The Destruction of the Academy in the United States

The American Academy is under unreletening assault. It will not survive.

American Politics Aren’t ‘Post-Racial’ – WSJ.com
Still, what happened at IUPUI is a pungent reminder of all that’s possible now in the rarefied ideological atmosphere on our college campuses – and in this presidential election year, not perhaps only on our campuses.

The story began prosaically enough. Keith Sampson, a student employee on the janitorial staff earning his way toward a degree, was in the habit of reading during work breaks. Last October he was immersed in “Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan.”

Mr. Sampson was in short order visited by his union representative, who informed him he must not bring this book to the break room, and that he could be fired. Taking the book to the campus, Mr. Sampson says he was told, was “like bringing pornography to work.” That it was a history of the battle students waged against the Klan in the 1920s in no way impressed the union rep.

The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed. Indeed she was, Mr. Sampson says, irate at his explanation that he was, after all, reading a scholarly book. “The Klan still rules Indiana,” Marguerite Watkins told him – didn’t he know that? Mr. Sampson, by now dazed, pointed out that this book was carried in the university library. Yes, she retorted, you can get Klan propaganda in the library.

Of course, the universities will be successful. Higher (in the sense of graduate and post-graduate) learning will be successful. Science will be successful.

But the intellectualism that only barely existed for a century in the United States is a goner.

Its most visible enemies have been the Leftists and their fellow-travelers, who beginning with the rising generation of the 1960s and 1970s overthrew traditional fields of study like geography, history, archaeology, and literature in the service of Leftist ideals.

Both the old Academy and the Leftists, however, are under even more heartless attack from the Quantitative Revolution, the measurement-and-control movement that subjects everything to test-and-reject, measure-and-fund, quantitative certainties.

The romantic academia that lives in our heart is dying or dead. Given a future between the Tyranny of Leftists and the Tyranny of the Quantitative Revolutions, my sympathies go to the quantitativists. They save what can be saved, submitting the universities to Research, Application, and funded Goals.

A colder but more efficient academy is being born. One that has as much room for Leftism, or the joy of learning, as IBM Global Services.

11 thoughts on “The Destruction of the Academy in the United States”

  1. Dan-

    Solid post you have written. I fully agree.

    I would be interested in your reaction to the article in The Atlanic, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” [1] It is not about quantitativists per se, but does relate to how the internet is changing cognition, and making it more difficult for the modern mind to hold opposing concepts in tension. It seems that the googlizing of information is probably a boon for the quantitativists, and probably has some fairly noteworthy effects on the politics of the academy.

    My father-in-law, who has been a history professor for the last 30 years in a Catholic University, has remarked to me how the student body has changed over the years. He says that today’s student is less politically motivated, less focused on pure learning, and more focused on the minimum amount of effort required to get the desired grade, in order to get the desired degree, in order to get the desired job. It seems that this somewhat myopic vision of the purpose of higher learning is very much connected to wanting instant access to specific information, which is the primary service that Google provides. The quantitativists seem to feed on this very same desire for instant information.

    So, it seems that the Quantitativists and the Googleplex are wreaking havoc on our minds as much as the radical left did in the 1960s-1990s.

    Thoughts?

    [1] http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

  2. Dan,

    It is sad to see the death of the classical liberal education (though I’m counting on guys like you to revive it!). Given the choice between the Soviet5G drivel prevalent today and Quantitativist material, the latter is the only choice. Except for boycotting the post-secondary academy until it dies off. Which isn’t likely.

    Mike

  3. Smitten Eagle,

    Americans have traditioanlyl been skeptical of intellectualism an abstract theory, because it is seen as a leisure-class persuit that ignores economic needs. This has some negative consequences, but if anything is going to replace Academia, I’d rather have it be American-style practicalism than European-style Marxism.

    Mike,

    Indeed.

    In The Post-American World [1,2], Fareed Zakaria describes the american university system — and its commercialization — as a real economic strength of the United States. I agree. The idea of submitting universities to the market is unthinkable in much of Europe. They would rather submit them to class-war, race-war, sex-war, and every other critical theory.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/07/09/review-of-the-post-american-world-by-fareed-zakaria.html
    [2] http://www.amazon.com/Post-American-World-Fareed-Zakaria/dp/039306235X

  4. Dan-

    I don’t disagree with you…if anybody in Academia is past their expiration date, it’s the Marxists…

    We just need to watch out for the Quantitative Rationalists to make sure we keep them in the box, too.

  5. Some semi-random, hopefully-coherent observations. My apologies for the points where I talk out of my ass.
    1. For much of academia, a quantitative rationalist approach would seem to make sense. At what grade level is he/she reading? What percentage of X type of math problems does he/she get right? How many of his/her computer programs work properly? What percentage of graduates from a vocational program work in the related industry long enough to pay their student loans off?
    2. The disciplines for which this model break down are the same ones which have problems with ideologues. Your ideology doesn’t effect x + y = z, but it can effect your perceptions of human nature, artistic worth and philosophy. Until someone learns enough to define these things by mathematical formulas, a pat answer of what constitutes good or bad will be hard to come by (at the very least).
    3. If one is in such a discipline, the Quantitative Rationalist point of view is probably worse in the long run than an ideological point of view. Ideology just ignores or takes a selective cut of the output of the Academic process; Quantitative Rationalism potentially denies it altogether.
    4. As such, one who is a non-quantitative discipline might be better off sticking with the old academic processes–either tolerating the ideologues as an inevitable side effect, or working to keep circulating in the debates what the ideologues ignore.

  6. Smitten,

    We just need to watch out for the Quantitative Rationalists to make sure we keep them in the box, too.

    Well said. The early days of the Quantitative Revolution in the social sciences saw it heavily involved in progressivism. A social science in the business of ‘quality control’ is a potentially dangerous science.

  7. “The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed.” (WSJ)

    This doesn’t surprise me, as the AA officer probably had an IQ of 80-85? Of course, people will ask “how can someone with an 85 IQ have such position?”

    I just listened to a lecture by Charles Murray from AEI who talked about his new book regarding American education. He researched many of the BA programs in the US and to my horror, explained that there are actually colleges in America where there are literally NO REQUIREMNTS to graduate! You can literally take anything you want, you just need 120 credit hours.

    I also found out that there are masters and PHD programs which require nothing more than a BA and 3 letters of recommendation. Furthermore, these PHD programs have no real structure either, and only require something that one could call a “dissertation” at the end. In fact, I actually found a program called “Diversity Studies.”

    Its these experts in “diversity” who land these AA officer jobs. College administrators create jobs with the titles “multicultural center administrator” or “office of tolerance director” so they can beef up the numbers of people with 85 IQ’s on campus. The AA officer which this article describes may have been illiterate, but was necessary to avoid scrutiny or even a lawsuit.

  8. Don’t forget the subprime crisis, which is caused in part by bipartisan outrage over the mean differences in available and quality of mortgages for different races in the United States. [1,2]

    Greg Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms” [3,4] goes some way of explaining why differences in borrowing policies may to some extent be genetic. But ignoring all caution, we had an “affirmative-action” heavy mortage system which is now in meltdown.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/09/25/the-bailout.html
    [2] http://www.takimag.com/site/article/the_diversity_recession_or_how_affirmative_action_helped_cause_the_housing/
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/01/20/review-of-a-farewell-to-alms-by-gregory-clark.html
    [4] http://www.amazon.com/Farewell-Alms-Economic-History-Princeton/dp/0691121354

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