Issues in Higher Education

By Kaplan, Morton A. | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Issues in Higher Education


Kaplan, Morton A., The World and I


Nowadays, the aims of higher education are unclear. Our institutions of higher learning have become deeply fragmented "knowledge factories" composed of many different constituencies, each laying claim to its own parochial turf. Factional infighting is commonplace. Educators pursue their personal academic interests with little or no regard to communication. Developing specialized expertise and gathering empirical data take priority over questions of meaning and vision.

Between the stories of students dying from wild nights of drunkenness and the kookiness of political correctness masking as instruction lies an institution in deep trouble. As the costs of sending a child to college may reach nearly a quarter of a million dollars in coming years, no one's really talking about the befuddled state of higher education.

Perhaps the crisis confronting higher education is well illustrated by a freshman orientation lecturer at Stanford who reportedly told a group of incoming students, "By the time you leave Stanford, you should be completely disoriented." Of course, the substance of his words may remain a mystery to them for some time to come. But the professor's remarks offer a curious hint of what many in the university consider their main mission--to "shake up" the students' immature minds, to leach out whatever ideals or beliefs they might have.

Indeed, one's education would not be complete unless he were brought to the edge of the world and left standing face to face with an infinite nothingness without a center to his life.

The more sensitive may one day ask whether there are any criteria to measure the limits of ambition; whether there are any standards with which to gauge the pursuit of money, power, and passion that have contributed so much to the turmoil and squalor of our civilization. …

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