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"Nobody Screws With Me" The University: Sickness Unto Death

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After the Left University, What Then?

by Christopher Chantrill
September 27, 2005 at 11:00 am

IN AN IMPORTANT article in The Weekly Standard, James Piereson, longtime director of the James M. Olin Foundation, takes a look at The Left University and what to do about it.

American universities have gone through three stages, according to Piereson. The first stage was the British model: universities founded by Protestant denominations and designed

to transmit knowledge and right principles to the young in order to prepare them for vocations in teaching, the ministry, and, often, the law. Few thought of these institutions as places where new knowledge might be generated or where original research might be conducted.

In England, as in America, research and discovery were sponsored by nonacademic institutions like the Royal Society in London or the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the latter founded by Benjamin Franklin.

It is significant to note that the great figures of nineteenth century America, businessmen like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pullman, not to mention politicians like Jackson and Lincoln, “had little formal education at all.”

But all that changed when the Germans invented the research university. Conforming to Kant’s idea that you could never know the thing-in-itself, they founded the University of Berlin, “based on the idea that truth is not something known and passed on, but the subject of persistent inquiry and continuous revision.” The research model placed the faculty, not the students, at the center of the institution.

The model of the German research university spread rapidly in the United States in the decades after the Civil War, inaugurated by the founding of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 as our first institution organized around graduate research studies. The late scholar Edward Shils referred to this as "the most decisive single event in the history of learning in the Western hemisphere."

The men of the research university brought a different culture to the public square, inspiring the Progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century and bringing “experts and expert knowledge into the political process.” What we may call the liberal university grew in size and prestige until the 1960s.

Then, in a single tumultous decade, the liberal university was replaced by the left university. Suddenly, the open, tolerant liberal university, dedicated to an optimistic vision of progress through knowledge, was shattered and in its place grew an altogether different institution, the university dedicated to “identity politics, group rights, and diversity.”

Ever since, the university has been radically out of step with reality and out of step with America. It has been wrong about the fall of Communism, wrong about the convergence between the Communist and capitalist systems, wrong that “welfare programs were in no way implicated in urban poverty, crime, family breakup, and teen pregnancy.” And the university research that once fed into the political process during the age of the liberal university is now done by independent think tanks like the “Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hoover Institution,” and Piereson’s own Olin Foundation.

What is to be done? Piereson does not offer too much, except a recitation of reforms initiated by trustees and philanthropists. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But here is a more radical Three Point plan.

First, end university tenure. If there is one thing we have learned over the last half-century it is that people guaranteed a job are unhappy, cramped people, dogs-in-a-manger obsessed by their rights and utterly unlikely to serve the community. The university should be the great public square in which young people get to experience the great and the good as they visit the university for a season.

Second, prune back the research model. Some areas of the university lend themselves to the research concept, particularly in the hard sciences. But many do not. Is research in English literature a good idea? Research in law? It is probably not an accident that English and Law are departments that have been utterly vitiated by left-wing ideologies. The research model requires incumbents to do research in order to get tenure, money, and the glittering prizes. Some departments should be liberated from this burden.

Third, break up the “bums on seats” government education monopoly and its co-conspirator, licensure. Why are we putting children in classrooms for twelve years K through 12, apart from creating jobs for education professionals? And why do we legislate a forest of credential requirements? The postmodernists know why. Power. Instead we could, we should be educating our children to adventure, to creativity, to service, or to work. Parents, take your pick.

It goes without saying that reforms of this magnitude can only be advanced by the conservative movement and its political arm, the Republican Party. Liberals, lefties, and Democrats are too compromised by their economic and political interests to do anything but resist to the last dollar of taxpayers’ money the system that gives them a comfortable livelihood, status, and power.

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


 TAGS


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill