Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Decline and Fall of the American University

America’s universities are self-deconstructing. Once lauded as a great civilizational achievement, they have been degraded by radicals. If your chance for a better life involves going to college and learning what you need to know in order to take your place in the business or professional world, that chance is being systematically undone.

So suggests Victor Davis Hanson in a brief blog note. He might be a little early, but he is correct to say that if American universities continue to be hotbeds of political correctness and social justice wars, they will no longer provide students the chance for social mobility and a better life. Undone from inside they will wither and die off.

Nowadays, reading the great thinkers of the civilization has gone out of style. Even the Stanford student body refuses to read the most important works in Western civilization, so why would other universities not follow the path toward dumbing down the curriculum?

For reasons that everyone understands and that no one wants to state, American university students are no longer obliged to wrestle with great books. They rarely even obliged to think. They are taught to feel strongly about the properly leftist causes. They are indoctrinated with the dogmas of the Church of the Liberal Pieties.

Far too many of today’s students go to universities and learn how to identify thought crimes, that is, deviations from dogma. They can identify you what counts as racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and the like. And since this is all they know how to do, they will find heretical thinking everywhere.

Were you to ask these students what these dubious intellectual skills can contribute to any enterprise, what value they will add to a business of profession, they would draw a blank. The notion of using one’s education to function in the real world escapes them entirely. The reason is simple: they see the world as a vast criminal conspiracy and they want to be judges and prosecutors, not the perpetrators or the accused.

Turning the economy into a grand criminal trial does not make it more productive. It renders it dysfunctional.

Universities have long since given up on academic freedom. You are free to say what you want as long as you say what the thought police want to hear. If the university should be a space where ideas can be exchanged and debated, where truth can be found, its current condition represents marketplace corruption. Young people like to rail about the corruption of Wall Street—i.e. Jewish bankers—but they do not understand that they have been participating in, even facilitating the corruption of the marketplace of ideas.

When professors and administrators use universities to disseminate ideology, it cannot also function as a place where people might learn anything of relevance to the economy. In truth, universities are increasingly becoming places where people are being rendered dysfunctional, incapable of contributing to the economy. It’s a sign of a civilization in decline, a civilization that is destroying itself from within.

Victor Davis Hanson analyzes the problem well. He begins by following the money.  He calls universities a Ponzi scheme, a financial fraud that is being perpetrated on students and on taxpayers. Students are being overcharged for an inferior product. Many go deep into debt to do so. When they graduate they can often only find part-time jobs where they cannot make enough to pay back their student loans. Meantime, the colleges are not using the money to improve the quality of instruction. They are using underpaid adjunct professors while swelling their bureaucracy with administrators who are enforcing speech codes and diversity training… but who are constantly on the lookout for thought crimes. That is, for microaggressions.

Hanson explains:

Colleges overcharge insolvent students through tuition increases far beyond the annual rate of inflation—the Ponzi scheme predicated on guaranteed federal loans that cannot be repaid by poorly educated graduates and drop-outs, many with little skills or demonstrable education. Obama has already promised relief to the disabled student debtor: expect that more amnesties will follow, probably predicated on the basis of race, class, and gender. In the meantime, the number of disabled indebted students will mysteriously soar.

As for the free trade in ideas-- the basis for a liberal democratic society-- today’s universities have no use for it. They prefer to police thought in order to ensure that students think the right thoughts and adhere to the politically correct dogmas:

In response, the university freely imposes speech codes, allows racial segregation, and winks at censorship of texts. It has suspended due process in cases of allegations of sexual assault, and allows 1930s-like violence (reminiscent of the Brownshirts) to disrupt public lectures and assemblies—if the agendas of the protestors profess social awareness. Only the hard sciences and professional schools in engineering, mathematics, and medicine have for the moment partially escaped the ruin.

Facilitating the process, the Obama administration has encouraged universities to harass any male student who is accused of sexual assault, to deprive him of his right to due process, and to mete out punishment without allowing him to have an attorney present or to question his accuser.

A university diploma no longer means what it used to mean. It no longer vouches for a certain level of educational achievement. If so, Hanson says, why do we need universities:

But if the traditional American college has largely given up on liberal education (due to its deductive and politicized mandatory –studies courses), if being on a campus can equate to an unpleasant ordeal of thought policing and mob rule, and if a diploma from a major university does not suggest that one knows anything about history, literature, science, or basic facts concerning our civilization, why would the university need to continue?

Why, indeed? Hanson suggests that universities maintain a tattered remnant of their past reputations.  In part, people must be hoping that the situation will miraculously correct itself. In part, alumni continue to contribute blindly to universities where they are routinely demeaned.

In Hanson’s words:

It runs now partly on past momentum, and partly because taxpayers and alumni donors still subsidize it. If a majority were to feel that their money only empowers fascism among faculty and administration, and if they were to conclude that students are not sympathetic in their indebtedness, but rather increasingly arrogant and ignorant in their passive aggressions, then they might well simply pull the plug on what is becoming their Frankenstein monster.

It isn’t going to happen tomorrow. After all, Hanson says, STEM courses have not yet been destroyed by the thought police. One might say that it’s only a matter of time, but still.

In truth, American schoolchildren significantly underperform their peers in foreign countries. One suspects that these underperforming students are too handicapped by the time they arrive in college to make up the lost ground.

The tide will turn when employers stop recruiting humanities and social science majors and allow these students to join Occupy Wall Street and to militate for free stuff. Having despaired of ever earning a good living, today's students are drawn, like ants to honey, to the  empty promises of a superannuated socialist from Vermont. 

If you are looking for a glimmer of hope, examine what is happening to the the University of Missouri, scene of grand political drama last spring. Thanks to the publicity it generated fewer students chose to apply to the university. And then, state legislature to look askance at requests for funds. It’s only one sign, but it’s a step in the right direction.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The decline of the American university has followed the trajectory of our society's comfort with the word "NO." These campus radicals are called radicals for a reason, and radicals need boundaries. Boundaries start with "No." We're not willing to set boundaries. In fact, we encourage protest, wailing and groveling as a budding sign of civic participation. Meanwhile, some of the flagship centers of this kind of "edukation" are charging $50,000 per year for the privilege of indoctrinating these youths in radicalism. It's nonsense.

Sam L. said...

It appears to me that colleges are more a "jobs program" for academics and administrators who have nothing to do with those teaching engineering, sciences, foreign languages, and medicine/nursing/pharmacy.

Ares Olympus said...

We can hope the STEM majors keep their focus. At least they're still worth getting in debt over.

For the rest, I don't want to be the one to tell college graduates (for those lucky enough to graduate) that they're screwed when they can't pay off their student loans for their gender studies major. I'm sure it was fun for a while, but talk radio and political blogs are cheaper paths to easy partisan rage.

And speaking of bloggers and higher ed, I see Kunstler offered an opinion this week.

It’s interesting to see how a parallel fraud is playing out in higher ed.

I submit the reason that college presidents are not pushing back against the Maoist coercions of the undergraduate social justice warriors is because the marvelous theater of the gender, race, and “privilege” melodrama is a potent distraction from the sad fact that college has turned into a grotesquely top-heavy and high-paying administrative racket offering boutique courses in fake fields (Dartmouth College: WGSS 65.06 Radical Sexuality: Of Color, Wildness, and Fabulosity… Harvard University: WOMGEN 1424: American Fetish) in order to pander to their young customers (students) conditioned to tragic “oppression” sob stories.

All in the service of paying huge salaries + perqs to the dynamic executives running these places.

So the lesson is never shoot your cash cows, right? Or if you going to put'em down eventually, keep'em distracted from the hammer up ahead.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew_M_Garland said...

Colleges advertize that having a college degree enables $1 million more in lifetime earnings. They support that figure with the earnings of people who received degrees 30 years ago. This must be true supposedly because the government, banks, and schools are willing to lend to students the money to get degrees. Colleges make no distinction about subjects or abilities. The degree is the unit of accomplishment, any degree. This must be true supposedly because the government, banks, and schools make no distinction in granting the loans. They would not intentionally lose money. It is too fantastic to think that the government et al are that crazy.

Good arguments against the above fantasy, as in this blog, lack standing. These are mere thoughts, whereas the society is lending good money to enable students to get degrees.

What will be the blowback? I think students will not blame the government or the schools, and the government will not blame itself or its cronies, the schools. The government will blame the short-sighted, selfish, untrusting, un-socialist policies of business. Businesses are the only ones doubting the value of current degrees. They are evil. They would not be evil if the government ran them.

This situation parallels the financial crisis of 2008 and the housing price collapse. People always relied on bankers to deny them housing loans if they were not qualified to borrow. The government changed this by demanding that banks lend to less qualified people and providing the funds to make this policy acceptable. One could argue to those people, don't borrow that money, it is too risky. That argument lacked standing compared to the reality that the money was available. So, the collapse eventually occurred.

Those borrowers and our government did not blame themselves. They blamed the "predatory lenders" who somehow, in unknown ways, supposedly benefitted from granting loans more freely. It is too crazy to think that the government made or encouraged loans which they thought might not be paid back. It must be the evil lenders, who would not be evil if the government ran them.

Socialism and central ownership is entirely reasonable when the free interaction of people in business is to blame. Socialism is coming in a more pure form. It is a brilliant strategy of our current government of socialist ideologues, to encourage a sequence of collapses, each one blamed on selfish businessmen. This strategy is funded by printing money, in itself a strategy for a collapse. Collapse doesn't matter to these ideologues. Utopia will express itself after enough collapse, led by our caring, non-evil, non-business leaders.

Venezuela is in dire condition. Most of the populace blame the businessmen for not cooperating in the socialist ideal. Businesses are wreckers. Government is a builder.

priss rules said...

This is what passes for current sensibility.. and it isn't the worst.


There is far far worse.