September 9, 2010


A few days ago an email was sent to me, the content of which was Schumpeter's essay, "Decling by Degrees, appearing in The Economist (Sep 2nd 2010). By reply email I simply thanked the sender for forwarding the Schumpeter essay. Later in the day I send another email, the content of which I reproduce here.

I wanted to write a longer 'response' or, to be more accurate, reaction to the Schumpeter essay in the Economist. My reaction takes the form of a question: Where will the next generation of students go for an education (as opposed to a mere degree) now that universities and colleges (and law schools), as well as the polity, are no longer interested in education? My answer, I guess, is there will be an increase in home schooling at the college level, and the re-emergence of the autodidact. Perhaps, the Irish Monks will once again save Western Civilization as the New Dark Age begins. Universities (including elite universities such as Yale and Chicago) and those who populate such institutions have lost their way, have lost their souls. This is not a new thought. I refer you to the Forward to Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students (1987). Note the publication date, 1987. If a person graduated from college the year the book was published, that person would be at least 45-years-of-age today. So, Bloom is writing from the perspective of having already seen the generation of college students who occupy today's professoriate [] ; thus cutting off at the knees any arguments of the form it-was-better-when-I-was-a-student. The rotting had already begun more than two decades before Bloom's book saw publication. If today's professoriate received an impoverished, soulless education back then, what are they providing their students today?

Anyway, the Forward to the Bloom's book is written by the late, and clearly great, Saul Bellow. Here is an excerpt from the next to last paragraph:

"The heart of Professor Bloom's argument is that the university, in a society ruled by public opinion, was to have been an island of intellectual freedom where all views were investigated without restriction. Liberal democracy in its generosity made this possible, but by consenting to play an active pr 'positive, a participatory role in society, the university has become inundated and saturated with the backflow of society's 'problems.' Preoccupied with questions of Health, Sex, Race, War, academics make their reputations and their fortunes and the university has become society's conceptual warehouse of often harmful influences. Any proposed reforms of liberal education which might bring the university into conflict with the whole of the U.S.A. are unthinkable. Increasingly, the people 'inside' are identical in their appetites and motives with the people 'outside' the university. This is what I take Bloom to be saying . . . ."

In short, academia has breached its bargain with society. Academia is suffering the consequences of that breach. I would argue that Bloom, and Bellow as well, would argue that universities once were places where ideas and intellectual pursuits really mattered, but now universities are run by finance, marketing, and efficiency people with little or no interest in education, ideas, and the development of the intellectual. University students are increasingly taught not by teacher-researchers in search of some lower-case truth, but by teacher-researchers who are asking whether this or that project will make them more or less marketable, promotable, or tenurable. That is the say, those inside the university have sunk to the lowest common denominator of the masse. University professors are increasingly George Babbitts now. Professor George Babbitt sowing intellectual mediocrity into generations students. The core of a great university is its faculty. Unfortunately, in university after university across America, the faculties have abdicated their governance responsibility for comfort and financial security. Now that that American economy is is permanent decline and turmoil, now that those outside the gate are bombarding the university with criticism, now that people no longer see a meaningful difference in the business of education and the business of car manufacturing or banking, university faculties find themselves helpless, without intellectual leadership, without a soul. If the American automobile industry is to recover and thrive, then it must come up with a better business model and, among other things, results in the development and manufacturing of better cars. If university education is going to survive and thrive, it needs to replaced its current failed education model with one that once again values, among other things, education (as opposed to degrees), ideas (as opposed to mere opinions), and intellectual freedom (as opposed to anti-intellectual group think).

Leonard Long