The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine

How times have changed. Nowadays “speak truth to power” has to be placed in inverted commas, to distance us from its earnestness. Among the educated professional classes, no one would be caught dead confusing intellectual inquiry with a quest for ultimate meaning, or with the effort to create an independent self. Indeed the very notion of authentic selfhood—a self determined to heed its own ethical and aesthetic imperatives, resistant to the claims of fashion, money, and popularity—has come to seem archaic. In an atmosphere dominated by postmodern irony, pop-neuroscience, and the technocratic ethos of neoliberalism, the self is little more than a series of manipulable appearances, fashioned and re-fashioned to meet the marketing needs of the moment. We have bid adieu to existential inwardness. The reduction of the mind to software and the brain to a computer, which originated among cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind, has been popularized by journalists into the stuff of dinner-party conversations. The computer analogy, if taken as seriously as its proponents wish, undermines the concept of subjectivity—the core of older versions of the self. So it should come as no surprise that, in many enlightened circles, the very notion of an inner life has come to seem passé.

One consequence of this seismic cultural shift is the train wreck of contemporary higher education. Nothing better exemplifies the catastrophe than President Barack Obama’s plan to publish the average incomes earned by graduates from various colleges, so parents and students can know which diplomas are worth the most in the marketplace, and choose accordingly. In higher education as in health care, market utility has become the sole criterion of worth. The monetary standard of value has reinforced the American distrust of intellect unharnessed to practical purposes: the result is an atmosphere toxic to the humanities. We need a defense of the humanities that takes these cultural developments into account; that claims more for the liberal arts than the promotion of “critical thinking” and “people skills”; that insists, without slipping into platitude, on the importance of the humanities for their own sake.

Jackson Lears, The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine.


Ave atque vale by Donald Kagan – The New Criterion

Because of the cultural vacuum in their earlier education and because of the informal education they receive from the communications media, which both shape and reflect the larger society, today’s liberal arts students come to college, it seems to me, bearing a sort of relativism verging on nihilism, a kind of individualism that is really isolation from community. The education they receive in college these days, I believe, is more likely to reinforce this condition than to change it. In this way, too, it fails in its liberating function, in its responsibility to shape free men and women. Earlier generations who came to college with traditional beliefs rooted in the past had them challenged by hard questioning and the requirement to consider alternatives and were thereby unnerved, and thereby liberated, by the need to make reasoned choices. The students of today and tomorrow deserve the same opportunity. They, too, must be freed from the tyranny that comes from the accident of being born at a particular time in a particular place, but that liberation can only come from a return to the belief that we may have something to learn from the past. The challenge to the relativism, nihilism, and privatism of the present can best be presented by a careful and respectful examination of earlier ideas, ideas that have not been rejected by the current generation but are simply unknown to them. When they have been allowed to consider the alternatives, they, too, can enjoy the freedom of making an informed and reasoned choice.

via Ave atque vale by Donald Kagan – The New Criterion.

President Obama vs. Walker Percy and Another Jefferson Lecturer | Front Porch Republic

Because it needs saying, I’ll be the one to go ahead and say it: making higher education an “economic imperative” misses the point of higher education entirely. Until we manage to decouple higher education from the job market, we are going to persist in misunderstanding education’s true end. It may well be that in the past—i.e., in a debt-based economy incapable of imagining how top-heavy things eventually fall over—a college degree has been a stepping stone to the middle class, but those days are over. An economy that can’t help a college graduate retire an enormous debt is not going to look upon a college degree as a stepping stone to the middle class. Colleges, obviously, will continue to look thus upon the degree how they will wield the mighty frame of education, how build, unbuild, contrive to save tuition costs, but this is just one more thing among many about which they will be wrong.

And although it is true that we shouldn’t make higher education a luxury, it is truer still that we shouldn’t make it a commodity. When it once again becomes difficult, it will be neither a luxury nor a commodity. Making it so “every American should be able to afford it” is no different from making it so every American can do it, which is the same thing as rendering it meaningless. — Jason Peters

via  President Obama vs. Walker Percy and Another Jefferson Lecturer | Front Porch Republic.

How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy: Virginia Postrel – Bloomberg

In reality, however, a tremendous amount of economic value arises from pleasure and meaning — the stuff of art, literature, psychology and anthropology. These qualities, built into goods and services, increasingly provide the work for all those computer programmers. And there are many categories of jobs, from public relations to interaction design to retailing, where insights and skills from these supposedly frivolous fields can be quite valuable. The critics seem to have never heard of marketing or video games, Starbucks or Nike, or that company in Cupertino, California, the rest of us are always going on about. Technical skills are valuable in part because of the “soft” professions that complement them.

via How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy: Virginia Postrel – Bloomberg.

News: How to Train Your Draconian – Inside Higher Ed

Schneider said Gates’s comments veered dangerously toward an unenlightened view of the value of higher education.

“It’s my understanding that the Gates Foundation wants to prepare students for ‘work, life and citizenship,’” Schneider wrote in an e-mail reply to an Inside Higher Ed request for comment. “But Gates’s remarks today seem to shave off two-thirds of that vision, while emphasizing a view of work-related learning that is much too narrow and unsettlingly dated.

Uh, yeah, you could say that.

Four Questions on How to Cut Tuition –

We are in the business of educating the next generation of our nation’s leaders, and making sure that the ablest in that generation are afforded the opportunity to have the best education possible. Charge as little, not as much, as you need to charge to make that education available. And stop awarding aid to students who do not need it.
Stop the bidding war. Let the quality of what you do speak for itself and subject itself to the test of the marketplace. If every institution pledged to do that, at a minimum tuition and fees would grow at a much slower rate. — John M. McCardell Jr., Sewanee

“Cultivating Compassionate Purpose in Higher Education”

I focused on four conditions I regard as vital if students are to develop compassionate purpose in their lives:


(1) An institutional culture of “expectancy” that we are here not merely to prepare for careers but to develop compassionate purpose.


(2) Mentors who model compassionate purpose, including faculty who understand that there’s a close link between loving to learn and learning to love.


(3) A sense of personal “voice” and “agency” (“I have something worth saying and the ability to make a difference”), and opportunities in and out of class to speak that voice and exercise that agency.


(4) A spiritual/humanistic foundation that allows us to stand in the eternal gap between what is and what could and should be without giving up on ourselves or the world.

Wise words from Parker Palmer.

News: ‘Academically Adrift’ – Inside Higher Ed

The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.

The research then goes on to find a direct relationship between rigor and gains in learning:

  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
  • Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.
  • Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)

Study less, earn more — at least in the beginning – Education –

State employment data that track the earnings of recent graduates show those who earned a career-focused associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate from a Florida community college are in many cases making more money than bachelor’s degree recipients at state universities.

The salary estimates were distributed as part of a larger informational packet during a state Board of Education meeting held in December.

What the numbers say: Bachelor’s degree recipients from the state’s 11 public universities earned an average starting salary of $36,552 in 2009.

Meanwhile, those who received associate in science degrees from Florida community colleges earned an average of $47,708 — a difference of $11,000 more per year.

Views: Defining a Great University – Inside Higher Ed

Our nation needs to broaden what “greatness” in a university means. At the very least, we need to expand our conception of greatness to a multidimensional notion, not just a notion of unidimensional rankings as appear in certain magazines. Land-grant institutions, contrary to some popular beliefs, are not merely about agricultural development, but rather, about changing the world in a positive, meaningful, and enduring way. Land-grant institutions perhaps best represent the very core of what greatness means in American society — namely, equal opportunity for all and, through it, the chance to make our society and the world a better place in which to live.

Excellent essay on the value of land-grant universities and, by implication, public universities in general.