Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:08

Ideas Have Consequences

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Ideas Have Consequences

John Ingraham

John Ingraham writes from Bouquet, New York.

On of the best things about the Review is the way its contents provoke thought. A detail in an essay will start a line of thinking, carrying the reader on to new ideas and fresh insights. So it was when I read Herbert London's "A Word From London" in the April issue wherein he discusses the problem of exorbitant college tuition as well as the inflated liberal arts curriculum, concluding:

Colleges and universities won't die, but they will be obliged to define and justify their missions. That is a task both necessary and desirable for a nation that puts a premium on education and for an institution that has seemingly lost its way.

It is not Dr. London's intention to write a detailed analysis of collegiate difficulties today, nor is he proposing a concrete program of reform; he is merely pointing to a couple of egregious problems. I think any reader, especially one acquainted with the academic world, would immediately think of how hard it would be to change colleges today because they are products of our culture, and that would have to change before college could be reformed. So we throw up our hands in despair. But further thought tells us that although colleges are products of our culture, they are also makers of culture; there is a feedback loop here. So attempts at reform are not quixotic, and we do not have to wait for a cultural revolution to rebuild our institutions of higher learning; by struggling to rescue colleges we will be striving to improve our culture at the same time.

Another thought was generated by Dr. London's musings. I graduated from a small liberal arts college (1000 students) 50 years ago, and at the time, aside from the president, the treasurer, and the admissions director, the only administrators dealing directly with students were the dean of the college and the freshman dean. That was it. The students organized themselves into fraternities and a commons club, managing their own social affairs. Put it another way, they were relatively autonomous. Today, that same college, now grown to 2000 students, has a huge staff of administrators, deans and provosts and facilitators and monitors and coordinators, and the social life of students is tightly controlled. Fraternities have been abolished, programs and campaigns of political correctness are constantly promoted, and autonomy is gone.

On the other hand, the curriculum is a riot of indulgence. Fifty years ago, students were socially autonomous, but their courses of study were closely controlled by the faculty; today just the opposite is true. If the trashy curriculum is a problem, as it certainly is, I submit that the combination of curricular chaos and loss of autonomy is a disaster, part of the general, society-wide restriction of autonomy that has been going on for some time in America. Our colleges mirror our society, and our task must be to change them both. *

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