The Fall of the American University

The Fall of the American University

The Fall of the American University

The Fall of the American University

Excerpt

There are many who believe that the crisis of the American university is over. Students have stopped rioting, universities have become innovative and responsive to community needs; all is well again. In fact, the plight of American higher education is worse than it was three or four years ago, though certainly not as spectacular. Riots have, by and large, disappeared, but the politicization and bureaucratization of the American university have grown apace, with the corresponding shrinking of the university's proper function, that of teaching and research.

This book seeks to discern reasons for this unfortunate development which, if unchecked, would lead not only to an educational but to a national calamity: the erosion of the American university as a civilized and civilizing force. To anticipate my argument, these reasons antedate the folly of Vietnam, have little to do with the students' real or alleged grievances and aspirations, and lie in a number of basic misconceptions about what the university can or ought to be. Over the last twenty years there has grown a belief, as erroneous as it is basically incompatible with democracy, that the university can and ought to instruct society on how to conduct its affairs; that those who instruct and administer it possess, quite apart from their professional qualifications, some special wisdom unavailable to the ordinary citizen and which entitles them, in fact puts them under a special obligation, to prescribe cures for social ills, solutions for foreign policy dilemmas, and the like. This claim has had the natural but paradoxical consequence that while trying, and in most cases failing, to do what it should not do, the university has increasingly surrendered its authority to do what it should do: to run its own affairs with minimum interference by governmental authorities at all levels, pressure groups of all kinds, and by the trends and fashions of the moment.

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