Are Universities Finished?
Higher education in America today is in a crisis. The diversity thought police pounce on anyone who offers the slightest resistance to them. Here are a few examples “Students at pricey Marymount Manhattan College are demanding a veteran professor be fired for allegedly falling asleep during an anti-racism Zoom meeting. Students at the Upper East Side school claim Patricia Simon, a theater arts associate professor, took a snooze during the virtual town hall last month, and have collected 1,800 petition signatures. Petition organizer Caitlin Gagnon said ‘action has only capitalized on a pattern of negligence and disrespect that Patricia Simon has exhibited over and over again.’ Gagnon included a photo of the 30-year prof, and also accused her of enabling ‘sizeist’ staffers.” A “sizeist,” by the way, is someone who discriminates against people because of their physical size, e.g., requiring an obese person to pay for two seats. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the heavy person occupies two seats. If you charge more, you are still a sizeist.
If you dare to challenge the Black Lives Matter terrorists, you are dead in the water. “A longtime UCLA professor has been placed on leave after facing backlash over his response to a student’s request to postpone the final exam for African American students, considering the impact of George Floyd’s death. Gordon Klein received the email on June 2, and rejected the request. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where Klein has taught since 1981, said Klein’s classes have been assigned to other faculty, saying the following in a statement on Wednesday: ‘The lecturer is on leave from campus and his classes have been reassigned to other faculty.’”
Even if you like Martin Luther King, you can still get fired, if you say the wrong words. Look what happened to Ajax Peris: “In a virtual class lecture, Peris read a portion of King’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ which contains a couple of uses of the ‘N-word.’ On June 2, one UCLA student tweeted a video of Peris reading a passage from King’s letter, declining to omit the epithet, and expressed outrage at his uncensored reading and called for his termination. In short order, UCLA’s College of Letters and Science referred the matter to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for review, and Peris’ department chair sent a letter to departmental faculty condemning his reading of the passage and noting that he had referred Peris to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office. The chair also faulted Peris for showing portions of a documentary that included graphic images and descriptions of lynching, as well as narration that, the chair wrote, ‘quoted the n-word in explaining the history of lynching.’”
At Princeton, the situation is even worse. Matt Taibbi notes that “on July 4th, hundreds of faculty members and staff at Princeton University signed a group letter calling for radical changes….Much of…the letter read like someone drunk-tweeting their way through a Critical Theory seminar. Signatories asked the University to establish differing compensation levels according to race, demanding ‘course relief,’ ‘summer salary,’ ‘one additional semester of sabbatical,’ and ‘additional human resources’ for ‘faculty of color,’ a term left undefined. That this would be grossly illegal didn’t seem to bother the 300-plus signatories of one of America’s most prestigious learning institutions.”
When Joshua Katz, a classics professor at Princeton, protested against the letter’s demands, “University President Christopher Eisengruber ‘personally’denounced Katz for using the word “terrorist.” Katz was also denounced by his Classics department, which in a statement on the department web page insisted his act had ‘heedlessly put our Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk’ while hastening to add ‘we gratefully acknowledge all the forms of anti-racist work that members of our community have done.’”
One last example: BLM thugs are trying to oust the outstanding Austrian economist Walter Block from Loyola University in New Orleans, based on a demonstrably false claim that he supports slavery: “Walter Block is a professor in the Business school at Loyola University New Orleans. He has publicly stated that he believes slavery to be wrong because it goes against Libertarianism, not because it is morally wrong. He has justified women being paid less than men (see his book Building Blocks of Liberty) He is allegedly an ableist, too. While it is important to have professors with different views and opinions and beliefs, racist and sexist beliefs should not be a part of this. It is harmful to any non-men and any Black people to be taught that slavery isn’t morally wrong, to be taught that women don’t deserve to be paid and treated equally.
“Fight racism, end racism, fire the racists. Fire Walter Block.”
As if this weren’t bad enough, universities are taking advantage of the phony Covid-19 pandemic to offer worse service for about the same astronomical tutition: “After the sudden closure of college campuses across the country in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of the fall semester was suddenly placed into question. All eight schools in the Ivy League have announced fall 2020 decisions as of early July. Penn, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, and Yale will all have hybrid modes of fall instruction, while Harvard will be completely online for the entire academic year. Each school has different decisions regarding which class years will come back to campus and where they will be housed during each school’s modified fall calendar.”
Professors have used the situation as an excuse to destroy already weakened academic standards. “As COVID-19 has forced classes online, colleges have eased up on graded assignments – even at the prestigious Ivy League schools. With professors and students advocating for automatic A’s or to be given passing grades at the minimum, many college administrations have surrendered highly generous grading policies to give students a break as coronavirus has taken its toll on the country.”
The crisis in higher education would not go away, even if we could get rid of COVID-19 and the PC thought police. Higher education has been in trouble for a long time. As the great economist Walter Williams has pointed out, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, only 37% of white high school graduates tested as college-ready, but colleges admitted 70% of them. Roughly 17% of black high school graduates tested as college-ready, but colleges admitted 58% of them. A 2018 Hechinger Report found, ‘More than four in 10 college students end up in developmental math and English classes at an annual cost of approximately $7 billion, and many of them have a worse chance of eventually graduating than if they went straight into college-level classes.’
“According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, ‘when considering all first-time undergraduates, studies have found anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one remedial course. When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50 percent.’ Only 25% of students who took the ACT in 2012 met the test’s readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, reading, math and science).
“It’s clear that high schools confer diplomas that attest that a student can read, write and do math at a 12th-grade level when, in fact, most cannot. That means most high diplomas represent fraudulent documents. The falling standards witnessed at our primary and secondary levels are becoming increasingly the case at tertiary levels. ‘Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses’ is a study conducted by Professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. They found that 45% of 2,300 students at 24 colleges showed no significant improvement in ‘critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.’ Here is a list of some other actual college courses that have been taught at U.S. colleges in recent years: ‘What If Harry Potter Is Real?’ ‘Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame,’ ‘Philosophy and Star Trek,’ ‘Learning from YouTube,’ ‘How To Watch Television,’ and ‘Oh, Look, a Chicken!’ The questions that immediately come to mind are these: What kind of professor would teach such courses, and what kind of student would spend his time taking such courses? Most importantly, what kind of college president and board of trustees would permit classes in such nonsense?”
The dumbing-down process that Walter Williams talks about, though, was not the beginning of the attack on educational standards. The GI Bill, adopted after World War II, played a big role in lowering standards. As Tom DiLorenzo has pointed out, “The damage caused by the program was much more than fiscal. It made the centralization of education possible for the first time in American history. That in turn opened the door to the ruinous politicization of higher education that has marked the past half century.
“The tool used by government was the college accrediting agency. A network of them was originally established in the late 19th century to work as private buffers between academia and government. Their purpose was to insure high standards, and prevent government subsidies from leading to government control.
“After the second world war, the federal government used various college accrediting agencies to ostensibly guarantee a quality education for veterans. Only accredited schools could receive G.I. Bill funds, so the accrediting agencies quickly transformed themselves. They became the gatekeepers of the tax money and virtual adjuncts of federal power. This gatekeeper role expanded as federal funding of higher education escalated.
“‘Individual courses as well as whole curriculums’ must be ‘attuned to the new tempo of society,’ wrote J. Hillis Miller, the New York education commissioner. Traditionalists will fight ‘a losing battle’ because ‘any postwar nostalgic yearning for a college curriculum as it used to be is unlikely to be realized’ ‘Higher education may have to lose its life in order to find it again,’ he writes with glee, ‘and in its transformation it may well find that it has helped to create a new world of light and hope.’
“This new world arrived almost immediately, as virtually every college and university in the country clamored for money and students, and willingly threw out traditional standards. This infusion of tax dollars created, notes Robert Nisbet, ‘the single most powerful agent of change that we can find in the university’s long history.’ Had anyone objected at the time, he would have been put down as selfish and undemocratic.
Today, accreditation agencies, private in name only, have tremendous power over colleges and universities, and they are slavish to government’s agenda. Today, these agencies are the major source of political correctness and big-government ideology on college campuses.”
The destruction of higher education is a great tragedy, when one considers the role of the University in sustaining knowledge and culture. As Cardinal [now Saint] John Newman noted in The Idea of a University ( 1873) “The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following. — That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science.”
In the face of this sad situation, should parents encourage their sons and daughters to enroll in college? I don’t know the answer to this. Studies do show that university graduates earn a substantial premium over those who look for work after high school. But I’d like to suggest that an alternative may be worth consideration.
Private educational institutions that insist on high standards, shun PC nonsense, and teach the values of a free economy and a free society may turn out to be a better investment for students than the conventional degree program. As the great educator and entrepreneur Robert L. Luddy has stated: “Our modern democratic market is a marvel catering to every need and whim of the citizens. Government has a measure of control over business, but the ultimate control and outcome is determined by the minute-to-minute decisions of the buyers, users, and customers.
“The market also reflects the values of our citizens, including fairness, equal opportunities, and the widest range of choice as companies compete. Citizens hold the fate of every business in their hands (iPhones) with a plethora of buying prerogatives. Buying habits, and thus the market, are rapidly changing as users abandon department stores in favor of online ordering and delivery without ever leaving the home. Even food and grocery providers now participate in this new landscape with cooked meals delivered at the precise location and time desired, as dictated by the buyer.
“America continues to demonstrate the wisdom of our Founders, exhibiting an extraordinarily high standard of living and decency in our society. Our private institutions and businesses solve most of the challenges that our political democracy fails to resolve.
“Private education and homeschooling are blossoming, creating a wide variety of choices for families and students. Private boards lead and manage public charter schools. Private companies provide drugs and healthcare technologies that save lives and solve complex medical challenges. MOOCs [massive open online courses] and distance learning (online universities) are becoming the norm, disrupting the expensive and lethargic colleges and universities.”
I confess that one such alternative institution is foremost in my mind. “A long-held vision of both Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard is now a reality. Their vision? A graduate school of Austrian economics.
“Throughout its nearly forty-year history, the Mises Institute has been focused on providing support to students of other educational institutions. Helping students discover the economics of freedom and inspiring them to go on to teach at the university level is and has been a priority for the Institute. Excellent service that is personal, responsive, and geared towards assisting students in reaching their individual educational and career goals has been emblematic of all Mises Institute programs.
“The Mises Institute’s Master of Arts in Austrian Economics is unique. It is the first graduate program in the United States dedicated exclusively to the teaching of economics as expounded in the works and great treatises of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. The goal of the program is to assist students in mastering the principles of this great body of work and putting these principles to use in their chosen endeavors.
“To this end, the Institute has carefully selected an outstanding faculty, with PhDs from prestigious universities including New York University, UCLA, Columbia University, Cal-Berkeley, Rutgers University, and Virginia Tech. All are accomplished scholars who have lectured or taught at Mises Institute events and published in its journals, books, or online publications. Many were personal friends or protégés of Murray Rothbard.”
Thanks to the generosity of the Mises Institute’s donors, the cost of the program is well below that of other MA programs in economics or the related social sciences, whether traditional or online.
I urge parents to consider our program. Will we succeed? Of that I can’t be sure. But I am sure of this: our current educational disaster cannot continue for very long. At the Mises Institute, we aim to continue the tradition of education so eloquently expressed by Cardinal Newman. Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard were among the highest exemplars of the values of Western civilization, and this is what we endeavor to transmit to our students.