Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2013/ 15 Adar 5773
Higher education, R.I.P.
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | What ever happened to the medium once known as Little Magazines? This country once had a select group of literary and political journals that represented the vanguard of American thought and art. Some were both literary and political. High Culture, it was called when there was still such a thing.
For example, the old and much-missed Partisan Review. Its first issue as an independent journal in 1937 included
Begun as the honest left's answer to Stalinism, the magazine's quality and independence scarcely wavered till it was overwhelmed by much more respectable publications with much less talented writers and editors. (Respectability is the death of thought.)
The Fugitive, that last redoubt of unreconstructed Southern letters in the 1920s, had editor-writers like
As for the late Partisan Review, an era of tame criticism and lame taste consigned it to irrelevance long ago. Besides, once Soviet Communism had imploded, the magazine had lost its reason for being. Not even the sainted
A little magazine does remain here and there. On the right,
But my favorite little magazine still standing, an almost lone voice of sanity and connection to past standards -- that is, high culture -- has to be the New Criterion, est. 1982 by
An item in the January issue of the magazine caught my sorrowful eye, for I'm of an age at which the obituaries are the first thing I check out in the morning paper. Just to know who's gone today. The dear departed in this case: Higher Ed.
The cause of death was the usual in modern, bureaucratized, obese and increasingly ossified academia: administrative bloat aggravated by diluted standards and the erosion of the core curriculum, the basis of liberal education.
Tenured faculty now teach less and less as the "drudge work" of dealing with undergraduates is shifted to a corps of slave laborers styled adjunct professors or TAs, teaching assistants. In both ill-paid categories, I learned mainly how little I knew. I had to conquer my embarrassment at that continuing revelation every time I stepped into a classroom in place of the real teacher who should have been there.
Now, one by one, the disciplines that were once the basis of a liberal education are eliminated as not worth the trouble. Literature, foreign languages, real history as opposed to current ideology, and the arts and sciences in general give way to simulacra with the telling label Studies after their name. As in Queer Studies or African Studies. (The other day I ran across a twofer: Queer African Studies.)
Consider the sad example offered by the
In this ever-encroaching bog called Higher Education, which keeps getting lower, administrators prosper while scholars grow scarcer.
Deconstructionism, post-structuralism, or whatever ism may be in vogue today, is all the rage, sometimes literally.
Cardinal Newman's serene guide to the perplexed, "The Idea of a University," is as forgotten as Ortega y Gasset. Who now cares what such have to say? They're old -- that damning pejorative -- much as Greek and Latin and the King James Bible and Shakespeare are old. It's new that counts, just as tinkling brass and clashing cymbals impress every new generation of suckers under the impression they're music.
While the cost of a university education grows ever higher, higher education grows ever lower, forever ceding ground to popular fashion. All that tuition and all those contributions by well-meaning donors tend to be eaten up by all those overpaid administrators.
An eye-opening survey of college administrative costs in the
Like so many institutions of "higher" education, only its tuition grew higher as the
That ratio is all too typical of the Higher Learning in America, which hasn't changed all that much since the acerbic Thorstein Veblen wrote his scathing study of it by that name in 1918 -- except to grow a lot more expensive and a lot less substantial.
. . .
According to the
Case in point: the
Soon education itself is reduced to an appendage of administration. Its purpose becomes to support the economy by supplying the requisite number of graduates to fill the slots that need filling. This is called economic growth. No one ever seems to ask what the purpose of economic growth is. That's the kind of question the humanities used to address, but they seem to have disappeared from college curricula, or at least been "downsized" -- out of economic necessity, we're told.
Some days I think the only hope lies in those small liberal arts colleges scattered here and there, like Hendrix and
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