Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Barone on the Disgrace of American Universities

Michael Barone writes about the decline but, in the end, questions why no "fall" has come to American universities mired in disgraceful capitulation to speech codes, second rate scholarship, racial quotas, and the myriad of other ridiculous and failed social experiments that keep them from offering good value in their products. An understanding of the rise of cowardice and petty tyranny that characterizes much of what takes place on the campuses of most American universities, is a familiar narrative to most of us reading this blog. But what remains unexplained is why parents--who dutifully fork over increasingly burdensome sums of money to pay for this so-called "education"--continue to do so. As the product becomes less valuable--in real (i.e., intellectually meaningful) and in pure economic (i.e., job expectations) terms--the demand and the price have (oddly) risen in tandem. There appears to be a huge disconnect between what’s actually happening on college campuses and what parents and students who foot the bills believe is going on. It’s either that or, alternatively, everyone knows about the sham but they pay into it anyway for the sake of the "degree." The degree is still a necessary rite of passage for those who want to fall into rather than scrape into economic security.

It is a point of honor among most young parents I know to become familiar with and diligently apply themselves to the details of their 529 accounts and plans for college savings. But when these same parents talk of what their precious charges will actually do with those carefully charted nest-eggs--their focus is more hazy. There is a sense that little Johnny will, of course, know what is best for him to do when the time comes. These things will all take care of themselves and my role, as parent, is just to foot the bill and get out of the way. Parents who have spent 12 years or more hovering over their children like anchored helicopters, suddenly cut the cord and fly off into the distance when it comes to what their kids are "studying" in college.

I’m not arguing for more "hovering"--certainly not for 20 year olds in college. But before parents send their kids off to college today, I think there is plenty of room for more careful evaluation of the product. Is what you’re getting worth $15K, $30K or even $50K a year? Might their be a less expensive and equally useful alternative? Is college even necessary or good for this particular child? These are questions few people seem to ask anymore. I can’t help but think, however, that as costs continue to climb, more and more people will begin to ask things like, "Is a degree in "Women’s Studies" from an Ivy League institution really worth $200K?" or "Do I really need to pay $30K a year to get training for X? Might it not be smarter and more to the point to save the money and instead go to tech school?" When people start asking these questions more regularly, we might finally begin to see some real improvements in our universities.

It goes without saying that the smart money works to make sure their kids become Ashbrook Scholars.

Discussions - 14 Comments

"But what remains unexplained is why parents--who dutifully fork over increasingly burdensome sums of money to pay for this so-called "education"--continue to do so." Why? Because the University has become a trade school, and the guilds require a degree. Look at all the nonsense degrees that the 20th century has created (e.g. business, leisure management, political "science," womens' studies, etc.). It's a joke. If you want the quality of education to increase, first don't make it mandatory. As a matter of fact, you should encourage people not to go to college, so that only 1% will go, as it was in the 19th century, back when there were standards. And return to classical degrees (Greek and Latin, Mathematics, History, Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy, et al), and get rid of the fluff degrees we have today.

It's pretty incredible to think that for a tidy sum of $200K, your kids can go off to college to read out of crappy textbooks, listen to lectures telling them what is in the textbooks by TA's or professors who hate teaching and would rather be doing research, and acquire very little cultural literacy befitting an educated adult (in times past). Like Matt Damon said in Good Will Hunting, "You just dropped $150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $3.00 in late charges at the public library." Though most public libraries have a good stock of classics that students never read in college and would therefore be quite superior at the bargain rate of three bucks.

Several thoughts come to mind:


  1. Many parents may not see any viable alternative to college. Most employers require it as precondition to even interviewing.
  2. College is often seen as a time intended for maturation and experience, not necessarily just book knowledge. Therefore, the value would be in "getting the experience."
  3. Parents may see sending their kids to college as a kind of "departure gift" from childhood, with the full expectation that the kids will use the time for socializing rather than strictly education.
  4. Parents may see resisting their kids' wishes (or "demands," often framed as whiny insistence) to go to college as more trouble than it's worth. So they dutifully save the money, provide it as a "gift" (or, sadly, an "obligation") and the kid goes off and does with it what they please -- for good or not so good.

I'm not saying that any one of those things is a legitimate reason to drop $100K or more on the college experience. I'm just offering them as possible explanations for why parents just "go along."

Further comments, having now read carefully Barone's article:


  • Most people may not be really aware of the problems. They may read of this stuff happening at Columbia, but they don't think it really applies to State U.
  • Many parents may have a view of college that is firmly locked to what they experienced 20 or 30 years ago. That may prevent them from fully comprehending the changes that have occurred.
  • Never underestimate the power of allegiance based on the sports teams. Political correctness may run rampant, but damn it, they have a great football team and that's where little Johnny wants to go!

This is a posting I did recently on the blog. I think it is relevant.

What is Wrong on our University Campuses?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am presently a part-time teacher of English as a Second Language at a major California university. (UC Irvine). I must admit that I enjoy working at UCI. After a first career of working for DEA, this new life is pretty relaxing. The students are congenial (coming from mostly Asian countries, where teachers are respected) and my colleagues are likewise. Some even share my conservative world view. However, one always has to consider what university department is involved. ESL teachers tend to be people who have traveled, lived in other countries, learned other languages, and , in many cases, have married foreign-born spouses. So they tend to spread out along the idealogical spectrum. Likewise, teachers in the physical sciences and economics also tend to be more ideologically varied. It is in the humanities that you find an overwhelming presence of not just liberals, but far-out lefties who don't much care for their country. Unfortunately, these characters make the most noise, and thus, bring a lot of bad publicity to their schools. Add that to adminstrators who either sympathize with radical professors or are afraid to confront them, and you have a pretty sorry state of affairs on our campuses.

So where do I start? How about Ward Churchhill, of the University of Colorado? He's the guy who called the victims of 9-11 "little Eichmann's". How about the character who teaches at the University of Wisconsin who swears that the Bush Administration conducted 9-11? What about Duke, where the university, urged on by a letter signed by 88 professors, expelled the three Lacrosse players (who were later exonerated.) Then there is San Francisco State, where military recruiters were driven off campus by a mob of students, just part of a long tradition of student unrest at that "institution". Let's don't forget Harvard, the "most prestigious university in America", where the president, Larry Summers, was driven to resignation by his own faculty after he had the temerity to question whether women were as adapt at science as men. (Oh the outrage!) At my own school, UCI, each quarter is marred by anti-Israel events sponsored by the Muslim Student Union, a group that has a regular team of radical Muslim imam speakers who spout hatred not only for Israel, but America and Jews in general. Numerous other campuses, such as UCLA, also have activists Muslim Student Unions that warrant the attention of the FBI. Meanwhile, other universities, Like the University of Michigan at Dearborn, are busy installing foot baths for Muslim students.

In addition, while radical left speakers appear and speak freely on campuses across the nation, conservative speakers are met with protests, disruption and sometimes violence. Examples? How about former Justice Department official, John Yoo, when he spoke at UC Irvine a couple of years ago? Ditto for pro-Israel Middle East expert, Daniel Pipes at UCI a few months back. How about Ann Coulter, who had pies thrown at her at one university in Arizona? When President Bush was invited to speak recently at St Vincent's College in Latrobe, students and professors alike cried like spoiled children. In the free marketplace of ideas, pay attention to those who want to silence the other side. That will tell you much about who is right and who is wrong.

I could go on for the next 100 pages with anecdotal examples of far-left, anti-American activity going on at American universities, but you read these stories every day just like me. The question is why? How did you get to this point? I guess one reason is that many of these professors were university students during my generation-the good old 60s. Many of them never left that sad decade. Another reason could be that moderates and conservatives tend to get their bachelor's degrees and go out into the world to make a living and get some real life experience. They tend to become even more conservative during life. Meanwhile, what happens to the student who goes from a BS degree to a masters degree to a PHD and then enters teaching? By the time they have gotton their doctorate, they have been educated out of the last shred of common sense they were born with. They are still stuck in that cocoon of liberal university propaganda. They then take all that "learning" into their classroom and regurgitate the same stuff that they learned. However, where is their life experience, other than maybe getting married and having kids?

In my own case, after getting my BS in 1970 (interrupted by a 3 year stint in the Army), I went into federal law enforcement, first with Customs, then DEA. That job took me all over the world, including assignments in Thailand and Italy for a total of 8 years. In my final assignmnet at the Office of Training at Quantico, Virginia, I took advantage of a program run by the University of Virginia, where I was able to get a master's degree in Education, paid for by the government. This enabled me to qualify as an ESL teacher at the college level, further enabling me to retire at 50. I mention this only because I think that it allowed me to bring life experience to the classroom.

That does not mean however, that I was about to walk into a classroom and indoctrinate my students with my conservative philosophy. I think it is wrong. My job is to help young students improve their English, not to teach them what they should think about the world. Unfortunately, most leftist professors feel it is their mission to turn out a new generation of leftists. Not content to preach their doctrine in the classroom, many of them engage in protests against this or that outside the classroom, oblivious to any principle of free speech. Even more outrageously, many professors give poor grades to any student who strays from the professor's point of view. Sadly, many young students, concerned about graduating, have succumbed, remaining silent in the classroom and turning in papers in agreement with the professor's philosophy.

In contrast, my master's program was more of an example of adult education. The coordinator, from the University of Virginia, was able to relate to us since we were made up of DEA, FBI and Marines. He knew he was dealing with adults who had life experience and were not liable to be liberal. Where the fun happened is when he brought up young teaching assistants from Charlottesville to give lectures. On one occasion, a young lady in her 20s made the off-hand comment in class that she didn't think it was unpatriotic to burn the American flag! We let her know in no uncertain terms how we felt about that remark. The lady was nearly in a state of shock when she left-and never returned.

So what to do about this situation? Do we conservatives go to court or the Congress to demand a "fairness doctrine" for the universities? Tempting, but I say no. What I think is necessary here is the light of day. We need to make sure the public is aware of what is happening in our universities (and secondary schools as well). We also need to send emails or letters to the heads of these institutions when these outrages occur. They need to know the public is watching. If your alma mater is guilty of far-left bias, refuse to send contributions when solicited-and let them know why. If you are going to foot the bill for your kid's tuition, make sure that he or she doesn't go to one of the offending schools. (Unfortunately, that takes care of most state-run universities-you might have to look at a small private or faith-based school). Eventually, some of these schools will start paying attention to the bottom line.

You also need to counsel your children that it is up to them to decide what they think about the world, that they will be subjected to this indoctrination, and that they should never accept at face value what a professor says in the classroom. There is a bumper sticker that liberals are fond of that reads: "Question Authority". Why not question professors as well?

gary fouse
fousesquawk

Hey Gary, guess what? If we wanted to read your long-ass run-on blog posts, we'd visit your freakin' blog.

I only skimmed the post myself but don't feel the need to rip him a new one for posting it. Gheesh!

Hey Hal,

Excuse the run-ons. In my original posts, the paragraphs are separated, but when I send them to no-right turns, the paragraphs are lumped together for some reason.

PS- You sound like a nice young man.

I am also prone to long rants...but I think you pretty much nail it Mr Fouse. I suppose that everyone agrees with you, Julie and Mr. Barrone. I graduated from Ashland with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy with minors in Economics and history after a four year stunt in the army I am trying my hand at playing poker proffesionally... theoretically I am going for an MA in Economics at the University of Oklahoma/Fort Sill branch...but even then I sometimes wonder if this degree isn't just fluff...I destroy the classes I take and then lose interest when it comes to writting the papers...The Classes are basically Marine, Air Force+Army Officers with some Engineers from the local goodyear plant thrown in for levening. Comming from Rural Ohio to Ashland and joining the army only to get stuck in Oklahoma I often times wonder if any of this is for real. Strangely enough I have been surrounded by the argument without ever having had first hand experience with its more noxious elements. I find I have to go out of my way to pursue strangeness in order to validate the thesis...which strikes me as somewhat odd, since the force of the argument turns to being more of an idle passtime than an actual threat. Sometimes I wonder if it becomes an entrenched narrative that no longer needs first hand experience in order to make political hay.

This is why I appreaciate your candid rant Mr. Fouse...but at the same time I feel like saying...duh! you live in California and you work for UC Irvine...try living in Ft Sill/Lawton Oklahoma.

David Hume once said: "He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances."

'It goes without saying that the smart money works to make sure their kids become Ashbrook Scholars.'

Oh, come on. Think of the Good Will Hunting quote that Tony pointed out above: 'You just dropped $150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $3.00 in late charges at the public library.'

The man in charge of Ashbrook is comparing Clarence Thomas's new book to the best by Douglass and Twain. I think that instead of laying out 100K to enrich the Ashbrook Center, one could simply take in a steady diet of the Washington Times and New York Post, Limbaugh on the radio, Fox on tv, and Drudge, Powerline, and "No Left Turns" and the Ashbrook site on the web. Maybe throw in some Malkin, Coulter, and "Little Green Footballs" to round it out. I've seen the blog run by the Ashbrook Scholars, and it looks like that's the sort of education they're getting. The only advantage of going through the Ashbrook program would be getting the contacts and connections to get a lucrative job after school that can pay for the showy oak bookcases, scotch and cigars and such.

Mr. Rados, it might surprise you to learn that at least a third of the Ashbrook Scholars self-identify as liberals. Some of them post to the blog you mention. And do you really want to make the argument that if a college student is conservative, it must be the work of his or her professors? If you're curious as to what or how we teach at Ashland University I suggest you come and sit in on one of our courses.

Mr. Fouse, if you want to add paragraph breaks to your comments you need to click on "New Paragraph" (above the Comments window) between each one. I know it's a pain; none of the other forums I contribute to require this.

Our colleges and universities are like our public school system. Both are rotten, entrenched, resistant to change. Tenure is the root cause. With teachers' unions, it is literally impossible to fire a public school teacher, however terrible a teacher may be--and there are many. Same applies to "Higher Ed". The principals and the presidents are rainmakers- bring in the money- but woe betide those that mess with, or even attempt to redirect the thinking of their faculties. Larry Summers at Haavaad is a case in point.

The presidents/principals can be, and are, fired, but the faculty? Oh no, it's "Academic Freedom" to be a pinhead, a vile worm like Noam Chomsky or Edward Said.

We have, with the best of intentions, created a cancer (an uncontrolled growth) in our societal body, and to delay treatment, as we have been and are, leads to a predictable outcome.

JL: I think you were and are blessedly insulated from the "narrative" described by Mr. Fouse and Mr. Barone. That you had the good fortune to run across a program like the one at Ashland which forced you to confront great books and brought you into contact with other students and professors who did and could engage in serious conversations about them, probably made it easier for you to go on with your life and smell a rat when one was present. Once you've had a taste of real education, it's pretty easy to tell when the offerings are phony. In other words, one reason you probably don't find as much "junk" out there as you'd expect from hearing the "narrative" (as you call it) is likely because you don't realize how good you have become at detecting and avoiding BS.

As for Mr. Rados--he almost doesn't deserve an answer. Clearly, he does not know anything--at least not from first-hand experience--about the program at Ashland. Of course, for those who are really interested, they can find many lectures and even course syllabus' online. Whatever the merits or demerits of the sources Mr. Rados cites, I don't think he'll find them mentioned in those offerings. At least not before the student has been asked to grapple with Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, Nietzsche, deTocqueville, the Founders, Lincoln, Calhoun, FDR, and Churchill--just to name a few. Ashbrook students have a reputation all over campus--even among the liberal professors (whom no serious person at Ashbrook begrudges when they are similarly serious) for being excellent students who come to class prepared and ready to engage in serious conversation. I don't believe there is any such thing as a "received opinion" in the program--unless it is the opinion that academics should be rigorous and students should work hard, question things, and then (once they think they've figured it all out) prepare to do it again. I doubt you can find more open-minded (in the best sense of the term) students anywhere.

Response to Mr Lewis. I thank you for your response and insight.

I haven't lived my whole life in Calif. I have also lived in Germany (military), Bangkok, Italy, Pittsburgh and Virginia (in Federal law enforcement). Teaching part-time at UC Irvine is a retirement job to keep myself busy. Like you, these travels have given me insight and experience that no university could.

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