The Arizona Desert Lamp

Preach it, Professor!

Posted in Campus, Culture, Politics by Evan Lisull on 8 March 2009

UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute just released its triannual survey of college faculty, and the numbers aren’t pretty. From the institute’s press release:

Compared to just three years ago, a significantly greater number of today’s college teachers consider civic engagement and appreciation of racial and ethnic diversity important educational goals for undergraduates, according to a UCLA report on teaching faculty at the nation’s colleges and universities.

The majority of college faculty (55.5 percent) nationwide now consider it “very important” or “essential” to “instill in students a commitment to community service,” an increase of 19.1 percentage points since the survey was last conducted in 2004–05, and 75.2 percent indicate that they work to “enhance students’ knowledge of and appreciation for other racial/ethnic groups,” a gain of 17.6 percentage points over three years.

. . .

Increases were also evident in faculty support of students’ personal and psychosocial development as important goals for undergraduate education, including efforts to “help students develop personal values” (66.1 percent, an increase of 15.3 percentage points over 2004–05), “enhance students’ self-understanding” (71.8 percent, a 13.4 percentage-point increase), “develop moral character” (70.2 percent, a 13.1 percentage-point increase) and “provide for students’ emotional development” (48.1 percent, a 12.9 percentage-point increase).

By this point, no one should be surprised by what sort of ‘values’ and ‘understanding’ are being pushed. The self-reported leanings of professors, from the Inside Higher Ed article:

Professor Politics

Once upon a time, there was this idea that the university — the ivory citadel of higher education — was a place for learning, for gaining knowledge. Then along came Wikipedia. Suddenly, it seemed, there was no need for knowledge — after all, why bother learning facts and dates and names and other silly things when you can just wiki them? And so, our centers of supposedly higher education have chosen instead to focus on teaching modes of thinking — rather than learning things, we learn how to think about things. As you might imagine, the line between this sort of critical theory and proselytism is rather thin.

Some of this impulse comes from a general infantilizing of Man, led by the resistless allure of the pink police state. Left to their own devices, these children cannot properly process this information; thus, we spoon-feed them social justice so that they grow up to be big and strong community organizers (or. perhaps, linguistics professors). Thus, the red tag, the ‘awareness‘, and state-approved protests against . . . the state. So we wander, in state of delirium from a self-inflicted academorexia, bloated with notions of action and “Yes We Can,” secretly hungering for substantive information and wondering, “Can what?”, or perhaps “Can we?”

Yet much of it comes as part of a crusade, a general desire to “better the world.” These academics have forgotten their original faith, the Church of Knowledge (Connaissance pour le connaissance!), and have replaced it with false idols. They have forgotten that the best way for them to better the world is to inform, not reform. They have forgotten their intellectual humility and the fact that even they, tweed-clad Senators of the Mind, may not possess a monopoly on knowledge. They have forgotten, in short, that they are academics; and like grenadiers storming the front lines, the result is bemusing, yet agonizing. The ivory tower has been stormed by philistines; and those of us who heeded Laocoon must now resort to guerilla warfare.

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6 Responses

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  1. mattstyer said, on 9 March 2009 at 8:53 am

    So when exactly was this golden age of higher ed? It must have been a long time ago – like forty years or something!

    What a tenuous connection between the information displayed and the conclusions made.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 9 March 2009 at 9:10 am

      Forty years ago was 1969, the year that the Harvard Administration Building was seized by SDS activists and Berkeley’s own chapter advocated for a “people’s park.” Not exactly what I was thinking. Perhaps you meant one hundred and forty years ago?

      I also must profess surprise that you object so strongly to using a small example to make a broader point; this is a rather common tactic.

  2. mattstyer said, on 9 March 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I chose forty some years ago for exactly that point. How long ago was the Golden Age of Academia, or if you prefer, the “state of nature” that is now so defiled? Was one hundred and forty years ago the Golden Age when professors did not dare direct their students in pointed ways? Or is that selective memory?

  3. […] Evan over at DesertLamp had a post yesterday decrying (in more subtle and literary language) the increasing tendency of liberal professors to indoctrinate their students. The pertinent quotes of his post are too long for here, but the post itself is relatively short so […]

  4. Michael said, on 10 March 2009 at 4:06 pm

    For a jeremiad lamenting the decline of factual knowledge, your posting displays a rather cavalier attitude toward factuality. After acknowledging that your original date of forty years is untenable, you add a hundred to the figure and point to the 1860’s as the time when the American university existed in an unadulterated state. In 1862, however, congress passed the Morill Act, which established a system of land-grand universities dedicated to the study of the agricultural and mechanical arts. I imagine that a college devoted to such practical ends would have a hard time living up to your bohemian call for “connaissance pour le connaissance!” Maybe if we go back a little further though, say another forty years, we will encounter the prelapsarian institution to which you refer. Sadly, this is not the case. In his 1818 “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson enumerated some of what he believed to be the legitimate ends of higher education. Principal among these, Jefferson included the goal of forming “the statesmen, legislators and judges on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend.” In other words, Jefferson believed that universities should produce public servants. Our contemporary professoriate’s emphasis upon public service then is nothing new. Strange as it may seem, Jefferson also believed that the university should “develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order…And generally, to form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others, and of happiness within themselves.” You will undoubtedly find much here that will stick in your craw, especially those bits that refer to the cultivation of morals and emphasis upon the development of modes of thinking, “faculties,” rather than the acquisition of facts. Even so, you may insist that the example of Jefferson is too recent, and that to get a really clear picture of the university in its pristine state, one must travel back to 1635 and the foundation of Harvard College, an event that marked the birth of American higher education. Here, however, your historical narrative of declension falls completely apart, for Harvard was founded to train doctrinally sound Calvinist ministers, a situation to which your title could be applied with some justice. But perhaps, I am indulging a pedantic streak, and you never intended to provide a historically accurate account of the American university. Instead you sought to gesture toward a truth that transcends empirical reality, that even if it never happened, it nonetheless remains true because it is so emotionally satisfying to people who believe that the world is going to hell in a leftie hand basket. If that is indeed the case, be honest and acknowledge your role as pastoral mythologist, something you already implicitly do when you start your homiletic tale with the standard fairy tale beginning, “once upon a time.”

  5. […] wait – don’t we already have “colleges of service“? Tagged with: AmeriCorps, National Service, Serve America Act no comments yet […]


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