Peter Lawler, who is a conservative humanities professor, says that the higher education reform plans of Scott Walker (and other GOP governors) aimed at making college faculties more efficient — take that, tenured radicals! — actually serve the goals of the Left. Excerpts:
Experts, foundations, administrators, and bureaucrats are all about reducing higher education to the acquisition of competencies relevant to the twenty-first-century global competitive marketplace. So the study of the humanities has to be justified now through the “measurable outcome” of critical thinking or effective communication, competencies that have nothing in particular do with the actual content of history or philosophy. Among the competencies typically is diversity, which is about the kind of multiculturalism that detaches students from special concern for their own culture and its moral and intellectual claims for truth and virtue.
So it turns out that dissing liberal education in the sense of the love of truth and virtue for their own sake serves the forces that the governor opposes. He would deprive students of access to the books and music, the theology and philosophy, and so forth that might allow them to gain a critical distance from the fashionable claims of sophisticated intellectuals these days.
Now Walker might respond that political correctness these days has distorted the teaching of philosophy to the point that it’s indistinguishable from women’s studies. But that’s an exaggeration! And to the extent it’s true, he should work on that. He should be all for programs that go beyond techno-careerism and political correctness in the direction of the timeless truth, and he should rail against the relativism that devalues genuinely higher education.
Conservatives need to wake up to the truth that the future of the Democratic Party is in Silicon Valley, in technocratic efforts to undermine popular deliberation, the dignity of ordinary relational life, authentic religious faith, citizenship, and even sovereignty over the meaning of one’s most intimate experiences. Walker is, of course, correct that most of what goes on in our colleges and universities should be about preparing students for what the marketplace demands. But it’s hardly conservative not to be alive to the dangers of transforming all of life with the technocratic logic of the marketplace and the virtual reality of the screen.
It really does fall to us conservatives who appreciate and support the humanities to stand up to people like Gov. Walker. They mean well, but what they don’t understand is that it is difficult to impossible to quantify the value of learning in the humanities. You can’t map virtue on a spreadsheet, and you can’t do a pie chart to demonstrate why it helps the bottom line to learn the best that humanity has thought, written, composed, painted, and so forth. As Lawler avers, the wisdom embedded in the humanities, as traditionally understood (read: not “Queering John Locke,” “Post-Colonial Narratives in Lady Gaga,” etc.), offer the only firm standpoint from which to defend the human person against the Leviathan of Washington, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley.