The College Apocalypse, Continued

Recently I had a conversation with a prominent political scientist from one of our most elite universities—I won’t name either since I haven’t been able to verify what he told me—who said that last year this particular university graduated only two majors in English literature. Not two graduate students—just two majors in the entire undergraduate senior class. (I’ll only go so far as to say that this particular university is not a tiny place.)

Now, at first glance and given that most English departments have become highly ideologized and politicized swamps, I regard this as very very good news, as it suggests students—even left-leaning students—are fleeing these ideological and increasingly mediocre cesspools in droves. While I can name at least a dozen graduate programs that I can recommend to students interested in political science, law, economics, history, philosophy, public policy, environmental science, and even sociology, I can’t think of a single graduate English program I’d recommend to anyone, with perhaps the exception of the University of Virginia as long as Paul Cantor continues to teach Shakespeare, or Northwestern as long as Gary Saul Morson continues to teach Russian literature.

This is backdrop to an update of the story I reported here the other day about how the private University of Tulsa was shrinking or closing down its liberal arts and social science departments and grouping everything under four broad banners, including most ominously “Humanities & Social Justice,” which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the character of those departments going forward.

It turns out that the full story of Tulsa is even worse. Tulsa philosophy professor Jacob Howland offers up the details at City Journal:

[A] new administration has turned a once-vibrant academic institution with a $1.1 billion endowment and a national reputation in core liberal arts subjects into a glorified trade school with a social-justice agenda. Our story is worth telling, because we have been hit by a perfect storm of trends currently tearing through the American academy: the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education. . .

Do read the whole story Howland tells. Shocking, but entirely too typical. (The bit about acquiring the Bob Dylan archive is especially indicative of a university leadership that is beyond frivolous, fiddling while Rome burns.)

I’ve been predicting for some time now that more and more universities would essentially split into two separate universities, with STEM and more practically-useful social sciences like economics (along with business management) becoming a university that understands itself entirely separate from the humanities and politicized/ideological social sciences, which will be allowed to wither and die. Tulsa is now a prime exhibit. Sounds like it deserves to die.

Another institution that deserves to die, but sadly won’t, is Middlebury College in Vermont. Last week it canceled a planned public lecture by the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko, author of the challenging book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. Middlebury would seem to be a perfect example of a place yielding to a totalitarian temptation. Supposedly it was the threat of violent protests like those that shut down Charles Murray’s appearance at Middlebury two years ago that led the administration to cancel Legutko’s talk, but a clarifying email shows that the real reason the administration offered is even more cowardly, as reported in the The Middlebury Campus student newspaper:

As you are aware, our assessment of the potential safety risks of Wednesday’s planned lecture did not reflect concerns about threats from student protesters or students attending the event.  Rather, we were concerned about the safety of those participants.  Nonetheless, students have reported concerns about potential retaliation by faculty whose position on the event may have differed from their own.  We know that many of you have taken the time this week to engage these issues thoughtfully and respectfully in class, and we are grateful for that.  However, students have also reported being called out in classes and over e-mail, by both faculty and other students, for the positions they took on the planned speaker.

Seriously—the administration was worried about the safety of the protesters, and secondarily that some faculty would retaliate against students who supported Legutko’s appearance. The first reason is sufficient to fire the administration, and the second reason is sufficient to revoke the tenure and dismiss said faculty members.

But Middlebury has competition: Trinity College in Connecticut. Helen Lamm reports today at American Greatness:

At Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, a student club with the expressed purpose of “the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical Tradition” is currently struggling to achieve official recognition from the college administration. Why? Because for a small group of social terrorists on campus, Winston Churchill is a symbol of white supremacy. Also, because we live in hell.

The Churchill Institute is one of a few groups scattered across the American academy that sees Western Civilization under attack, by outsiders and insiders, and has organized itself around its preservation in response.

Trinity’s Churchill Institute (CI) was founded during the 2015 school year by Gregory Bruce Smith, a professor of political science and philosophy. For the past few years, the club has maintained a relatively low profile, operating for the most part as an off-campus organization.

But as the story goes on to explain, when the Churchill Institute applied to be recognized as a formal student organization, the left swung into action against it, and guess what happened next? Of course you don’t need to ask: the administration flinched, and the Churchill Institute’s status is in limbo at the moment.

Funny thing is, I’ve been thinking of starting an informal reading group on campus at Berkeley and calling it the Churchill Club. Probably can’t call it a “club,” though, because a club is an obvious tool of violence and oppression rather than a voluntary social body. But I see I probably can’t say “Churchill” either. (Even though the reading list for one of my political science classes includes a heavy dose of Churchill. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.)

SCOTT adds: The Middlebury story has an improbably happy ending. We learn from this Wall Street Journal editorial, picking up where Steve leaves off:

What happened next was remarkable. One student proposed sneaking Mr. Legutko on campus and proceeding with his lecture in a political science class. Professor Matthew Dickinson said he’d allow it if every student in his class approved the idea on a secret ballot. All nine students voted yes. Word got out on social media, and other students trickled in. Mr. Dickinson estimates about 45 students attended.

“I have never been more proud in my 30 years of teaching than to watch these students engage with the speaker, push back on him, engage with him. It was a marvelous example of how free speech facilitates learning,” Mr. Dickinson said.

“During the days of communist totalitarianism, scholars from the West traveled to Eastern Bloc nations to give underground lectures and seminars,” said Keegan Callanan, who directs the Alexander Hamilton Forum and invited the Polish politician. “On Wednesday, Mr. Legutko returned the favor.”

Senior Rachel Kang said she voted to have Mr. Legutko speak because “I wanted to redeem the school for what happened with Charles Murray.” Owen Austin Marsh, a junior who also voted in favor of the underground lecture, said administrators should know that “students generally, me included, were upset that the university silenced the voices of people who wanted to listen—and the people who wanted to show up and dissent.”

We may have to revisit the Middlebury story in a separate post.

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