Feed on

Civil Discourse

Imagine that you read the following:

I wish he had focused instead on the ideal of a university as an institution that promotes the free exchange of ideas and lively debate at its best in an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected.

And imagine if the author also put on an event where the following was the theme (i.e. actually spoken):

the “world is saturated by prejudiced, hate-mongering conservatives … and our humanity is at risk …”

You won’t find a transcript of the latter speech online of course. I, of course, am told regularly to watch my tone. And it’s not that my tone is bad by stirring up stuff like this, it’s that I use sharp tone to castigate this sort of hypocrisy.

I’m not tenured by the way, for what it’s worth.

UPDATE: as soon as I hit “post” this article came across my desk. Some highlights (germane to my University too):

a recent study by UCLA’s prestigious Higher Education Research Institute found that more faculty now believe that they should teach their students to be agents of social change than believe that it is important to teach them the classics of Western civilization

In 1915, the AAUP affirmed that in teaching controversial subjects a professor should “set forth justly without suppression or innuendo the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue.”

However, in recent statements on academic freedom in 2007 and 2011, the AAUP has undermined its almost century-old strictures against proselytizing. Its new position is that restricting professors to the use of relevant materials and obliging them to provide a reasonably comprehensive treatment of the subject represent unworkable requirements because relevance and comprehensiveness can themselves be controversial.

On the boundaries, they can be—like anything else. However, it is wrong to dismiss professors’ duty to avoid introducing into classroom discussion opinions extraneous to the subject and to provide a well-rounded treatment of the matter under consideration. That opens the classroom to whatever professors wish to talk about. And in all too many cases what they wish to talk about in the classroom is the need to transform America in a progressive direction. Last year the leadership of AAUP officially endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement. (wintercow: heck, at our university we endorse an “Occupy an Unfavored Faculty Member’s Classroom” movement)

(wintercow: and totally germane to the initial point of the post)Excluding from the curriculum those ideas that depart from the progressive agenda implicitly teaches students that conservative ideas are contemptible and unworthy of discussion. This exclusion, the California report points out, also harms progressives for the reason John Stuart Mill elaborated in his famous 1859 essay, “On Liberty”: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

I’d note that authors like Berkowitz are peeing into the wind by suggesting that “we should emphasize depoliticizing universities.” First of all, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy – universities are places where interrupting classes is deemed to be socially just activism, and so it attracts people who think this is really swell. As we know from the difficulty of achieving economic growth in some parts of the world, we are faced with a “development trap.” Second, of course is that it is not exactly “depoliticizing” that is necessary. Third, I’d argue that the real corrosive effects of this situation manifest themselves in K12 education, where the damage is far worse. My students come into Rochester with their political views totally made up – which is pretty incredible for an 18 year old. Here I am 37 years old and I still don’t know how to make up from down, and I cannot tell you how many 18 year olds smugly stroll into a classroom thinking that not only do they understand the entire world, but since some good looking high school AP History teacher told them that the Stock Market Crash caused the Great Depression and that capitalism is unstable, then, well, it just must be so.

My “solution?” Well, it’s as far from Berkowitz’s as possible. I say let the CA schools be cauldrons of Progressivism. I say let my University self-congratulate itself for being awesome at promoting symbolism and only placing 25% of its graduating class in real jobs. Reform (if you fancy it that way) must come from the outside. Give students choices. Be honest about what you do. It’s no secret that liberty is among the most important values for me, and that it is consistent with good ethics and good consequences, and it is stupid to suggest that this should be suppressed from students. It all ought to be out in the open. When you sit in on a public health class, for example, do you really prefer to have the college mandate that a professor teaches “both sides?” That is so totally the wrong question or reform idea that I cannot engage it. I prefer that we ask the professor to say, “I am a Marxist, I have no understanding of how markets really work, and I don’t respect the autonomy of the individual, I view justice as far from the way Aristotle and Aquinas viewed it as possible, and I think that government health initiatives are the perfect place for me to put my pet views into practice.”

I already do this – with the exception of me saying I don’t understand how Marxism works, you see, that’s sort of what makes me an economist, so the parallels here are not quite right.

I long for the day when students will be freed from the necessity of getting a “badge” from currently accredited universities. I will be posting shortly on what entrepreneurs are doing about that. But when students and their parents can get a “badge” from a serious institution and have it convey all the signaling benefits that badges from colleges like mine currently convey, the game is over. All of the “social justice” advocates can pile into $60,000 per year universities and continue doing what they are doing and they will find themselves in the same situation as places like the city of Stockton, CA.  Would the citizens of, say, Utah, stand to have their funds taken to bail out Stockton?

2 Responses to “Civil Discourse”

  1. Rod says:

    Lots of the college bound kids in our local high school find that the only college they can afford is the county’s community college. I just spent about an hour looking over their website to find out what the full tuition rate is, and I kept getting bounced back to a form where an applicant is directed to fill out a financial aid form. Whatever the rate is, suffice to say that it’s the only choice many students have if they don’t have much money available for college.

    It’s not a bad choice. First, they can take remedial courses to make up for what they couldn’t manage to learn in thirteen years of government school. But second, once these students become prepared for college work, most of the courses they can take are full of academic meat. Students at the community college are either working for an Associate’s degree in a technical field, or they are taking courses that will be transferrable to a four year college. I think even Haverford and Swarthmore will accept most of these courses for full credit.

    So while tuition at the community college is subsidized and allocated according to a socialistic scholarship method, it nonetheless is a market-driven factor that makes prospective students consider the worth of the courses they’re spending their money on.

    I yearn for the day when grad schools and employers wipe away the disadvantage a degree from a good but not top-tier academic institution holds. Yale Schmale. There are plenty of fish in the sea, at least according to Martha and the Vandellas.

    Any university that discards the study of the Western classic academic works because there is too little time to indoctrinate and recruit students in the pursuit of political action movements doesn’t deserve accreditation, let alone membership in the unofficial list of elite colleges and universities.

    Isn’t it sad that high school graduates have fully-formed political views? Question authority? How can they?

  2. Josef says:

    American students don’t have a choice when it comes to higher education – either they try to obtain a Bachelor’s degree by all means possible, or they get signaled as the “low” ability type and suffer both economically and culturally (think about how many men or women are willing to date a high school graduate). There is little one can do about that in the short term.

    But foreign students do have a choice. Students from UK, Germany, India, China etc. are often choosing between a local institution with a focus on academical training and career preparation, and a U.S. undergraduate institution with a liberal arts education (emphasis on liberal). Many of them are too young to understand the difference between the two systems, or to actually care about their future; and their parents often have no incentive to look past “world university rankings” (i.e. prestige and bragging rights), which often have nothing to do with academic rigor or job placement.

    That’s the real tragedy. These students are often highly talented and motivated students with a desire to succeed. When they come to the United States, and realize the mediocrity of American undergraduate education, the motivation often disappears completely. Many of them return to their home countries with a transcript filled with arts, music and humanities courses, and math/science courses that they’ve already took in high school, and of course – what’s waiting for them there is a low-paying job with no entry requirements, or worse, unemployment.

Leave a Reply