More frightening than what’s included in an undergraduate’s education is what’s excluded. “At UC Davis, a history major can avoid American history entirely,” A Crisis of Competence points out. “There is not a single history department on any of the campuses that requires a survey course in Western civilization of its history majors. And most shocking of all, on almost all campuses (the exceptions being UCLA and UC Davis) Western civilization courses are simply not offered at all.” Outside speakers, a minuscule attempt at providing more balance, are occasionally shouted-down or censored. The study points to eight speakers—including this writer—“seriously disrupted or stopped outright” in delivering their message at the Berkeley campus, home of the free speech movement of the 1960s. Repeated acts of censorship, the study holds, demonstrate official indifference to the free flow of ideas.
Making over staid lecture halls into lively political rallies has predictably sent students into the world ill equipped for the responsibilities of citizenship and the workplace. With a growing debate asking, “Is college worth it?,” it has also harmed the reputation of higher education. Most acutely, and perhaps appropriately, the humanities and social sciences feel the adverse impact. Students simply have gravitated away from fields heavy on politics but light on learning. Given the liberal arts tradition being antithetical to the ideological classroom, the pinch felt by co-opted fields in the liberal arts comes as bittersweet to the partisans of the liberal arts critical of classroom partisanship.
The 81-page publication concludes that the best chance of reform comes by trustees enforcing existing rules, such as those prohibiting politicizing captive audiences of students. “When even five minutes of class time is used to promote an instructor’s political beliefs, public property has essentially been converted to a private use,” the California Association of Scholars maintains. The group likens politics hijacking tax-funded class time to an employee heisting a school computer. The time, like the property, isn’t theirs. They are paid to teach not to preach. Given the widespread conception among faculty of college as an instrument of social transformation rather than education, the authors admit that fundamental change will not come easy. “Those who have slowly built themselves a protective refuge from the marketplace of ideas will not give it up easily.”
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