Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Why We Will Miss Martin Trow


Higher education has seen many changes over the last 50 years — and Martin Trow was certainly a witness to them all. Before any other, he predicted the massive transformation of higher education from the entitlement of the few to the benefit of the many. And, more than others, he foresaw the good — and challenging — consequences of such a change.

More importantly, Martin Trow understood — and courageously addressed — the muddled state of academic freedom in the modern academy. When the University of California decided to eliminate the prohibition against indoctrination in its academic freedom policy, he spoke up eloquently and courageously against the change. Trow’s passionate articulation of academic freedom as a faculty right and a responsibility underscored his belief in the academy’s public purpose to “seek and transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known.” As with other issues, he predicted the consequences of such a change, and his prediction remains “must reading” for all those who are currently troubled by the lack of intellectual diversity in the modern university:

If the university gives to this politically unrepresentative body of academics the right to teach their political views without the necessity to present alternative perspectives if only they are “urgently committed to a definite point of view,” and are “competent” to hold those views, then people outside the university might be inclined to suspect that in some academic subjects and departments there may be more indoctrination and conversion than teaching going on.  The costs to the university of its breaking of that treaty, and of the trust on which it is founded, may be slow in coming.  But the consequences of breaking that treaty can be seen in other societies that have withdrawn their trust from the universities, and govern them more directly according to the preferences of the governments of the day.  And that is a very high price – maybe the highest price – that universities can be asked to pay for their own arrogance …

In academe, there are too few “insiders” who publicly challenge the PC orthodoxies of the day. Martin Trow was one of those and he will be sorely missed.


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