Postmodern Conservative

Higher Education Is Just Getting Dumber

So there’s a good interview with Jonathan Haidt at First Things. He says, with some irony, that it turns out that nobody much disagrees with his diagnosis that today’s college students are displaying all kinds of pathetic disorders caused by excessive coddling. The student has somehow morphed into the customer who is always right and so deserves a secure and incessantly affirming environment to be whatever he or she feels himself or herself to be. That, far more the hotel-style dorms, gourmet food, health-club gyms, and D-3 sports, is how colleges have getting more and more like luxury resorts. We have to hope that what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. But you know it won’t.

Haidt is surely right the most endangered species of diversity on campus these days is political diversity. To which I would add: genuine moral and religious diversity. He’s also probably right that things will get worse before they get better.

So why is Haidt the best or most realistic of the evolutionary psychologists? His undergraduate major was philosophy! Take that, Senator Rubio!

Now, I join Ross Douthat in thinking that campus activism is far from completely self-indulgent and pointless. There is real moral emptiness that needs to be filled with something. And today’s activists can complain with considerable justice, as did those a couple of generations ago, that our corporate campuses are sacrificing controversy to public relations Today, as yesterday, our administrators cave because they don’t have real convictions that could fuel a courageous spirit of resistance.

Coddled student activists at Princeton are demanding that all memory of and memorials to Woodrow Wilson be erased from their campus. Wilson was a fine president of Princeton.  He was also an outstanding scholar in political science, from whom much can be learned on the Constitution, presidential leadership, and Congress. Sure, he was wrong about a lot and unreasonably dissed our Founders, but there’s still much to learn from him. He was also POTUS, but with a very mixed record.

It is true that Wilson was pretty bleepin’ racist, even for his time. Experts disagree on whether his undeniable and rather nasty racism was caused by his southern upbringing, his progressivism that undermined colorblind American individualism, or some combination thereof. 

It’s interesting to see West Coast Straussians and libertarian originalists (such as Randy Barnett) jumping on board the politically correct Wilson purge. Well, they’re right or largely right about what’s wrong with Wilson, but still . . .

If you continue down this road, UVA will end up doing the same for Mr. Jefferson. He might be regarded as worse that Wilson. He was attuned to the truth about who each of us is – including blacks, women, religious dissenters, and so forth — as a free individual with rights. But, when it comes to monstrous injustice of race-based slavery, there is an undeniably somewhat hypocritical disconnect between his thought and action, one obviously not nearly so present in some of the other leading Founders.

And maybe there’ll be a movement to insert Calvin Coolidge on Mount Rushmore.

Now the “masters” at Princeton are going to be called “heads.” Surely nobody really thought they regarded their students as slaves who might occasionally need a good whipping for their misbehavior or unwillingness to learn. Next will be eliminating the master of arts — we want to free the arts from unjust oppression, after all. Still, the trouble with “head” is it seems to privilege one part of the body over all the others, as in being “master of your domain.”

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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