Managing The Knowledge Factory
Reader Matt in VA, responding to the professor’s lament in this post, writes:
Just want to say that everything your friend writes from “And higher education, the realm in which I earn my living?” on down is absolutely true and absolutely squares with what I see every day. I work at a big state university and it could be the very same one he’s describing.
Every dean of every different level at the university has a handful of “deanlets” (exactly) who have their own staffs, and every year there are more of them. And none of them read. None of them know anything. They are not familiar with basic stuff, stuff that 100 years ago would at least have rung a bell for a typical high school graduate, like “The Odyssey” or “A Tale of Two Cities.” They might as well be employed in middle management at Frito-Lay or Pepsi-Cola or Paychex or Electronic Data Systems or any other massive corporation, the blander the better. They are just cogs.
I don’t blame the students. The fault is mostly the leadership. The deans at my university give no impression that they have ever picked up a work of literature, listened to a piece of classical music, looked at a painting by a Great Master, or wrestled with a book of philosophy in their entire lives.
I think a lot of today’s competitive/aggressive liberalism among academics stems not from genuine belief or even interest in such politics but from the need to cover over the philistinism, vapidity, and fraudulence of these people. “Down with dead white men!” is extremely handy and convenient for such people, who NEVER, but NEVER, replace scholarly grappling with the Greeks and Romans with any kind of serious scholarship in other traditions – it’s not like they show any real engagement and immersion in the cultures/literatures of Persia or Japan or India. They just know nothing. My boss in particular recently let slip that she does not know what decade World War I occurred in, but she never misses an opportunity to throw “intersectionality” into a sentence.
And quite frankly, unreconstructed vulgar “conservatism” deserves a LOT of blame here. These are people who, to this day, still think it’s a huge own to laugh at the liberal arts and sneer “have fun working at Starbucks for the rest of your life!” The total rot of higher education that has occurred over the past decades could not have happened without both the efforts of liberals to sever people from their roots/place themselves over the canon as superior judges of it by using the stalest conventional pieties and passing orthodoxies against it, AND the disgusting spectacle of ugly fat American conservatives with no intellectual curiosity whatsoever demanding that higher education function as a credentialing factory moving their bovine offspring along an assembly line from high school to “business” or “marketing” degree to Good Job (TM) and Suburban Tract Housing.
[Quoting the professor:] As I strolled by a shiny new engineering building, complete with corporation-sponsored coffee bars for students, I saw through the glass only students hunched over laptops. All is glass and steel now, a fine metaphor for a culture obsessed with transparency and destruction of mystery.
Yup. We have an architecture program here completely incapable of producing anything other than this kind of building. It is hard to know, because I think stuff so ugly and soulless just doesn’t survive, but — has any period in the past ever been so culturally inhuman and hollow? Probably it has. I know there have been plenty of people in earlier eras who despaired about their country or about what the conventional wisdom of the time amounted to. Still, I do think the appropriate reaction *is* to hate this sterile bloodless world we are building.
[Quoting the professor:] I have an old picture of my grandfather, taken when he was an Ivy League student after the war. He got in because of the G.I. Bill, one of our country’s greatest achievements. He’s holding a book of Tennyson’s poems. He’s wearing a scarf and a suit and sits jauntily beneath a tree outside a beautiful Gothic building, smiling with some mix of youthful confidence and sheer wonder at the fact that this child of Irish immigrants had defeated the Nazis and now sat on this lush campus.
Maybe the military and martial element, lying behind this moment, not immediately visible, but there, is an essential element here.