Truth and Lies in Academia

Yesterday: Illiberal Education   Tomorrow: Knowledge and Decisions

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude


Book: The Bubble Boys: How Mistaken Educational Ideals and Practices are Causing a Warped Social Fabric

My friend is in town from New York and is a huge Rays and Mets fan–she planned the trip intentionally to match when the Rays and Mets would be playing the Dodgers–and now she’s upset that the Rays got swept.  Moral equivalent: going to school for two dozen years and then being upset that you haven’t gotten what you want or need out of it.  Note the point.

Now there is more to say about schools that I have even already said to this point.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m on a course of posts that critique the modern university system–a system which clearly does not work, and in which our society invests heavier and heavier resources such that universities are now simply “youth ghettoes”.  But this is nothing new.

For those who really wish to look, the critique of universities dates back at least to Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America–which I’ll get to later–but includes a 1951 text by then-recent graduate William Buckley, whose alma mater, Yale, was doing things of which he was suspicious.  Buckley complains in this wonderful (and extremely short) book about a professorial culture that was increasingly devoted to collectivism, anti-religious sentiment, and other policies more reflective of the enemies of the United States (at this time Communist Korea, China, and Russia, and only a half-decade before this Nazi Germany) than of the Anglo-Saxon, democratic ,free market, Judeo-Christian ideal.  Buckley’s main concern is that as Yale graduates exert a disproportionate influence on the world compared with their absolute numbers, the ideas with which they are invested early would have deleterious effects on foreign policy, business, law, and many other important arenas of modern life.

Buckley exposes individual faculty members, entire departments, and specific courses that were being conducted with emphasis on anti-religious and/or collectivist doctrines.  He notes some professors who treated religion as equivalent to superstition and some who treated it as archaic and obsolete.  But his focus does not end there; he points out that even ostensibly Christian social clubs were losing their religious bearings, and that in no place were religious ideals strong or required.

To Buckley atheism and collectivism are two sides of the same coin.  Atheism is a movement that is too prideful to have faith in God; collectivism is a movement that is too prideful to have faith in the free market.  Both are akin to anarchism in the political world–a movement that is too prideful to have faith in an ordered government and society.  All three lead us back to the state of nature, breaking the social bonds that connect members of a society and lead them to give up some of their freedoms in exchange for the protection of the rest of their liberties.

Buckley’s strongest argument is the one he unleashes at the end–namely, that academic freedom is a hoax used by professors and administrators to protect themselves from having to take action.  It allows them to be lazy, insincere, and incompetent.  He points out that a faculty member that would promote the values and ideals of Fascism, especially the kind promoted by Hitler, would be immediately removed–that is, he would have no academic freedom–but that a faculty member who promotes the values of communism bears no such difficulty.  And he argues that in the long-term this leads to a subjective and unrealistic valuation of the works of the scholar over that of the teacher, a distinction which he kindly notes and examines.  The teacher has a duty to show his students how the real world works; the scholar may only care about the theoretical world.  To Buckley these two occupations are different, but they are easily conflated in the classroom, so a scholar who espouses collectivist or atheist ideals ought not to be kept in tow as he will be a teacher who espouses the same.  To Buckley these options have been tested in the real world and failed, so as a teacher there is no excuse for emphasizing them.

I think, to someone who is not himself religious nor Christian, it is a powerful testament to the validity of the Christian religion that its ideals are so fundamental to all walks of life.  And I think that Buckley is right.  I do not see the value in denigrating or disparaging Christianity, any more than I see the value in denigrating laissez-faire economics.  In fact I see the value in promoting both of them.  Especially in my work as a tutor, it is clear that families with religious beliefs foster stronger, smarter children than families without.

I should go further and note that what I saw personally in college lends confirmation to Buckley’s criticism of academic freedom or the lack thereof.  One particularly good professor of mine (hereafter L) was lampooned in a satirical play by another faculty member (hereafter M)–who had his students act this out–for his conservative beliefs, claiming that my professor (L) was only kept on the faculty because he served in the armed forces.  And yet this idiot professor (M) was protected.  L, however, was constantly in danger of losing his job.  So in fact academic freedom only seemed to imply that those with a certain set of beliefs were free.  This is, of course, what D’Souza said, and what I posted about yesterday.

What’s worse, though, is that instructors of mine who showed dangerous disregard for academic discipline and for the law faced NO CONSEQUENCES from an administration that simply couldn’t have cared less.  One professor of mine was pimping out women in Thailand–he became national news in the middle of my last semester–and when I went to the administration to criticize his instruction and grading of exams, both of which he seemed to do very little of, they told me I was the threat to the campus.  This was before he became national news, but they clearly knew about him at this point.  He was preaching extremely conservative economics, but this appeared to be because he did not want government imposing law and order on such fine fellows as he who violate international statute.  Another one of my professors said he did not get paid enough to grade papers, so he reduced the class to a middle school-level informative scan of Greek mythology and  conducted exams by rote memorization.  When I failed to furnish the names of 8 of the 9 Muses from scratch, my grade was reduced to a C+, which, given that I was the most classically educated person on campus, shows the value of the grading system.  Yet another professor had the audacity to tell me I did not know how to write.  This was the semester before I left college.  When I approached the administration, they claimed they could not interfere with her academic freedom, including freedom to damage a student’s transcript, and insisted that I accept whatever she did.  She gave me a D; within six months i was writing a book that transcended the likes of any other writer in history at the same age.

On and on it goes.  Buckley’s solution–for alumni to withhold funding from Yale until they behaved reasonably–was not followed, and the problem has since spiraled out of control.  We erect more universities as monuments to our own stupidity.  And yet the answer remains the same.  To shut these people up and get them to behave decently, we must stop funding them, through taxation, bequests, donations, and through sending students through them.  We also must cease to place strict emphasis on a meaningless piece of paper from an institution through whose doors a large majority of us–including those who work in Human Resources departments–have never walked.

Get it?  Good.  Use the alternatives available to you.  Starting with me.


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