In 1971, Liberty Fund held a conference devoted to American higher education. The participants were all-stars in the conservative/libertarian movement of the day. Ben Rogge and Pierre Goodrich presented a paper for discussion, with comments by Gottfried Dietze, Russell Kirk, Henry Manne, and Stephen Tonsor. Eventually, Liberty Fund put the proceedings into a book entitled Education in a Free Society.
Professor Lee Trepanier of Samford University has just written a superb essay that looks back on that book entitled, “Does the American University Deserve to Survive?”
He observes that in their paper, Rogge and Goodrich advocated a higher-education system that would be free from state control. A splendid idea. Government should no more control educational institutions than it should control churches. Unfortunately, we have moved further and further away from that over the last 50 years, largely due to the growth of federal student aid.
Professor Trempanier concludes:
Many of the problems that the authors had correctly diagnosed of what had ailed the American university still persist: the dominance of the political left among the faculty, curriculum, and students; the impotence of trustees to assert any sort of institutional control; the university’s constant search for funding; and the continual growth of government in higher education. But most of all, it is the American university’s abandonment of the search for truth that continues to haunt it today, for the university still is not able to articulate a reason for its existence. This loss of social authority only makes the American university vulnerable to cultural fads and political trends that wash upon it like the waves on the shore, unpredictable, fleeting, and unstable.