The cover story of the current issue of The Weekly Standard
features Northwestern University professor emeritus (now contributing editor at the Standard
), Joseph Epstein
, writing about the now infamous "extracurricular activity" associated with a Human Sexuality course taught at Northwestern by Professor J. Michael Bailey. The article is full of cutting insights--about Professor Bailey; Northwestern President, Morton Shapiro; university presidents as a general class and the things that have led to the demise of their seriousness and importance; the meaning of (and obligations associated with) academic freedom; and the general demise of the American university system. Yet perhaps most illuminating of all of these keen observations and witty commentary are these lines:
In an earlier age, the university preferred to think itself as
outside of, and if truth be told superior to, the general culture of the
society in which it functioned.
For many people today, the more the culture impinges upon the
university the better. From the 1960s and perhaps well before, they
longed for the university to reflect the culture by being more open,
democratic, multicultural, with-it, relevant.
He then goes on to suggest that the fall of the universities to these pressures in the 60s was the equivalent in our "culture wars" to the battle of Aegospotami during the Peloponnesian War. American culture, like Athens, may go on . . . but it will never be the same.
I don't generally like to align myself with such pessimistic pronouncements upon current events because I tend to think--maybe superstitiously--that they doom and diminish a fight that is certainly worth having. Moreover, I also think that it is impossible to know in what way events will turn when the actors in question are human beings. We are nothing if not entirely unpredictable--particularly when we are free. Anything can (and does) happen in human history. But at the risk of sounding like one of those boring guys with a computer model to demonstrate probability, if our current estimate of education continues along the trajectory outlined by Epstein, it is hard to see how he is wrong in his unhappy predictions.