During the 2010-2011 academic year, the AHI will explore issues of reform in higher education and what constitutes greatness in the liberal arts. The National Association of Scholars, an organization dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual freedom and to “the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities,” has agreed to partner with the AHI during the academic year in the presentation of relevant programming.
“The National Association of Scholars is delighted to partner with the Alexander Hamilton Institute on this important project,” said Peter Wood, President of the NAS. “Liberal arts education is in serious disrepair in the United States, and reforming higher education as a whole hinges on finding a way to restore its liberal arts core. What went wrong? Some critics blame the students for being too career-oriented to pay mind to the ‘critical thinking’ they say is the essence of liberal education. Others, including the NAS, see the problem as arising from the dissolution of the old structured curriculum, which came hand-in-hand with diminished intellectual standards. Students turn away from the liberal arts because they sense, correctly, that in many colleges the liberal arts have lost their serious purpose. Terms like ‘critical thinking,’ ‘perspective taking,’ and ‘liberal arts’ are flung around like confetti at the perpetual New Year’s Eve party of the co-curriculum that now substitutes for patient and disciplined academic inquiry. Reforming higher education will require that we put the noise-makers and streamers away and get back to reading the best books by the best minds taught by the best teachers.”
Several years ago, Harvard professor and AHI academic adviser Harvey Mansfield asked, “What is Greatness in a Democratic Education?” We live in an age, he noted, suspicious of greatness, elaborating institutions of higher learning ever more rife with “claims for unearned praise.” Higher education costs continue to spiral upward, well above the annual rate of inflation. Yet, as educators of various political stripes have observed, rising costs have little to do with the hiring of new faculty.
In introducing a forthcoming volume on the selected essays of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, AHI co-founder Robert Paquette points to a growing crisis in liberal arts education. “The core curriculum, which paid homage to a collective culture and a collective good, capitulated to the open or near-open curriculum based on consumer preference. Grades inflated, and academic standards declined as a result. In the post-modern classroom, well-directed sentiment in the service of a feminized social justice could earn you more stripes in a humanities course from a professor than the configuring of evidence by argument into a meaningful pattern with explanatory power. Instead of foundational courses rooted in traditional disciplines that teach undergraduates how to think by exposing them to different approaches to the acquisition of knowledge, the post-modern campus was increasingly serving cafeteria-style an abundance of specialized dishes concocted to teach students what to think by first titillating their appetite. Professors were exhorting their students in, for example, black history and women’s history to act on a consciousness of oppression without an honest or adequate understanding of the historical conditions that produced it.”
On Saturday, 9 October, at the AHI’s headquarters, Richard Vedder, Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University, inaugurated the joint NAS-AHI series with a sobering address on “The Coming Revolution in Higher Education.”