X Close

The university monopoly must be broken America has forgotten the point of education

Universities need to do more not less. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Universities need to do more not less. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)


March 9, 2024   14 mins

A few months after the fact, the removal of Claudine Gay from the Harvard presidency increasingly looks like a watershed moment. Shortly after Gay’s ousting, the New York Times published a long piece titled “The Misguided War on the SAT”, defending standardised testing, which had fallen out of favour at elite colleges. In the past few weeks, Dartmouth, Yale and Brown have reinstated the SATs. High-profile business leaders such as Bill Ackman (a central figure in the university drama) and Elon Musk have continued their criticism of DEI in the corporate world, and DEI hiring seems set to continue its downward trend. The trend has only continued inside higher education: just last week, the University of Florida eliminated all positions associated with the now toxic initialism.

Perhaps these developments merely represent the swinging of the culture war pendulum back from the “Great Awokening” of 2020. But it’s worth exploring another possibility: that something larger is happening, outside the culture wars, motivating shifts in attitudes beyond the usual conservative audiences. It should not be forgotten that the incident precipitating the latest round of campus controversies — Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel — was a foreign policy issue. In the United States, Israel-Palestine tends to be treated almost entirely as a figment of the domestic culture war, as has been in this case. But the latest round of violence takes place in a context very different from that of the recent past: America no longer has unquestioned military supremacy, primarily because of its declining industrial base. The Russia-Ukraine war has now lasted for two years, and replenishing US ammunition stockpiles used in that theatre could take up to seven. Estimates suggest that, in a military conflict with China, the United States would be out of critical ammunition in just a week. China built 21 submarines last year; the United States struggles to build more than one. In sum, America is not prepared for a major conflict anywhere, and in the face of coordinated attacks from Russia, China, and Iran and its proxies, US and allied forces could quickly run out of materiel.

These statistics may seem far afield from campus politics. But it is worth recalling that foreign policy issues — the Cold War battle for technological supremacy against the Soviet Union — were critical in shaping American higher education as we know it today. Now that great power competition has re-emerged, academic culture wars may take on new dimensions. This historical perspective might also offer some insights on reforming educational institutions, a revolution extending well beyond culture war sniping on DEI, and into the entirety of the American political economy.

The Second World War and the Cold War shaped American education in profound ways, including in its most controversial and contradictory social valences — meritocracy and affirmative action. The need to educate the best and brightest from all backgrounds to ensure technological leadership featured prominently in Vannevar Bush’s Science, The Endless Frontier, the 1945 report which laid the foundations of the modern American research system, giving rise to institutions such as the National Science Foundation and similar bodies. Bush placed universities at the centre of national technology research, called for increasing their funding, and argued: “If ability, and not the circumstance of family fortune, is made to determine who shall receive higher education in science, then we shall be assured of constantly improving quality at every level of scientific activity.”

Bush’s vision would be realised in the ensuing decades. The combination of the GI Bill of 1944 (which covered tuition for veterans), and the post-Sputnik National Defense Education Act of 1958 greatly expanded attendance at and funding for colleges and universities. And although the SAT originated in the Thirties under Harvard president James Conant, standardised testing became increasingly prevalent as higher education was “democratised” and “rationalised” during the Cold War. Thus, driven in large part by great power competition, university education went from a narrow, elitist pursuit — led by the Ivy League and “Saint Grottlesex” feeder schools, along with regional replications — to a national and meritocratic endeavour. In 1940, around 5% of the US population had college degrees; that number has increased in every decade since and approaches 40% today. Meanwhile, Cold War competition also played a role in the advent of affirmative action, which has since evolved into “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programmes and the broader phenomenon of “wokeness”. Although foreign policy was certainly not the primary motivation of civil rights legislation, national security arguments were frequently used to justify it. Conservatives tend to locate the origins of wokeness in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, while progressives focus on centuries-old legacies of racism, as in the “1619 Project”. But perhaps neither side has given sufficient attention to the role of great power competition in the mid-20th century.

To summarise a well-known history, segregation quickly became an international problem in the Cold War context. Soviet propaganda exploited the persistence of Jim Crow among audiences in the Global South, which glaringly undermined America’s own efforts to present an image of freedom, opportunity for all, and human rights. For hawkish liberals, civil rights was very much a foreign policy issue. Furthermore, although the origins of affirmative action are controversial — there is still some debate over what President Lyndon Johnson meant by the phrase — administrations of both parties highlighted such policies for international audiences when responding to the Soviets.

To some extent, then, the modern American education system was built to defeat the Soviet Union, both in terms of science and technology leadership as well as moral authority. It is also not surprising that both meritocratic education and affirmative action would drift from their original intentions as the Cold War faded into the “end of history”.

In the decades since Vannevar Bush’s report, the idea of meritocratic universities, open to all, gradually metamorphosed into “college for all”, and even “Yale or jail”. In light of America’s deeply entrenched small-d democratic passions, it was perhaps inevitable that the notion of universities being open to anyone with ability would eventually come to mean that everyone should attend one. If college is open to anyone with ability, after all, then anyone who does not go to college must be lazy or an imbecile. So American primary and secondary education became explicitly oriented around “preparing students for college”, meaning a four-year liberal arts degree, which came to be seen as essential for simply entering the middle class. Vocational tracks were stigmatised as casting children into intellectual and professional oblivion — and, besides, why go to “trade school” when the trades were in decline?

The neoliberal turn further entrenched the “college for all” mentality. The Chicago school of economics notion of “human capital”, which conceptualised training as a form of input capital, gained prevalence as deindustrialisation progressed. In theory, human capital simply means that the knowledge, skills, and other attributes of workers have economic value. In practice, it promised that education could substitute for physical and investment capital, and conveniently rationalised the notion that “more education” would address the challenges related to deindustrialisation and the “fissuring” of the US economy (and seemingly just every other economic problem). For various reasons, politicians and business leaders on both Left and Right embraced the sectoral shift away from capital intensive “Fordist” production in the late-20th century. The story that they sold to voters — and told themselves — was that, although nothing could or would be done to “bring the factories back”, the government would support more education for “the jobs of the future”. Americans would do the brainwork in the new “information economy”, while “commodity production” was offshored. In this paradigm, of course, the apparent value of university education only increases.

Unfortunately, many of these illusions have not survived contact with reality. The “information economy” jobs of the future never materialised at the levels promised. The tech industry, relative to its profits and market capitalisation, employs relatively few people — unless one counts driving an Uber — and has delivered notoriously underwhelming productivity gains. Perhaps simply by the logic of supply and demand, the value of college degrees appears to decline as they become more common. While still significant, the economic advantages of a college education have fallen over time, even as student loan debt has exploded. Furthermore, the record of universities — fundamentally medieval institutions — at preparing students for the workforce is questionable at best. Increasing university enrolment has not always meant that more students were meeting higher standards, but rather that academic rigor and quality were being sacrificed to accommodate more tuition-payers. At any rate, it would be hard to argue that the quality of American intellectual life has improved with the expansion of university education. Instead, the entire college apparatus has become a bloated system that seems to badly misallocate resources while heightening inequality. Meanwhile, the original objective for expanding the universities — competition with the Soviet Union — disappeared during the end of history.

The affirmative action component of education, likewise, quickly evolved beyond its original justifications. Initially conceived as an understandable if somewhat ham-fisted attempt to rectify legacies of slavery and segregation, the intended beneficiaries were African American descendants of slaves. This group was essentially the entirety of the black population in the United States in the Sixties, which was then a little over 10% of the total US population. But around the time of major civil rights legislation, new immigration laws were also passed, dramatically expanding immigration. The non-Hispanic-white share of the population fell from about 85% in the Sixties to 58% today (among American children, the share is now less than half). The black population has also shifted, including many African immigrants who were never victims of slavery or segregation; today, Nigerian immigrants have above-median earnings. Nevertheless, affirmative action continued to expand along with the non-white population: from a relatively targeted programme aimed at about 10% of Americans, who had experienced state discrimination in the immediate past, it became an elaborate system for managing “diversity” in an increasingly “majority-minority” country. As globalisation gained momentum, foreign students could also benefit from simplistic racial categorisation, with the added benefit, for universities, that many paid full tuition.

Other emanations from civil rights had unexpected effects on education. The Supreme Court decision Griggs v. Duke Power Co., known mostly for establishing that seemingly neutral employment practices could be in violation of the Civil Rights Act if they resulted in a “disparate impact”, directly concerned employment testing. With the decline of such testing, employers increasingly turned to college degrees (and the relative ranking of universities) as indicators of graduate ability. This solidified the economic importance of the university system and its hierarchies. Meanwhile, other court decisions (and some state referenda) barred hard racial quotas and other forms of affirmative action. Universities did not abandon these programmes, however, but pursued them through ever-more opaque methods (applicants were credited for “overcoming adversity”, or universities were allowed to consider the effects of diversity on the student body). The result was that the substance of the “diversity” regime remained intact, but its logic appeared increasingly obscure and arbitrary.

Decades of mission drift have thus left universities in an impossible position. On the one hand, they function as the main sorting mechanisms for employers at the high end of the economy. On the other, they are supposed to be the main sources of “human capital” for all of society, saving the middle class through “more education”. They also retain, at least in theory, the goal of advancing science and technology, and have added functions around applied, corporate-funded research with the disappearance of the large corporate labs (e.g. Bell Labs). Some consider themselves start-up incubators as well. At the same time, they have appointed themselves to manage the diversity of an increasingly fractured populace, even though they cannot explicitly articulate or openly pursue that purpose. It is probably not a coincidence that wokeness erupted amid this confusion, and after the original rationale for meritocracy — great power competition — seemed to have vanished. To be charitable to academia, one could argue that society expects far too much from universities today, and it is little wonder that they seem to be performing worse and worse at each task.

“Decades of mission drift have thus left universities in an impossible position.”

In light of this history, the reform proposals of both anti-woke liberal and conservative critics seem inadequate. Even if this provisional anti-woke alliance can rein in progressive excesses, the deeper confusion surrounding the universities’ purpose cannot be resolved entirely on the culture war battlefield — or even by reforms limited to the universities themselves.

Harvard professor Steven Pinker, a prominent representative of the liberal camp, illustrates the limitations of the liberal perspective in a tweet proposing five reforms. Some of his recommendations, such as bolstering free speech policies by prohibiting forceful takeovers of buildings and interruptions of lectures, seem like basic common sense. Others, such as disempowering DEI bureaucrats, should be. But two of them are inherently in tension: discouraging the groupthink associated with intellectual “monocultures” will at least occasionally require abandoning his call for institutional political neutrality. Left to its own devices, the Harvard faculty will almost certainly remain a political monoculture, as it already is. To remedy this, Harvard’s administration would have to undertake some direct or indirect affirmative action for conservatives. The question of ideological diversity, then, seems to recapitulate the liberal dilemma over racial diversity. Is actively promoting diversity merely levelling the playing field, or benefiting the whole university community through exposure to under-represented viewpoints? Or is it just unfair discrimination, enforced by, in Pinker’s words, “bureaucrats responsible to no one”?

At the level of intellectual diversity, discouraging monocultures becomes even more complicated. There are no phrenologists at Harvard, for example, and few, if any, climate sceptics, creation scientists, or “human biodiversity” scholars, not to mention orthodox Freudian psychoanalysts or Marxist economists. Should the administration intervene to employ professors with these views? The faculty would doubtless say that the science is settled on these topics, and inviting dissident voices would only promote error over truth. But who gets to decide? How does one determine which monocultures are pernicious and which ones happily represent the triumph of truth over falsehood. Liberals do not really have an answer, which is one reason why their institutions have all deteriorated in recent decades. Ultimately, liberal value neutrality is always a fiction. It may be a salutary and desirable fiction, and probably would be a beneficial one for universities to recover. But such neutrality only functions within a horizon defined by a shared purpose — its own monoculture. Vannevar Bush and the Cold War liberals had such a purpose; today’s liberals do not, or at least have not been able to articulate one.

Anti-woke conservatives, on the other hand, have a clear goal: they seek to use the universities to inculcate conservative values, whether by refashioning red-state universities, starting new ones, or other means. The problem is that this vision is too narrow; it ignores the structural sources of universities’ power and the system’s underlying problems. Although Democrats are the party of education, conservatives often have far more romantic notions of the power of universities and professors. Look no further than the common conservative critiques of wokeness, which emphasise the role of academia. Not surprisingly, then, conservatives tend to imagine that hiring more conservative professors is the main thing required to reshape American culture.

In reality, however, most evidence suggests that professors have relatively little influence on students’ ideologies, and there is little reason to think that more conservative faculty or academic institutions would make much of a difference beyond the campus. It is worth recalling that conservative colleges already exist, such as Hillsdale College, and there are more outside-funded conservative student organisations operating at, say, Harvard today than there were 20 years ago. Yet while Hillsdale is important to conservatives, and its students are well-represented among congressional staff, the brutal fact is that its influence on larger elite opinion is negligible. Likewise, while conservative campus organisations may be important nodes of personal networking, they obviously have not done much to change the trajectory of elite universities.

Conservatives’ inveterate idealism tends to blind them to the real functions and sources of the power of elite universities. The status of top institutions is not derived from their stellar humanities departments or pedagogical commitment, but rather from the signalling value of their credentials, the wealth of their alumni networks, and their relative importance to corporate and government research apparatuses. Everything else is marketing. Thus, changing university culture without changing any of the system’s underlying dynamics, which seems to be the current conservative approach, seems unlikely to succeed. Moreover, even if such an approach were to succeed, it would offer little to those who are not cultural conservatives: substituting identitarian progressivism with Straussian political theory or some other conservative hobbyhorse would do little to create a better prepared workforce or advance science and technology.

Instead of an exclusive focus on superficial culture war issues, educational reformers today should recall the last major, intentional reorganisation of the American university system that occurred during the Cold War. We must be cognisant of how that legacy has contributed to current problems, but should also recognise its value. Reforms that meet the needs of great-power competition are more likely to be far-reaching and enduring than endless battles over the universities’ symbolic orientation.

The primary difference between then and now involves the shifting demands of great-power competition. After the Second World War, US manufacturing dominated the world, but American primary research and basic science needed to be strengthened. The reforms of Vannevar Bush and the post-Sputnik legislation thus increased the funding for and importance of universities. Today, however, the situation is essentially the opposite. Basic research is still important, of course, but America’s main vulnerabilities lie in its supply chain and manufacturing dependencies on China. Its leadership in pure research is also most at risk in capital-intensive sectors that have been commercially abandoned due to foreign manufacturing subsidies, such as shipbuilding, nuclear reactor components, and perhaps even commercial aviation. Further strengthening universities will do little to address these problems; the focus should shift to other institutions.

Americans in the mid-20th century probably could not have imagined the country’s loss of manufacturing dominance. They also underappreciated the importance of corporate labs, which Bush considered too focused on incremental improvements rather than fundamental breakthroughs. But institutions like Bell Labs — whose scientists won 10 Nobel Prizes — RCA Labs, Xerox PARC, and others made immense scientific contributions. These labs were lost in the late-20th century as a result of increasing foreign competition, the growing capital intensity of research, and shareholder demands for short-term financial returns. Universities, by default, picked up many of their functions, but university research productivity has been on a declining trajectory for decades. Instead of funnelling ever more money into dysfunctional universities, government and corporate funders should look to recreate, at some level, the major corporate labs. Such labs are better suited to work that combines innovation with production and manufacturing, and they could allow for better collaboration between multiple universities as well as researchers from corporations and start-ups. Insulating this research from faculty politics as well as undergraduate admissions and credentialing could also reduce pressures against meritocratic hiring.

The Bell Labs of 1950 is not coming back, of course, because Bell Telecom is not coming back. Large corporations are no longer incentivised to invest in quasi-independent research labs, and start-ups lack the capital for such projects. Nevertheless, government could work with the private sector to pioneer new labs and research facilities that could fill the holes left by the lost corporate labs. Another model is offered by the Broad Institute, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, which was a leader in the development of CRISPR technology. Such institutions could be co-located with universities, and share personnel, but institutions with their own unified and coherent research missions, along with their own independent governance and funding structures — separated from undergraduate admissions and credentialing — would be an improvement over housing more programmes within already sclerotic universities.

At the same time, policymakers should continue existing efforts to reduce the importance of universities in employment credentialing. States such as Utah and Pennsylvania have already removed bachelor’s degree requirements for state government positions; hopefully other states will follow suit. Moreover, contra Griggs, direct employment testing should be encouraged to open up pathways to hiring at top-tier companies outside of elite college recruiting. Allowing five or 10 universities to be gatekeepers of the highest echelons of the U.S. economy has hardly improved “equity” and “inclusion”. If universities were less central to elite credentialing, the importance of micromanaging the “diversity” of their admissions would also decline.

Finally, instead of focusing on replacing the faculty of liberal arts institutions, or starting new ones, such as UATX, reformers should seek to build institutions that meet workforce or other practical education challenges. Elon Musk has floated the idea of starting new K-12 math and science schools, and this approach also seems more likely to succeed at the higher education level than churning out more underemployed liberal arts graduates, whether woke or anti-woke. To be sure, politicians have lavished praise and funding on community colleges and vocational training for decades, to little avail. The existing community college and apprenticeship tracks, even if some students can go on to do relatively well financially, do not offer access to prestigious professions. But a new set of applied science training institutes might have a better chance, especially if they solve an actual workforce challenge and are part of a larger ecosystem for training and credentialing outside of the universities.

“‘College for all’ has been a disaster economically, intellectually, and politically”

On the whole, “college for all” has been a disaster economically, intellectually, and politically. Too many people, too much money, and too many research functions have been pushed into universities that have no business being there. It may have been reasonable, in the Forties and Fifties, to believe that strengthening universities was necessary to maintain America’s technological and economic leadership. But today, the opposite course is required. We need the universities to do less, not more. A common objection to this argument is that technology has become so much more complicated and specialised that more education is simply necessary. But the connection between “more education” and the “information economy” has always been overstated. One does not need a four-year degree, much less a postgraduate degree, to become skilled at “coding”. Two of America’s most successful computer technology entrepreneurs — Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg — famously dropped out of Harvard. Many successful recipients of the Thiel Fellowship intentionally avoided college.

Conservatives and liberals who remain devoted to more Romantic conceptions of the humanities will doubtless object to this ruthlessly instrumental approach to education. But breaking the university monopoly on credentialing and applied science has benefits for liberal arts purists as well. The “right-sizing” of universities would allow liberal arts colleges of various ideological orientations, whether Hillsdale or Oberlin, to compete with Harvard and Stanford on more equal footing. All of society would benefit if universities lost some of their exalted status. They are not the preservers of civilisation, guardians of truth, or reservoirs of moral purity. The more they are seen as practical institutions with practical functions, the less we need to worry about their ostensible values.

Although today’s crisis of higher education manifests primarily as another culture war battle, the issues go much deeper. Decades of institutional drift have left that system with multiple, contradictory purposes, none of which are being served effectively. If it is to be successfully reformed, American higher education must be reorganised to address the exigencies of great power competition that are emerging in the present.


Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs

JuliusKrein

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

113 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

To develop mental abilities teach maths, Latin and drawing from the age of five years. Stream according to ability from the age of nine years. Allow children to leave school at 14, 16 and 18 years of age to work. Fourteen year olds to return one to two days a week to study subjects relevant to work. 16 to 18 year olds to attend night school to study subjects in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Law, Accountancy, Surveying. Evening study to copy the Institution of Civil , Mechanical or Electrical Engineers syllabi . Other subjects to follow University of London Extra Mural Degrees. proof of success JR Mitchell who designed The Spitfire, probably the finest machine ever produced, studied Engineering at night school
R. J. Mitchell – Wikipedia
B Wallis studied for London Degree
Barnes Wallis – Wikipedia
Camm – Hurricane, Chadwick Lancaster r and de Havilland  – Mosquito all studied engineering at night school.
Shakespeare, Wellington, Nelson, J Austen, Bronte Sisters, Charles Dickens, G K Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, R Kipling, Lloyd George , W Churchill, G Orwell, James Callaghan all achieved success and left school by the age of eighteen years.
Combine the best of British pre 1960 education and modern Swiss education and quality will improve and costs and time spent in education will decrease.
Introduce British Scholarship/ Oxbridge Entrance exams of pre 1980 for entry to university. Those who pass in maths, science and languages have education paid for by state. The best grammar and public schools taught to first year degree standards . This meant Cambridge/Oxford /Imperial three year degree was equivalent to masters anywhere else. The 4 year Oxford Greats and four year Cambridge Maths Degree Part III /Smiths Prize were the toughest degrees in the World. The Cambridge Maths Degree produced physicists of the calibre of Clerk Maxwell, J J Thomson.
The old British system meant one could obtain a degree by the age of twenty and a doctorate by the age of twenty two years.
William Penney, Baron Penney – Wikipedia
Modern day university education has been influenced by the Prussian system where quality appears to be judged by duration spent in the system and by passing exams. As they say in boxing ” Train hard, fight easy ” and I say start early as well.

jane baker
jane baker
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The school leaving age was progressively raised by different administrations to lower the jobless statistics. I think for most people 14 is the ideal age to leave school.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

In the US, those who left school at 16 or younger form a hugely disproportionate swath of the prison population. Only about one-third of our close to two million prisoners have a high-school diploma, versus about four-fifths for the population as a whole. I’m not saying it’s a one-to-one correspondence, but without major, ambitious changes of the sort Mr. Hedges lays out, youngsters leaving school in their early teens are way too vulnerable to our widespread crime/gang/drug life.
I fully agree with Krein and others here who highlight the folly of pushing everyone to get a four-year degree as some kind of minimum educational standard. But 14 is very young, at least in the current reality.
I say keep ’em all until 17 or 18, but teach three-quarters of them skills–according to their own best-available choice (within reason)–which will enable them to start a young adult life with a good job or sensible pathway forward. Not everyone is a scholar or even much of a reader/counter/thinker–that will never not be true. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if we remember how to build the skills and talents of the less intellectual and bookish, or even (in some ways) quite dull among us.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

In Switzerland one can leave school at 15 years of age to enter work; they are not turfed out on to the streets. Britain and the USA do not have the same connection between school/university and industry which occurs in Switzerland which is part of the problem.
Education – facts and figures (admin.ch)
The standard of training at Trade Schools is very high, three years to be a lorry driver but they are almost a mechnic and a shop assistant often speak three languages.
Experience of being in a comprehensive is that there are significant percentage of children who wish to leave from th age of fourteen years and and are disruptive; they also learn next to nothing in the last two years at school. When these children are above average and size, strength and aggression they disrupt other children’s ability learn. The reality is that in state schools parents who wish their children to learn move to areas where there are no or few disruptive children. Disruptive children often threaten teachers, this does not happen on a construction site.
The reality is that there is a massive variation in peoples academic ability which no school can teach properly. Bright children can start French at seven, Latin and eight and Greek at nine. Others can pass A Levels at fifteeeen and enter Cambridge or Imperial to read Maths, Physics, Engineering at the age of seventeen years. Gifted musicians musicians are playing concerts by te age of fourteen. Other children struggle to read, write and undertake basic sums by the age of sixteen.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I see your point that some non-tiny minority may never learn to read or count well–too true. But to the limited extent we can put a number to it, I think that group would be between one and two standard deviations below the IQ average, i.e. the 70-85 range. I think the majority even in that group can achieve a very basic numeracy and literacy.
And not everyone needs to be John Stuart Mill–reading Latin originals beginning at 3, I think–or even an A-levels prospect to get far more out of the twelve years these kids serve in a classroom than most are getting now. Think we’d agree there.
Part of the issue with trade readiness for 14-16-year-olds–one I don’t think you fully confront–is the complexity of many well-paid or even ok-paid trade jobs nowadays versus 20, let alone 70 years ago. And their comparative scarcity.
I think our more automated and intricate, hyper-technologized world would require most sturdy lads with and lasses (from modest homes with modestly-educated parents), with IQs around 80-105, to receive involved, preliminary technical training from about 14-18. With some actual, scaffolded work experience in the prospective field. Not that this world of ours is the best of all possible worlds–far from it–but it is the one we have for the foreseeable future.
One last note. I think you agree that it’s not rare for people of middling or even well-below-average measurable intelligence to have a mechanical knack, athletic ability, or perhaps a real talent for an art like painting or music, which might with great effort and a little luck be turned in an adequate living (teaching, coaching, house painting, etc.), even if they don’t become YouTube sensations, Banksy’s, or top-flight footballers. I think we can risk being a bit openminded and “creative” with youngsters of nearly all visible stripes. Might as well try, within limits.

B Emery
B Emery
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

‘Part of the issue with trade readiness for 14-16-year-olds–one I don’t think you fully confront–is the complexity of many well-paid or even ok-paid trade jobs nowadays versus 20, let alone 70 years ago. And their comparative scarcity.’

There is a shortage of trades people in the UK:

‘ A national shortage expected by 2030
The three trades expected to experience the biggest shortfalls are: Electricians – 54,387 workers. Carpenters and joiners – 53,691 workers. Plumbing and heating engineers – 51,524 workers’

https://www.simplybusiness.co.uk/knowledge/articles/what-three-trades-will-be-most-affected-by-skills-shortages/#:~:text=A national shortage expected by 2030&text=The three trades expected to,and heating engineers – 51%2C524 workers.

‘Research finds a lack of skilled tradespeople is set to cost the UK economy ÂŁ98bn in missed GDP growth opportunities to 2030 – an average of ÂŁ12bn per year
UK is on course to face a shortfall of 250,000 tradespeople by 2030, as the push towards net zero fuels demand’

https://www.kingfisher.com/en/media/news/kingfisher-news/2023/uk-to-lose-out-on-p98bn-of-growth-by-2030-due-to-shortage-of-tra.html

Also you have divided everything based on iq, I’m not sure but that’s what was meant by the comment you are replying to, I don’t think that is the idea myself. I think it is more the idea of streaming people in higher education according to what would suit them/ the skills and abilities they display at 14, rather than on iq.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

In Britain there has never sensible discussions between government, education and business after the mid 1960s and probably after 1945. Hence our problems. Quality is never mentioned. NVQ is called not very qualfied by the older City and Guilds people. NVQ teaches what to do but not why.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Valid pushback. There’s a shortage of skilled-trade workers here in California too. Part of the problem is the widespread insistence on College Degrees for All, the shortsightedness of which I keep insisting on. People without a family connection to a trade–such as I had with carpentry–often just end up on construction sites, if someone will give them a shot. That’s another problem; the trades tend to be very insular and nepotistic, especially at full pay. In this state, many contractors here will try out an immigrant worker, at perhaps two-thirds of the fair going rate, but not a native-born Californian at 100 percent of it.
I still maintain the increased present-day significance of technical trades, which will require more classroom or laboratory-type preparation and may remain inaccessible to most under a “certain-approximate” intelligence threshold.
I use IQ more as a shorthand than a settled science or article of faith. I’ve been in huffing-and-puffing disputes with some at this website who think IQ measurements are near-infallible, correspond to absolute individual destiny, or–the worst version!–segregate whole populations into greater or lesser beings according to their average scores. There’s more in the human brain–and spirit–than is dreamt of our intelligence tests. But they are not without some predictive value.
The originator of this thread, Charles Hedges, notes that the US military no longer wants to work with recruits who measure below 85. He included an anecdote to support the idea that not every mechanic can learn to supervise when more complex principles and practices must be learned. And some will prove too dull to be good mechanics in the first place. Note that in the statistical model of IQ less than one-sixth of people have IQs below 85. I’m not saying there’s no hope for the 84 kid–or that one’s whole productive let alone human potential is contained in that number–but a deficit like that presents a major, limiting obstacle.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You have raised some important points . The US Army discovered that it is impossible to train soldiers if the person has an IQ below 85. There is high correlation between men with IQs of 70-90 and violence. Much of those in prison come from single parent households. Mothers tend to have a large benefical influence where they encourage education of children.
A friend who ran a factory said that supervisors tended to be eelctricians not mechanics. This was because a supervisor had to understand the electrical and mechnical aspects of the factory and far more electricians could learn the mechanical skills than the mechanics learn the electrical skills. Electricians require greater conceptual knowledge than mechanics.
In Britain and USA education and industry ere quite separate which is not the case in Switzerland. In Switzerland, trainees start with far higher maths, science and language skills than in the UK which combined with National Service means craftsmen are practically technicians. There are few violent ignorant people who are contemptuous of learning who disrupt school and create vast welfare expenditure. This is part because Switzerland went from agriculture to advanced engineering without going through having heavy industry employing vast numbers of uneducated unskilled people living in slums. Switzerland never created a slum proletariat. The reality is that advanced manufacturing requires maths, science and language skills beyond people with an below IQ of 90 or even 95.
If one looks at former East Germany which is Prussia and Southern Italy, both areas have a large proportion of the population with very low acdemic an technical skills which makes it almost impossible to to train them to enter advanced manufacturing.
I suggest we look at Switzerland and see how they teach and train craftsmen.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

All of that sounds valid to me. I think a mother or father can set a child on a better path to education but not from much of a distance. I know first-hand that a so-called broken home is disruptive, but so is one with bickering, shouting, and occasional breaking of things, like mine often was before my parents split up. when Dad lives nearby and stays involved in the kids’ lives–a did mine–the trajectory is a bit less grim on average, I think.
Interesting point about the military IQ threshold. I don’t treat our ability to measure intelligence as comprehensive or some pure science, but there is obviously strong measurable correlation with life outcomes and some practical accuracy in our available testing.
Still, books in the home and active instruction by one or both parents can change a child’s educational trajectory, though not from the floor to the ceiling. You aren’t supposed to be able to study for an IQ test, which purports to measure innate intelligence. But you can to some extent, both in the short term and over the course of a lifetime. To indulge my habit of re-phrasing the obvious: Environment and practice won’t render the most well-taught and well-born simpleton sharp, nor brilliant outlier from a rough home dull, but those who measure in that pivotal 85-115 range (two-thirds of the population!) surely have much room to pivot.
I have a stubborn hope for the child who measures 79 at age 7–but admit I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to teach or tutor him–especially in Latin.
Part of your initial proposal on this comment board, Latin at 5, holds particular interest for me. (I have a smattering of halting and choppy Latin but I always dreamt I’d become a real scholar when I grow up–still do at 52. Even the one college term of Latin that I took in 1990–right before the whole program was cancelled!–refined my English comprehension and linguistic accuracy. I was always a word nerd–but now I writes real good for an American. These days I’m trying to bone up my Latin with a Vulgate New Testament, with minor success.) Those who dismiss Latin as a dead language take a reductive cheap shot. It’s importance to foundational literature, scientific/mathematical terms, and connection to about 90% of Romance language vocab and 50% of English’s make it more of a living ancestor than some dry relic. Teach it to all children with IQs of 82.5 or above–nah, just try with all children who can attend a regular school and re-track students as necessary. I wonder: Do you have much Latin yourself, sir?
Forgive my digression(s) please. I looked at your link to the Swiss approach and its impressive. As something of an educational or “high-culture” traditionalist, I often agree with Conservatives who advocate more commonality in our schooling and public culture. Latin grammar and Baroque-Classical-Romantic music for all!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Three years of Latin, nine to twelve if I remember. One of my many failings was a lack of language skills. If people learn French and Latin they can learn other Romance languages and German fairly quickly.
Look at a Swiss watch or just stay there; everything works, is on time and clean and the people polite and well informed. In a population of 10 M, it supports ETH Zurich which is up with MIT and Imperial. If the UK and USA had the same standards there would 10 ICs in the UK and 33 MITs in the USA.
The make the good point about the 85-115 IQ range being two thirds of the population. I would hazard a gues that a major reason for Switzerland’s success is the 70 to 115 receive an education and training that makes them far more producrive and useful than any other country. I expect that the proportion of Switzerland which is uneducated, unskilled, violent, criminal living and off welfare and spending large parts of their life in prison is very small. Therefore the costs associated with this group is very small. As a percentage of GDP, what does this group cost the USA and/or the UK ?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I genuinely shudder to think. As you know and have outlined with examples, the cost to a society is not just economic. In the States it seems we’ve put away some of our age-old anti-intellectualism, but lost a great deal of our civic-mindedness at about the same time. O tempora! O mores!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Totally agree about civic mindedness which is a phrase used perhaps fifty years ago but very rarely today. The idea that one undertakes an action for the benefit of where one lives out of civil mindedness without being paid, is largely absent from problem areas in towns and cities.
Switzerland is very de-centralised with decisions often being made by villages. This encourages emotional maturity and responsibility which is needed for civic mindedness.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

May I ask: Are you the C. Hedges with a book due out this May?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No.

J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago

Excellent essay, imo.
But breaking the university monopoly on credentialing and applied science….
That, in my opinion, is the key concept in this essay. Separate the humanities from the science departments, especially the applied science departments, and hopefully the ideological poison seeping from the humanities can be contained. I also strongly believe that vocational training focused on key technological skill sets can be done in specialist colleges, and not through a four-year degree. People can then update their skills through further focused, affordable courses throughout their career without having to go back to over-priced, ideologically-tainted universities.
So where does the impetus for change in higher ed come from? From a newly-elected Republican administration, assuming the Republicans win a national election in the foreseeable future? From the business community (major companies seem to be woke converts unlikely to challenge the woke status quo in higher education)? From entrepreneurs who start new universities or technical colleges (that’s a very high bar to overcome)? The cynic in me suspects we’ll just keep importing scientists/technologists instead of training our own workforce. That’s so much easier for everyone although, in the long run, it will lead to our downfall.

k. clark
k. clark
4 months ago

(Deleted)

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
4 months ago

The function of universities used to be to educate the intellectual elite. But when almost everyone can go to university and everyone is elite, then no one is elite anymore. Universities today are just expensive credentialing factories.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Most of my friends and social acquaintances are graduates, all of whom have absolutely identical opinions about everything which they are quite unable to defend in serious argument. For years my work took me to a warehouse where I provided training on stock control software to a group of workers of all races whose opinions are formed by life experience and common sense. If I had to choose a government from either of these groups it would be the latter.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

As an academic I completely agree with you.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Me too. Universities have very much lost their way. In looking at them today, I cringe at how much money is wasted on nurturing such large amounts of unremarkable, near incompetent, talent. If Britain’s universities shed 1/3 of their worst, underperforming staff (both administrative and academic) tomorrow, the difference would barely be noticed, and productivity would rise accordingly.

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Bennett

Thirty-three and a third per cent? That would indeed be a long playing record.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

BS Worked as a House Painter all my life.
At the end, the IRS seized my Passport
and is Black Mailing me for $60.000 .
That would be more than 3 years wages.
BTW
Even conservatives treat Blue Collar workers like dumb shites !

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Maybe get some new friends instead.

William Brand
William Brand
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

The most disruptive element in any society are unemployed members of the elite class. There are only a few jobs available for rulers and many unemployed princes all trying to get on the throne. Elites tend to overproduce members of the ruling class. The result is social chaos and civil wars. America has 50 trained Elite liberal arts degreed job seekers for every position as a ruler. We must close liberal arts degrees.

Alan B
Alan B
4 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

The United States is a democratic republic. The liberal arts are for citizens, not “princes”. We created our land-grant colleges in the 19th century, well before our modern “multiversities” reared their Medusa-like heads: And looking at them today, one can understand why Mr. Krein is petrified.
Of course “there is a great deal of ruin” in the academy, as in the nation at large. And in a monarchy, perhaps, your prescription would be fit. But I am not the subject of a crown, nor will I accept the question-begging premise of Krein’s essay–namely, that the US is and ought to remain the empire “great power” it became in the later 20th century, whatever the cost.
(Still I enjoyed reading this and it includes many fine observations!)

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

America trains 93 Elite hedge fund and property development degreed job seekers for every position as a senior executive. We must create more senior executive positions !

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Universities used to facilitate learning and critical analysis – i.e. HOW to think. today’s institutions teach students WHAT to think.

Bob Ewald
Bob Ewald
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Universities were also originally designed to educate the mind in the liberal arts, which meant both the soft and hard sciences: history/literature/philosophy with biology/chemistry/etc. God was generally accepted as the truth and the mind was meant to understand creation. Today, from my experience as an adjunct for over 30 years, not only are universities anything but such places, most students would be better served in vocational training.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob Ewald

But God isn’t true.

Melissa Milan
Melissa Milan
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

You got me interested in your answer

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago

“How does one determine which monocultures are pernicious and which ones happily represent the triumph of truth over falsehood ?”
You let the players have at it, in whichever political framework prevails, and the victor gets to wield influence over that determination, some with more clarity and authority than others. That generally seems to be the way of history. Regardless, can we not safely ascribe to phrenology and creation-science the label of pseudo-science, which seems a triumph of a sufficient quantity of common sense over stupidity, if you can accept that scientific method is actually a thing.
Value neutrality on the part of any group is a fiction. Whomever the victor always reserves the right to ignite some form of culture war as an exercise of their power.
While they may not be the sole preservers of civilisation, guardians of truth, or reservoirs of moral purity, you at least want universities in the mix creating some tension for those political players who would seek to crown themselves with that authority. It’s a failure of leadership within our political system that has let universities try on that crown at all.
But the notion that they should now be assigned as “value neutral” practical institutions seems ill-conceived.
There is a clear shared purpose to organise our thinking around the purpose of universities, and that is in the contest against China – not merely on economic terms, but a broader philosophical and political defence of plurality against the CCP’s brutalising homogeneity.
To be sure, the management of many institutions needs a good slap in the face at the present time, but Universities cannot function as “value neutral” practical institutions in this contest, anymore than they could in the previous Cold war.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 months ago

One of the key elements of attending university hasn’t been considered in this article. I find that unfortunate, since i broadly agree with the author’s arguments.

I’m referring to the life-experience brought about, especially for young prople from less advantaged backgrounds, of leaving the comfort of their familial home and arriving in a new environment where they have to acquire new life skills alongside the aspect of study. Of course, this formative experience could be replicated at a technical college specialising in their choice of science or technology… except they wouldn’t then be mixing with a broader group of people with different interests and outlooks.

This could, if not carefully considered, lead to them becoming more not less narrow-minded, which is surely a key component of the higher education system. It needn’t be a stumbling block to the changes which might be needed as set out in this essay – but only if it’s taken into consideration.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

There are an awful lot of better ways to spend ÂŁ50k getting ‘life experience’ than going to university.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

You’re missing my point. For those who wish to pursue education at the higher levels, it’s important their experience isn’t too narrowly-focused and that there’s an element of gaining life experience involved rather than just the educational/vocational focus the essay concerns itself with.
It’s not that difficult to take from a comment what’s intended; life experience helps in that regard.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Hurray for this comment. “Education is the experience of human greatness.” The writer’s suggestion that Leo Strauss’ work is a “hobbyhorse” shows just how firmly entrenched he is in the war against education. His article is terribly well written, and as such articles have a habit of doing, it points to something beyond itself.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The “Good old days”:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujrE4H5mpwI

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Perhaps forty years ago that might have been true. Watching my daughter’s experiences tells me a different story today. Unfortunately, the life experience most of her peers are gaining today is not life as it exists but an awkwardly contorted bubble that bears little relation to how one must actually comport themselves in the real world. They live in overly comfortable circumstances and are overly protected from emotional or intellectual challenges and taught not to deal with problems but to demand that the administration protect them from problems. Not a recipe for future success and a hard reality check when they leave the bubble.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The problem is that the bubble is expanding. I see a lot of young people today insisting that the world conform to their insipid expectations while parents, teachers, and employers seem all too happy to comply.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Is the “life-experience” of living in halls at a 3rd tier campus university in the middle of nowhere, mixing with students who weren’t bright enough to get into a good university, really worth 50 grand and three years of your life?

Certainly my horizons were expanded moving from a town in the home counties to university in Manchester, Paris and London, but I don’t think that is the experience for a lot of people now going to university.

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
4 months ago

I agree, but with all respect this was difficult to maintain attention while reading. Watch a university of Chicago writing video…

I apologize, I’m reading for consumption. I hope someone with authority reads and bookmarks it and brings it up with the right committee.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Nathan Sapio

Nathan, I too found this v hard work to read. There were some disparate, excellent points but a lot of stuff in between which started to make my brain want to skip on. A lot of jargon-like talk? And a certain negativity in worldview which I’m not into.

This this divergence of language made me wonder whether that is how many different native languages come about – by people not randomly straying but definitively wanting to distinguish themselves in a certain way, by a certain way of thinking, from another group and almost wishing to refrain from talking in the other group’s language, in pretty much the same way that languages across the world are repressed, in various places and at various times…

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

It’s his first piece here at UnHerd (I think)–so perhaps we should all cut him a bit more slack?
He may have been trying to give an overview of his perspective in general, which tends to undermine the force of an essay.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Nathan Sapio

His prose is very dry and fits with his humorless-looking photo. A cheap shot I know, but hey! It’s the weekend and my dance card ain’t filled.
Cutting down on cheap shots–starting Monday.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago

“How does one determine which monocultures are pernicious and which ones happily represent the triumph of truth over falsehood ?”
You let the players have at it, in whichever political framework prevails, and the victor gets to wield influence over that determination, some with more clarity and authority than others. That generally seems to be the way of history. Regardless, can we not safely ascribe to phrenology and creation-science the label of pseudo-science, which seems a triumph of a sufficient quantity of common sense over stupidity, if you can accept that scientific method is actually a thing.
Value neutrality on the part of any group is a fiction. Whomever the victor always reserves the right to ignite some form of culture war as an exercise of their power.
While they may not be the sole preservers of civilisation, guardians of truth, or reservoirs of moral purity, you at least want universities in the mix creating some tension for those political players who would seek to crown themselves with that authority. It’s a failure of leadership within our political system that has let universities try on that crown at all.
But the notion that they should now be assigned as “value neutral” practical institutions seems ill-conceived.
There is a clear shared purpose to organise our thinking around the purpose of universities, and that is in the contest against China – not merely on economic terms, but a broader philosophical and political defence of plurality against the CCP’s brutalising homogeneity.
To be sure, the management of many institutions needs a good slap in the face at the present time, but Universities cannot function as “value neutral” practical institutions in this contest, anymore than they could in the previous Cold war.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
4 months ago

While an interesting and informative essay, the meteoric rise of AI renders it fairly moot. The idea of universities in an AI era will have to be completely reformed as the democratisation of knowledge and experience becomes ever more commercialised.

Who’s going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend an institution when the heavy lifting will be done by software? Not many I’d suggest. You’d be better off focusing on the “life skills” component of university and bugg3ring off on a four year b3nder around the globe – like some form of epic extended gap year.

Still, an interesting read that raises some interesting considerations – especially around the rise of affirmative action / wokeness.

Liam F
Liam F
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jobs

AI is just the new fad word to replace Cloud. Sure, It’ll have some useful (but not ground breaking) uses in certain fields. But it’s neither artificial or intelligent, it just plain old pattern recognition in a pretty frock.

Micheal MacGabhann
Micheal MacGabhann
4 months ago

The Idea of a University 1852. Surprised it wasn’t quoted.

Robbie K
Robbie K
4 months ago

There are no phrenologists at Harvard, for example, and few, if any, climate sceptics, creation scientists, or “human biodiversity” scholars, not to mention orthodox Freudian psychoanalysts or Marxist economists. Should the administration intervene to employ professors with these views? The faculty would doubtless say that the science is settled on these topics, and inviting dissident voices would only promote error over truth. But who gets to decide?

Climate sceptic lecturers are not employed for the same reason as Flat Earthers are not employed.
Why would you spend time and money educating students with irrelevant and misleading information?
Who makes that decision? The people who are free of ridiculous engrained politically motivated biasses.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Climate sceptic lecturers are not employed for the same reason as Flat Earthers are not employed.

That’s not a valid analogy.
The flat earth question is binary. And we know the answer because we have seen it with our own eyes from the moon.
Questions to do with climate are orders of magnitude more complex. Our understanding of climatology is about on a par with the Greeks’ understanding of cosmology. Even many among those of us who unconditionally accept the role of CO2 have huge and quite justifiable doubts about the reliability of computer models or the evidence-free assumptions about feedback that are made by some alarmists. The science is not settled.
It’s foolish to turn climatology into a religion with a catechism, a priesthood and heresy.

Robert Lloyd
Robert Lloyd
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

“Why would you spend time and money educating students with irrelevant and misleading information?”
It might be relatively easy to identify those who profess “wrong” information in mathematics and the physical sciences because their predictions can be tested by logic, observation and experiment. But who could possibly determine the “truth” of the views and theories expounded by the professors of the “ologies” such as psychology or sociology? As for the humanities, these learnings are almost entirely subjective (yes, even history) and thus there is nothing in these fields that is right or wrong.
So, why not employ a few phrenologists or Flat Earthers in each faculty if for no other reason than to give the potential scholars something to think about and thereby construct cogent critical argument?

John L Murphy
John L Murphy
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Lloyd

If ‘terminal degrees’ remain the prerequisite for hiring full-time tenure-track faculty (and in my career as a non-tenured adjunct or lecturer, the much-mocked humanities can require a Ph.D., as the job market is so tight), then where phrenologists or Flat Earthers would earn accredited degrees from (once-?)reputable institutions would remain a stumbling block. As it is, I remain rather surprised that today’s elite universities even admit, let alone graduate, conservatives at all, especially at the doctoral level where ‘theory’ rules thought. (Who’d convene a hiring committee from a recognized leader in higher ed who somehow finagled a ‘department line’ to take on such a marginalized-but-in-a-non-DEI category to boot? Certainly not Hillsdale, UATX, or a Great Books college. And probably a ‘disproportionate’ share of applicants from the fringes beyond the norms of critical thinking would nowadays be none other than straight white males?)

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Lloyd

Proper degree level education should be about learning how to think, not what to think. Students should study and be guided in that study, but should not be being taught “knowledge” or just how to do harder sums at this level.
Once they have learned how to critically analyse, why not have them do a paper comparing Critical Race Theory, Nazi race science and MLK’s “I have a dream”? Why not do a critical analysis of the case for CO2 being the root of all evil? Why not look at the impact politics has had on science – is science no longer a search for “truth” but more a tool for providing what “good” people “should” be hearing?
All the above questions would not be useful in A level or vocational courses, but absolutely should be part of appropriate degrees.

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Learning “How to think not what to think” – well, yes and no. Some relevant background is surely needed. But the criterion of University education SHOULD be the ability to think independently and critically. Unfortunately administrators find academics who think for themselves a threat, and so they have systematically set about undermining them – and in doing so have found ill-educated and poorly-motivated students to be useful allies. We shall not overcome that problem until there are universities in which once more the academics are in control, and have funding arrangements which ensure that this continues indefinitely. The problem by the way is not confined to the USA, it is widespread throughout the UK and Europe. Nor is it confined to Universities – woke policies under the aegis of Human Resources departments have undermined performance standards in numerous corporations.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

What’s your personal worry about the climate? I notice this is an issue that crops up fairly regularly in your posts.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

The phrenology in regards to Climate Scientists was actually what I did my PhD in, a fascinating subject. What my main study showed was is you took the fractile prime of the skull shape of Climate scientists and compared it to sheep skulls – the correlation was amazingly linked.

Much like it is with school teachers and tortoises. Or Politicians and hyenas, or so many examples.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Look at variations in temperature since the Mid Eocene Thermal Maxima( 5- 6 degrees C hotter than today ) and since the last Ice Age, peak temperature 3.5 degrees C hotter than today and mini Ice age 1650-1850.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago

I have often seen wokeness as symbolic of the weak and divided nature of western society and further connected that division and weakness to the emboldenment of adversaries like Putin invading Ukraine. Starmer rushing to Estonia shortly after the invasion not to tell them it will be ok if we all stand together, but instead to tell them trans women are women is emblematic of how far down the rabbit hole the “social justice” movement has taken us and how genuinely dangerous to our way of life it has become.
https://dev.unherd.com/2022/03/keir-starmer-is-gaslighting-women/
“Does Sir Keir Starmer know there’s a war on? Last week the Labour leader visited a country literally on the doorstep of Russia. Speaking to a Times journalist at the biggest military base in Estonia, a Baltic state with every reason to fear the intentions of its aggressive neighbour, he had a very important message. Employing the forensic skills that made him a QC, he homed in on the most significant issue of the day: “Trans women are women”, he declared. “And that is not just my view — that is actually the law”.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Is Keir Starmer really a knight? Is there no sanity test for that station?

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
4 months ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

Being a knight has not been a job at least since 1660 when the vestiges of the feudal system were abolished in England. In Starmer’s case he earned the honorific title of knight for having worked for a number of years as Director of Public Prosecutions. Of course the really relevant thing is that he mouths the correct “platitudes”. What is really worrying is that under wokeism nonsense can be accepted as a platitude.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Newman

A cynic might suggest that anyone who makes a statement in defiance of a commonly and readily observed reality is either a liar, stupid or psychotic.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Along with the infamous kneeling photograph with Rayner (for whom I actually have a degree of respect), I hope the Conservative Dirty Tricks Department remind the electorate of this at every opportunity in the coming months. Dreadful as many of the current the Tories are, the idea of that coiffured balloon running the country is terrifying.

To return to the thrust of the article, the UK needs to reform its HE sector. and on the same lines as the author suggests. This will not happen under a Labour government as it would require the disenfranchisement of a significant portion of their voter base.

Howard S.
Howard S.
4 months ago

Equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity is now the watchword in academia, from doctoral and post-doctoral down to grade school. Everybody gets a title; everybody gets a trophy. And Wikipedia and Google’s AI are now the primary source for everything from undergraduate term papers to doctoral dissertations. Original thought is dangerous to journalistic and academic careers. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill were both Africans? And it’s only a matter of personal opinion whether Margaret Thatcher or Adolf Hitler were the most detrimental to human rights?

Jeff Dudgeon
Jeff Dudgeon
4 months ago

Nearly 20 years ago I went to an academic conference in Virginia and was literally shocked at so many of the presentations being couched in unintelligible post-modernist phrasing.
Those young people are now professors and their now woke students are parroting the same gibberish.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago

We do need to go back to what are universities actually for?
In simple terms the answer is symbiotic and two fold: To provide the further education that future employers need and to conduct research into new and difficult problems. Those who stay on and do research also do the teaching; without undergraduates to teach, researchers would not be able to supplement what they get from research grants; some undergraduates are the researchers of the future.
STEM, Arts and Humanities are all needed and all have been adversely impacted by the effects we are seeing; however they all need to be taught properly. Using the UK system, up to GCSE it is largely rote learning provided mainly by the teacher. For A Level the balance changes to have more self learning, but it is still mostly about learning the “right” answer to pass an exam. The emphasis at Bachelor level then needs to shift, not only to more self learning, but to learning how to analyse and work out an answer and to test that answer for yourself – critical thinking. This gets expanded upon at Masters level such that critical analysis and thinking are what it is all about and the subject is a context in which it is happening (the specific outcomes of Masters’ thesis rarely pass the so what test, however the process of getting there teaches a lot). The more that is understood, the more it becomes clear that there is so much still to be understood – that there are no perfectly right answers, is in itself a good answer. Not everyone has the ability to think at that level and most employers only need a few of their employees to be able to.
The lowering of intellectual requirements for going to university (I am not convinced SATs / A Level results are the sole predictor of intellect, but they are the best we have) has led to a dumbing down of the requirement to actually think. At the same time it has reverted to the GCSE / A level idea that there is a right answer which must be spoon fed to under graduates. Alongside this there are now many undergraduates who have developed and extreme “allergy” to hearing the “wrong” answer or anything that challenges their cosy worldview. Ie the rise of woke ideology, combined with letting in those who are not intellectually capable of proper critical thinking, has ruined things for everyone. A lot could be resolved very quickly if the next time a student complains about a visiting speaker or an idea being raised in a lecture, which they do not agree with (it is absolutely fine to disagree, it is not fine to complain as the right sort of student should welcome the challenge) they are simply told “oh well may be you are not right for university” and offered help to pack up their stuff and leave if they feel that strongly.
The current system is over producing graduates, whose ambitions cannot be fulfilled, whilst dramatically under-producing what really is needed in all disciplines not just STEM.
I have both an MA and an MSc.

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Don’t be too dismissive of the necessity or the ability to learn things by rote. If you are doing medicine or veterinary medicine for example, there’s an awful lot to actually learn before the reasoning aspect of final diagnosis becomes remotely possible. You can’t reinvent the whole of biochemistry and bacteriology and physiology and pharmacology and pathology etc etc. And you not only have to learn it but you have to remember it. In the days before smart phones or any other form of electronic crib sheet existed and you found yourself standing in a Dartmoor farmyard looking at a cow that turned out to need an abomasal displacement corrected, the farmer expected you know everything you needed to know in order to do it. Now. On the spot. From anaesthesia to anatomy to surgical technique, right down to the last goddamned stitch. And when you’d finished he’d bring his dog out for you to look at and you had to change species 


Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

All those subject prove my point – yes there is a lot to learn, which is done much better if you understand the principles rather than are just learning by rote. But the really important thing is that they are changing all the time so you need to be able to keep up with new developments by yourself. However you cannot just simply accept everything new as true (for example transgender medicine!), you need to critically analyse it and fit it in appropriately to a greater understanding. It is therefore the ability to think that really matters.

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I think we are talking at cross purposes here. Nobody could get through any medical course without thinking about or understanding principles. I suppose I just assumed that was implicit in the process of learning anything complex. Of course, one isn’t initially in a position to do critical thinking as such, eg ‘This biochemical pathway is called the Embden-Meyerhof glycolytic pathway and this is how it works and this is what it’s for 
 ‘ Unless you are a one time biochemistry researcher, there are really no grounds on which a first year vet student could start challenging the equations which demonstrate how energy is produced in a cell. And anatomy, another early subject, is the way it is for a reason – largely, but not always eg dog breeds, due to evolutionary necessity/pressure. Sometimes, frankly, it doesn’t look as if evolution was that smart but one just learns what is normal and why it probably turned out that way. I suppose that’s what I meant by rote learning. But how you fix anatomy when it’s gone wrong – that comes along later, in medicine and surgery, and the approach can change with time and research, as you said. Ideas and methods arise, get discredited or stimulate a new and successful methodology. One keeps up. One reads the journals, one goes to talks and conferences. Isn’t this normal? Who isn’t keeping up? (Me, but then I’m in my seventies and on another road) Of course, there is getting to be more and more to keep up with which is why there is more specialisation than there used to be.
  PS   â€˜Transgender medicine’ seems to be less about keeping up than 
 well 
 It’s as if everyone involved has entirely succumbed to concepts that cannot be challenged without censure. Even legal censure. A disturbing phenomenon.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

There is still far too much emphasis on the Art and Humanities, undoubtedly because they are ‘soft’ subjects, and ‘employ’ thousands of otherwise worthless academics.
Theology is another complete waste of time, but if you are pushed, let’s say to get in Cambridge it’s worth ‘bluffing the way’ with a supposed vocation.
As for subjects such as English Literature, and most modern languages and ALL the spurious Social ‘Sciences’, they advance mankind by not one iota.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago

Isn’t your expertise in the social science of History? Since we can both agree that not all history is bunk, what other social sciences might we regard as not merely or always spurious?
I nominate Psychology.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m no expert in anything but the use of the words ‘social science’ is a contradiction in terms and completely demeans the word science.
Psychology would also be top of my list!

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
4 months ago

I went to Oxford, studied History and found that it did not help me to think at all – there seemed to be no criteria for distinguishing good History from bad. So then I started over and studied Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck (a college of London University which specialises in evening degree classes for mature students). There I did learn a lot about how to distinguish good thinking from bad – especially in Psychology, where scientific methods were strictly applied. Mind you, I learned a lot at Oxford, but mainly over dinner from fellow students who were studying different subjects. Then I went into the nascent Computer industry and learned Computing on the job, thus ending up as a Professor at a Polytechnic which became a new university. But I know from my former boss that I would not have got that job in industry if I had not gone to Birkbeck.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Newman

Things may have turned out very differently if you had read ‘Greats’.
Still “all’s well that ends well” as we used to say.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

Pre 1920 one had to pass apaper in Greek to go up to Oxford. PPE was created in 1922 because minor grammar schools could not teach Greek. This did not stop Lord Denning who taught himself Greek. History used to require a high standard of languages so one could translate from original texts. This has reduced as comprehensives are poor at modern langauges and usually cannot teach Latin, let alone Greek.
T E lawrence read History at Oxford but also published a translation of the Odyssey.
The decline of Britain corresponds with the introduction of PPE. Gladstone and Peel were awarded double firsts in Greats and Maths.
The worst is social engineering. In engineering, every component and/material is tested and then various prototypes are tested before a structure or object is used. The 1960s social engineering was like building a plane without any testing and expecting it to fly without crashing.
Looking to the future much construction will be undertaken in factories. What would make people useful are craftsmen trained to HNC standards – NVQ 4 which is the case for most Swiss mechanics and electricians.
National Vocational Qualification – Wikipedia
There will always be jobs for those willing to undertake dirty, dangerous jobs in arduous conditions. I have yet to see a sensible plan for repairing off shore wind farms in winter.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes I agree about PPE and it interesting it was introduced in 1922 just after the Great Catastrophe.
As part time resident in Switzerland I also concur with your view. I always find amusing if I’m on a Swiss train that has been delayed how the Staff become riddled with angst! ‘They’ set themselves a very high standard and normally attain it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

One can set one’s watch by the arrival buses in rural Switzerland.
Part of the reason for the competene in Switzerland is National Service and many senior people in commercial life also are officers in the Armed Forces. I think they serve for longer periods every year than officers in the Reserves in the UK. Consequently many middle and upper managers in commercial life have the added competence of training in the Armed Forces. I would say one f the weaknesses of the UK are the low standards of many middle managers in average organisations.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
4 months ago

Thomas Sowell – “Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God”

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago

“How does one determine which monocultures are pernicious and which ones happily represent the triumph of truth over falsehood ?”
You let the players have at it, in whichever political framework prevails, and the victor gets to wield influence over that determination, some with more clarity and authority than others. That generally seems to be the way of history. Regardless, can we not safely ascribe to phrenology and creation-science the label of pseudo-science, which seems a triumph of a sufficient quantity of common sense over stupidity, if you can accept that scientific method is actually a thing.
Value neutrality on the part of any group is a fiction. Whomever the victor always reserves the right to ignite some form of culture war as an exercise of their power.
While they may not be the sole preservers of civilisation, guardians of truth, or reservoirs of moral purity, you at least want universities in the mix creating some tension for those political players who would seek to crown themselves with that authority. It’s a failure of leadership within our political system that has let universities try on that crown at all.
But the notion that they should now be assigned as “value neutral” practical institutions seems ill-conceived.
There is a clear shared purpose to organise our thinking around the purpose of universities, and that is in the contest against the CCP – not merely on economic terms, but a broader philosophical and political defence of plurality against the CCP’s brutalising homogeneity.
To be sure, the management of many institutions needs a good slap in the face at the present time, but Universities cannot function as “value neutral” practical institutions in this contest, anymore than they could in the previous Cold war.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
4 months ago

UnHerd mods, I really wish you’d sort out your comment filters. It does give the impression to your paying subscribers at times that you are censoring either certain individuals or key words.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Agreed, and while we’re on the subject, please introduce a dark mode version, for the iOS app version at the very least.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Could you translate that into plain English please?

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
4 months ago

This is a very nice essay… largely because it mercifully imposes a lot of structure on the issues. Many thanks for taking the time to assemble it.
As far as what the mission of the university could or should be: Universities may be doing “too much,” because government pays them to do too much. For example, the government puts out funds for research into how to mitigate non-problems like “mis-information.” And the universities, including my graduate school (Caltech), oblige.
Meanwhile, what about private R&D? Yes, Bell Labs in gone, but that doesn’t mean that private R&D has disappeared. Even here, the government has operated under the orthodoxy of “knowledge spillovers,” the idea that government should find ways to support R&D–whether in the universities or not–as a way of mitigating a perceived problem of under-investment in R&D. But, again, drawing government in to the R&D business results in a lot of R&D being directed into stuff that, perhaps, shouldn’t be funded.
I would suggest: Blow up the NSF (funders of affirmatively destructive stuff in the universities) and re-examine what the network of national labs and DARPA are up to. Also, get the universities to revert to the SAT and screen out all of the under-prepared students coming from abroad. We don’t need more Saudi princes and other dull-witted elites from abroad in the universities.

Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
4 months ago

I’ve spent my entire career in the sausage factory (Ph.D. from Duke in 1987) and the problem is not the material taught so much, though that could use revision. It’s the social structure and status incentives inside the beast that have to change. They naturally select any more for disconnected neurodivergent types, who when asked if they want to stay ungrounded, they resoundingly nod their head ‘Yes’. So cross-paradigmatic thinking, and the incumbent creativity, collapse. It’s in the DeepOS of the place. It can be fixed, but only through grounding with experience. Which would lead to agency and empathy.
And few are interested.
https://empathy.guru/2019/09/08/why-must-academia-evolve/

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Pezeshki

What? Are you parodying this writer’s style? Or do you really write like this? ps your punctuation is needing some work.

Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
4 months ago

My writing is probably above your complexity limit. I write about that too. No point in referring you to my blog, which explains this.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
4 months ago

Universities need to become more exclusive, and only attract the most able among us. At the moment, they are teaching the average student to be average. When college degrees are ten-a-penny, this is what you get. So now you have DEI in an attempt to get them all employed. It seems flying is becoming a little more dangerous.

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
4 months ago

Excellent! Education lost its way in the mid-80s and when the Feds started their direct loan programs, it went to hell. It became a profit center and when that happens, you can kiss almost everything that really counts goodbye. There will be significant changes over the next 10 years. The driver should be manufacturing and technical schooling.

Forrest Lindsey
Forrest Lindsey
4 months ago

A point missed in this discussion is the loss of employment opportunities for people who didn’t do well in secondary school or just didn’t want to pursue further education in what used to be “blue collar” jobs. These employment opportunities are disappearing due to outsourcing, robotics, and its nightmare grandchild, AI. As America pushed college education for all, it ignored the effects these economic and technological evolutions had on those whose gifts or choice of direction made up the factory workers, grocery checkers, teachers, and long-haul drivers to name a few.
What are we going to do with people who must make a living, a good living, as these jobs are lost? Is anyone at all thinking of the kind of future just ahead of us as both technology and exclusivity push a large segment of our population towards an economic dead end?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

When people left school and became apprenticed and studied for Chartership of the Institutions Of Engineering, Civil, Electrical and Mechanical being the main ones or for an external degree from London University, at night, school the old polys Britain produced Engineers of the calibre of JR Mitchell- Spitfire, Camm- Hurricane, Chadwick – Lancaster and de Havilland – Mosquito and B Wallis R100 Airship, Wellington Bomber, Bouncing and Grandslam Bombs and Swing Wing Techology – F111.
People were taught practical skills in the day, the Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Technical Drawing in the evening. Part 2 exam was degree standard and the Mechies was considered tougher than a degree. Parents paid for the apprenticeship. This process was phased out from the 1960s as academics took over and polys were allowed to award degree, so standards fell.
The British education system used to enable people to leave school and become successful in life- Shakespeare, J Austen Brontes , GK Elliot , Gaskell , Wellington, Nelson, Kipling, Lloyd George , W Churchill , G Orwell, J Callaghan to name but a few.
The top public and grammar schools used to reach to first year degree standards. The government used to offer Scholarships to those who passed Scholarship exams – higher than A Levels. Oxbridge /Imperial taught in two years what other universities tok three; consequently the third year was masters levels. The four year Oxford Greats and Maths at Cambridge ( Part III being fourth year ) produced scholars such as Arnold Toynbee and Clerk Maxwell.
The massive expansion of education post 1945 has primarily benefited academics who have gained employment because standards have been lowered. Prior to 1960s and especially 1945 , many academics would not be good enough to obtain employment in teaching post 16 year olds and universities.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago

Unherd – Stop paying for articles by the word!

Reading this is like finding nuts on the forest floor – a foot deep of leaves have to be rooted through to find a nut, and a long hunt yields a small bag of them.

Writer – good writing holds Brevity as as valued a part of the essay as information.

I wish I had applied the policy of TLDR, but slogged through it – and by the end thought – what did I just read? as I had no idea because the ideas were so diluted by the sheer amount of words.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago

This is one of your key, repetitive complaints, and you spend a lot of time and total words repeating it.
On last week’s weekender you accused all smartphone owners of being sheep (“baaa!”), yet it seems your own attention span is running pretty thin.

Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I was enjoying a substantive article for a change.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark Kennedy

Same here. I only agree with a portion of the author’s remarks, but it wasn’t some slapdash effort, nor (that) hard to get through for an un-lazy reader.

William Brand
William Brand
4 months ago

The very definition of the term Liberal Arts is a clue to what is wrong with it. It is what a free man studies as opposed to the mechanical arts studied by slaves. A free man does not have to work for a living. He has a trust fund and can devote himself to politics and rule over the peasants. People without trust funds forget this when picking their majors and find themselves unemployed. There is only one boss job for every 50 peasants. The most socially disruptive group in any culture are those educated to be part of the ruling elite but find themselves unemployed due to the few elite positions available. We have far too many unemployed rulers in America. Most of these Elite jobs will go to the people who have families that have power already. Not to over educated peasants. We need to close down the elite production machine and only let people who show their trust fund to enter these studies. And even them must show academic credentials to peruse study. Require rich families to only educate one eldest son scion per family to rule. Note that we should use MRI scans to eliminate Elite candidates who show sociopathic tendences. Rising in any bureaucracy tends to attract sociopathic like flies. What is needed is STEM capable graduates. Those who try STEM in high school and prove mediocre would be invaluable in industry. At least they know enough Math to understand the AI overseers who have replaced the old ruling class.

Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
4 months ago

I remember well in my mid-twenties (alas, decades ago) the experience of backpacking through Europe and finding Europeans my own age infinitely better educated than my fellow North Americans back home. The rejoinder to this claim was always, “No, North Americans are better educated: they have more university degrees.” You can’t argue with statistics, right?–except for the wee detail that the supposedly relevant credentials being counted by the statisticians were essentially worthless as measures of education. ‘More degrees’ = ‘better education’ simply commits the fallacy of logical equivocation.

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
4 months ago

This is a very interesting and well written essay, I think, and national exigencies ( external threats, say ) often have a salutary effect on a country’s priorities, such as education – analogously, like the prospect of a hanging in the morning concentrating the mind wonderfully. I don’t know whether that sort of urgency accounts for the post-war success of American education ( technology-wise ), but any discussion of education and its woes, in the U.S. and elsewhere, is incomplete without taking into account this kind of statistic:
Stanford has 16,937 students, 2,288 faculty, and 15,750 administration positions. ( WSJ 19 Dec ’22 )
This is a case of a resplendent tail wagging the peacock. What makes the tail ( 15m+ administrative positions ) resplendent is its ‘virtue’. And administrators increasingly set the agenda at universities ( Fall of the Faculty…. Benjamin Ginsberg ), just as the Administrative State ( Waldo, Hamburger ) does in the society at large. These administrators are educated in the ‘soft sciences’ and the humanities, and you don’t have to guess what their biases are, or their qualifications, for that matter. Which means that both university and state are becoming less democratic and more…..I don’t know….ground down.
Universities are not what they once aspired to be: venues that seek to discover, articulate and impart the truth. Instead, they have become businesses governed by perverse incentives: ‘social justice’-mandated quotas independent of merit ( affirmative action ) and the devaluation of high standards ( grade inflation and the elimination of qualifying exams or of exams altogether ). This, perversely, in institutions whose business is training society’s next generation of skilled workers and elites.
Pace Mr. Klein’s thesis, the threat to America is internal, not external, which makes it very difficult to confront in a united way.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
4 months ago

The community college systems–the leadership of which is 50/50 on the DEI nonsense because the other half care deeply about real-world employment–aren’t always low status. I’m in the Research Triangle area and for at least 20 years the local community colleges have functioned as de facto vocational master’s degree programs for the surplus of humanities grads around here (from Duke, Carolina, State, etc.)

The most prominent, originally, were the two year programs set up in conjunction with the clin trials industry that was just getting going here in the 90s/aughts. To get it you had to have a bachelor’s & a basic understanding of study design & bio. They had a direct path into the major corporations around here.
I think community colleges–at least here in NC and I understand perhaps in Colorado–can be very agile. Yes, some of them are afflicted by getting the empty PhD/EdD’s produced out of colleges of ed to produce a diversity hire . . .and others get plenty of good ole boys who aren’t. necessarily bright either. But in general, they’re tightly coupled with industry and employment needs in their communities and have a lot of potential.
And some of their remedial programs are helpful to older people who had like a gap decade. I’ve noticed smart boys who couldn’t sit still for 8 hrs a day in K-12 w/o recess and acted troubled for awhile get to come back and get a chance to get it together before moving on.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
4 months ago

Sorry–this is kinda my gig so one last thing before I go join hubby for Duke/Carolina game (we’re a three-uni family w/ degrees from D, C, and NC State).
BUT, the state extension service infrastructure put into place in the late 1800s through land grants through one HBCU and one State university have a lot of potential too. I found that so many offices go underutilized in terms of creative potential partnerships. Sure, many are very busy w/ K-12 outreach, running soil tests, etc., but they’re really set up as a kind of secular community gathering place–if they were just used more strategically. They’ve got the old MOO association, but frankly I think that’s going to have more appeal the more AI drives us insane. Just sayin.
Thanks for the in depth article.

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
4 months ago

Yale has as many administrators as students. It also has remedial English and math classes for the unqualified minorities it admits.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
4 months ago

The Wall Street Journal reported that many Americans have lost faith in the value of college (20 January 2024) on the high percentage of college graduates working in jobs that do not require a four year college degree. College for all meant that students enroll in majors that fail to provide sufficient earnings to justify the expense of tuition, living accommodations and foregone earnings.
Bureaucrats can be accountable to no one with the insular nature of college funding. College tuitions at many schools, especially elite ones, have sky rocketed as if demand is inelastic. A key driver is that the colleges do not provide financing for the service they provide, the US government does through student loans. President Biden and many Democrats want to and have been able to “forgive” student loans (dump the costs onto the general taxpayers). Some of the schools with high tuitions have multi-billion dollar endowments too.
School hires more DEI staff > raises tuition to fund it > students take out loans > government forgives the loans.
To get schools focused, have them finance the loans. They may think about cutting low demand majors and especially non-teaching staff to keep costs inline. Have a look at the success of Purdue on keeping instate tuition to about $10K to $12K.
As far as our industrial and research base goes, much has been off-shored as our costs and regulations become to high. America is basically a cash transfer society: 65% of federal spending goes for legally mandated benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Much of that spending is borrowed and we pay about 5% of federal spending is on interest. We borrow to pay interest on our debt, which causes us to go deeper into debt. You’d think with all these college educated people here in the US, we wouldn’t be so stupid.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago

Though quite dry and little bitter, this essay gives us something to chew on. (Are you out there, N. Satori?).

Conservatives’ inveterate idealism tends to blind them to the real functions and sources of the power of elite universities.

I hadn’t realized that conservatives, as a group, were idealists. I think they tend to be rather pessimistic, sometimes cynical about human nature, often in ways that make sense, at least in some measure. I wonder what other self-styled conservatives might have to say about this.
In the rest of this paragraph, the Mr. Krein proceeds to reduce the most elite universities to status-stamp factories. Of course there is some truth to that, but world-class universities like Harvard, Cambridge (right Mr. Stanhope?), or the University of Paris–which attract global standouts across many subjects–are not just shallow schools of “networking” and social polish. This will be more true when there are fewer both of “hardship” and “legacy” admits.

Anti-woke conservatives, on the other hand, have a clear goal: they seek to use the universities to inculcate conservative values, whether by refashioning red-state universities, starting new ones, or other means. The problem is that this vision is too narrow; it ignores the structural sources of universities’ power and the system’s underlying problems.

Another problem: This would be little more than a hypocritical mirror image of the bully-pulpit domination of Academia by the Left. Don’t fight fire with fire–fight it with FIRE and Heterodox Academy. That is the best sort of path back toward sensible balance, though not to your favorite shade of dominance. These efforts that have already yielded early fruit (to my rather idealistic eye).

In reality, however, most evidence suggests that professors have relatively little influence on students’ ideologies, and there is little reason to think that more conservative faculty or academic institutions would make much of a difference beyond the campus.

I just don’t agree with this claim. I looked into the link (to Heterodox U.!) and–after an admittedly quick read-through–didn’t find the linked article very coherent, nor even in strong support of Krein’s case. I do agree that many conservatives and reactionaries wildly overestimate the influence and impact of campus bias. But that doesn’t make the skewing trivial. In fact, I have anecdotal “evidence”, with a sample size of one: Many years ago, I had a brilliant conservative English professor here in California, and he is part of the reason I’m as moderately liberal as I am. QED?

William Cameron
William Cameron
4 months ago

Universities have always about being a rest home for academics. They have never been about education. From time immemorial they have always resisted learning . And today they do that in spades. Try giving a lecture on gender in a university. It would have been easier in Salem.

John Pade
John Pade
4 months ago

The typical college employs more administrators than faculty. Combined, they are a lobby whose interests are formidable, a bastion of the status quo, if not a force for more of it.
The rediscovered worth of the SAT may mean less than it seems. A new digital version has recently gone into operation. It is self-adjusting during the taking so that if a taker has trouble with the first half, the questions get easier in the second half.
This is a powerful tool to reduce the gap is scores between ethnic groups and English and non-English speakers. And between boys and girls on the math section.
It’s a safe bet that Dartmouth, et. al., knew about this improved SAT test before they rediscovered its value. They may even view its value as being enhanced, another arrow in the diversity quiver and one designed to pierce even the best merit armor.
In case your day is going too well, you can read about it here:
https://nypost.com/2024/03/07/opinion/the-college-board-is-dumbing-down-its-sat-again-test-doing-no-one-any-favors/

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

The science is settled has to be the most chilling phrase in the world

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago

“… the common conservative critiques of wokeness, which emphasise the role of academia.”
This critique is correct. Educational establishments from kindergarten to universities have been captured by the Woking Class – totally. This is a fact and cannot be dismissed or diminished as merely a “conservative critique”. And because education, from primary school to university post-graduate programmes, has been so massively captured by the left-wing Woking Class, whose worldview is essentially Marxist in orientation and values, the wider corporate and governmental landscape, and especially the media, is now utterly dominated by adherents to the Woke Way. Which aspects of our Western democracies are controlled by Right-Wing interests? Answer: very few! The media, education, government (whether of a Left or Right wing persuasion), civil and public services, the police, the armed services – all of these and more are controlled and dominated managerially by Left-Wing interests and organisations. The Right controls hardly anything.
To suggest that “professors [i.e. universities in Brit-speak] have relatively little influence on students’ ideologies” is absurd. Having worked as a senior lecturer in a British university myself I vouch that a very substantial majority of my colleagues were openly Left-Wing in their views (not a single colleague in my experience ever dared declare Right Wing sympathies though I suspect a few held them in secret). They (my Left-Wing colleagues) blatantly influenced their students by orientating their lecture and teaching materials accordingly, and by setting programme assessments and examinations in which marks were positively awarded for regurgitating DEI, BLM and other such pernicious philosophies. I also acted as external examiner to other British universities and saw exactly the same mindless regurgitations in the samples of undergraduate and postgraduate work I had to moderate over a decade until I recently (thank God!) retired.
The author is right to assert that ‘”college for all” has been a disaster economically, intellectually, and politically.’. He fails to acknowledge that the Woking Class totally dominates academia and that its graduate cohorts have gone on to infiltrate and ultimately control every sector of Western democracies. I predict that the Woke Era will eventually be recognised as the most successful and enduring revolution in human history. The duration and impact of the past Democratic Era will be discredited (colonialism, slavery, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, etc.) and re-written by the AI technology of the Woke machine that is now the future.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

“This is a fact and cannot be dismissed or diminished as merely a “conservative critique”. ”
Surely someone who claims to have been “a senior lecturer in a British university” can offer some kind of argument to support his thesis?
Or perhaps you just get all your opinions from GB News and consider those to be “facts”?

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
4 months ago

You know the facts my friend.

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago

You are a thoroughly unpleasant individual who seems to live for nothing else but insulting provoking others who dare to comment. Get lost (to put it politely)! Nothing you post anywhere in Unherd is remotely valid, intellectual, interesting or meaningful.

Michael Crick
Michael Crick
4 months ago

Harvard needs to squelch its extreme woke-liberal monoculture. The Ivy League is becoming the Poison Ivy League.

Liam F
Liam F
4 months ago

Excellent article.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
4 months ago

I’m not sure where else one would go in systematic pursuit of a liberal education, except a university.
The modern research university produces a lot of genuine knowledge, including science, though it may do so with an inefficiency and wastefulness bordering on red in tooth and claw. But this is a problem of baby & bathwater.
It also seems to be the case that “In the world’s most developed countries, around 50 per cent of the population receives higher education. The colleges and universities which provide it are staffed by people who are assessed in terms not merely of teaching performance but also of intellectual creativity and originality, on the model of an ever-growing natural science, and of great centres of learning . . . So this extensive world of university instruction is run on the model applicable to a few centres of creative excellence, and in genuinely cumulative, expanding natural sciences” (Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion, 1992, p. 46). That is to say, mass higher education — the “birthright BA” of postwar days — is expected to do what only a more constricted system might reasonably be expected to do. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle! But it does not follow that radical surgical deconstruction of the university, or even the excision from it of the humanities and social science, would make matters better.

Will K
Will K
4 months ago

Brick-and-mortar universities are an enormously expensive relic. Scientific education can be now performed at negligible cost over the internet. Arts subjects may be taught over video conferences. To reject this, is akin to banning recorded music, and insist people travel to concert halls to hear music.

Luke Lea
Luke Lea
4 months ago

I prepose that in America we divorce our liberal arts colleges (and law schools) from schools that specialize in science and technology. In the former, the guiding principle would be “affirmative action for all”; in the latter, “affirmative action for none.” This way we could combine the benefits of maximum technological progress with liberally-educated ruling elites that reflect the full racial, ethnic, and geographical diversity of America. No democratic society should settle for less.