There is so much glaringly wrong with this one does not know where to begin. But I will try here: the complainers call themselves “conservatives” which tends to mean, for this bunch, “libertarian,” which tends to mean unquestioning capitalist shills. Now why oh why would such persons complain that “universities have gotten less intellectual and more consumer-oriented,” and “Nowadays it’s the consumer who’s king. The consumer will tell the administration what it wants to learn”? Isn’t that a good thing – indeed, the only good thing – (to such people)? Why oh why would such people complain that “What parents seem to want is to have their kids’ credentials so they can get a job, but they don’t notice or refuse to notice that they’re paying a fortune for a really inferior product which does not educate their kids at all.”? Isn’t it the economy, stupid? (Yes, I quoted the neoliberal Clinton mantra.) Why oh why would such people fret that “the university is on the brink of self-destruction.” Isn’t creative destruction the engine of the economy? Why should it not apply to the university? Isn’t a “hacked” education a good thing?
It is the capitalist corporatization of the university that has caused that about which such people complain, not left-wing ideology (if there really were any such thing anymore). They, themselves, are responsible.
Okay, I won’t paint with the broad brushstrokes as such people do (no one is well-read, no one thinks about this matter), but I will speak to my teaching experience in the past number of years: students don’t care about “identity politics” and “gender studies” for the most part. They care about getting a job. That’s what it is all about. There is much less intellectual curiosity these days, it seems – at least in that kind of direction. The essay in question here calls race, gender, and class “arbitrary categories.” I think it seems so to my students.
If a good neoliberal education is what these authors want for our students, then I think they have little to worry about.
But I don’t think that’s all they want. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want a capitalist corporatist economy and the institutions to support it, but then complain when it turns education into another consumer-oriented commodity. They want students to read the classics, but their cherished system teaches students that the classics don’t pay. The want students to pursue history and philosophy, but don’t want students to actually ask questions (philosophy) about how the world has come to be as it is (history).
And speaking of history, there once was a kind of conservatism that worried a lot about capitalism, that it would ruin the diversity and integrity of communal life. Of course, that worry also led to reaction – and none of us wants to see that again. You can start to see the intricacy of the problem (ignored by those profiled in this piece).
They want to mock “fat studies” (a research project that has not come to any of the campuses I am familiar with). But fat costs money. Fat contributes to self-image and ideas of what matters, which has economic consequences. But God-forbid anyone studies it.
Okay, should we study fat instead of U.S. history and the Great Conversation of world philosophy? Well, if we had learned a bit more history in primary and secondary education…. Look, it is easy to tease arcane research projects (I just saw one in the paper the other day that proved – once and for all, I guess – that men will look over a woman’s body when they first engage in conversation. I would never have guessed). I probably want 1/2 of what these whiners want…but I’m willing to upend the other half that actually results in our not getting the first half we both want (or think we want – bet they didn’t waste time on trivial, bourgeois questions in Soviet universities). But I don’t think you can have it both ways.
John Leo says, “We think that there’s a lot wrong with colleges, and it goes across the board.” Who doesn’t think that? I don’t think you could find a single person in any way connected with higher education who would disagree. The trouble is finding a way to determine the root cause or causes of the troubles without lapsing into raw ideology and propaganda or reaction. As the author of this piece notes, “it’s easy to make fun of the American university or dismiss it as no longer necessary. Engaging with its problems, on the other hand, takes tenacity, conviction, and a resistance to cynicism. Most importantly, you have to believe the university offers something worth saving.” That will take some thought and questioning, not just bandwagon sloganeering.