Under Attack

I often wonder how many people outside the Academy realize (or care?) how severe the attack on Western Civilization is within the Academy as students and faculty on a growing number of campuses across the country have determined that Western Civilization is the source of most of the world’s  problems today.  Indeed, I wonder how many people within the Academy are aware of the seriousness of the problem.

In a recent acceptance speech at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni annual banquet, one of the recipients of their “Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education,” Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Fellow at the John Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, paints a bleak picture indeed. She cites a battle at Stanford University in 2016 in which a group of students sought to reinstate a course requirement in “Western Civilization” that had been eradicated 25 years ago. The attempt was overwhelmingly rejected by the student body.

“In the run-up to the vote, one Stanford student [a young woman in this case] wrote in the Stanford Daily that ‘a Western Civ requirement would necessitate that our education be centered on upholding white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.'”

The ignorance of this student’s comment beggars belief and, sad to say, it is a view that is shared by what many think is the majority of students (and faculty) on today’s campuses. Let’s take a look at this comment.

To begin with, one course requirement would not result in an education “centered” on Western Civilization. The is what logicians call a “straw man” and it is a fallacy. The young lady would know this if she knew more about Western Civilization, since logic was first formalized by Aristotle and later refined by the Schoolastics during the Middle Ages. In any event, even if the course were required, it would not comprise the whole of the students’ study for his or her four years. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that there could not also be a requirement in “Eastern Civilization” as well. But, more to the point, the comment ignores the benefits of Western Civilization that this student has chosen to ignore — if, indeed, she was aware of them. I speak of such things as women’s equality, the abolition of slavery, individual freedom, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression (which makes possible ignorant comments like that of the student in question). As Ms Ali points out:

“One cannot dismiss the sum total of Western Civilization without losing one’s moral compass. And one cannot participate meaningfully in the battle of ideas raging in the world today while dismissing the value of Western Civilization as a whole.”

While there are many things to note and regret about the luggage that has been brought with them by folks who have struggled to create what we call “Western Civilization,” and here we would have to acknowledge the half-truth hidden in the rhetoric of the Stanford student, we must insist upon a wider perspective and note the extraordinary beauty in Western art, the intellectual triumphs, the moral gains (as noted above) that form the warp and woof of Western Civilization. Perspective, when speaking of such a large issue, is essential. And this student has lost hers entirely (if she ever had it to begin with). To take an obvious example, capitalism, for all its faults, has made it possible for this particular student to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the world. She bites the hand that feeds her.

As one who has read, taught, and defended the Great Books of the Western World I have an obvious bias against this sort of blanket condemnation. But even if this were not the case, the intolerance built into the ignorant comment by this student would be disquieting. After all, college is a place where one broadens one’s mind, not shrinks it — ideally. And the comment reflects the growing attitude on many college campuses across the country that results in the exclusion of certain “types” of speakers from appearing on campus, because they represent views that are regarded as unacceptable. This includes Ms Ali who was denied access to Brandeis University by militant students and faculty  after initially being invited to speak about the crisis within Islam and receive an honorary degree. It is an attitude that has also resulted in the prohibition against saying certain words or thinking certain thoughts, an attitude that reflects a fascist approach to eduction — if this is not, in fact, a contradiction in terms. The “battle of ideas” requires that we keep an open mind.

My concerns are obvious to anyone who has read any of my blogs. But I do not think they are misplaced or even exaggerated. Higher education is supposed to be a place where the students do not learn certain things, necessarily, but they learn to use their minds to determine which things are worth knowing and which things are not. And a blanket condemnation of the whole of “Western Civilization” by a group of students at Stanford University who, we may assume, know little or nothing about that which they reject, is nothing short of presumptuous, if not arrogant. And the fact that the faculty at Stanford did not take the lead in determining which courses were to be required in the first place is also to be regretted, but not surprising in an age in which the students and the children are mistaken for those who should lead rather than follow. And here we have a graphic example of why they should not be allowed to lead.


More Of Same

In my numerous (innumerable?) jottings on the sorry state of higher education these days I have tended to focus most of my attention on the undue emphasis on athletics in “higher” education along with the seemingly endless athletic scandals that have been a part of the collegiate climate. To be sure there have been many and they continue to be revealed at an alarming rate. But there is more.

The remarkable group in Washington D.C. that keeps an eye on the level of education in America today, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, shares with us other information that is almost as alarming as the scandals above mentioned. For example,

• Clemson University is spending $55 million on an athletics complex that will feature a mini-golf course, sand volleyball courts, laser tag, a movie theater, bowling  lanes, and a barber shop. This recreation palace is not open to all Clemson students or even to all Clemson athletes. It is reserved for the exclusive use of the Clemson Tiger football team!

• The University of Michigan added 77 new full-time positions to its athletics department between 2004 and 2014 adding $13 million to its payroll. That included the hiring of a longtime NBA marketing executive as “chief marketing officer” for Michigan’s athletics — a position that didn’t exist prior to his hire!

• The University of Mississippi college football program had a payroll that grew from $212,702 to $2,170,676 over the course of a decade.

And these are all public universities and the athletes are the ones who claim they are exploited and insist they should be paid to play. While there’s some truth in their claim, at least at Clemson their case would be a hard sell. But, wait, there’s more!

• Last year rapper “Big Scan” headlined at the University of Minnesota’s homecoming concert. His booking fee was a staggering$75,000. To add insult to injury, the University charged its own students $20.00 each to attend the concert.

• California State University at Fullerton is set to spend almost $400,000 on this year’s “spring concert.” It hasn’t yet even announced who’s performing.

• The University of Michigan built a dorm featuring a luxury dining hall where students can enjoy salmon fillets, lamb, and shark.

• The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a dining hall with a pub, saunas, and ten racquetball courts.

All of this is occurring at a time when the quality of higher education is on a downward slide. Incoming students, even at “select” colleges and universities, are often required to take remedial courses; grade inflation is rampant — to the point where Columbia University medical school won’t take Harvard graduates because they all have a 4.0 grade — the “A” grade has become meaningless; “entitled” students demand that courses be easy and they be given high grades, just as they will do when they graduate and seek employment with little work and high salaries; core academic requirements have been all but gutted at even the most prestigious universities despite the fact that students are generally less well prepared for college work than they were a decade ago and the average college student has little knowledge of history or political science, reads and writes at a grammar-school level, and cannot calculate the tip in a restaurant.

To make natters worse, colleges are introducing courses and majors that have little or no academic merit and will leave the student unprepared for a changing and complex future. For example:

• Plymouth State University offers a B.S. in “Adventure Education” to “teach you how to use the Great Outdoors to expose children, adults, and at-risk populations to challenging adventures, personal growth, and self-discovery.”

• Bowling Green State University offers a B.A. in Popular Culture. Students can earn a minor in Folklore.

• The University of Connecticut offers a B.F.A. in Puppet Arts.

It would appear that the problems in higher education at a time when costs are skyrocketing do not attach themselves only to athletics scandals. There is something rotten in the state of higher education and there appear to be very few who are either aware there is a problem or willing and/or able to do anything about it. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni continues to work to raise awareness in the hope that alumni, at least, will bring pressure to bear on the colleges and universities that take large amounts of student’s money without offering them much in return. But, as you can imagine it is an uphill battle at a time when competition for bodies in the classroom is ferocious and “entitled” students are led to expect that they will be provided a quality education in a country-club atmosphere where the football game and the party on the weekend are the main concern. Education be damned! Where’s the beer?