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The conversion of universities

There’s plenty of material on this out there. It’s being expressed in a variety of ways, though only a small number of academics are generating it. The crux of it is that universities are abandoning their core mission of educating people to learn and explore, reason, argue and contend, in the small-l liberal tradition, and are substituting a progressive moral teaching that takes on the qualities of a religious education.

I’m putting this presentation here by Professor Amy Wax, because she says so much that needs to be said about this. It’s devastating. My heart sank as I listened to her talk about what’s being promoted from the top on down, inside universities, particularly the Ivy League.

I wanted to add this to a post on my Tekkie blog about higher education, because I thought her presentation was excellent, but so much of the Q&A that happened afterwards, even though there were some great, smart, to-the-point questions that cut to critical issues, was about what could be done politically. I felt like it got off the subject. The Q&A was the majority of the time.

I think I understand what’s going on with what Wax is describing, because I’ve listened to some analysis of it. A generation of academics have decided that our society is sick, down to its foundations. It was born of the original sin of discrimination, but they believe they are the leaders of a cultural revolution that will rid us of that sin. To effect that revolution, all that we need to do is promote equality of outcomes, to throw out white men from positions of power (if they will not be “allies” in this revolution), and substitute women, blacks, latinos, gay people, all of the people who have been discriminated against, now, and in the past. What they sacrifice, though, is the idea of merit, as has been traditionally defined (that you have mastered some areas of knowledge, and accomplished some things with that knowledge that produce better outcomes than past efforts), and substitute a different idea of merit: That you’re oppressed. The mythology that’s promoted in this quasi-religious belief is that those who are oppressed can “see better,” or “see interestingly” in ways that those who have been promoted for merit in the past cannot. We just haven’t been listening to them, and now we are. It will be wonderful, so the thinking goes.

As Wax pointed out, this is not just happening inside the liberal arts (where this thinking has been infiltrating for decades). It’s now infiltrating STEM fields.

What this system of morality actually promotes is the banishment of knowledge, and the banishment of any ideas of truth, because knowledge, if you pursue it deeply enough, leads to some uncomfortable ideas. Some may shake us to our very core. There are things that can be rationally asserted as true that make us feel uncomfortable. By this morality, it doesn’t matter if the ideas are true. What matters is the messaging that makes the chosen oppressed groups comfortable. Psychotherapists would recognize this as the social environment that exists inside of dysfunctional families, “Don’t upset your dad.”

Wax is right. Universities used to be better than this. That isn’t just nostalgia talking. Students are being denied a proper education while they’re shelling out outrageous tuition. As I pointed out on my Tekkie blog, this is because, as Wax said, parents don’t care. What they want is for their children to get their degrees, because they figure that is their ticket to a better life. Universities are literally selling degrees, for the most part, not an education, though they figure they still have to go through the motions to be convincing. Students still take 4+ years to get their degrees, if they finish (a significant number do not).

This does not point to a bright future for our society. We are sacrificing knowledge on the altar of people’s feelings.

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