In a recent column, Victor Davis Hanson – classicist, military historian and conservative polemicist – makes the case against the postmodern university. He concludes: “Eventually, even elite schools will lose their current veneer of prestige. Their costly cattle brands will be synonymous with equality-of-result, overpriced indoctrination echo chambers, where therapy replaced singular rigor and their tarnished degrees become irrelevant.
“How ironic that universities are rushing to erode meritocratic standards—history’s answer to the age-old, pre-civilizational bane of tribal, racial, class, elite, and insider prejudices and bias that eventually ensure poverty and ruin for all.”
That is a rather foreboding prediction. Is it true?
As we say in the journalism business, “We’ll see.” As always in journalism, accurate description trumps prophesy or, as prophesy used to be called, divine revelation. Over the course of a few decades, we have seen the divine flee academia at all education levels, replaced in the postmodern period by non-academic college administrators and unenlightened, pedantic academics who have never cracked open Cardinal John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University to find that the whole point of a university is to identify and impart to students reliable universal knowledge, not tribal prejudices or woke intuitions.
There is never any shortage of accurate description in Hanson, who is yet to be purged from academia for having written a book titled The Case for Trump, the former President whose place in presidential history has been extensively reviewed by polemical, non-historian, left of center, political commentators and found wanting. But, as we say in the journalism business, history trumps the first draft of history.
Here is a sampling of Hanson on academia: “During the 1990’s ‘culture wars,’ universities were warned that their chronic tuition hikes above the rate of inflation were unsustainable.
“Their growing manipulation of blanket federal student loan guarantees and part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants always was suicidal.
“Left-wing indoctrination; administrative bloat; obsessions with racial preferences; arcane, jargon-filled research; and campus-wide intolerance of diverse thought short-changed students, further alienated the public, and often enraged alumni.”
Hanson mentions in passing the administrative bloat at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where, “administrative positions have soared over 150 percent in the past two decades. But the number of professors increased by just 10 percent. In a new low/high, Stanford recently enrolled 16,937 undergraduate and graduate students but lists 15,750 administrative staff—in [a] near one-to-one fashion.
“In the past, such costly praetorian bloat would have sparked a faculty rebellion. Not now. The new six-figure salaried ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion commissars’ are feared and exempt from criticism.”
These data points ring in Hanson’s column like pealing liberty bells. He is simply telling people, most especially in stricken universities, what they already know to be true. Bloating may lead to edema, and edema to organ failure. In academia, as in the human body, one thing leads to another.
Many universities already have shown meritocracy, advancement by merit, the door, and the cultural assault on so called privileged white males has been underway for decades. If no measurement of merit is possible in universities, advancement will be powered by other ambiguous considerations. Hanson notes, “At Cornell, students push for pass/fail courses only and the abolition of all grades. At the New School in New York, students demand that everyone receives ‘A’ grades. Dean’s lists and class and school rankings are equally suspect as counterrevolutionary. Even as courses are watered down, entitled students still assume that their admission must automatically guarantee graduation—or else!”
It is very nearly impossible to satirize such a turn of events. “Pass-through” education, a system of advancement well matured at every stage of schooling in our egalitarian pedagogical Eden, simply assures the advancement of mediocrity – and, in some cases, illiteracy -- until a student, well out of college, is instructed by reality that a filtering system, nearly abolished in academia, still holds full sway in what postmodern academics refer to, disdainfully, as “the real world,” now as ever red in tooth and claw.
This writer, as disdainfully, once suggested years ago that credentialism has now replaced education. That being the case, perhaps we might dispense with an increasingly expensive education in favor of issuing diplomas at birth from universities of choice.
Former Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell found himself in an Asian port several years ago, where he was surprised by a column disparaging a piece he had written that sought to explain in part the dip in sales of newspapers in major U.S. cities. The papers no longer sold well in large urban areas in the U.S., Powell had speculated, because literacy in urban schools had reached a point of no return. High schools were passing-through functional illiterates, some of them headed for college. The Asian paper was inflamed with hot rebuttals.
Powell phoned the relevant editor, identified himself, and asked whether he would permit the author of the offending piece in the U.S. publication to rebut the rebutters.
No need of that, he was told.