Colleges and Universities Have Grown Bloated and Dysfunctional

By Barone, Michael | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, May 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Colleges and Universities Have Grown Bloated and Dysfunctional


Barone, Michael, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


American colleges and universities, long thought to be the glory of the nation, are in more than a little trouble. I've written before of their shameful practices -- the racial quotas and preferences at selective schools (Harvard is being sued by Asian- American organizations), the kangaroo courts that try students accused of rape and sexual assault without legal representation or presumption of innocence, and speech codes that make campuses the least rather than the most free venues in American society.

In following these policies, the burgeoning phalanxes of university and college administrators must systematically lie, insisting against all the evidence that they are racially nondiscriminatory, devoted to due process and upholders of free speech. The resulting intellectual corruption would have been understood by George Orwell.

Alas, even the great strengths of our colleges and universities are threatening to become weaknesses. Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing.

American colleges, dating back to Harvard's founding in 1636, have been modeled on the residential colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. The idea is that students live on or near (sometimes breathtakingly beautiful) campuses, where they can learn from and interact with inspired teachers.

American graduate universities, dating back to Johns Hopkins's founding in 1876, have been built on the German professional model. Students are taught by scholars whose Ph.D. theses represent original scholarship, expanding the frontiers of knowledge and learning.

That model still works very well in math and the hard sciences. In these disciplines it's rightly claimed that American universities are, as The Economist recently put it in a cover story, "the gold standard" of the world. But not so much in some of the mushier social sciences and humanities. "Just as the American model is spreading around the world," The Economist goes on, "it is struggling at home."

Consider the Oxford/Cambridge residential college model. Up through the 1960s, colleges administrators acted in loco parentis, with responsibilities similar to those of parents. Men's and women's dorms were separate and mostly off-limits to the other sex; drinking and drug use were limited; cars were often banned.

The assumption is that 18- to 21-year-old students were in important respects still children. The 1960s changed all that. Students were regarded as entitled to adult freedoms: unisex dorms and bathrooms, binge drinking, a hookup culture. …

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