While there never was a golden age of higher education in America when all the students were serious and all the courses worthwhile, over the last 50 years or so, things have deteriorated significantly. Today, a large percentage of students aren’t in college because they’re interested in acquiring knowledge, but merely to get a credential that might help them find a job. And a great many schools have debased their academic standards to placate both students and faculty.
In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about a small counter-attack that’s building against that.
One organization that is trying to put some meaning back into college is the Scala Foundation. Its founder is Margarita Mooney, who spoke a few months ago at Duke. Watkins writes:
Mooney suggests that at the core of higher education’s current shallowness is a fundamental misunderstanding of the human person. She told the audience that instead of being encouraged to pursue the truth as an end in itself, students are pressured to ‘achieve’ credentials and are treated as if they are just a brain, not a body and a soul. As a result, students’ liberal arts education is stripped of its humanizing purpose—leaving them bereft of meaning. Mooney believes that this leads to a ‘burnout culture’ or a ‘creative fatigue’ that she attributes, at least in part, to the rise in student protesting.
Scala puts on conferences to help fill the void that some students feel in their college experience.
Another organization that is fighting the degradation of college is the Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions (CLAFI) at UCLA, directed to law professor Daniel Lowenstein. CLAFI’s mission statement says:
A central purpose of a university is to assist and encourage students, faculty, and others to confront basic questions of the meaning of life, the nature of the cosmos and of human society, and the principles of right and wrong. Study and appreciation of history, literature and other arts, philosophy, religion, and social science are of value for their own sakes and are also integral to consideration of these basic questions.
CLAFI hosts guest speakers and puts on seminars that give students some serious food for thought.
Watkins thinks that the academic establishment is unlikely to make a course correction on its own, but sees efforts like Scala and CLAFI as small steps in the right direction.