The Corner

Education

The University We Need

Professor Warren Treadgold of St. Louis University has just written a superb book on the problems facing our higher-education system entitled, “The University We Need.” In today’s Martin Center article, I review it.

The author, who has been in the academic world for a long time and knows whereof he speaks, says that few insiders are willing to speak truthfully about higher education in America. He is quite willing, and his book lands solid punches on every page.

Among the worst of our problems is the infection of postmodernism, which has spread like a really bad strain of the flu. Treadgold writes that postmodernism “is almost impossible to combat on its own terms because rejecting the possibility of objective truth allows postmodernists to ignore even the most rigorous arguments and conclusive evidence, and their rejection of ‘elitism’ leads them to deny that any idea is better than any other . . . Marxists, feminists, and other ideologues ally themselves with postmodernism because all of them judge arguments not only their merits but on ideological grounds.”

Most of the faculty is poorly trained to teach, Treadgold argues, and they can get away with teaching narrow courses on their particular specialties. Students therefore waste time and loads of money on degrees that betoken little useful learning.

The title refers to the author’s desire to see a new university founded — one to rival the current elites, but without the pernicious overlay of “progressivism,” “diversity,” and other obsessions of the academic Left. If such a university were to be created (and there is abundant wealth in non-leftist hands to do so), the faculty should be paid well to teach sound courses (and yes, choosing them would mean discriminating against the throngs of leftist acolytes), and the students should be selected mainly on the basis of their interviews with admissions officers who would find out if they are truly interested in learning. (Most students, even smart ones, go to college not to learn but to get the degree they assume they need.)

A new, top-notch university? It’s a great idea, and let’s hope one or more wealthy Americans who care about the nation’s future grabs hold of it.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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