Among the topics we discussed at last year’s Tradition Project meeting in New York was the current state of the American university. On one view, the university exists, in large part, to preserve and transmit a culture’s intellectual tradition–the best of what has been thought and written over centuries. Most American universities today, it’s fair to say, do not have that view of themselves. They think of themselves as the conquerors of tradition rather than its preservers. And this is not because American universities endorse the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality, at least not outside the hard sciences. Rather, it is because American universities have become Romantic. They dedicate themselves, more and more, to promoting an ideal of personal authenticity that views tradition as an existential enemy. (This is one reason why so few conservatives get jobs in universities today, by the way). Where this will end, no one knows. But how long will parents be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for their kids to find themselves? The kids could do that for a lot less money elsewhere.
A new book from Encounter Press, The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, offers some thoughts on the present state of American academics. The author is Warren Treadgold (St. Louis University). Seems worth a look. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
Though many people know that American universities now offer an inadequate and incoherent education from a leftist viewpoint that excludes moderate and conservative ideas, few people understand how much this matters, how it happened, how bad it is, or what can be done about it. In The University We Need, Professor Warren Treadgold shows the crucial role of universities in American culture and politics, the causes of their decline in administrative bloat and inept academic hiring, the effects of the decline on teaching and research, and some possible ways of reversing the decline. He explains that one suggested reform, the abolition of tenure, would further increase the power of administrators, further decrease the quality of professors, and make universities even more doctrinaire and intolerant. Instead he proposes federal legislation to monitor the quality and honesty of professors and to limit spending on administration to no more than 20% of university budgets (Harvard now spends 40%). Finally, he offers a specific proposal for the founding of a new leading university that could seriously challenge the dominance of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Berkeley and attract conservative and moderate faculty and students now isolated in universities and colleges that are either leftist or mediocre. While agreeing with conservative critics that universities are in severe crisis, Treadgold believes that the universities’ problems largely transcend ideology and have grown worse partly because disputants on both sides of the academic debate have misunderstood the methods and goals of higher education.