- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

PC Helps Careerism

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 [1]. 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.

More:

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.

 

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "PC Helps Careerism"

#1 Comment By Liam On February 6, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

Lawler: “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.”

Sigh. Shows that even Lawler’s internal tapes are corrupted in part.

#2 Comment By Steve On February 6, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

Yes, but do you trust today’s secular humanities departments to teach timeless truths? They’ve abdicated that role. It needs to be taken up by people outside the secular academy, targeted at students who haven’t entirely swallowed the post-modernist diversity Kool-aid that denies the very existence of such truths.

#3 Comment By Marc Tully On February 6, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

Contemporary Republicans allege, frequently, to love and adore the Founding Fathers, but I’m certain those men would not endorse anything like the conception of education generally peddled by the party in its current form. Indeed, I’m sure they would be horrified by the commodification and instrumentalization of all things.

We need a marketing team to repackage the good ideas for your contemporary Republican. “Good Ideas for Dummies.”

#4 Comment By peter lawler On February 6, 2015 @ 3:01 pm

most of is a big distance from all. They gotta get jobs when they graduate.

Thanks, Rod.

And don’t forget this… [2]

#5 Comment By The Wet One On February 6, 2015 @ 3:03 pm

Nah man. Profit, and only profit, is what matters. Colleges are to turn out more productive drones so that we can make more profit.

That is all.

#6 Comment By df On February 6, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

This is somewhat tangential to Walker, but relevant to campus atmosphere: The alleged Columbia rapist or “rapist” now has a male accuser in addition to his mattress-bearing victim performance artist:

“Paul Nungesser, the Columbia student whom campus-sexual-assault activist Emma Sulkowicz has accused of rape, spoke out in an extensive Daily Beast interview this week in an effort to clear his name. Nungesser was accused by three different women, including Sulkowicz, of sexual assault, but categorically denies those claims. Now, according to Jezebel, Nungesser has a fourth accuser: a male Columbia student who “identifies as queer and black.” ”

[3]

#7 Comment By The Lost Dutchman On February 6, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

The elephant in the room is the cost of higher education. You can’t drive students into massive amounts of debt (which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, or even death) without making them focused on ways to maximize their income.

I suspect the answer is some sort of decoupling of the humanities from the university system. What form this will take, I have no idea.

#8 Comment By ck On February 6, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

“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.”

Looks like the humanities depts at public universities are meeting the Common Core.

#9 Comment By ck On February 6, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

“It really does fall to us conservatives who appreciate and support the humanities to stand up to people like Gov. Walker.”

I think conservatives would better spend their time building new institutions per he “Benedict Option” rather than begging some governor to do the right thing.

#10 Comment By AnonymousDr On February 6, 2015 @ 3:42 pm

So, this brings up a question I have asked on this website several times…how should a Roger Scruton and Dante reading, neo-con opposing, Rerum Novarum loving con, actually VOTE?

Did having Regan or either of the Bushes in the White House slow any of the loonyness? I doubt it. I think Jindal is gutting LSU and Iraq was a mistake (as did St JPII), giving handouts to bankers is morally wrong, and repubs won’t even pass a popular abortion legislation, why vote for them? Again, I ask seriously as 2016 is fast approaching and I’m already getting depressed.

#11 Comment By Carltuesday On February 6, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

Rod, you said “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.”

While I think this is true, I think it’s interesting that you (and others) immediately jump to colleges and higher funding levels of education being the proper prescription.

Unfortunately, and I think the past 20 years has borne this out, spending on education does emphatically NOT ensure this liberal education will occur. Spending at most levels has increased dramatically, with little to show on this front.

Like so many other of the issues covered in this blog, I think you’d do well to look at the cultural issues here – when it comes to schools/colleges I’ve been getting the impression that your gut reaction is that all this spending is sacred (I.e. LSU cuts, etc).

If we’re realistic, I think most people would agree that no amount of funding will fix the “humanities” given what our culture appears to value (pointless identity studies vs purely commercial job training, with little in between).

#12 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On February 6, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

I’m pretty sure that Scott Walker does not mean well, at least in the sense of being sympathetic to the conservative values that would support the traditional humanities. He is a market conservative, or maybe political conservative in favoring small government.

Walker is no friend to the conservatism that sees value in things like the Great Books and an education system that has stood the test of time, that communicates values and teaches you to think and wrestle with philosophy. This traditional conservatism used to be part of the Republican Party, but isn’t anymore.

#13 Comment By Floridan On February 6, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

If the humanities are under attack, the path to its destruction has been paved by repetitive accusations on this and other conservative outlets that the humanities and liberal arts are nothing more than training grounds for Marxists and hedonists, usually citing an outlier course title.

Having laid this groundwork, it is relatively easy for opportunists such as Walker to make the case that such fields of study are not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, but a real threat to our well-being.

I disagree that Walker’s actions are well meant, but if that is true then what does it say about his understanding of what is valuable and what is transitory in life (not to mention his fitness for higher office)?

You reap what you sow

#14 Comment By Spengler On February 6, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

Walker is part of the utilization of conservatism, the worship of the market at the expense of all else.

#15 Comment By Matt On February 6, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

How can you be sure relativism is false, without subjecting it to rigorous scrutiny and study– for example, in college?

#16 Comment By Carlo On February 6, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

“Moreover, opposing the left today in the name of the typical pessimistic realism of conservative thought is a dead end. On top of everything else, this kind of right has no political space because it is suffocated by the new technocratic right, which inexorably opposes it, being itself the epilogue of the left. The technocratic right founded on the philosophy of the primacy of action and on the instrumentalist conception of ideas – which is the outcome of the revolution that took place over the last fifty years, first of all at the moral level – is much more crudely oppressive than the old right inspired by the philosophy of the primacy of contemplation and of the idea of participation. Because of the culture that inspires it, such technocratic right is mortally opposed to traditional thought. In fact, the alliance between technocratic right and cultural left is there for everyone to see.”

#17 Comment By panda On February 6, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

“So, this brings up a question I have asked on this website several times…how should a Roger Scruton and Dante reading, neo-con opposing, Rerum Novarum loving con, actually VOTE?

Did having Regan or either of the Bushes in the White House slow any of the loonyness? I doubt it. I think Jindal is gutting LSU and Iraq was a mistake (as did St JPII), giving handouts to bankers is morally wrong, and repubs won’t even pass a popular abortion legislation, why vote for them? Again, I ask seriously as 2016 is fast approaching and I’m already getting depressed.

If you will take advise from a liberal atheist with interest in the way political scientists think about coalition building, here is my honest advise: if you are above all a pro-life voter, then voting Republican is the most prudent thing to do, as social conservatives have veto power over judicial appointment in a GOP presidency.

If your main concern about economics and social stability, being an Elizabeth Warren Democrat is your best bet.

#18 Comment By Darth Thulhu On February 6, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

Walker doesn’t care about the Truth, nor about the value of anything that doesn’t have a price tag attached. He would be more than happy to shutter every single Theology and History and Ancient Language Department ever, to reduce payroll and thus maximize economic efficiency. That this would increase, not decrease, the political power of relativistic shibboleths is a feature, not a bug, because there would be far fewer prominent and respected people able to point out the Truth of how Gilded Age economics always unfolds for the vast majority of the people in a society.

Please stop deluding yourself otherwise, Dr. Lawler.

What part of “the Republican Establishment is willfully glibertarian on both economics and social issues” has not been clear up to this point?

#19 Comment By Kozaburo On February 6, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

“Timeless truths” are not worth $200k of debt that precludes young people from having kids or buying a home until their late thirties.

#20 Comment By Frank Stain On February 6, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

I suspect we might all agree about these two big dangers to the humanities

1) the instrumentalization of the humanities for the purpose of fighting social injustice

2) the instrumentalizaton of the humanities for the purposes of the market – i.e. ‘measurable outcomes’, achieving general competencies, etc.

However, I discern a third danger

3) the transformation of the humanities canon into an object of veneration rather than an argument

There is a certain danger in referring to ‘timeless truths’ as what you get from a humanities education. The problem is: whose timeless truths?
Because what the canon gives you is not truths, it is an argument . Does Plato give us timeless truths? Well then, what are we to make of Aristotle’s disagreements with Plato? Is Locke full of timeless truths? But what then do we make of the criticisms of Rousseau and Kant?
It is impossible to study the humanities without taking sides (continually) in a long, never-ending argument. Some people seem to be suggesting that the canon just sits there to be venerated and idolized, a fount of timeless wisdom. I say that’s wrong. The humanities canon is one long disagreement about what is important in life. To study it is to be enculturated into a practice of disagreeing, opposing, contesting, and taking sides. This is a far cry from adulation and veneration.

#21 Comment By MC On February 6, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

I agree with Steve. If it was anything like my State U., the UW system almost assuredly is not giving students anything like the classical humanities education that Lawler supports. Without that, humanities is just a jobs program for leftists. Not much will be lost. They can get a better humanities education for far less with Amazon.

#22 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On February 6, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

Nice piece Dreher. About time that Silicon Valley got included in the Leviathan roll-call.

As for Walker, I was actually thinking pretty hard about voting Republican this year, because I’m so sick of Leviathan Democrats. But Walker is a bridge too far. I wouldn’t vote for him if he was the last pol left on earth.

#23 Comment By Another Matt On February 6, 2015 @ 6:17 pm

No, Walker does not mean well. There were a number of ways he could have made the cuts to UW that weren’t as painful, but for him this was as much settling political scores and extracting his pound of flesh.

Faculty don’t make that much in the scheme of things. I have a very close friend who grew up in one of the college towns, whose dad teaches in the UW system. Most of his students go on to make some five times his salary straight out of college. Meanwhile with past and present cuts, and more looming, retention is terrible in the system. Positions are going unfilled because candidates see little professional future in Wisconsin. I don’t know what you do about someone like my friend’s dad who sees his job as a public service for local students who can’t afford to go private.

The whole thing is a scary mess for everyone in academia.

#24 Comment By charles cosimano On February 6, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

I think Walker has the right idea. The way to reign the PC crowd in is to threaten to pull their funding. It is the only argument, short having a million bikers descend on them, that they understand.

#25 Comment By Carlo On February 6, 2015 @ 7:33 pm

Floridan:

“If the humanities are under attack, the path to its destruction has been paved by repetitive accusations on this and other conservative outlets that the humanities and liberal arts are nothing more than training grounds for Marxists and hedonists, usually citing an outlier course title. ”

Oh, please. Do you really think that those accusation have no basis in reality? I work in academia. I have witnessed first-hand the self-destruction of several scholarly disciplines by their own practitioners, which has been going on for half a century. If you think that those accusations have no ground in reality, you must be living in a cave somewhere.

#26 Comment By Carlo On February 6, 2015 @ 7:37 pm

Frank Stain:

“Because what the canon gives you is not truths, it is an argument . Does Plato give us timeless truths? Well then, what are we to make of Aristotle’s disagreements with Plato? Is Locke full of timeless truths? But what then do we make of the criticisms of Rousseau and Kant?”

I think you have a “scientistic” side of truth, as something established once and for all. In reality, dealing with complex questions, one can at the same time grasp one aspect of the truth and miss another aspect. Plato and Aristotle do not really contradict each other like, say two conflicting physical theories. They just differ in emphasis, but one can well say that each of them achieves a real “truth.”

#27 Comment By panda On February 6, 2015 @ 8:41 pm

“he technocratic right founded on the philosophy of the primacy of action and on the instrumentalist conception of ideas – which is the outcome of the revolution that took place over the last fifty years, first of all at the moral level – is much more crudely oppressive than the old right inspired by the philosophy of the primacy of contemplation and of the idea of participation”

When and where, outside philosophical clubs, this kind of right exist at all at a viable political phenomenon?

#28 Comment By Liam On February 6, 2015 @ 9:19 pm

[4]

#29 Comment By Ernest Martinson On February 6, 2015 @ 9:57 pm

This is not politically correct (PC) but universities should not be funded from the earnings of workers. The student consumer of education should learn there is no free lunch. There are also much cheaper means of edification than college campuses. Inexpensive online courses can be supplemented by apprenticeships and on the job training. Life time learning and thinking with the head can replace a stay on campus cheering football players cracking their heads.

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 6, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

You don’t really understand any particular thing that Scott Walker does if you lose sight of the fact that, fundamentally, he is an overgrown spoiled brat and a snake oil salesman. The Democratic Party’s abysmal failure to articulate that is what put Scott Walker where he is today.

As Milwaukee County executive, he kept taxes low by deferring essential maintenance, which means there will be a huge bill for one or more of his successors to take responsibility for.

When it comes to state budgets, he is the most venal of corrupt politicians, paying largesse from the public coffer to his friends, and slashing anything he personally can’t understand, such as philosophy. But he wraps it up in the sort of presentation that motivates people to pay double price for whiskey with a dozen snake heads soaking in the barrel.

#31 Comment By Carlo On February 6, 2015 @ 10:55 pm

panda:

your question is whether it existed, since Del Noce claims that it is now dead (I forgot to say that was a quote).

I think he had in mind movements prior to World War I, like the French or Spanish clerical-monarchist right, the Action Francaise etc. They were pretty viable phenomena before the rise of Fascism (which for Del Noce was an evolution of Marxism, not a genuine right-wing movement).

#32 Comment By Andrew On February 6, 2015 @ 11:57 pm

My first reaction is, why do we need the government funding higher education at all? It should be up to individuals to decide what kind of education they want, and if they don’t want a liberal education, you can’t force it on them. You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink.

#33 Comment By Frank Stain On February 7, 2015 @ 11:03 am

Plato and Aristotle do not really contradict each other like, say two conflicting physical theories.

Oh yes they do! Example: Plato argues pretty clearly in BK 10 of the Republic that fine art is thrice removed from truth. Aristotle argues in the Poetics for the philosophical importance of fine art.
Who is correct?
This is not a trivial dispute. It refers to fundamental disagreements about the nature of the human good.

#34 Comment By cka2nd On February 7, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

To the “taxpayers/workers/government shouldn’t be funding higher ed folks,” you are aware that state and city university systems were once either free or cheap for their residents, aren’t you?

#35 Comment By Carlo On February 7, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

Frank Stain:

yes, sure, you can find lots of example like that. But my point was that that kind of disagreement does not mean that “they do not achieve any thruths.” So much so that you could also compile an even longer list of things on which the do agree…

#36 Comment By stef On February 7, 2015 @ 9:26 pm

it is difficult to impossible to quantify the value of learning in the humanities…

No, it isn’t. Figure out how much a private-university humanities education will cost over four years (include every cost, not just “tuition/room/board.”) Put it in a spread-sheet.

Figure out how much debt the student will have to assume for said education. Figure out the probability that said student will default on that debt. Figure in the cost of such debt to the *parents,* who will be expected to co-sign (very few 18 year olds get loans on their own for private university.)

Figure out the *total* cost of the debt over the *lifetime* of the loan. (It will be roughly 3x the principal. So that $200,000 debt will actually end up costing $600,000, and that’s if there’s no default, or no “grace period” where payments are temporarily stopped, but interest still accumulates.)

And if you’re so rich that you can afford to put multiple children through an education with this price tag, then what does it matter “what the value” is? It’s like a condo in Manhattan or a luxury apartment in Paris, or a 100-foot yacht. In other words, one of those “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it” luxuries.

Which leads to another question about the moral uses of all that wealth. I suppose that’s a story for another day.

But otherwise, unless you’re rich as Croesus, you need to know exactly how much money you’re going to spend for this sublime experience. And if you can’t afford it, don’t kid yourself that you can.

#37 Comment By sean On February 8, 2015 @ 10:50 am

“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.”

If one would say such a thing to Russell Kirk what do you think his reaction would be? This pretty much destroys the whole argument.

“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. “

As a Wisconsinite I can provide a little background on Gov. Walker perhaps you’re not aware of. Just months before he supposed to graduate from Marquette, months we’re talking about here, he drops out of schools and get married and then takes some flunkie job in the corporate bureaucracy. For whatever reason, he couldn’t wait. Doesn’t even go back to finish the degree. He walks away from it. He simply jumped into his political career and away he went. He could have burned all the money (presumably) his parents spent to educate him and he would be no different than someone who didn’t go to college at all and didn’t waste their time and money.

Now ask yourself what kind of a man would do this and I will tell you someone who thinks said degree just simply a piece of paper, not something people actually work very hard to obtain and go deep in debt. He puts no value in it. So no, he does not mean well at all. In attacking the University of Wisconsin in matter he did (and then blame on “a staffer”, the last refuge of political failure) he knew exactly what he was doing and why. It may well be that he feels those who learn the humanities should do so privately after spending thousands at Ivy League schools while public schools should do no more than train sand mine engineers. But I think you would agree that such a division would make society more elitist (and hardly less liberal) than it already is.

#38 Comment By Joan On February 8, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

One more way in which PC is good for careerism: traditional loyalties and, more significantly, resentments are headaches for the managers of large organizations. They don’t want to have to remember not to seat a Hatfield next to a McCoy, and they don’t want to hire people so naive and ill-mannered that they’ll ask the first [5] they see “What are you, Amish?” Deep thoughts and ideas aren’t welcome, either, not just because they can, like religion and politics, provoke strong emotions, but because they endanger careerism itself. If people start thinking about eternal truths, they might stop responding to the motivational carrots of material self-interest that management dangles before them.

#39 Comment By Euphiletus On February 8, 2015 @ 6:34 pm

Lawler’s comments (and much of the discussion here) seem far too black and white. I am an assistant professor of ancient history at a large state university where there is also pressure to show, quantitatively, the “impact” and “usefulness” of our research.

Politically I am left-liberal/social democratic (I am far to the left economically of the US Democratic Party, I am excited about the Syriza victory in Greece, etc.). I don’t, however, see those views as strongly determining my teaching decisions: sure, I might focus more than other professors would on issues of class and status in Greece and Rome (although it’s obvious that those issues were not unimportant to authors like Aristotle and Livy), but I would be quite surprised to hear from students and peers that my classes have a “politically correct,” “cultural Marxist,” or other contemporary leftist bent.

In fact, I’m having a hard time recognizing in the conversation so far anything like the research my colleagues and I do. We are interested neither in the Scylla of technocratic marketplace preparation/political correctness nor in the Charybdis of the “timeless truths” of the Western canon. Our work takes place in the vast gulf between those two extremes, in what has become the paradigm historical research approach of the last hundred years: amassing and analyzing primary evidence, working through the correct interpretation of that evidence with our peers, testing (and quite often rejecting) new theoretical approaches to our subject matter, and so on. In the meantime an immense amount of what we might call “normal science” goes on that can hardly be called political: discovering new manuscripts, making textual conjectures in old ones, editing inscriptions, producing commentaries.

The tools of this trade are often what get cut when legislators propose drastic budget reductions: electronic access to journals, top-quality (expensive) library books, subscriptions to digital services (my university, which describes itself as a “research-1” institution, refuses to pay for a subscription to the electronic version of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a necessity in the modern-day Classicist’s toolkit).

Perhaps I just haven’t taught in enough schools, or I’m sheltered from the “PC police” by dint of being in a History department, but I don’t see political correctness as an out-of-control problem in my own scholarly world. In my world, when the budget cuts come, they don’t sacrifice “eternal truths” on the altar of “political correctness” (a bogeyman, anyway — is anything that teaches outside of Western civilization, or with considerations of race, class, and/or gender in mind, automatically “PC”? Absurd); instead, what gets favored is shabby, shallow, buzzword-laden content, rather than the sober work of trying to reconstruct how and why human beings made history the way they did.

#40 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 8, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

I have to add that the photo selected for this post does capture a bit of the cold, reptilian, alien look that Walker carries when he’s not being groomed for a TV spot.

As for the Humanities, if someone proposed, quite distinct from budget discussions, that all Humanities departments be shut down for the next five years, while allowing those already committed to a major to complete it, for whatever it may be worth, that might have merit. Then rebuild the things from the ground up, with a foundation on whatever is “classical” in the field, and moving forward with “amassing and analyzing primary evidence, working through the correct interpretation of that evidence with our peers, testing (and quite often rejecting) new theoretical approaches to our subject matter.” Or maybe that’s really what is already going on, in which case we have an Emily Litella moment: “Oh… never mind.”