In a time of rampant political correctness on university campuses, Insight finds 30 excellent colleges that still offer students a well-rounded education, where professors are committed to teaching and traditional values are not suppressed.
The great scholar and Columbia University professor Jacques Barzun published his thoughts on education, Teacher in America, more than half a century ago, but the book remains as useful and pertinent as when it appeared in 1945. Barzun noted then that "Americans believe in education" as a means of improving life and pay "large sums" for it. He went on to sound another familiar note. Despite their great concern about education, and all the money they spent on it, Americans nonetheless were enormously dissatisfied with what they got for all their worry and expenditure. Why? Because, wrote Barzun, and here his comments seem particularly apt in the year 2000, "Education does not seem to yield results."
Insight thought about Barzun's words this year in drawing up the magazine's annual list of politically incorrect schools, this year expanded from the usual 10 schools to 15. What results do parents -- who often lay out as much as 35,000 a year for kids in private colleges -- expect from those schools? What do students themselves, who frequently go deeply into debt to put themselves, through college, want from those expensive and long years spent acquiring a "higher" education?
The questions are not easy ones. In Teacher in America, Barzun listed the standard answers: "Education should be broadening," for example, and "It should train a man for practical life." But Barzun went on to wonder if Americans expected too much from their schools, requiring them "to do everything that the rest of the world leaves undone." They must "root out racial intolerance," for one thing, and produce young men and women who will be "happy married couples." But education, Barzun concluded, really is only one part of a life well-lived. And it is, as the encyclopedia salesmen used to say, a continuing process. Indeed, Barzun wrote, it "is a lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, encouraged by reasonable opportunity to lead a good life."
He saw education as a tool that helps men and women acquire this "lifelong discipline" and believed education isn't completed when college years are over -- far from it. For Barzun the best and most useful results a good education produces are men and women who are capable of, and very much inclined toward, lifelong growth and change.
Insight's 15 politically incorrect colleges provide this kind of training if their students take advantage of what's offered them. That's the catch, of course: Education never is a passive affair and it isn't absorbed merely by being on campus. It's always an active enterprise, one that's achieved through deep immersion and intense effort.
The 15 colleges chosen for 2000 vary considerably. James Madison College at Michigan State University, the College of William and Mary and St. Mary's College of Maryland are state-owned schools, while the others are not. Calvin College and Wheaton College are evangelical Christian institutions, but Christendom College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville are Roman Catholic. Claremont McKenna College and tiny Shimer College (on Insight's list this year for the first time) are secular and have no religious affiliation at all.
What puts each of these diverse schools on the list is, first of all, a dedication to teaching: Insight believes college should be as rich an experience as possible, and this happens only when undergraduates come into regular contact with professors who are happy to be teaching and do it well.
A core curriculum, too, adds richness. "A core curriculum is one that ensures that every student take basic, broad-based courses in the fundamental subjects, from the humanities to the sciences," says Jerry Martin, president of the Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
A common set of courses gives students subjects they can talk about together; but, more importantly, a core curriculum avoids the fragmentation characteristic of higher education these days. Martin tells Insight: "Most colleges today give students way too much choice. A graduating senior once told me, `I had some good courses, but I wish they had added up to something.'"
At their worst, Martin explains, "too many colleges have cafeteria-style curricula, full of intellectual junk food. At the University of Virginia, you can take `Dracula' as part of the humanities requirement; at the University of Alabama, the `History of College Football'; at Georgetown, `Prison Literature'; at Duke, `Soap Operas.'" Why is this bad? Because, says Martin, "these are not courses that will nourish students' souls or prepare them for successful lives."
Martin contends that "there is no point in teaching well something that is not worth learning," a point on which Insight's top 15 colleges would agree. Thomas Aquinas College, a Roman Catholic school, offers one of the most creative core curricula at any American college. Courses are based, with adjustments toward the times in which we live, on the trivium and quadrivium of medieval education. Their freshman year, students read Homer, Plato, Thucydides. Four years later as seniors, they read Einstein, Tolstoy and other 19th- and 20th-century greats.
The two secular St. John's Colleges -- in Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M. -- have a similar great-books program, but one that is less oriented toward Catholic tradition. At Rhodes College, the core curriculum is titled "The Search for Values" and is a two-year tour through "Western history and religion." Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male school in Virginia, has no core curriculum but insists that every student learn to write and communicate well and accurately -- or they don't graduate. It's a requirement that helps focus student attention on genuine achievement.
Another factor that puts schools on Insight's list is the quality of the campus. It's not that schools must be as rich and handsome as the Ivy League's. But they should provide students some sense of being in a special place at a special time in their lives. And they should be places that offer a rich sense of continuity with the past.
Describing Grove City College (one of Insight's top 15) where he's dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Charles Dunn emphasizes what he calls "the stability of the school's traditional environment, fostered by the architecture." Grove City College was laid out by Frederick Olmstead, the great landscape architect who designed New York City's Central Park and Boston's Fenway.
Dunn tells Insight that an impressive 80 percent of Grove City's applicants interview on campus -- an unusually high number for a college these days. Dunn thinks the "successful chemistry" of the "traditional campus environment" along with "respectful behavior" of students at the college makes for an irresistible combination for many who visit the school.
That's no doubt true. But Dunn emphasizes that the "respectful behavior" of Grove City students doesn't mean they aren't competitive with one another. They are, in "collegial" ways, he says. So are students at each of Insight's top 15 schools. Such (mostly) friendly competition is a good thing: It helps undermine the complacency that's all too easy to acquire in college ("I've made it to a really good school and now I'm set for life").
Insight's top 15 colleges are competitive in another way, too. Each has a good record for sending students on to law, medical and other professional schools. They also have efficient student-aid programs -- essential at a time when a college education costs as much as it does. Two on the list -- Grove City College and Hillsdale College -- received no federal financial aid -- a prohibition the colleges themselves decided on in order to avoid government influence. Both Grove City and Hillsdale, however, have developed efficient student-loan programs on their own.
Is a liberal-arts education practical today? Does it help one earn a living? Let's look at the answer provided by Grove City College President John H. Moore at the recent convocation opening the new school year at Grove City:
"It is apparent that what one learns in the liberal arts is critically important to practical success -- not to mention personal satisfaction -- in a society that is changing as rapidly as ours.
"The flexibility that is needed in that society, the ability to roll with the punches, can't really be developed in programs that deal only with the practical. But it can be found in the liberal arts," Moore claimed. He added that at Grove City, a school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), that flexibility is achieved "specifically in the Christ-centered understanding of the liberal arts that we profess," but his point serves to define a liberal-arts education in general, whatever its religious background or lack thereof. That is, education should broaden and should render its recipient better able to roll with the fiercest punches modern life provides.
But what about the fierce punches that can come from the campuses themselves? How strong is political correctness at American colleges these days, how rigid are its demands that students behave in "acceptable" ways or face punishment? Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Inc., or FIRE, tells Insight that "things have never been so bad as they are today."
According to Martin of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, "Political correctness gets less press because it has become so commonplace. It is now taken for granted on campuses that a student or a professor will be punished for opposing affirmative action or gay rights or questioning academic programs based on identity politics."
How bad is it? "You can't even say that Shakespeare is better than rap or that Western civilization invented science, democracy and human rights," Martin maintains. He also says, "Celebrating diversity is the centerpiece of the curriculum." Diversity sounds like an approach based on mutual respect. In fact, he warns, "while some groups are treated as victims, others are vilified."
FIRE's Halvorssen recommends that parents and students take several precautions to make themselves aware of student "rights and dignities." They "should look closely at the student handbook and see if the college has a speech code." It won't actually be called a speech code, of course, "because no university has the courage to call them that." Instead, they will be found under the verbal and harassment clauses in the code of student conduct.
"The [political correctness] bullies tend to back off when students actually know their rights and speak with confidence about their legal equality," Halvorssen says. "Additionally, they should read carefully the school's language on tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism which often are nothing but declarations of war on freedom of speech, voluntary association and religious liberty." One "last and crucial area to look at is the student judicial code. Kangaroo courts are the rule rather than the exception on college campuses."
Halvorssen tells Insight that it's "not a tragedy to send our children to PC campuses that still offer good educations" as long as students are forewarned and prepared. And Princeton University, which "on paper looks as politically correct as many of the Ivies," in practice "seems to treat its students with more respect than the other Ivy League campuses do. Its faculty remains first-rate."
Still, if a poll published in May 2000 is any indication, change may be on the way. Pollster John Zogby conducted the survey for the traditionalist Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition, or FAST. Fifty-six questions were asked of 1,004 randomly selected college students.
The findings indicate widespread student dissatisfaction with the status quo in academia:
* Ninety-three percent opposed preferences for blacks and Hispanics. An impressive 95.7 percent said diversity of ideas and high academic standards are more important to quality education than achieving ethnic diversity.
* A miniscule 2.9 percent said ethnic diversity is the most important goal for which colleges can strive. White, Hispanic, Asian and African-American students gave notably similar responses.
* A majority of students, whatever their background, opposed minority-student preferences: whites by the big majority of 79.5 percent; Asian-Americans, 78.1 percent; Hispanics by 71.4 percent; and African-Americans, 51.9 percent. Surprisingly, opposition to minority-student preferences came from students of differing political persuasions, with 82.3 percent of conserva-tives opposing preferences, 81.1 percent of moderates and 66.7 percent of liberals.
Of those surveyed, 78.9 percent said that lower entrance requirements for some students, whatever the reasons for those lower requirements, were unfair to the whole student body. On this question, whites, Hispanics and Asians agreed 4-to-1; African-Americans agreed 3-to-2.
On the question of politics on campus and political correctness, 55.4 percent said that political correctness "sometimes" restricts what people say and learn on campus, while 57.9 percent said that there is too much politics in the classroom.
The survey likewise indicated dissatisfaction with aspects of campus life other than politics. More than 78 percent of those surveyed, for example, said colleges need to focus more on traditional subjects that help students acquire valuable skills. Seven in 10 said they wanted their professors to challenge them more. And sadly, 71.8 percent said that much of what they should have learned in high school is taught these days in college, an indication of how "dumbed down" college education is these days and an indication, too, of how America's high schools aren't doing their job.
Out of such dissatisfaction, will demands for different approaches emerge? Hard to say. The tyranny of political correctness is rampant on campuses these days, and change comes slowly. It's probably good to listen to Barzun in Teacher in America again, this time on how much, finally, a man or a woman's education depends on their own efforts: "Education comes from within; it is a man's own doing, or rather it happens to him -- sometimes because of the teaching he has had, sometimes in spite of it."
The Best Guides to Colleges and Financial Aid
The best guide for conservatives remains Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth About America's Top Colleges (Eerdmans, 672 pp, $25), put together by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It offers detailed accounts of what conservative and moderate students will find on the campuses it reviews. Now 7 years old, but still of use to conservatives, is The National Review College Guide: Americas Top Liberal Arts Schools (Simon & Schuster, 270 pp, $13).
The College Board also publishes several comprehensive guides. Its College Handbook 2001 (1,888 pp, $25.95) calls itself "the only guide to all 4-year and 2-year U.S. colleges" and offers basic information on each of them. Of great help, too, are three books the College Board publishes on financial aid: The Scholarship Handbook (592 pp, $24.95), which offers facts on more than 2,300 scholarships, internships and loans for undergraduates, along with "FUND FINDER" (a CD-ROM); The Parents' Guide to Paying for College (179 pp, $14.95); and College Cost & Financial Aid Handbook (712 pp, $21.95).
Sallie Mae, the largest U.S. student-loan service, has Sallie Mae's College Answer Service at (800) 891-4599, where counselors answer questions and will send callers a free booklet, Paying for College. The Website is www.salliemae.com.
Insight's Top 15 Colleges CALVIN COLLEGE, Grand Rapids, Mich. Founded: 1876. Enrollment: 4,218. Total Costs: $20,000+. Description: Affiliated with Christian Reformed Church. www.calvin.edu CHRISTENDOM COLLEGE, Front Royal, Va. Founded: 1977. Enrollment: 257. Total costs: $17,000. Description: Affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. www.christendom.edu CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE, Claremont, Calif. Founded: 1946. Enrollment: 1,016. Total costs: $32,000. Description: Private liberal-arts college.www.mckenna.edu FRANCISCAN UNIVERSITY OF STEUBENVILLE, Steubenville, Ohio Founded: 1946. Enrollment: 1,682. Total costs: $19,100+. Description: Roman Catholic university.www.franuniv.edu GROVE CITY COLLEGE, Grove City, Penn. Founded: 1876. Enrollment: 2,313. Total costs: $12,700. Description: Affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA). www.gcc.edu HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE, Hampden-Sydney, Va. Founded: 1776. Enrollment: 996. Total costs: $24,000. Description: Private men's college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). www.hsc.edu HILLSDALE COLLEGE, Hillsdale, Mich. Founded: 1844. Enrollment: 1,167. Total costs: $21,000+. Description: Private. JAMES MADISON COLLEGE OF MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, East Lansing, Mich. Founded: 1867. Enrollment: 1,200. Total costs: $12,000 in-state; out-of-state, $19,200. Description: Part of large state university.www.msu.edu RHODES COLLEGE, Memphis, Tenn. Founded: 1848. Enrollment: 1,484. Total costs: $27,000. Description: Affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA). www.rhodes.edu SHIMER COLLEGE, Waukegan, Ill. Founded: 1853. Enrollment: 109. Total costs: $17,000+. Description: Private. www.shimer.edu ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M. Founded: Annapolis, 1784; Santa Fe, 1964. Enrollment: Annapolis, 452; Santa Fe, 431. Total costs: Annapolis, $32,400; Santa Fe, $32,500. Description: Private. Annapolis: www.sjca.edu; Santa Fe: www.sjcsf.edu ST. MARY'S COLLEGE OF MARYLAND, St. Mary's City, Md. Founded: 1840. Enrollment: 1,458. Total costs: $15,000 in-state; out-of-state $20,000. Description: Public. www.smcm.edu THOMAS AQUINAS COLLEGE, Santa Paula, Calif. Founded: 1971. Enrollment: 267. Total costs: $21,700. Description: Affiliated with Roman Catholic Church. www.thomasaquinas.edu WHEATON COLLEGE, Wheaton, Ill. Founded: 1860. Enrollment: 2,302. Total costs: $22,000. Description: Private, nondenominational evangelical. www.wheaton.edu COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY, Williamsburg, Va. Founded: 1693. Enrollment: 5,469. Total costs: $11,550 in-state; out-of-state, $24,000. Description: Public.
Another 15 Excellent Colleges to Consider:
Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences, Waco, Tex.
Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, Ala.
Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.
Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.
Furman University, Greenville, S.C.
Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss.
Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.
Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
Stamford University, Birmingham, Ala.
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Merrimack, N.H.
University of Chicago
University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn.
Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va.
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.
A Sampling of the Kind of Courses to Expect at Politically Correct Colleges
Political correctness has led to the creation of many courses at America's colleges that in saner times never would have been offered. Members of Young America's Foundation, or YAF, collect these course names each year in their invaluable Comedy & Tragedy: College Course Descriptions and What They Tell Us About Higher Education Today.
Here's a sampling from their most recent compilation. Notice that many of the offerings are in subjects that educated men and women could pursue on their own but that would strike many as a waste of time for college. Mostly, they sound like a professor's personal obsessions made into requirements for captive students. Notice the excessive use of jargon.
* Bowdoin College: Women's Studies students can take "Music and Gender." The main question addressed: "Is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony a marvel of abstract architecture, culminating in a gender-free paean to human solidarity, or does it model the process of rape?"
* Cornell University: "Bodies Politic: Queer Theory and Literature of the Body" is offered. The course discusses such questions as, "How do concepts of perversion and degeneration haunt the idea of the social body? How are individual bodies stigmatized, encoded and read within the social sphere?"
* Harvard University: In "Feminist Biblical Interpretation" the class "concentrates on the significance of feminist hermeneutics for contemporary theological reflection and education for ministry."
* University of California at Los Angeles: In "Death, Suicide, and Trauma" students study the "definition and taxonomy of death; new permissiveness and taboos related to death; romanticization of death; role of individual in his own demise; modes of death; development of ideas of death through life; partial death, megadeath; lethally psychological autopsy, death of institutions and cultures."…