How Much Lower Can Higher Education Sink?

It is hard to say, but likely a lot lower still.

I recently came across this excellent description of the problem:

All over the United States one finds colleges in trouble. From reading the papers one would think these troubles are purely financial; they are that too, of course, but at times the financial troubles get undue attention simply because they are easier to discuss than that sickness of soul which afflicts what used to be called “higher education” in America today.

That sickness in the case of the colleges consists of not knowing what they are doing. To be slightly less imprecise: colleges are supposed to make their students liberally educated, but the rationale for liberal education has been lost, or at least misplaced. I once taught at a college whose president would address the incoming freshmen at the beginning of each academic year. Year after year he would tell the students that one was not liberally educated unless one had read Pericles’s funeral oration. Frankly, I doubt that he even knew it was written by Thucydides, but that is beside the point, I suppose. On one such occasion one of the younger professors asked “Why?” and the president had no answer. A riddle: who was worse, the college president who knew there were reasons but could not give any, or that young professor, soon, I imagine, to become a radical activist, who thought there were no reasons?

This observation comes from the late professor of political philosophy Werner Dannhauser, in . . . 1975. Sigh.

Dannahauser noted the early germ of the full-blown mania of our time:

As for the explicit discussion of relations between men and women, it is these days so highly charged as to be virtually impossible. To raise the question, for example, of the difference between the sexes, and the difference that difference might make, is to risk being hissed off the platform. So much for the philosophic enterprise; so much for a subject whose splendors and miseries have occupied human beings for millennia.

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