Are People Finally Getting Wise About Higher Education?

The Pew Research Center has released a study that shows Americans, especially more conservative Americans, are realizing that colleges and universities are, as the study states the most common answer, “have a negative effect on the country.” (see http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/)  While overall 55% of respondents still believe institutions are higher education are valuable, the percentage has declined in recent years, and dramatically among conservatives, who just a few years ago reported a positive view.  So what is happening?

 

A Washington Examiner opinion piece (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/public-gets-wise-to-academic-baloney/article/2628218) on July 11, 2017 made mention of the study and I believe hits the nail on the head regarding the reasons.  The prime example is the University of Missouri, where freshman applications have declined 35% this year–that is huge, and has led to 400 layoffs at the Columbia campus.  The reason seems to be that parents and prospective students have finally realized the effects of the overwhelmingly biased academic community (self-reported by the way) as well as the effects of administrators allowing political correctness and just plain violence to continue unchecked–not to mention the new-found disdain for free speech.  

 

When I was an undergraduate way back in the Dark Ages, I did have liberal professors, but at least they were reasonable and willing to hear opposing opinions politely for the most part.  The situation now appears to be much different, especially at the state schools and the more “prestigious” private universities.  I am appalled at what I read and hear that passes for academic substance, both in the classroom and in academic journals.  Here is a sample of a milder sort of what one can read today in journals, especially those in the “soft sciences.”  This is the abstract or summary written by the author:

“Building on a study of three women who practice walking-for-thinking as a part of their intellectual work, the analysis identifies potential themes for a future research agenda on gender, walking, and thinking. A particular focus is the subtle, daily, management of gendered expectations and ways in which walking, for these women, is a contribution to such management. We name this ‘walking away from expectations’ and identify three themes: walking away from others’ gaze, walking away from restlessness and domestic responsibility, and walking away as belonging. Walking emerges as a skilful way of creating the conditions to do one’s intellectual work and manage gendered expectations. Further, the meanings of silences about gender in the context of intellectual work and walking is discussed and questions for future research agenda are suggested.” (“Wandering intellectuals: establishing a research agenda on gender, walking, and thinking.” Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, Volume 24, 2017, Issue 4)

If you thought that was a bit weird, here is another example from an “academic”:

“How I understand white-ness now is that it is an energetic imbalance caused by a loss of spinal fluidity and awareness of the lower body. Emotional energy becomes concentrated in the upper body, particularly gathering in the mind. To live in a world dominated by white-ness is to live in an environment that denies and protects white-ness as embodied trauma.  When you look at it this way, white-ness is traumatization itself. The white body is in freeze: a state of disconnection between mind and body. It is ungrounded and cannot feel the earth. We see this pained energy of white-ness play out in our society through violence towards sexuality, emotional vulnerability and ecology, amongst other things.” (Tada Hozuma, June 11, 2017 at http://selfishactivist.com/why-white-people-cant-dance-theyre-traumatized/)

Yes, that is what some call academics.  But parents and students are finally discovering that this does not produce either an educated person or a job, something educators and employers have been concerned about for quite some time.  Not only that but you will find that both on the classroom and in the literature, one increasingly finds not merely an ignorance of religion, especially Christianity, but an attack on it.  

But again, for some time Christians have either not known about what was happening in the academy or have looked the other way, hoping their children would have the solidiity of faith to persevere without being affected.  That is quite a gamble it seems to me.  On the other hand even many so-called Christian institutions have succumbed to the fashions of the academy at large.  They are not to be trusted either, but it is often more difficult to discern due to the “false advertising” of so many of those institutions.  We see vague, useless phrases like “Christ-centered” without definition or elaboration.  We think that makes them safe for our children, but when we bother to look ( too often we don’t even look) we find that these schools teach or allow to be taught, the same substance as their very secular counterparts.  

Now though this situation is pretty unacceptable, people are finally beginning to wake up.  But it also presents an opportunity for institutions that do still care about both real education and a Christian-based one at that.  It is in fact a golden opportunity.  But it will not be effective if two conditions are not met unabashedly and forthrightly: (1) be very specific and very public about what the institution stands for (its essence) and (2) then with unswerving determination, make sure that is what students are getting.  This is not the time for pulling punches about “who we are.”  If we do that, we will come to be seen as just one among many other institutions, all perceived as the same.  On the other hand, if we say we are “X” but don’t act the part, then we will come to be perceived as disingenuous–and we will also be leading our students down the path of error.  This all takes an immense amount to courage and perseverance.  Attacks will come from the outside, for example that one’s institution is just anti-intellectual or bigoted or primitive.  In some sense the latter will be true if we are true to the Biblical mission.  But to be “primitive” may actually be a compliment.  As many great thinkers through the years have said, it is not necessarily a bad thing to follow in the footsteps of one’s ancestors, or to maintain a “tradition” or to be (the dreaded word) “conservative,” meaning to conserve what is good and true and to reject what is bad or false, even if it is currently faddish.

Parents, take a hard look at all colleges and universities.  Prospective students, don’t choose a college just because it has nice buildings, great dorm life, “fun and games,” or easy classes.  Remember why you go to college at all.  And Christians in those categories, the readership of this blog, it is time we stopped simply affirming secular institutions simply because they have a reputation or are cheap.  If education is an investment, and it is to be sure if done properly, it is also an investment in the spiritual and intellectual future of our children and ourselves and even our nation.  Why would anyone want to make a bad investment?  

9 thoughts on “Are People Finally Getting Wise About Higher Education?”

  1. Your explanation, like the one you attempted to make yesterday, does not make sense. You have not answered your own question.

    What has led to the dramatic decline over the last FEW YEARS?

    Has academe changed dramatically over the last FEW YEARS?

    Seems to me like what you were describing has been around in academe for quite a while. I remember all kinds of feminist/queer/gender/whatever theory back when I was in graduate school many, many decades ago. I did not get it then, and I still don’t get most of it. I don’t understand the reasons behind the fidget spinner craze either, for that matter. Perhaps I never will.

    What has happened in the LAST FEW YEARS that was not there before? That is the question you have not answered. Instead, you simply took some little piece you read and turned it into some kind of lengthy diatribe about higher education.

    1. “I don’t understand the reasons behind the fidget spinner craze either, for that matter. Perhaps I never will.”

      We actually have something in common. 😉

  2. There exists a rich, diverse, and thoughtful body of advocacy for Christian higher education (Marsden, et. al.). This bears little resemblance to any of it.

    I struggle to imagine a more confirmation-biased take on this Pew study. Your cited article states baldly that “the public’s overall evaluations [of universities] are little changed,” and the marked statistical shift over two years is mitigated among moderate Republicans. One more time, I get that you enthusiastically self-identify with a very polarized segment of conservatism. But please refrain from disingenuously narrating your perspective as more moderate and broad-based than it is.

    If you were less focused on grandstanding for your views on Christian education, perhaps you might have discussed the Pew results (as Jeff hints) in light of recent election rhetoric around the value of traditional professional credentials in general. Or the percentage of college graduates among these conservative Republicans who most distrust universities. Or the how the increasing financial burden of higher education might impact that same demographic. Or how trustworthy, accessible, and engaging Cedarville might realistically seem to those on the brunt end of the above trends. Or even step back long enough to consider how this same Pew study shows Republicans broadly concerned over the impact of every institution except churches and…banks.

    There are a myriad of generative discussions to be had (and being had) about the prospects of Christian higher education and the excesses of American university culture. But honestly, you don’t seem all that curious about either unless they happen to stumble into your pet arguments about “real” education. Which seems as pretty odd state of affairs for a professor, Christian or otherwise.

    1. I reply to you and Jeff Adams:
      First to Jeff:
      My two points were:
      1. Though this liberal academic environment in public and private universities is not new, it has escalated in recent times.
      2. It appears that conservative and Christian parents and prospective students are finally realizing the very liberal environment, particularly in the “soft sciences.”

      Now to you:
      Generally: What is your point? I believe that the word “grandstanding” is poorly chosen to serve as an attack on what you don’t like. I also “love” your characterization of my views as “a very polarized segment of conservatism.” Good try to make views like mine seem stupid in light of the “enlightened” ideas held by modern liberals. And as for being “disingenuous,” well I think those who seem to want an institution that espouses a Biblical worldview to stop doing so might want to look in the mirror. It looks like you are proselytizing for your liberal views but in the guise of being the only reasonable voice in the room.

      in addition you seem to want to make something of an alleged failure of conservatives to be concerned with churches and banks. I presume the first refers to conservatives not being “sufficiently liberal” for your taste, while the second must be some sort of anti-capitalist allegation (or a conspiracy theory–not sure which) .

      Finally, I am not at all sure I understand your final paragraph. It makes no sense. I fail to grasp why a Christian professor should NOT be concerned about institutions of higher education that are not being and doing what they say they are and do. But I suppose if one wants them to drift away to more “enlightened” ideas, then it must make more sense. But sorry, I will not agree.

      1. As always, your conservatism bothers me far less than your tendency to ignore your own subject position. Engaging your writing here is one way for me to recalibrate my own (mis)perceptions of where my views sit on a broader spectrum (certainly left of political “center”). Your posts often leave me to wonder if you have/take many such opportunities. Relatedly, quibbles about word choice cut both ways. “Are people finally getting wise,” “that is what some still call academics,” “people are finally beginning to wake up,” “institutions that do still care about real education.” All of this language strikes me as little more than pandering towards an audience that already agrees with you, or perhaps needling one that doesn’t. “Polarized” seems an entirely fair characterization for such a perspective.

        But it’s clear my critical tone was a barrier to your understanding my basic point. That being, your post seems far too excited that people (who tend to agree with you politically) might share your distrust of most universities to allow room for much further thought/analysis. So I find you to be awkwardly collapsing the Pew study’s broad treatment of Americans’ trust for institutions into a very narrow case about the right kind of (Christian) university.

        As a result, your take on declining trust for universities avoids some very cogent factors impacting what might make (Christian) universities trustworthy to the broader public (or not). The anti-intellectual tinge of recent Republican politics is relevant. The accelerating costs of higher education are relevant. Demographic disparities among those with/without college degrees are relevant. Broader trends of institutional trust are relevant. As a college professor building an argument for why people might come to mistrust universities, you somehow manage to ignore every one.

        And that is symptomatic, I think, of a insular discourse that sees Christian higher education as primarily a battle for doctrinal/idealogical/cultural purity. That perspective thrives on policing what an institution “stands for,” but struggles mightily to address a great many other challenges implicit in maintaining a trustworthy university. Like how to accommodate genuine difference, or how to articulate a generative vision for the role/value of new scholarship, or the oddity of implying a $120K price-tag on a vibrant (Christian) life, or who can/can’t equitably access the opportunities being offered. My time at Cedarville taught me a lot about the former logic (for good and for ill). To start learning about the rest, I had to look elsewhere. More’s the pity, I would say, and I hope you could agree.

      2. To Ben H.
        First, if you want to argue about other kinds of issues related to colleges and universities, that is all well and fine. I don’t like the high costs either and believe they could be reined in except for willful refusal. We could also mention your disapproval of what you perceive to be a overly limited intellectual atmosphere in conservative Christian colleges–which by the way I disagree with, since the student is perfectly free to raise any argument, and should be prepared to have it refuted. At any rate, my post did not concern those issues because the Pew research did not address those and I was addressing that research. I think you ought to read some of the other posts I have written on higher education issues.

        Second, there is undeniable Leftward bias on university campi. It has been self-reported and externally observed. One can read it in academic journals and hear it in the classroom (by the way nearly all my graduate work was at public universities and I heard the boas constantly, though in a more muted way then).

        Third, anti-intellectualism seems to be a particular concern for you. It appears you believe conservative Christian colleges are particularly problematic on that front (I have addressed this in previous posts). The answer to the concern depends on what bias you hold. My presuppositions begin with Scripture (rightly interpreted in a pre-critical way without the [yes] rubbish of higher criticism and its recent offspring). My conclusions end with the circumscribing work of that same Scriptural foundation. I am after all a Christian. My source of knowledge or of principles that evaluate alleged knowledge is Scripture alone. I cannot trust autonomous reason by itself as the mind of man is affected by the Fall.

        All this means that Christian colleges have a mission that does circumscribe what can be accepted as truth. You might not like that. But think of where you are intellectually without that–unbound from any standard that guides you except for those “made up” by the human mind operating autonomously. That may sound freeing but in the end it leaves no place to “land.” I don’t think that is where I would want anyone to be intellectually or practically. As the fox said to the relativist rabbit, “Since you have no standards I believe I will have you [literally] for dinner.”

        Does that limit whom we hire? Of course. Does that limit what is taught as truth? Yes. If you expect a Christian college to be like a secular one, then there is not even any point in having Christian colleges. It is analogous to a church that doesn’t proclaim the true Gospel: why not just go to a club or play golf? Why not just send everyone to the, if you will, equally biased, state and private institutions.

        That reminds me too of your own bias here. You appear to believe Christian colleges are not intellectually open for your taste. Yet what does that leave you with? The institutions I just criticized? If we are biased, they are too. If we don’t (from your perspective) have enough openness, do they? Why is their version of truth better? How do you even know? Conservative Christian colleges are by their very nature NOT the same as the typical public university or many private ones. If they were the same they would be pointless, redundant.

        So, yes, colleges do have other problems not addressed in this post. But Christian colleges do offer something–even though imperfect–that you will not get elsewhere. And they have certain necessary limiting principles. I should add that the same kind of limiting principles existed in European universities in the Middle Ages and after the Reformation until the seventeenth century. I can’t see that real knowledge was much hindered, though critics will complain of how stifling they were to “freethought.”

    2. (Responding to the exchange below. Didn’t see a reply button down there.) Travel, life, etc. makes me remiss in getting back here to engage your thorough response. Clearly we disagree on every kind of thing, and are prone to talk past each other. In case you happen to run back across this, here’s some follow up questions that I’d hope might further this or other similar exchanges (in whatever context).

      1) One of the most valuable things I learned in graduate study was to respect your sources. I imagine you would have learned something similar, but I personally don’t see you practicing it very well. I wonder what responsibility you feel to try and grant sources a generous/straightforward reading apart from or prior to your critique of them? If so, would you say you’ve given this Pew study that treatment?
      2) It seems you tend to perceive an inverse correlation between what you understand as “left” and what you understand as “Christian.” Is that accurate? If so, how do you think that affects your ability to engage alternate viewpoints or contemplate the breadth of God’s kingdom?
      3) It seems a curious tension that employment at a university like CU typically requires degrees only offered only at institutions you don’t trust. What do you make of this, and how does that intersect your argument?
      4a) Apart from all the polemic, what do you imagine to be the pragmatic contribution of a Christian university to “spiritual and intellectual future[s]”? People with right information? People committed to a version of Christianity? Successful careers? How does that correlate to historical understanding of a university? What does new scholarship have to do with this, if anything?
      4b) Almost none of the more compelling Christians I’ve met have spent much/any time on a Christian university campus. What do you think makes a Christian university necessary or preferable for contributions to 3a?
      5) Is “willful refusal” what prevents Cedarville from reining in high college costs we’re both concerned about? How do these costs impact who can access the Christian education you so value?
      [If you written about this (or any of the above) elsewhere, I’d love a link/citation to follow.]

  3. I recently came across this article that discusses the difficulty of conservative academic professionals to attain and retain academic jobs. A Harvard study found that conservative law professors are“cited more and publish more than their peers,” and they “they tend to have more of the traditional qualifications required of law professors than their peers,” yet they face more trouble in keeping those positions.

  4. Much appreciation for this article. A choice school I thought would be an excellent place for our daughter to attend (in 6 years) recently hired a prof with very left leaning views. I know this because he is a relative and have read some of his publications. Here’s to wishing we had a Cedartown nearby.

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