May 9, 2011
Dean Nitin Nohria
Harvard Business School
Dear Dean Nohria:
The four earlier letters to you were about the education of MBA’s by HBS that could help shift the dominant economic system from finance capitalism, that caused the disaster, to democratic capitalism that can maximize the building and distribution of wealth.
In this letter, I propose that the economic system based on the worth and potential of each person in an environment of trust and cooperation should be studied in all disciplines in the university with leadership from the Business School. Improvement in the human condition depends on the system that maximizes the building and distribution of wealth. Understanding of this economic potential can rebuild a sense of purpose; understanding that the most productive system is at the same time the most moral system can fill the value void. The principles of worth of each individual in an environment of trust and cooperation were ingrained when the universities had a religious affiliation. After more than a century they can be rediscovered as fundamental to the most productive economic system.
Academic intellectuals have always taken the high ground and looked down on both the state and the economic system, as well as public intellectuals. This sense of superiority and contempt for commerce has been ingrained since the time of Plato. Any suggestion that the right economic system can lead the universities back to its proper purpose and values will be difficult to assimilate.
Perhaps the record inequality of wealth and the economic disaster will stimulate interest in reform of the economic system from other disciplines. Concentrated wealth has been the major impediment to capitalism from the beginning, and should have been purged when wage earners became a major source of new capital through retirement funds. In mid 2011, reforms have not touched this scandal, the top 1% now own 35.6% of all wealth up from 34.6% in 2007; the top six banks are 30% bigger than before the crisis; the stock market is valued at a 50% premium over traditional multiples of earnings.
This continuing crisis requires the universities to insist on real reform while identifying how the government can support democratic capitalism. This will be hard to do if too many in academia still deny the obligation to educate students to be contributing members of a democratic republic. If they insist that specialized scholarship is their mission then it should be acknowledged that the knowledge studied does not included economic alternatives.
In Article # 12, “Educators’ Persistent Failure to Examine Democratic Capitalism.” on web site www.democratic-capitalism.com, I comment that most universities having left their moral base in religious associations in the 19th century, have yet to find a secular alternative. Political correctness, relativism, and abandonment of idealism have all provoked criticism from professors, college presidents, and deans about a fundamental confusion of purpose:
- Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, lamented that in twenty years of faculty meetings he had never heard any discussion of how to educate students to be better citizens. He concluded that “the results of that neglect are all too visible”
- Stanley Fish, former dean of Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago, disagreed. The task of educating students to be better citizens, he argued, would replace the true task of academic work, the presentation of knowledge and training students to think.
- Harvard professor John Rawls rejected the Enlightenment: “Whether there is or ever was such an Enlightenment project (finding a philosophical secular doctrine, one founded on reason and yet comprehensive) we need not consider it, for in any case political liberalism, as I think of it, has no such ambitions.”
- Harvard professor Edward Wilson disagreed: “I believe that the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries got it mostly right the first time. The assumption they made of a lawful material world, the intrinsic unity of knowledge, and the potential of indefinite human progress are the ones we still take most readily to our hearts.”
Rawls was a philosopher looking for political solutions; Wilson, a scientist like the 18th-century thinkers, used the truth-seeking protocols of the hard sciences. Bok organized hundreds of college presidents in support of his position;
Fish taunted educators in his 2008 book, Save the World, On Your Own Time. But Fish fell into the same trap as most educators. Lacking a grasp of, or any interest in, economics, he was missing an essential point: Given that a better world depends on the creation and benign use of wealth, what is the system that best fills that mission. Fish wanted students to learn how to think, to connect the dots, but it can’t be done if the economic system dot is missing. The following critics comment on the confusion of purpose, lack of value system, and poor education in general:
Harold T. Shapiro, A Larger Sense of Purpose: Higher Education and Society. (Princeton University Press, 2005) Shapiro served as President of the University of Michigan (1979-1988), as President of Princeton University (1988-2001), and as a member and vice-chair of President George Bush’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He wrote: “I believe that the future of the research university is dependent on the nature of the values and objectives informing the university’s leadership…
Those with a different opinion were not necessarily the enemy, but part of a common moral community searching for the best way to make this a better world.”
“The fact is that a ‘best’ solution to many of the important challenges we face cannot be identified. Ambiguity, uncertainty, and anxiety are therefore our constant companions as we try to build a better future.” (P 90)
“The underlying problem today is that the language of private markets and business corporations does not provide a compelling alternative framework to the hierarchy of accepted virtues…or to the bonds of common religious commitments that tied together the higher education community for so long.”
This is the pervasive myopic academic view that does not acknowledge the possibility that the capitalism that can produce more wealth, broadly distributed, is also moral as it is based on the worth of each in an environment of trust and cooperation.
Shapiro did not lack for optimism, however, his utopian hope that: “ the age of globalization may be the moment in human history when rights, interests, and utilitarian calculations converge to yield a clearer moral landscape for us all.”
Charles J. Sykes, Prof Scam, Parents and Students Are You Being Cheated by the College of Your Choice? Professors and the Demise of Higher Education. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985) An essayist and investigative reporter Sykes was also the son of a professor who wrote a magazine article in 1985 that was the inspiration for Sykes’s book and the source of much of the material.
Sykes writes: “ Almost single-handedly the professors have destroyed the university as a center of learning and have desolated higher education, which no longer is higher or much of an education. A bill of indictment for the professors’ crimes against higher education would be lengthy. Here is a partial one:
- They are overpaid, grotesquely underworked, and the architects of academia’s vast empire of waste
- They have abandoned their teaching responsibilities and their students. To the average undergraduate, the professoriate is unapproachable, uncommunicative, and unavailable.
- In pursuit of ther own interests-research, academic politicking, cushier grants-they have left the nation’s students in the care of an ill-trained, ill-paid, and bitter academic underclass.
- They have distorted university curriculums to accommodate their own narrow and selfish interests rather than the interests of their students.
- They have created a culture in which bad teaching goes unnoticed and good teaching is penalized.
- They insist that their obligations to research justify their flight from the college classroom despite the fact that fewer than on in ten ever makes any significant contribution to their field
- Too many spend their time belaboring tiny slivers of knowledge, utterly without redeeming social value except as items on their resumes.
- They have cloaked their scholarship in stupefying, inscrutable jargon that conceals that much of what passes for research is trivial and inane.
- They have perverted the system of academic publishing into a scheme that serves only to advance academic careers and bloat libraries with masses of unread, unreadable, and worthless pablum
- They have twisted the ideals of academic freedom into a system in which they are accountable to no one, while they employ their own rigid methods of thought control to stamp out original thinkers and dissenters.
- In the liberal arts, the professors’ obsession with trendy theory has transformed the humanities into models of inhumanity.
- In the social science, professors have created cults of pseudo-science more concerned with methodology and mindless quantification than with any significant social questions.
- In the sciences, professors have mortgaged the nation’s scientific future and its economic competitiveness to their own self-interest by ignoring undergraduates
- In schools of education, their disdain for teaching has turned the universities into the home office of educational mediocrity, poisoning the entire educational system from top to bottom
- They have constructed machinery that so far has frustrated or sabotaged every effort at meaningful reform
- Finally, the professors have turned American universities into vast factories of junkthink, the byproduct of academe’s endless capacity to take even the richest elements of civilization and disfigure them into an image of itself.
Sykes thought that he was writing the book that his father, a life long professor, wanted to write before he died. Sykes included suggestions for reform:
- Abolish tenure: replace with fixed-term renewable contracts that would restore accountability and free the vast untapped energies of the academy that have been locked in the petrified grip of tenured professors
- Require teachers to teach: Putting professors back into the classroom to teach at least three courses would be a major first step toward the regeneration of the academy
- Transparency: Catalogues should spell out the workloads of their faculty and the degree of the professors’ reliance on teaching assistants
- Trustees: should seek out presidents willing to challenge the powers of the professors and the tyranny of the academic culture and then back them
- Legislators: should demand accountability for the tax dollars. They are in a unique position to assault academic privilege from a vigorously populist perspective- armed with a heavy financial punch.
Charles J. Sykes Dumbing Down Our Kids, Why American children feel good about themselves but can’t read, write, or add. (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995) Sykes is a journalist who specializes in education and a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Ten years after the above criticism of the colleges, Sykes added this criticism of the high schools.
“American kids rank near to, or at the bottom of, international tests in math and science. National reading scores continue to fall. Despite increases in spending, our schools persist in turning out children wholly unprepared to compete in the twenty-first century.”
Many intellectuals have never learned that central planning doesn’t work. Fast changing, complex data cannot be assimilated and people are de-motivated by top-down, command-and-control organizations.
Despite this the Federal Reforms under Goals 2000 or other government programs require elaborate systems of measurement and accountability in education and that requires new layers of administration, which also become barriers to innovation and flexibility.”
For every failure of central planning there is an exciting example of great success in the middle of problem schools. The difference: a principal who took command and then delegated to teachers, students and parents.
The great cultural divide in American education : Schools intent on building confidence insist on high academic standards; schools concerned with self-esteem fear to ask too much of the students.”
Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987)
Bloom writes of the founding of a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He commented on how this new experience in politics depended on a new education for man to understand how the goal of equality could be attained. He wrote: The old view was that, by recognizing and accepting man’s natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear when bathed in the light of natural rights which make men truly brothers.”
Bloom is not very good at including gender in these natural rights but a lot has improved since 1987.
Bloom regrets that education pays no attention to natural rights or our historical origins that required a government based on the “will and wisdom” of ordinary people filtered by an “aristocracy of talent and virtue” all supported by quality education.
Bloom believes that the natural rights and our political heritage have no place in current education that rejects them as “essentially flawed and regressive.”
Education lacks fundamental agreement on natural rights. He questions: “when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?”
Bloom comments on the interaction of state, economy, and culture. In my work I propose that Marx was right: start with the economy. Find the economic system, democratic capitalism, that is superior in both wealth produced and distributed and in the fundamental morality of the system built on the worth of each individual in an environment of trust and cooperation. Bloom takes the conventional view that demeans the state and the economic system leaving only the culture to unify and elevate. “Culture as a form of community is the fabric of relations in which the self finds its diverse and elaborate expression. It is profounder than the modern state, which deals only with man’s bodily needs and tends to degenerate into mere economy.
This opposition between economy and culture is but another formulation of the dualism in contemporary American intellectual life.”
“MBA students are tourists in the liberal arts not motivated by love of the science of economics but by love of what it is concerned with-money but wealth , as opposed to the science of wealth is not the noblest of motivations and there is nothing else quite like this perfect coincidence between science and cupidity elsewhere in the university.”
In this conventional view the culture should unify and elevate but it does not feed too many people. The culture demeans both and state and the economy while ignoring its real function: intellectual examination of the alternatives within capitalism, the science of wealth addressing the question of which capitalism can best feed, clothe, shelter, educate provide good health, and hope for the people of the world. Naturally, I predict that democratic capitalism would be the product of that examination with its associated educational needs. Paradoxically, it is the most demeaned level –the economy- that is potentially the source of both adequate wealth and moral leadership.
Laurence Steinberg: Beyond the Classroom, Why school reform has failed and what parents need to do. ( New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) Professor at Temple University, Ph.D. on Human Development from Cornell and author of many articles and books.
Steinberg challenges the theory that educators hold the key to children’s success in school. He indicates the importance of parental involvement but believes that peer pressure in the real problem.
Such pressure is ethnically based with Hispanics and African Americans most negatively affected and Asian-Americans most likely to avoid it. When the pressure is that hard work and good grades are not cool the best efforts of educators will not succeed. The result is that the priority efforts for the past quarter-century have not worked, we’ve gone backwards, “Today’s students know less, and can do less, than their counter parts could twenty-five years ago. Our high school graduates are among the least intellectually competent in the industrialized world.”
As the problem is the lack of close family support solutions can be found only in a change in our whole society very long term by nature.
In the meantime, the best hope is the principles and teachers who manage to overcome attitudes and produce excellent education in the middle of cities where others are failing. The difference is the application of the principles of democratic capitalism after decentralizing responsibility and authority to the principal. The determination to improve education has resulted in a proliferation of top-down programs including national standards that merely remind people about how bad the problem is and add more bureaucratic demands on the system usually ending up in ways to beat the test.
Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America, (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1945) His teaching career at Columbia spanned almost a half century (1927-1975) where he was professor, dean of graduate faculties, provost, and author of more than fifteen books.
Barzun’s suggestions for improving the structure as well as the quality of teaching were revolutionary when first presented in 1945 and still are. His comments following are from a 1980 preface to a new issue of his book. “ The once proud and efficient public- school system of the United States-especially its unique free high school for all-has turned into a wasteland where violence and vice share the time with ignorance and idleness besides serving as battleground for vested interests, social, political, and economic. The new product of that debased system, the functional illiterate, is numbered in millions. Meanwhile colleges and universities have undergone a comparable devastation.”
Barzun traces the “flight from teaching” as a a species of colonialism on the part of foundations and government. Top talent was recruited like a home-run hitting ball player with inducements like “no obligation to teach” and “leave of absence every other term.” “Under the double strain of expansionism inside and colonialism outside, the university lost its wholeness (not to say its integrity) and prepared the way for its own debacle.”
Barzun concludes: “Teaching will not change; it is a hand-to-hand, face-to-face encounter. There is no help for it-we must teach and we must learn, each for himself and herself, using words and working at the perennial Difficulties. That is the condition of living and surviving at least tolerable well.
Stanley Fish: Save the World, On Your Own Time, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) Distinguished Professor at Florida International University and Dean Emeritus at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Chicago.
Fish delights in battling with an ex-Harvard president on the purpose of the university. He quotes Bok as believing that universities should be trying to “help develop such virtues as racial tolerance, honesty, and social responsibility “ “prepare students to be active knowledgeable citizens in a democracy and nurture good moral character.” Fish write the Bok targets him as one who thinks that the only proper ends of the university are those that involve “the mastery of intellectual and scholarly skills.” Fish acknowledges the 900 college and university executive officers who agree collectively that “higher education has an unprecedented opportunity to influence the democratic knowledge , dispositions, and habits of the heart that graduates carry with them into the public sphere.”
The present devastated state of the universities is such that neither Bok’s nor Fish’s purpose is accomplished but the argument deserves examination on the hope that education can be improved by such an examination.
Fish’s argument is first a defense of the “specialized and fragmented” study and his learning how to think does not include connecting the dots. Scholarly skills obscures the critical need to integrate knowledge as it is such integration that educates us on how to improve lives. Nowhere in the Bok-Fish argument can I find much on how to seek truth. We would gain by restating the Enlightenment challenge to apply the truth-seeking protocols of the sciences to find a better order in human affairs. The Enlightenment made good use of Francis Bacon and we can too. If truth seeking is complicated by faulty senses, culturally conditioned minds, ambiguous language and error prone history then Bacon’s dynamic, collaborative, cumulative system can help. Dynamic, meaning always open for new ideas, collaborative, meaning that it has to be a team sport with sufficient diversity of background, and cumulative in its capacity to capture knowledge in a building block fashion.
Fish does not address how universities help students learn how to integrate knowledge but his argument also assumes that all of the requisite subjects are offered. This is the gaping hole in education, there is no study of the alternatives within the economic system. A contempt for generic capitalism is easy to find but the system built up from the worth and potential of the individual in an environment of trust and cooperation has no visibility because teachers cannot teach what they have not learned. A study of democratic capitalism would expose the students to these two principles that improve performance in all human associations. Is that trying to teach virtue? Only indirectly as it is primarily teaching what works best.
Harry R. Lewis, Excellence Without a Soul, How a GreatUniversity Forgot Education, (New York: Public Affairs, 2006) Former Dean of Harvard College. 1995-2003, Harvard faculty for thirty-two years.
Lewis explains how Harvard and other great universities lost sight of the essential purpose of undergraduate education. Contrary to Fish, Lewis believes that the educational mission is to transform teenagers into adults with the learning and wisdom to take responsibility for their own lives and for civil society. The loss of mission need not be permanent, but the great universities will have to want to restore idealism to undergraduate education in order to realize their potential.
“Something is wrong with our educational system when so many graduating Harvard seniors see consulting and investment banking as their best options for productive lives.”
Our Founders were in agreement that this new experiment in government- a democratic republic- would succeed only if citizens had high quality education. The theory was that this informed “will and wisdom” of ordinary people would be filtered by an “aristocracy of talent and virtue,” also the product of high quality education.
Lewis expressed it this way: “Students’ personal ethics will be the standards of government of of corporate America. Yet universities rarely speak as proponents of high ideals for future American leaders.
They do not encourage their students to seek meaning in their studies and purpose in their lives. It is time to ask whether these institutions are doing the job the nation wants them to do.”
Lewis also quoted Charles William Elliot who was Harvard president for forty years beginning in 1869. Elliot proposed that ‘unless a general acquaintance with many branches of knowledge be attainable by great numbers of men, there can be no such thing as an intelligent public opinion; and in the modern world the intelligence of public opinion is the one indispensable condition of social progress.”
Harvard at that time was expanding and scholarship was becoming more specialized leading to the present problem of how can society continue to benefit from the integration of knowledge, the connecting of the dots, from which progress is identified, if scholarship is increasingly fragmented and specialized. John Henry Newman writes in The Idea of an University that the goal of liberal learning is “ that true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence.’
Lewis concludes: “Harvard can again inspire its students to develop a philosophy of life that brings dignity and honor to human affairs if it signals those values in everything it does. If it fails that mission, not only Harvard but the nation and civilization will be the poorer.”
Thomas Sowell: Inside American Education, The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas. (New York:The Free Press, 1993). A senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Sowell has written many books and articles for the popular press.
According to Sowell “our young people do not meet the academic standards of their peers in other countries but this is only half the story. The school curriculum has been invaded by psychological-conditioning programs which not only take up time sorely needed for intellectual development but also promote an emotionalized and anti-intellectual way of responding to the challenges facing every individual and every society.”
Sowell comments on two disturbing trends “grade inflation and declining test scores. Without the systemic deception of parents and the public by rising grades, it is highly unlikely that the decline in performance could have continued so long. Why? Whose purposes are being served, and whose agendas are being advanced, as American education declines?”
Andrew Hacker & Claudia Dreifus: Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids-and What We Can Do About it. (New York: Times Books, 2010) Hacker is a professor at Queens College, an author of books and contributor to New York Review of Books. Dreifus writes for the New York Times and teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
They report “ Professors at Yale in departments like economics and psychology teach two and one. So in one semester they have only one class. Yale also gives them what it calls a “triennial leave of absence” After five semesters of teaching, they have a fully paid semester off. Full professors at Yale get $174,700.”
“Why should students pay for time when they won’t be seeing their professors, especially when the chief motive for publishing is to enhance personal careers? In other occupations, when people feel there is something they want to write, they do it on their own time and at their own expense. If sabbaticals were curtailed of even ended, the quality of academic publications might actually improve because what was produced would have been done by professors burning to put words on paper.”
The authors add a few tidbits: “At Williams over 70 percent of their 984 employees are doing something other than teaching. In 1976, for every 1,000 students there were 32 adults holding non-faculty positions, by 2007, there were 63.
“At Cornell a group of professors were invited to meet with the president to discuss a college-wide “great issues’ course. It would be taken by all seniors in their final term, aiming at summing up ideas basic to a liberal education. The president’s presentation had barely begun when the professors pronounced it an abominable idea. They told the president he had no business thinking about the curriculum, and they would in no way assist with the project. It expired that morning.”
This team ended their book with specific suggestions:
- The purpose of higher education is education: all other activities should be made to justify why they exist at all
- Stop relying on loans: costs attributed to the aforementioned activities, staff, and faculty have raised tuition well ahead of the consumer price index. Unlike in the past, students are borrowing to pay most of their bills, a system we would like to see dismantled.
- Engage all students: We believe that all Americans are capable of college work, so universal enrollment should be our ultimate goal. But for this to happen, professors will have to make an effort to reach their students
- Make students use their minds: What should happen to students during their years at colleges? We’d like them to become more thoughtful and interesting human beings.
- Tenure serves no useful purpose and should be replaced by multiyear contracts
- Fewer sabbaticals, less research; Paid sabbaticals should be ended
- End exploitation of adjuncts: It is immoral to have a person teaching exactly the same class as an ensconced faulty member, but for one-sixth the pay
- Demand that the Golden Dozen deliver: The colleges we call the Golden Dozen have become an academic Olympus. We believe that their special status is overrated
- A hearing for techno-teaching: A gripping performance on screen may be preferable to a live teacher of doubtful competence. Software can pose interactive questions
Martin Anderson: Impostors in the Temple, America Intellectuals Are Destroying Our Universities and Cheating Out Students of Their Future, (New York: Simon % Schuster, 1992). A professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, an author of six books, and senior domestic and economic advisor to presidents Nixon and Reagan. Anderson was awarded Dartmouth’s Presidential Medal for Outstanding Leadership.
Anderson quotes Samuel Johnson over 250 years ago that “ Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” Having provided this context Anderson on the first page of this book flatly states that “The death of integrity in the heart of higher education is the root cause of the educational troubles which afflict us today.”
Two intellectual classes: “Fortunately, America’s academic intellectuals-the professors-are not America’s only intellectuals. The other class, the professional intellectuals is composed of writers and editors who work in the mass media and large publishing houses.” The public intellectuals should provide some accountability for the academic intellectuals but despite severe criticism the academic intellectuals maintain a sense of superiority, certainly over the masses but also over the public intellectuals, Anderson provides several quotes on this performance of the academic intellectuals: 1988 Yale University president Giamatti-“for almost two decades the American people have been aware of and dismayed by the gap in the nations’ colleges and universities, the gap between grand, traditional, and almost unexamined professions of high principle, lofty mission, and splendid purpose- and institutional behavior that is often venal, self-serving, and shoddy.”
1990: Rutgers University professor Bruce Wilshire in The Moral Collapse of the University: “We must speak of the bankruptcy of the university as an educational institution. It is a humiliating admission.”
1991: William Bennett former secretary of education: “in some ways universities are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the intellectual life of the nation.”
Smug arrogance: “Too many of our universities have acquired the trappings of an aging state-the same kind of smug arrogance that comes to people who are never seriously challenged, the kind of elitist mind that makes its leaders feel that they are above the laws and values that govern others, the presumptuousness to believe that what they say is important, that what they say is true is true.”
No motivation to teach: ”What counts today is research and publishing. Professors get prestigious positions, promotions, and salary increases primarily on the work they do as researchers and administrators, not as teachers.”
New-tech teaching: In 1991 Michigan State began to experimentwith replacing the professor with a videotape.
Grade inflation: This loud noise about the decline in the quality of teaching is amazingly combined with grade inflation. At Williams introductory courses of eight large departments “has risen from a bit above C+ in 1962 to roughly B in 1985, The proportion of students receiving less than B- fell from 47% to 26%.” Anderson mused that “it’s almost as if Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon –where all the children are above average-has come to life in our colleges and universities.”
Publish or perish: Anderson’s blunt summary: “Taken as a whole, academic research and writing is the greatest intellectual fraud of the twentieth century. Close to a thousand manuscripts a year-and I swear that the profession would be better off if most of them hadn’t been written, and certainly if most of them hadn’t been published.
1988: Graduate economics education: Alan Blinder Princeton professor and former vice-chairman of the Fed “Our surveys found widespread dissatisfaction with graduate education in economics-and a fairly consistent pattern of complaints. Both students and faculty find economics pbsessed with technique over substance. Or too theoretical, or too mathematical, or insufficiently connected with the real world, or too removed from policy and institutional context- a devastating critique.”
Hubris: a haughty pride, an arrogant disdain for the thoughts and feelings of others: Anderson quotes Jeffrey Hart a syndicated columnist and longtime Dartmouth professor: “Faculty members believe on the basis of their mastery of an academic specialty, that they are superior people. They are contemptuous of the world outside the academy, and resentful of its power, Getting to tag on ‘Ph. D.’ can prove to be an intoxication from which some of them never recover.”
Trustees: Reasons that the governing boards must be blamed: 1) they have both the responsibility and the suthority to take decisive action, 2) They are the only ones with any power to reform, 3) they have been derelict in their duties and have presided over the decline of the American University. Anderson then proposes a surprising action: “ the only way to get their undivided attention will be a lawsuit when interested parties-be they alumni, faculty, or even students – sue the university trustees for breach of their fiduciary responsibilities.”
Part of Anderson’s reform agenda:
- Prohibit student teaching
- Stop rewarding spurious research and writing
- Change the Ph. D. process
- End faculty tenure
- Reorganize faculty titles and responsibilities
- Return to the four-year bachelor’s degree
Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas, Reform and Resistance in the American University, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010) An English professor at Harvard, author of several books including a Pulitzer Prize for History, also associate editor The New Republic, literary editor at The New Yorker, and contributing editor at The New York Review of Books.
Menand summarizes the problem: “People are taught to become expert in a field of specialized study; and then, at the end of a long, expensive, and highly single-minded process of credentialization, they are asked to perform tasks for which they have had no training whatsoever: to teach their fields to non-specialists, to connect what they teach to issues that students are likely to confront in the world outside the university, to be interdisciplinary, to write for a general audience, to justify their work to people outside their discipline and outside the academy. If we want professors to be better at these things, then we ought to train them differently.”
Throughout his book Menand gives examples at various well known colleges of their efforts at introducing “General Studies” programs. The last one at Harvard began in 2003, took five years to finish, two more years to implement and a couple of years to fail. These evidences of lack of agreement on mission and values will continue until it is recognized that the only general vocational training necessary is as a citizen in a democratic republic. The knowledge required is the economic system that produces and distributes the greatest amount of wealth, and the government policies needed to support that system. The requisite knowledge should begin in the Business School and should first confirm that the two impediments to social progress have been concentrated wealth and war both of which can be eliminated by the most productive system that also unites in economic common purpose.
Roger Kimball: Tenured Radicals, How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, ( New York: Haper& Row, 1990) was managing editor of The New Criterion, with articles in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the American Scholar. Taught at Yale and Connecticut College.
Kimball describes the culture war: “The academic study of the humanities is in a state of crisis. Proponents of deconstruction, feminist studies, and other politically motivated challenges have by now become the dominant voice in the humanities departments of many of our best colleges and universities. Their object is nothing less than the destruction of the values, methods, and goals of traditional humanistic study.
Professor Edward Shils eminent sociologist and professor at the University of Chicago gave this view of deconstruction: “that most chic of French academic exports which preaches an nihilistic skepticism of language and has now gained an almost unchallenged empire in American universities.” The result: “ in the name of specialization, much academic discourse in the humanities has mired itself in a jargon that is both trivial and unintelligible.”
“The very idea that the works of Shakespeare might be indisputably greater than the collected cartoons of Bugs Bunny is often rejected as antidemocratic and an imposition on the freedom and political interests of various groups. The idea of literary quality that transcends the contingencies of race, gender, and the like or that transcends the ephemeral attractions of popular entertainment is excoriated as naïve, deliberately deceptive, or worse.”
In 1984 former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett published a report by the National Endowment for the Humanities that insisted that “ the nation’s colleges and universities must reshape their curricula based on a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person. A common culture rooted in civilization’s lasting vision, its highest shared ideals and aspirations and its heritage.” Secretary Bennett named Western civilization as the repository of these ideals and aspirations and provided a list of books to help define the “lasting vision” of that common culture.
Kimball describes the reaction to Secretary Bennett’s report” it occasioned paroxysms of rage within the academy’s expensively cloistered walls. The vision of a common culture, the notion that the West’s cultural, intellectual, and political achievements have special claim on our attention and allegiance, the criticism of importing politics into the humanities, the effrontery of suggesting that some books are fundamental to any sound education in the humanities: all this drew-and continues to draw-sharp denunciations from like-minded academics across the country.”
A couple of years after the report there was examination at the Whitney Humanities’ Center at Yale that included a challenge by Norman Podhoretz editor of Commentary magazine: “The Humanities cannot be justified on practical grounds. Because the knowledge and culture they represent are “good in themselves,’ their ultimate justification is simply their intrinsic value. From this it follows that the humanities cannot directly help us in the formulation of public policy, not do they yield an particular political position; nor, indeed, does acquaintance with the humanities necessarily make us morally more upright or more humane.”
The Bugs Bunny attack on the humanities gets attention but it is the Podhoretz query that needs serious attention. If the goal of humanism is to improve the human condition then the curricula should equip people to understand the economic system that can reach this goal including the structural features of government to support it.
Ray Carey ‘50