The Death of Higher Education

Thomas Jefferson, upon founding the University of Virginia, said:  “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities.  A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.  This new movement has slowly been being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion.   The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally.

Students are on a hair-trigger, eager to turn minor slights or perceived slights into examples of “structural oppression.”    Today, anyone in higher education that might allegedly say or write something that offends someone in a politically-protected group is likely to be the focus of the infamous Twitter Mob, and even a distinguished career, political affiliation, or something as prestigious as a Nobel Prize offers no cover for the supposed offender.   Those who question affirmative action,  safe places, abortion, feminism, gender identity,  or other planks of the prevailing campus orthodoxy aren’t just wrong, they are making the campus “unsafe.”

You know it’s bad when the left begins to see the light. Former Evergreen State College professors Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, in a column at the Washington Examiner, wrote:   “…students are protesting in increasingly virulent and sometimes violent ways. They demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, shouting down those with whom they disagree.  It has become rote for outsiders to claim that the inmates are running the asylum; that this is analogous to Mao’s Red Guard, Germany’s brown shirts, the French Revolution’s Jacobins; and, when those being attacked are politically “left” themselves, that the Left is eating its own. These stories seem to validate every fantasy the Right ever had about the Left.”

Both Weinstein and Heying continued: “We come from the Left, and our values and worldview have not changed.  But our understanding of the landscape has, as has our understanding of who is most likely to be interested in pursuing democratic goals through democratic means. A democratic system needs intelligent dissent, which means that it must create and protect the conditions in which people can learn how to think critically, and how to critique ideas and proposals. Those are longstanding values on the Left, but today, they are hanging by a thread.   For today’s social justice warriors, only one narrative shall be allowed. It is unquestionable. Those who dissent are guilty. The “equity and inclusion” movement, cloaked in words that sound benevolent and honorable, is a bludgeon.”

Isn’t the purpose of a higher education to equip students to thrive in the real world, a world full of words and ideas that they cannot control?  Unfortunately, that is not going to happen in today’s climate according to a report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) who revealed that traditional education values have been replaced with “service learning,”  which has become the means by which the left has repurposed higher education for progressive activism.   “Instead of teaching students the foundations of law, liberty and self-government, colleges now teach students to protest, to occupy buildings, to state demonstrations.”

Alumni from a range of generations, political affiliations and schools say they are baffled by today’s college culture. Their predominant lament is that students are irreparably embroiled in racial and identity politics. Let’s put it more plainly: Colleges are America’s most racist consortiums. They encourage black dorms and black graduations; they praise minority hatred of whites through “white privilege” indoctrination seminars and ethnic-and-black-studies courses; and they shamelessly tear down statues of their old, white, male founders and rename academic buildings that were christened for bigoted, slave-owning misogynists. Modern universities have eviscerated and dishonored their heritage by judging them by today’s standards rather than in the context of their times. Not even Thomas Jefferson is safe.

Is this academic moral decline worth upwards of $60,000 a year in tuition? Not by a long shot. To add insult to injury, most college students graduate without taking any courses that enrich their intellect or develop their character, which, after all, was the original purpose of universities.  Today, you can obtain a bachelor’s in English lit at UCLA without even cracking open a book of Shakespeare’s plays while being required to read the lesbian interpretation “Juliet and Juliet.”  Other colleges freely spend their students’ tuition dollars to put free condoms and lubricant in every student dorm or free bus rides to the nearest Planned Parenthood.  

Attempts to shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort are bad for not only the student and their future in the workplace, but for our American Republic which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship.  When the ideas, values, and speech of the other side are seen not just as wrong but as willfully aggressive toward innocent victims, it is hard to imagine the kind of mutual respect, negotiation, and compromise that are needed to make politics a positive-sum game.

“When we as a community rejected truth … when we decided that there is no objective truth any longer and that everything is truth with a lowercase ‘t’ — nothing but a construct, nothing but a collection of cultural constructs where people agree together — then it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you–which is of course nonsense.”    Dr. Everett Piper, Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Death of Objective Truth on Campus Is Destroying Higher Education, the College Fix; The Coddling of the American Mind, the Atlantic; Bonfire of the Academies: Two professors on how leftist intolerance is killing higher education, Washington Examiner; The Death of Higher Education, by Anna Priore

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