Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Education

Western Civ in Texas

This bill (read the text here), sponsored by this Texas state legislator, would transform this Center into the "School of Ethics, Western Civilization, and American Traditions."

Our friends are divided about this, as this article makes clear.

I am inclined to side with one set of friends against the other, in large part because I am reluctant to see state legislators descending to that level of detail in establishing degree requirements. It is one thing, for example, to say that every graduate of a state university must have had a course in state history and/or state government (though this is usually done by the regents or sthe state board of higher education), quite another to become as prescriptive as this bill is in setting core curriculum and major requirements:

The school shall develop and offer students an interdisciplinary course of study in Western civilization and American institutions and practices designed to foster the thoughtful development of ethical character and civic responsibility, including a sequence of six three-hour courses, each covering one of the following topics: (1) ancient philosophy and literature; (2) ideas from the Bible; (3) great works from the Middle Ages; (4) classics of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment; (5) the development of Western science and technology; and (6) classics of the American founding and development of the American Republic.

(b) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) shall be considered by the university to have satisfied 18 hours of core curriculum course work in the following areas: (1) three hours of communications; (2) three hours of additional natural science; (3) three hours of humanities; (4) three hours of government; (5) three hours of visual and performing arts; and (6) three hours of any institutionally designated optional or seminar course.

(c) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) in addition to 18 hours of upper-division course work in the Western civilization (WCV) field of study at the university shall be considered by the university to have completed an undergraduate major in Western Ethics and American Tradition for a bachelor of arts degree in the university's College of Liberal Arts.

I would not object to a faculty establishing something like such a program on its own accord, but I do object to its being imposed politically. And yes, I recognize that all too many faculties would be loathe to institute such programs, but I would at the same time hate to concede to state legislators of any stripe the authority to decide what constitutes an appropriate desgree program at a university. Imagine how such a power could be abused! And consider what one would have to concede to grant to the legislature such authority--that political power can, of its own accord, without any inherent claim to wisdom or expertise, declare what an appropriate program of study is. Knowledge isn't power. Power is knowledge. In some important respects, this is the fantasy of the postmodern academic Left.

Lovers of genuine higher education, and conservatives of almost any stripe, ought to be able to make common cause against such an ill-conceived idea.

Categories > Education

Discussions - 11 Comments

This post raises an interesting problem. Suppose a state gives money to its university system for bunch of new posts in American history in order to foster better knowledge of the subject. If they don't make it very specific that they want traditional political history emphasized, the faculty will use the money to hire more po-mo cultural historians who will do nothing to remove the ignorance in question. So long as the government is paying for the universities, what should they do? Didn't Buckley talk about a related problem in GAMAY?


Professor K., things have gone too far in academe -- the rot is too far advanced -- to be raising what sound to me like quibbles. The legislature has every right to tell a state-controlled university to provide certain options to students. We are not talking about choosing faculty or firing faculty. Nor are we talking about eliminating anything the university is now doing. Creating a bit more space for real education strikes me as vastly outweighing a minor infringement on an academic ideal that, in these dark times, surely must take a lower priority than education itself. Conservatives, defenders of Western Civilization in general, will get nowhere by wringing their hands over imperfections. Let's keep our eyes on the ball. You can bet that our adversaries do.

Of course, if we prefer to wait around for 20 years in hopes that reason will assert itself as if by magic, or that dialogue with us will show our opponents the errors of their ways, none of this matters. But 20 years is how many thousands of students?

Interesting issue, fascinating state. The Texas legislature is not an obvious source of wisdom, but I'm kind of sympathetic to the what the hell, things are so screwed up anyway thought of David Frisk. The real danger is probably what the other guys will do with this precedent when they get in power, just as we're just starting to see what the Obama people are going to do with the intrusive precedents set by NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

Peter,

That is precisely my point. We know what they'll do, once we concede the principle.

I've now gotten a couple of emails on this and want to be make it clear I'm not taking sides on this particular case. I don't know enough. Clearly those who removed Koons were politically motivated, and it's natural that he and his allies seek a political remedy. We'll see if it works. If I were in the legislature, I might seek to mend, not end, the bill--to make the intervention less intrusive but still effective.


I don't think the other side needs a predecent from our side in order to do what some of us are afraid of. In Texas, they probably couldn't get such an imperative through the legislature in any case. Even if they did, the value of getting something we favor is greater than the detriment of yet another thing we disfavor. What we're looking for in academe is 1) more education along traditional lines; and 2) more breathing space for our viewpoint. Neither is threatened by the hypothetical new PC courses or degree programs that the Texas legislature might create once this alleged floodgate is opened.

From what I gather, at least some of the political supporters of this bill seem to think that genuine intellectual diversity in a liberal education program (e.g., reading Nietzsche in addition to The Federalist) is unnecessary. If that's true, what we have is a kind of "conservative" political correctness that is no more worthy of support than its leftish counterpart.

Help me out on this: Requiring students (who sign up for a given program) to read The Federalist without requiring them to read Nietzsche as well is just as bad as a "leftish counterpart"? Do I understand you correctly?

In addition, why do you take what "some" of the bill's supporters believe and use it condemn the bill itself? And why the hearsay? Where's the link?

So we need to know about the local politics at Texas? Why was Koons deposed? By whom? I doubt this is really an argument about whether or not students should read Nietzsche. It would be cool if the Texas legislature were to mandate the reading of Nietzsche, and certainly Willy and the late Waylon and Kinky would get on board for that.

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