing that the declining number of eighteen-year-olds in the coming years poses an existential threat. It has a modest endowment. It is not an elite school. It is a school like the one that many professors teach at.  It was failing before Covid-19. It may not be around in five years. With COVID-19, it may be around even less than that.

Years ago, I argued that higher education had a failed business plan, one that planted the seeds of its own destruction. It was a plan following the failures of K-12.  Now the reality of the failed business plan is imminent .

The reasons for failing are many.

For years it relied on the same demographic of white students to recruit, except that demographic is disappearing.

For years it raised tuition at percentages that far outstripped the cost of living and increases in median household incomes, and now many students cannot afford to go to college.

For years it raised tuition to convince people that the more expensive it was the better a school it was.  Except the school did not invest the money in academic programs.

For years it played the U.S. News & World Reportcollege rankings game.  Except all the other schools played too and all it accomplished was elegant dorms and rising tuition.

For years it spent increasing amounts of money on lavish meals and events to recruit students.  Except all the other schools did the same.

For years it encouraged students to borrow, except now with student loan debt at nearly $2 trillion they are tapped out.

For years  it chased adult Baby Boomer learners who wanted additional credentials or thought they had a novel in them.  But this demographic is gone.

For years  it jumped on the bandwagon to create pricey graduate programs such as MBAs to subsidize the liberal arts school.  Except this balloon busted.

Read the rest here.

Christian Dominionism at CPAC

Charlie Kirk is the twenty-six-year-old founder of a Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump non-profit organization active on college campuses.  He is also the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center.  (You can read our posts on the Falkirk Center here).

Here is Kirk at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC):

Comments:

  • Kirk tells people to stop giving money to their universities because they are Marxist. The only universities that deserve our money are Liberty University and Hillsdale College.  Such a suggestion is immoral.  I have a friend who is getting cancer treatment right now at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  They need all the money they can get to help continue their research.  I am sure we can think of hundreds of other ways that research universities are at working solving the problems of our world today.
  • Kirk says that colleges are producing Marxists activists who will one day destroy America. Has he really been on university campuses?  Where are these activists?  Most college students in the United States are sharing photos on Instagram, watching Netflix, working two part-time jobs, and trying to keep up with their studies.
  • Kirk says that we should fear communists on school boards.  Really?  He should come visit central Pennsylvania.  Please contact me if you know of any communists elected to local school boards.
  • It is clear from Kirk’s speech that the Right sees Bernie Sanders as a real threat.  When the Christian Right starts fear-mongering it is a clear sign they are worried.  Bernie Sanders is not a communist or a Marxist.  He is not even a real socialist. When I interviewed a real socialist on my podcast a few weeks ago he told me that no true Marxist would support Sanders because he is not far enough to the left.
  • Kirk has a meltdown when the crowd boos Mitt Romney.  He encourages the boos and then goes-off on a rant about how Romney lied to the people of Utah by claiming to be a conservative during his Senate race.  In Kirk’s estimation, no one can be a true conservative and cast a vote to remove Donald Trump from office.  But think about this.  Romney’s vote to remove Trump was an example of faith-informed politics. It was made possible by the fact that the Utah Senator has the religious liberty to follow his conscience.  Last time I checked, pro-Trumpers are fighting for a faith-informed politics and religious liberty.  This is further proof that they only care about a faith-informed politics and religious liberty that benefits Trump.
  • Kirk says Obama, the president who ran in 2008 and 2012 to the right of all the Democratic candidates in this year’s race, is a Marxist.  This is not true.  It is more fear-mongering.
  • Finally, Kirk brings up the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence” and claims that Trump understands them.  First, I am guessing that Trump has never heard of the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence.”  Second, “7 Mountains” is a phrase used by Christian Dominionists who want to make America a Christian nation by taking control of family life, religious life, education, the media, the entertainment industry, business, and government.  For many Dominionists, the Second Coming of Christ will return when Christians gain power over these areas.  We spent a lot of time writing about this kind of Dominionism during the 2016 election and even won a journalism award for a piece on the subject at Christianity Today.   Read our posts here. Right Wing Watch has a good story on this here.

Virginia Tech’s Problem

Virginia Tech

While colleges and universities in the Northeast struggle to find students for the first-year class, Virginia Tech has the opposite problem.  The Blacksburg, Virginia school has 1000 more freshman than it expected and is even offering some of them cash to defer enrollment.  I wonder how many of them are history majors?

The Chronicle Higher of Education has it covered.  Here is a taste of Alexander C. Kafka’s piece:

Virginia Tech has a big problem that other colleges would love to be wrestling with: a supersized incoming freshman class about 1,000 students larger than anticipated. So the university is offering cash inducements for some students to defer enrollment, but it says that deferment is only one strategy in its arsenal and that by late August it will be ready for the Class of 2023, no matter its size.

“It’s a challenging but essentially good problem to have,” said Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president for university relations. And a fluky one when the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center just released figures showing that public-sector postsecondary enrollment declined 1.9 percent this past year, part of a longer-term slide.

Read the rest here.

Will Free College Save the Humanities?

UnivofMNMinneapolis

University of Minnesota historian David Perry thinks so.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Pacific Standard:

I love all of the humanities, but I argue that history is the discipline best suited to instruct students how to respond to the 21st-century information ecology of short deadlines and overwhelming access to information. Historians learn to locate complicated historical contexts, sort through sources, then navigate a path to a coherent and persuasive argument in a timely way. There is no field in the knowledge economy that does not benefit from these skills. That’s why, in many cases, only rich kids can study the humanities, while poor kids feel obligated to major in business—and then often work for the rich kids for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing an undergraduate business degree situated in a rich liberal arts and sciences curriculum if that’s what you want to do, but these degrees (as opposed to MBAs) are not fast tracks to the C-suite. Yale history majors know this. Then again, student debt at Yale is lower than the national average; students there whose families make less than $65,000 a year pay no tuition or fees. Yalies probably aren’t as worried, in general, about their first jobs out of college. They want to be educated and to have long careers. And cake.

There’s been a crash across the humanities since the Great Recession, and no amount of course innovation or public engagement that can fix it. We have to change the basic economics of a college education, and arguments that deviate from this essential truth distract us from the core issues. We are in a decades-long decline of public investment in higher education, including a $9 billion reduction over the last 10 years. The public, meanwhile, assumes that investment in higher education has been growing. Maybe we should concentrate on telling them the truth, rather than scolding historians for (allegedly) not teaching enough political history. Then let’s get to work making college free, canceling student debt, and letting students follow their interests. We might just save history. And with a broader population educated in all the rich lessons of history, literature, arts, social sciences, and hard sciences, we also might just save the world.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Academia a Cult?

 

Minnesota

Andrew Marzoni thinks so.  He compares his experience in academia with his experience in a cultic religious community.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

Cults are systems of social control. They are insular but often evangelical organizations whose aims (be they money, power, sex or something else) are rooted in submission to a dogma manifested by an authority figure: a charismatic preacher or, say, a tenured professor. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is couched in unwavering commitment to a supposedly noble, transcendent cause. For the Living Word Fellowship, that meant “the Lordship of Jesus Christ”; for academia, “the production of knowledge.” In both cases, though, faith ultimately amounts to mastering the rules of the leaders, whose infallibility — whether by divine right or endowed chair — excuses all else.

Looking back, the evidence was everywhere: I’d seen needless tears in the eyes of classmates, harangued in office hours for having the gall to request a letter of recommendation from an adviser. Others’ lives were put on hold for months or sometimes years by dissertation committee members’ refusal to schedule an exam or respond to an email. I met the wives and girlfriends of senior faculty members, often former and sometimes current advisees, and heard rumors of famed scholars whisked abroad to sister institutions in the wake of grad student affairs gone awry. I’d first come in contact with such unchecked power dynamics as a child, in the context of church. In adulthood, as both a student and an employee of a university, I found myself subject to them once again.

One department chair, who had trained as a community organizer in the 1960s, threatened to use the Freedom of Information Act to read graduate students’ emails; she could have, too, since we were technically employees of the state. Elsewhere, a senior colleague propositioned my friend for a sex act I cannot name in this newspaper before the first semester at her new job had even begun; after she complained to her boss, she was removed from her position under other pretenses. I’ve seen grad students expected to put $16 whiskeys for their advisers on nearly maxed-out credit cards at the hotel bar of an academic conference. It’s not unusual for academic job seekers to spend 10 percent of their annual income — the amount of a tithe — attending a single conference for an interview (including airfare, lodging, registration fees and incidentals). A peer of mine was even directed by her adviser to write a doctoral dissertation renouncing the subject of her master’s thesis, a philosopher whose views do not align with the adviser’s own. It should come as no surprise that the professor who made that demand is a white male alumnus of the Ivy League, and the student an immigrant from a working-class background.

Read the rest here.

My only encounter with secular academia came during my doctoral work at a large state university in New York.  I can honestly say that I did not experience anything close to what Marzoni experienced.  Having said that, I do not want to discredit his piece.  I have heard these kinds of stories (at other institutions).  Like all professions, academia is filled with good people and jerks.

Frankly, when I read the title of Marzoni’s article–“Academia is a cult”–and read the first paragraph or two, I thought it was going in another direction.  While not all academic institutions and departments are alike, many of them may be described as “cult-like” in the sense that they allow for very little intellectual diversity.

What if College Classes Had Corporate Sponsors?

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What if the 700 Club sponsored a university course on Comparative Religion?

As universities become more and more corporate, writer Suzanne Fernandez Gray wonders what it might look like if academic courses eventually get corporate sponsors.  Read her very funny piece at McSweeney’s.

Here are a few of my favorites:

A-H 350 TWENTIETH CENTURY ART

Sponsored by Hobby Lobby

Through lectures, readings, discussions and research, this course examines major issues raised in art and criticism from 1900-1999. Students will learn that Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers are definitely just flowers, and that Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is proof of the collapse of American morals and the need for prayer in public schools.

 

JOU 532 ETHICS OF JOURNALISM

Section 001: Sponsored by Fox News Network

Section 002: Sponsored by CNN

An examination of ethics in the media. Students will reason through issues that arise in the practice of journalism like how to cut off the mic when an opposing guest’s argument gets too credible and how to draw fancy charts to make nonsensical points look like facts.

PS 440 THE PRESIDENCY

Sponsored by Koch Industries

This course explores the political genius of the 45th President of the United States through his relationships with foreign leaders like Little Rocket Man, Mad Alex and The Dopey Prince, while also demonstrating the ineptitude of those who hate America, including Cryin’ Chuck, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein and Pocahontas. Part of the class will be devoted to the President’s tweets and how people in the fake news media, including Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd, Psycho Joe Scarborough, Little George Stephanopoulos and Dumb as a Rock Mika can’t pull anything over on the man Sen. Orrin Hatch recently called a better president than Lincoln or Washington.

RS 130 INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE RELIGION

Sponsored by The 700 Club


Comparative study of major world religions of which there is only one: Christianity. Students will explore the merits of the Spanish Inquisition and learn how something similar should be implemented in the U.S. in the interest of national security, only with Evangelicals in charge instead of Catholics. Course fees cover a field trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY where students will be able to see a diorama of dinosaurs aboard an exact replica of Noah’s Ark.

Read them all here.  Enroll now! 🙂

When Evangelicals Tried to Start a Research University

henry

Some of you may be familiar with Carl F.H. Henry, a 20th-century evangelical theologian who tried to lead evangelicalism away from fundamentalism and toward a more intellectual robust brand of conservative Protestantism.  (I took a course with Henry while he was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s).

Henry’s lifelong dream was to start an evangelical research university.  Over at The Anxious Bench, historian David Swartz writes about Henry’s attempts at establishing “Crusade University.”

Here is a taste:

Henry told potential donors that he needed $100 million for buildings, administration, faculty, and equipment. That would establish a liberal arts school. If that number grew, they would add a college of education and business—then engineering, law, and medicine. $300 million, explained Henry would “include sufficient endowment to guarantee its operation.” For comparison, Harvard at the time boasted an endowment of $350 million.

These outrageous numbers reflected a dazzling vision that teased and frustrated Henry for the rest of his life. My next post will explain why Crusade University does not exist today—and why it never got off the ground in the first place. It’s a story that suggests much about the nature of evangelicalism in the twentieth century.

Read the rest here.

“The Closing of the American Mind” at 30

ClosingAllan Bloom‘s bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, turns thirty this year.  Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, cultural critic and New Left activist Todd Gitlin reflects:

“You can slam its young people into universities with their classrooms and laboratories, and when they come out all they can talk about is Babe Ruth. America is a hopeless country for intellectuals and thinking people.” Babe Ruth is the giveaway. These words were spoken in 1923, and the speaker was Theodore Dreiser, who had dropped out of Indiana University after one year.

So it is not a new thought that American universities are nests of self-betrayal and triviality where inquiring minds trade the nobility of their tradition for cheap trinkets and the promise of pieces of silver to come. Indeed, five years before Dreiser popped off, Thorstein Veblen was denouncing “the higher learning in America” for having surrendered to business domination, ditched the pure pursuit of knowledge, cultivated “conspicuous conformity to the popular taste,” and pandered to undergraduates by teaching them “ways and means of dissipation.” “The conduct of universities by business men,” to borrow from Veblen’s subtitle, had rendered university life “mechanistic.” Veblen anticipated that the academy would wallow in futility when it was not prostrating itself at the feet of the captains of finance. His original subtitle was A Study in Total Depravity. Veblen having dropped it, Allan Bloom should have picked it up.

Veblen thought the university had been seized by “pecuniary values.” To Bloom, whose bestselling book, The Closing of the American Mind, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, something much worse had happened: The university had been seized by the absence of values. “The university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. He finds a democracy of the disciplines. … This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is.”

A horde of bêtes noires had stampeded through the gates, and the resulting noise had drowned out the proper study of both nature and humanity. Nihilism had conquered. Its chief forms were cultural relativism, historicism, and shopping-mall indifference, the humanities’ lame attempts at a holding action that “flatters popular democratic tastes.” Openness was the new closure; elitism had become the worst of all isms.

Read the rest here.

In Most Colleges and Universities You Can Receive a Bachelor’s Degree Without Having to Take a History Course

Messiah College requires a course in history (but not specifically American history) and at least six hours of foreign language study (2 courses). It does not require that all students take a course in economics.
It looks like very few colleges and universities require students to take a course in history, foreign language or economics to graduate.  Here is Douglas Belkin’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal:
A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown.
The reason for such failures, according to a recent study: Few schools mandate courses in core subjects like U.S. government, history or economics. The sixth annual analysis of core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges and universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that just 18% of schools require American history to graduate, 13% require a foreign language and 3% economics.

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“It’s much easier for campus administrators to let faculty make decisions rather than to decide with them what are really important and what really matters,” said Michael Poliakoff, director of the survey. “It’s like saying to a lot of 18-year-olds the cafeteria is open, you kids just eat whatever you like.”
The report is often dismissed by college presidents as arbitrary, but it comes amid growing unease about the value of a university degree at a time of grade inflation and employer complaints that graduates are entering the workforce without basic skills such as critical thinking.
Last month, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa released a sequel to their book “Academically Adrift,” which follows a group of freshman who entered a four-year college in 2005. Many earned good grades while studying less than five hours a week, but more than a third didn’t significantly improve their critical-thinking skills, the authors said.
Their new book “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” checks up on the same group and finds that two years after graduation a quarter of them were living at home, and 30% were earning less than $30,000 a year in full-time jobs.
Mr. Poliakoff says the lack of a rigorous core curriculum is behind the failure to learn. At stake, he says, is the nation’s civic and economic health.
Among schools that fared poorly on the survey was Whittier College, a private liberal-arts college in Southern California. It earned an F because, by the metrics of the poll, it requires only one core course—in composition—and none in literature, language, government or history, economics, math and science.
Sean Morris, chairman of the English Department at Whittier, said the survey was superficial. The school has an interdisciplinary approach, so a history curriculum might be wrapped into an art or science course, and composition might be tied to math.
“We don’t mandate every single student take a class in American history…so you may find a senior not knowing the specifics of the New Deal,” he said. “But you will graduate knowing how to think and how to accumulate that knowledge and make connections between things.”
The authors of the report commissioned a survey in 2011 that found that 49% of Americans don’t think college students are getting their money’s worth from public schools and that 70% believe colleges should require basic classes in core subjects. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 34, the share was 80%.
“That’s the kicker,” said Mr. Poliakoff. “These are the kids who just graduated and were dealing with reality and they said ‘these are things we need.’ ”
Among schools that received one of the 98 F’s were Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Brown University in Rhode Island. A spokesmen for Wesleyan declined to comment. A representative for Brown wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Christopher Newport University in Virginia received one of just 23 A’s. “We believe that acquaintance with these seven subjects is essential to building a strong foundation for a meaningful and consequential life,” said university President Paul Trible, a former Republican senator from Virginia.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit organization that advocates for accountability at U.S. colleges and universities.
And the answers to the survey’s history questions: The Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed the freedom of slaves during the Civil War; a congressional term lasts two years in the House; and George Washington led the American troops at Yorktown.