Educating the University

June 1, 2005

By Peter Berkowitz at Policy Review (Hoover Institution)

Donald Alexander Downs.
Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus.
Cambridge University Press. 318 pages. $28.99

Our universities are ailing. Many, including most of our elite universities, have abandoned the notion that a liberal arts education is constituted by a solid core, that is, a basic knowledge of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences that all educated people should possess. Furthermore, for all their earnest words about the beauty and necessity of multicultural education, university administrators and faculty preside over a curriculum that routinely permits students to graduate without acquiring reading, writing, and speaking fluency in any foreign language, let alone competence in Chinese, the language of the most populous country in the world; Hindi, the most widely spoken language in the world’s largest democracy; or Arabic, the language of Islam, a religion that commands an estimated 1.4 billion adherents worldwide. And perhaps most alarmingly, those who lead our universities have done little to oppose — often they have caved in to — fellow administrators and faculty who would sacrifice free and open inquiry to tender sensibilities and partisan politics. Unfortunately, an institution that lacks an ideal of an educated person, that fails to teach its students more than platitudes about the world beyond America’s shores, and that punishes those who express hypotheses disagreeable to campus majorities makes a mockery of the idea of higher education. Such an institution may confer prestige and ensure handsome incomes after graduation, it may serve as an effective credentialing mechanism for future employers, and it may provide an attractive site for the charitable giving of wealthy alums, but it is hardly worthy of the name university...

Schools: Columbia University University of Wisconsin – Madison University of Pennsylvania University of California, Berkeley