Thanks for this thoughtful response!
Eryn Ammons
222

So I don’t think there’s going to be too much disagreement on my part with anything you wrote. One important point you brought up is the importance of financial aid in permitting low-income students to attend top universities, and I’d agree about that, because admitting low-income students is nice, but if they can’t afford to accept the offer, what’s the use, right?

But I’d go further than financial aid. This is one of my more extreme views in the “left” direction, but I believe education, including higher education, is a government function and should be financed through tax revenue, not (exorbitant) tuition (or loans that then essentially force students to either spend years in debt or else take finance-industry corporate-sector jobs instead of doing something they might be more passionate about and that’s probably going to be more useful to this nation and the world than adding more cogs to the parasitic Wall St. machine that bogs down our economy in excessive financialization and then lead to things like risky speculation and over-investment in packaged mortgage-backed securities that then result in the financial crises). One of the regrettable trends going on increasingly right now is the creeping commodification of education, where students are seen as customers who have to be pleased by administrations eager to kowtow to their whims. These universities are abdicating their mission (to challenge and educate and expand students’ horizons) and are instead investing in amenities and student lounges and big, fancy, new stadiums and, meanwhile, letting students select from a menu of absurd courses and majors that indulge their predilections rather than actually educating them. This is also one of my more extreme views, though I’m not sure whether it’s in the “right” or “left” direction — depends whom you ask, I guess — but I believe universities should all be more like St. John’s, where there is one general culture-type program that every student goes through. There shouldn’t be these technical or practical majors like “business” or “pre-med,” which belong in a technical school rather than in a university, and there shouldn’t be these various highly specialized majors or ridiculous ideological majors, like “whiteness studies,” which can be saved for grad school. What we need from our universities, now more than ever, is to foster the creation of an American citizenry with a common base of knowledge in the core arts and sciences. And we need to make that education financially available to anyone who is academically qualified for it.

On the subject of what constitutes a “conservative” vs. a “liberal,” these are, of course, very complex questions as to which the answers are always changing. For instance, the far right can either be conceived of as extreme libertarianism or as fascism, and these two approaches to the world have very little in common (respect for “tradition” might be the only common point), as libertarianism entails minimal government interference with people’s lives, both socially and economically, while fascism entails a powerful, almost socialist-style government, with the main difference between socialism and fascism being that the former is focused principally and exclusively on economic equalization while the latter is focused on creating a strong national ethos informed by traditional norms and views and fostering spiritual unity and a sense of national mission. But whatever labels you use, the reality is that there is a strong imbalance in whom these elite universities are choosing to admit. Just recently, for instance, a survey of Harvard’s incoming class revealed, among other things, this stark fact about the political leanings of those incoming students:

The majority of students consider themselves to be liberal. Forty-one percent described themselves as “somewhat liberal,” 28% “very liberal,” 19% as “moderate,” 9% as “conservative,” and 2.5% as “very conservative.”

This is not a recipe for ideological diversity. Freedom of thought and inculcation of a diversity of views are just being crushed at the outset when 69% of the entering students are liberal or very liberal, while only 11.5% are conservative or very conservative, and the biases of admissions officers that I discussed in my last response to you are likely a big part of the picture here.

When I see stuff like that, I’m not surprised that American conservatives are souring on university education completely. They have to be asking/saying, “What is it these kids are learning at these places that are turning them into smug little whiners who don’t even get how someone could have different views from them on important political issues without being some sort of white supremacist, racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe or neo-Nazi? If this is what university education is about these days, I don’t want any part of it.”

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