Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Scott Walker’s Fight Against Tenure

 

shutterstock_280248305Just in case you were wondering if he was running for president:

Walker introduced the tenure issue in a budget proposal that included $300 million in cuts over two years and significant restructuring… A GOP-led legislative committee approved the tenure change. It also approved a measure that would modify state law to specify that Regents can terminate faculty when it’s deemed necessary because a program has been discontinued or changed in other ways, not just when a financial emergency exists — the way it’s spelled out under state law. It didn’t give Walker all he wanted, and it reduced the cuts from $300 million to $250 million.

Wisconsin is unusual in that protections for tenured faculty are enshrined in state law. In most jurisdictions, it’s individual universities that make the call on who qualifies for tenure and on what grounds it can be terminated. In simple terms, Walker is just bringing Wisconsin into line with the rest of the country.

Unsurprisingly — given Walker’s reputation and the quasi-hallowed nature of tenure — this has sparked apoplectic reactions among the left-leaning commentariat. Slate has dubbed Walker “an education hating governor.” The New Republic (yes, they’re still around) warns that this move to curtail tenure will threaten the “ability of public university faculty to conduct research about politically inconvenient facts and teach in politically disfavored fields.” The reliably-deranged Salon helpfully explains that America’s most famous college drop-out, is leading “an anti-intellectual struggle against critical thinking.”

Many commentators have thoroughly dissected the absurdities of modern tenure, the strangely-feudal system in which armies of ill-paid adjuncts sustain a well-pampered elite. The institutional structure of modern universities might well explain the anti-capitalist tendencies of the faculty. Their only real experiences with earning a living has been in one of the few places where Marx’s understanding of capitalism actually makes sense. The modern university is, in some of the worst ways, truly a place apart.

There is an important underlying theme in the reaction to Gov. Walker’s comparatively modest reforms: Walker is against education, critical thinking, and intellectual thought itself. There is a strange conflation of the institutions which are entrusted to impart education and of the act of education itself. If you are perceived to be attacking the institutions, you are perceived to be attacking the idea itself. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A distinction not often enough made is between schooling and education. The former is a student undergoing a state-approved process of attendance, lecturing, and examination. The later is the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and understanding. While the Venn diagram should have a fair amount of overlap between the two, schooling and education are not synonymous. There are many well-schooled people who are largely uneducated. Conversely there are many well educated people who are relatively unschooled.

For an example of the latter, probably the best living example, take the indefatigable Mark Steyn. A man who barely finished high school yet ranks as one of the finest writers in the English language today. Inside that curly, coiffed head is about three or four PhDs worth of knowledge and insights. He is the living, breathing and dapper retort to our over-credentialized world.

What Mark Steyn represents is the past and future of education: the autodidact. In previous generations — when government was little involved in the financing or provisioning of education — those eager to learn inhabited public libraries, evening classes, and coffee shops. Today, such haphazard methods inspire a mixture of suspicion and contempt. How can anyone truly learn without the guidance of experts? Yet the list of self-taught geniuses is long: Eric Hoffer, James Watt, Benjamin Franklin, Harlan Ellison, Terry Pratchett, George Bernard Shaw, Ray Bradbury, and Jane Jacobs to name only a very few.

It has never been easier to be an autodidact, nor simpler to get access to the best that has been thought and said down the ages. While a formal structured education is still necessary in scientific and technical fields, the whole swath of the humanities begs for a revolution in favour of self-study. Walker’s modest reforms represent the slow breaking up of the schooling cartel that has dominated education for decades in America. Yet these reforms don’t go nearly far enough. We need to move past the very mid-twentieth century idea that a good education can only come with the letters BA.

Photo Credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

There are 28 comments.

  1. Pleated Pants Forever Inactive

    I was in Wisconsin with my wife’s side of the family (her side lives there) on vacation last week. It’s amazing to see the frothy hate in their eyes when they discuss Walker – at least the ones who work in public education. One of them went on and on about how Walker cut funding for state roads….I was like, come on, is that the best you have on the person you think is Atilla the Hun? Thanks for preparing me as I’m sure this will be the next thing I hear abou

    • #1
    • June 24, 2015, at 6:19 AM PST
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  2. Ward Robles Member

    Like. The big problem for the autodidact today is refining the massive amounts of information coming at him or her.

    • #2
    • June 24, 2015, at 6:19 AM PST
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  3. Titus Techera Contributor

    As for your list: How’d’ye forget Lincoln, the greatest autodidact in America!

    As for the business with schooling–higher education was supposed by Wilson & like-minded folks to create progressives–people unlike their fathers, to use Wilson’s phrase. Rather successful project, I’d say. But one thing has changed that changed all that progress: Wilson wanted people to dedicate themselves to democracy; after the 60’s, dedication to oneself has replaced any thought of the national community.

    As for the tenure system–it will come under attack. Progressives will try to defend their interest in academia; an alliance on the right will decide the libertarian thing to do is to turn academia into a profitable investment–young Americans apparently should believe that learning is for profit. That’s probably sensible stuff. It’s certainly better than having untold millions incur unreasonable debt. But some tenure & some waste of money & some education is required simply to have people who take study seriously aside from profit or success or careers–or else things people used to know will no longer be available to future generations.

    As for people who hate Gov. Walker, one can only hope his success will keep their fires burning a long time-

    • #3
    • June 24, 2015, at 6:55 AM PST
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  4. Marion Evans Inactive

    When tenure was first invented, life expectancy was lower than 50 years. So as a professor, you spent ten, or at most fifteen, years in tenure. Then you went away and a fresh generation took your place.

    Now life expectancy is 80 and you can spend over thirty years in tenure, which is absolutely ridiculous. No one can add value for that long. Even Einstein basically had one incredible year, 1905. Meanwhile tens of thousands of young fresh super talented PhDs can’t find academic jobs. It is time to get rid of tenure or at least to set a term limit. Rid is better imo.

    • #4
    • June 24, 2015, at 7:42 AM PST
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  5. Titus Techera Contributor

    Marion Evans:Now life expectancy is 80 and you can spend over thirty years in tenure, which is absolutely ridiculous. No one can add value for that long. Even Einstein basically had one incredible year, 1905. Meanwhile tens of thousands of young fresh super talented PhDs can’t find academic jobs. It is time to get rid of tenure or at least to set a term limit. Rid is better imo.

    You do not seem to think that the university is not primarily supposed to add value–or at any rate, not all parts of it–but rather to protect value.

    Your remark about Einstein is shocking. You seem to imply that others might also have an incredible year. Yet more than a century has passed & no one else has had quite such an incredible year. Some have had good years–but that is all. To use your colorful language, no one is really adding a lot of value, if that year is the standard. Further, after that year, it was not easy to tell whether Einstein would do great things again or no.

    What do you think those super-talented PhDs can do? Get a year each to achieve anything? But what about the humanities, where there is no achievement? Or social sciences, where most achievements are smal catastrophes-

    • #5
    • June 24, 2015, at 7:52 AM PST
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  6. Richard Anderson Member
    Richard Anderson Post author

    Titus Techera

    As for your list: How’d’ye forget Lincoln, the greatest autodidact in America!

    Well everyone knows about Lincoln. I was looking for less well known examples.

    ;-)

    I certainly hope that Gov Walker has a long career too. Of all the serious presidential candidates he has the strongest resume. I also like the fact that he’s a college dropout. If anything will break people’s obsession with credentials, as opposed to skills and genuine knowledge, it would be having a college dropout become POTUS. The European snobs would mock him, of course, but that’s really just an added bonus.

    • #6
    • June 24, 2015, at 8:24 AM PST
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  7. Ralphie Member

    Education is basically credentialing today. As stated, the availability of information has never been so abundant, but at the same time the cost of credentials has skyrocketed.

    • #7
    • June 24, 2015, at 8:31 AM PST
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  8. Titus Techera Contributor

    Ralphie:Education is basically credentialing today. As stated, the availability of information has never been so abundant, but at the same time the cost of credentials has skyrocketed.

    Late in the ‘aughts, I attended a liberal arts college. They had a few professors that had a lot to offer. I don’t know about the credentials; & I certainly do not like the politics of American colleges. But anyone who wanted an education could have got one. I’m not saying many did-

    • #8
    • June 24, 2015, at 8:38 AM PST
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  9. Saint Augustine Member

    Richard Anderson: Wisconsin is unusual in that protections for tenured faculty are enshrined in state law. In most jurisdictions, it’s individual universities that make the call on who qualifies for tenure and on what grounds it can be terminated. In simple terms, Walker is just bringing Wisconsin into line with the rest of the country.

    So he’s not actually fighting against tenure, is he? He’s just fighting against the government’s involvement in tenure.

    That’s interesting.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the same principles on which he wants government out of this tenure business are reasons Walker wouldn’t actually fight against tenure: No government support for tenure, no government opposition.

    Marion Evans:Now life expectancy is 80 and you can spend over thirty years in tenure, which is absolutely ridiculous. . . . Meanwhile tens of thousands of young fresh super talented PhDs can’t find academic jobs. It is time to get rid of tenure or at least to set a term limit.

    Maybe I should give more thought to tenure as a reason for trouble in the humanities, and as a problem in education worth fixing.

    • #9
    • June 24, 2015, at 8:59 AM PST
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  10. Z in MT Inactive

    Tenure is a problem, but not the biggest problem with US higher education today.

    I think a larger problem is the the weird sort of centralized administration by committee structure that governs most universities is the largest problem. You get all the cost of professional administrators (Dean or this, Associate Dean of that, Vice Provost of ” ” affairs, etc) with all the sluggishness of faculty committees determining policy (or justifying policy already decided upon by the administrators). A large part of the work load for tenured faculty is serving on committees that have no real power.

    • #10
    • June 24, 2015, at 9:11 AM PST
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  11. Marion Evans Inactive

    Titus Techera:

    Marion Evans:Now life expectancy is 80 and you can spend over thirty years in tenure, which is absolutely ridiculous. No one can add value for that long. Even Einstein basically had one incredible year, 1905. Meanwhile tens of thousands of young fresh super talented PhDs can’t find academic jobs. It is time to get rid of tenure or at least to set a term limit. Rid is better imo.

    Your remark about Einstein is shocking. You seem to imply that others might also have an incredible year. Yet more than a century has passed & no one else has had quite such an incredible year. Some have had good years–but that is all. To use your colorful language, no one is really adding a lot of value, if that year is the standard. Further, after that year, it was not easy to tell whether Einstein would do great things again or no.

    What do you think those super-talented PhDs can do? Get a year each to achieve anything? But what about the humanities, where there is no achievement? Or social sciences, where most achievements are smal catastrophes-

    Everyone has a BEST year, though not as good a year as Einstein’s best year. That’s what matters. The fact that thousands of profs decades past their prime are occupying valuable slots makes no sense and wastes the talents of the young.

    • #11
    • June 24, 2015, at 9:20 AM PST
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  12. Saint Augustine Member

    Said in an old-school English cop voice:

    Now, now, what’s all this about no accomplishments the humanities, then?

    Maybe that needs a new conversation. I’ll make a note of it.

    Meanwhile, the Trivium is useful, says I!

    • #12
    • June 24, 2015, at 9:39 AM PST
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  13. Richard Anderson Member
    Richard Anderson Post author

    Z in MT

    Tenure is a problem, but not the biggest problem with US higher education today.

    I think a larger problem is the the weird sort of centralized administration by committee structure that governs most universities is the largest problem. You get all the cost of professional administrators (Dean or this, Associate Dean of that, Vice Provost of ” ” affairs, etc) with all the sluggishness of faculty committees determining policy (or justifying policy already decided upon by the administrators). A large part of the work load for tenured faculty is serving on committees that have no real power.

    I’ve always been fond of the idea of students directly paying their professors. Cutting out the middlemen of the university administration. Adam Smith liked the idea too.

    • #13
    • June 24, 2015, at 9:54 AM PST
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  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera: Your remark about Einstein is shocking. You seem to imply that others might also have an incredible year. Yet more than a century has passed & no one else has had quite such an incredible year.

    Others, like Kurt Gödel, Nash, and Claude Shannon, have had their incredible years. Claude Shannon’s paper on information theory is now standard reading in I-don’t-know-how-many scientific disciplines (not just math and computer science, but also biochemistry, etc… and even the social sciences).

    I am not as well up on the history of mathematicians and scientists as perhaps I should be, and don’t think much of trying to rank already-great men in a strict hierarchy of greatness, anyhow. So others could easily think of more, and perhaps more impressive, anni mirabili that theirs.

    Good math and science are hardly dead, though. And as much as we admire individual figures (I tremendously admire John Nash, for example, for having the good sense to find companions to help him take care of his crazy so he still could work), these disciplines are ultimately cooperative:

    How much does it matter to the discipline itself whether a theory was perfected by one great genius or several lesser geniuses? In my experience, that sort of stuff matters much more to non-scientists thirsting for tales of great men, and less to those interested in mastering the science itself.

    • #14
    • June 24, 2015, at 10:15 AM PST
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  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Richard Anderson: It has never been easier to be an autodidact, nor simpler to get access to the best that has been thought and said down the ages. While a formal structured education is still necessary in scientific and technical fields, the whole swath of the humanities begs for a revolution in favour of self-study.

    There was a time when “mere weavers and brewers” could also advance fields like mathematics. Thomas Simpson was a weaver and schoolteacher with very little formal education who taught math in a coffeehouse – a “penny university”. He eventually landed himself a post as a professor and a place in the Royal Society on the strength of a reputation that had begun quite informally.

    William Sealy Gosset (a.k.a. “Student”) had a formal undergraduate education, but developed his statistical tests while working for the Guinness brewery.

    Even in today’s universities, getting a good scientific education still depends on self-study. Weekly problem sets – at least the interesting ones – are basically guided exercises in self-study.

    So it’s not clear to me that self-study in the technical fields is quite dead yet :-)

    • #15
    • June 24, 2015, at 10:32 AM PST
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  16. donald todd Inactive

    I spent a summer reading the Russians. The librarian got me books from other libraries when they weren’t available in the system she was in. I was happy to read Dostoyevsky, amazed at Solzhenitsyn (and also read his Gulag Archipelago series first two volumes), and awed by Tolstoy. However Tolstoy did not like most of his characters and I could not read for several days after I would put down one of his novels. He was hard on people in a way that disaffected me.

    I also read Hannah Arendt that summer. I did not have to wait for a teacher, merely pick up the book and read it.

    I don’t assume any particular credit for this, but I wanted to know, so I read because there was no other way to get to this stuff.

    I also went to Oregon and watched Shakespeare. The troupe was excellent and took me with them as they acted out his plays. It was a great summer for a young single man.

    • #16
    • June 24, 2015, at 10:50 AM PST
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  17. Titus Techera Contributor

    Marion Evans:Everyone has a BEST year, though not as good a year as Einstein’s best year. That’s what matters. The fact that thousands of profs decades past their prime are occupying valuable slots makes no sense and wastes the talents of the young.

    Maybe that’s true of technical stuff. I believe it is not true of the humanities; it can only be partially true of social science. I am all for separating higher education from science & professions. But I do not advise that you destroy higher education in the name of productivity. You want people to teach your young about Lincoln or Shakespeare. People who obsess about productivity or showing off in their youth cannot do that–it’s not like the sciences or engineering or what have you–there is no productivity of which to speak & originality is too rare to command or schedule.

    Also, ask yourself whether you do not owe an Einstein more than some consideration up until he stops delivering.

    & whether you can predict the next Einstein by productivity.

    • #17
    • June 24, 2015, at 12:51 PM PST
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  18. Titus Techera Contributor

    Augustine:Said in an old-school English cop voice:

    Now, now, what’s all this about no accomplishments the humanities, then?

    Maybe that needs a new conversation. I’ll make a note of it.

    Meanwhile, the Trivium is useful, says I!

    If this is an answer to me, I am serious about this–people should be trying to learn from Shakespeare or Lincoln–& teaching others how to read with care & to think seriously about people whose achievements they cannot rival really, but in which they can in a way share. But that has nothing of achievement. It is a difficult turning of the soul around to something which is a gift. You cannot earn or deserve well of Shakespeare; if you learn what England is, like Marlborough said he did, it is a gift-

    • #18
    • June 24, 2015, at 12:54 PM PST
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  19. Marion Evans Inactive

    Titus Techera:

    Marion Evans:Everyone has a BEST year, though not as good a year as Einstein’s best year. That’s what matters. The fact that thousands of profs decades past their prime are occupying valuable slots makes no sense and wastes the talents of the young.

    Maybe that’s true of technical stuff. I believe it is not true of the humanities; it can only be partially true of social science. I am all for separating higher education from science & professions. But I do not advise that you destroy higher education in the name of productivity. You want people to teach your young about Lincoln or Shakespeare. People who obsess about productivity or showing off in their youth cannot do that–it’s not like the sciences or engineering or what have you–there is no productivity of which to speak & originality is too rare to command or schedule.

    Also, ask yourself whether you do not owe an Einstein more than some consideration up until he stops delivering.

    & whether you can predict the next Einstein by productivity.

    You don’t need a tenured professor to teach about Lincoln or Shakespeare. Having a faster turnover in the humanities faculty means, just as in science, that any stale or outdated thinking will be continuously challenged. I fail to see why the teaching of philosophy or literature should be insulated from any competition by younger voices. Tenure is actually killing innovative thinking in non-science departments.

    • #19
    • June 24, 2015, at 12:58 PM PST
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  20. Titus Techera Contributor

    Marion Evans:You don’t need a tenured professor to teach about Lincoln or Shakespeare. Having a faster turnover in the humanities faculty means, just as in science, that any stale or outdated thinking will be continuously challenged. I fail to see why the teaching of philosophy or literature should be insulated from any competition by younger voices. Tenure is actually killing innovative thinking in non-science departments.

    I can think of nothing so destructive to the humanities than innovative thinking. I am not sure what inventions you think have improved the study of Shakespeare, but so far as I know, only people who have done a job of work of overthrowing the progressive conceits of the 20th century have really contributed to students’ understanding of Shakespeare.

    This is even more so in the case of Lincoln & your history. Have you heard of the famous man, Carl Becker?,–he was famous awhile back–he was progressive–his was innovative thinking. Americans had insanely or childishly previously believed in the natural rights teaching of the Declaration: Then others came & innovated: & by the time he was writing on the Declaration, he negated the entire career of Lincoln in one famous phrase: To ask whether the teaching of the Declaration is true is essentially a meaningless question.

    That’s progress in political studies & philosophy & letters for you. There was a time when mindless people like Lincoln & Marlborough said they learned politics from Shakespeare. Mindful people today would never say that-

    • #20
    • June 24, 2015, at 1:10 PM PST
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  21. Titus Techera Contributor

    I apologize for hijacking the discussion, which only this apology, that I take exception, in part, to the way the Gov. has spoken about higher education, although the particular move on tenure now seems reasonable. Maybe I should just link to Mr. Lawler’s fine writing on the matter instead-

    • #21
    • June 24, 2015, at 3:20 PM PST
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  22. Z in MT Inactive

    Richard Anderson:

    Z in MT

    Tenure is a problem, but not the biggest problem with US higher education today.

    I think a larger problem is the the weird sort of centralized administration by committee structure that governs most universities is the largest problem. You get all the cost of professional administrators (Dean or this, Associate Dean of that, Vice Provost of ” ” affairs, etc) with all the sluggishness of faculty committees determining policy (or justifying policy already decided upon by the administrators). A large part of the work load for tenured faculty is serving on committees that have no real power.

    I’ve always been fond of the idea of students directly paying their professors. Cutting out the middlemen of the university administration. Adam Smith liked the idea too.

    If only it would happen quicker.

    The Scottish system had a lot going for it. Too bad that the US mostly copied the German system.

    • #22
    • June 24, 2015, at 5:47 PM PST
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  23. Saint Augustine Member

    Titus 18, I think I concur on ideas, but perhaps not on word choice.

    Titus 20, right on!

    • #23
    • June 24, 2015, at 7:01 PM PST
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  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera: I can think of nothing so destructive to the humanities than innovative thinking. I am not sure what inventions you think have improved the study of Shakespeare, but so far as I know, only people who have done a job of work of overthrowing the progressive conceits of the 20th century have really contributed to students’ understanding of Shakespeare.

    At this point, overthrowing the Progressive conceits of the 20th century is innovation in academia.

    That’s the problem with being a conservative: you have to choose what you’re conserving pretty carefully. With our current tenure system, it is exactly this Progressive legacy that has become entrenched.

    • #24
    • June 24, 2015, at 7:05 PM PST
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  25. Titus Techera Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Titus Techera: I can think of nothing so destructive to the humanities than innovative thinking. I am not sure what inventions you think have improved the study of Shakespeare, but so far as I know, only people who have done a job of work of overthrowing the progressive conceits of the 20th century have really contributed to students’ understanding of Shakespeare.

    At this point, overthrowing the Progressive conceits of the 20th century is innovation in academia.

    That’s the problem with being a conservative: you have to choose what you’re conserving pretty carefully. With our current tenure system, it is exactly this Progressive legacy that has become entrenched.

    True. But a libertarian / capitalist reform where consumer-students decide what they want to learn does not seem to me to save the university. Again, that kind of reform might be the future–& it should work in a lot of technical fields–but it is not for the humanities or political studies. I am not sure how the university can work if the students are, as consumers, supposed to make the decisions–that completely takes knowledge or prudence out of the discussion. Some things really have to be removed from this kind of risk. If the solution is begging rich people to save some programs, it’s still better…

    I am not sure how Americans can entrust their kids to colleges; if you scare professors, you have destroyed academic freedom; if you do not–you have lefty propaganda…

    • #25
    • June 25, 2015, at 2:19 AM PST
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  26. Leigh Member

    Titus Techera:I apologize for hijacking the discussion, which only this apology, that I take exception, in part, to the way the Gov. has spoken about higher education, although the particular move on tenure now seems reasonable. Maybe I should just link to Mr. Lawler’s fine writing on the matter instead-

    Titus, I think you (and Lawler) might be reading a little too much into that. It wasn’t a statement about higher education in general, but a throwaway comment about the UW, specifically, and there’s a lot of local politics behind it. (For one thing, if you get caught hiding millions upon millions of dollars in a secret slush fund, it will be harder for you to get your state’s conservative leadership to take you seriously when you complain about budget cuts…)

    • #26
    • June 25, 2015, at 4:12 AM PST
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  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera: True. But a libertarian / capitalist reform where consumer-students decide what they want to learn does not seem to me to save the university. Again, that kind of reform might be the future–& it should work in a lot of technical fields–but it is not for the humanities or political studies.

    Eh… I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you, Techey. There are a lot more of us who want the old-fashioned schooling in the liberal arts than there are universities who feel like teaching it this way. Look at the popularity (and generally traditional content) of the Great Courses series.

    Maybe you’re forgetting that the bourgeois thirst for self-improvement has always gravitated toward time-tested, traditional appreciation of the fine and liberal arts. Those cofee-house “penny universities” didn’t just teach math and science, after all. If anything, I suspect they got more heavily into stuff like history, literature, and philosophy. Stuff accessible to any literate man.

    Theodore Dalrymple once penned an article in which he reflected that there was a time in England’s history when manual laborers ran their own reading circles, reading the classics. Surely not every manual laborer. Or even most of them. Still, the option was there for those who wanted.

    But a traditional, time-tested understanding of the classics is thoroughly middlebrow. Maybe it should be higbrow, but as long as the Progressive intelligentsia corner the market on “highbrow”, it won’t be.

    • #27
    • June 25, 2015, at 7:29 AM PST
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  28. Saint Augustine Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    There are a lot more of us who want the old-fashioned schooling in the liberal arts than there are universities who feel like teaching it this way. Look at the popularity (and generally traditional content) of the Great Courses series.

    Maybe you’re forgetting that the bourgeois thirst for self-improvement has always gravitated toward time-tested, traditional appreciation of the fine and liberal arts. Those cofee-house “penny universities” didn’t just teach math and science, after all. If anything, I suspect they got more heavily into stuff like history, literature, and philosophy. Stuff accessible to any literate man.

    On that note, here’s a bit of shameless self-promotion:

    My YouTube channel has a series of cartoons based on the great dialogues and speeches from the history of philosophy. Watching it is a bit like auditing a great texts-based Intro to Philosophy course.

    • #28
    • June 25, 2015, at 7:53 AM PST
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