(Lori Piotrowski) – Yesterday, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), Carol Geary Schneider, published a response to “Degrees for What Jobs? Raising Expectations for Universities and Colleges in a Global Economy,” a report published by National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Schneider complains:
It would have been wonderful for a group serving the nation’s governors to have paused right there to give a nod to democracy. Even in a report focused exclusively on jobs and the economy, the report might at least acknowledge that governors are elected by citizens and that higher education plays a vital role in building civic capacity. But no, democracy is off the table these days, as are so many of the academic fields that build rich democratic capital—fields such as history, literature, social sciences, philosophy, cross-cultural studies, and the arts.
Ever since John Dewey started his experimental school in Chicago, and perhaps even before, educators have believed that it is their duty to instill a sense of democracy in their students as well as the three R’s. It seems, however, that this term’s meaning has morphed through the decades. Democracy is reserved for the liberal faculty and students. On many campuses, students who do not agree with a liberal faculty member are ridiculed in class, silenced, and, some may argue, subject to receive lower grades.
For more than 20 years, universities have been adopting speech codes in an attempt to ensure that nobody is ever offended. Never mind that in 1957, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in an opinion of Sweezy v. New Hampshire:
The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. … Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding, otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.
We may question the why a professor in 1957 was lecturing about the Progressive Party; nevertheless, Warren recognized that only by allowing all forms of speech on campus could young people learn discernment. This was truly democratic action.
Schneider continued her argument for liberal arts by discussing the need for a balanced education, citing a study by Hart Research (on behalf of the AACU) that reports
Nearly two-thirds of the employers …said that the best preparation for long-term professional success was a blend of broad knowledge and skills coupled with field-specific knowledge. Seventy-six percent would recommend this kind of college study to the young people they advise personally.
Unwittingly, Schneider has argued for the opposition. In a nutshell, employers want their employees to have a broad education, not an education focused solely on liberal arts. Yes, students need to understand history. And they need to know something about literature and art and, dare I say, women’s studies, in order to be a well-rounded individual who can think and reason and perform well in society.
What universities do not need to focus on is funding entire programs on women’s studies, African-American studies, Latino studies, and other programs that exist solely to satisfy the liberals’ idea of political correctness. Universities may offer classes in these subjects, but an entire degree program?
Just what does a degree in women’s studies prepare a student to do upon graduation? Continue on to complete a masters or a doctorate in women’s studies? Wind up teaching women’s studies at another university? How does this cycle benefit society? How does it benefit the economy? It doesn’t.
Schneider’s influence and energy would have far greater impact were she to focus issues such as remediation. Many high school graduates are lumped into remedial English and math classes to learn what they should have been taught in elementary through high school. For years, I’ve seen students come through my foreign language classes that couldn’t read in English, their native tongue, let alone in Spanish.
Where’s the outrage from the American Association of Colleges and Universities on remediation? Why should a university even consider offering a high school level class on any subject?
If the U. S. is to rise from this economic quagmire, it will be because of programs that teach our young people how to earn a living, to be responsible adults, to be able to think for themselves.
Schneider dares to infer that a government reducing in funding liberal arts is the end of democracy. I disagree. It may be the rebirth of democracy.