Tuesday, September 27, 2005

U. of Hades

James Piereson's long piece on the left university is gratifying for all sorts of reasons, the most personally gratifying is the revelation that Johns Hopkins is source of the original sin which has corrupted our system of higher education:
The model of the German research university spread rapidly in the United States in the decades after the Civil War, inaugurated by the founding of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 as our first institution organized around graduate research studies. The late scholar Edward Shils referred to this as "the most decisive single event in the history of learning in the Western hemisphere." This innovation, as Shils pointed out, put pressure on other institutions to establish their own programs of research and graduate study. Harvard soon created its own Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in order to keep pace with Johns Hopkins. Stanford University was established in 1891 along similar lines, which induced the University of California to follow suit. The University of Chicago, underwritten by John D. Rockefeller, was established in 1892 with research as the basis for faculty appointment and promotion. Other institutions in the Midwest, especially Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois, were then in the process of embracing the research model. Here, then, in the wake of the Hopkins innovation, occurred the first important competition among universities for rank and reputation; and here, through this competition, the modern American university was born.

Shils was certainly correct to emphasize the far-reaching consequences that followed in the United States from the adoption of the German university model. In the United States, as in Germany, the research model transformed the status of the professor from a teacher to an independent scholar and researcher. Professors would no longer pass along established truths and traditional moral ideals, but would subject these truths and ideals to scrutiny in the search for new knowledge. The faculty, as the new priesthood of the research enterprise, would shortly claim authority to decide all matters dealing with curriculum, new faculty appointments, and promotions. The modern doctrine of academic freedom, which gives professors wide latitude to teach and conduct research as they wish, also followed in due course as a consequence of these premises. Much as Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the law is what the judges say it is, the reformed university would henceforth be whatever the faculty decides it is.

As the modern university took shape, faculties began to organize themselves into specialized departments, or disciplines, with their own formal rules for study, research, and publication. It was in this period that the various academic associations were formed, including the American Historical Association (1884), the American Economic Association (1885), the American Physical Society (1899), the American Political Science Association (1903), and the American Sociological Association (1905). These were national membership associations that held annual conventions and published their own journals containing research studies representing authoritative work in the respective disciplines. These associations were, in a way, national communities that reoriented the attention of professors away from students at their own college and toward colleagues working in the same discipline at other institutions across the country. The status of professors in their various disciplines was based on their published research, which established in turn a new basis upon which to rank departments and entire institutions.

At the risk of burdening you with too many personal details, Johns Hopkins is the establishment from which I purchased my thoroughly useless undergraduate degree. It is a place of insidious evil. If the American collegiate landscape is DisneyWorld for adolescents--think of Harvard as Cinderella's Castle, the Florida schools as Space Mountain, and MIT as the Carousel of Progress--Hopkins would be Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. What starts out as childish adventure soon becomes a descent into Hell and eventually every student is made to feel as though they've been hit by an oncoming train.

What I find funny is that though Hopkins began the trend which has created the left university, today (or at least a few years ago when I was there) it is largely untouched by the political climate it created. Neither the students nor the faculty nor the administration care about multiculturalism or political correctness or radical politics or anything of the sort. The students care only for their GPA's, the faculty care only for their research, and the administrators--the good guys on campus--care about building the endowment and trying to keep the students from killing themselves (and each other).

But enough about me; the Piereson article is great stuff.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but, what the hell.

Here, from The New York Post, a nice tasty tid-bit about your favorite magazine:
THE entire panel of lefty writers and 300 bookworms in the audience nodded along Saturday at The New Yorker Festival when the magazine's fiction editor compared the re-election of President Bush to 9/11.


Boy, The New Yorker is just the best. How smart! So much better than anything else out there.

Bizarro Jack said...

Piereson is clearly off his rocker and I hope to find time to write a detailed critical response.


anonymous - cute summary of events; what really happened? Regardless, you critique the general political affiliation, not the quality of the material. Unless of course you think that no liberal (only the illiberal) are capable of producing quality work . . . Don't say it, we already know you're a moron.

Anonymous said...

As a 1990s alumnus of both a major private East Coast university and a Midwestern public research university, the very idea of "the left university" strikes me as so factually baseless as to be offensive. My experience at the private university was just as JVL describes -- a soulless institution where undergrads pursue only a GPA, faculty pursues only research and publication, and administrators pursue only ever-larger endowments. Liberal-leaning students and faculty were more numerous, but right-leaning students and faculty were more active and effectively organized. The only protest on campus in four years, including one year in which the United States was at war, was over financial mismanagement at the law school.

Midwestern University was much the same, except the administrators were mainly concerned with reducing costs, not growing endowments. Sure, the adolescently liberal culture on campus might have intimidated someone who was both exceptionally conservative and completely insecure -- which is to say, annoying jerks found the alienation they needed to nurture their broken egos -- but the only time a public speaker was heckled off campus she was a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet. During a state election, the candidate for governor who most energized students came to campus and denounced student aid in favor of work-study and the GI Bill, and he was not a Democrat.

If the kind of leftwing kulturkampf James Piereson describes were real, it would have been evident at both the universities I attended. Yet at both a superficial veneer of attitudinal leftism that was more Ben & Jerry's than Marx & Engels barely covered the grasping, apolitical careerism of the places (and the strength of conservative activism and organization on campus, especially in the Greek communities).

Anonymous said...

Bizarro - Did not say that only non-liberals are capable of producing quality work. But, I think that it is pretty indicative of what The New Yorker has become.
Go ahead - defend the indefensible. I guess you need more "context" to a comparison of the re-election of Bush to 9-11? I guess if you think that a comparison like this is just political affiliation and not some kind of defect in thinking, then I am happy to be called a moron by you.

Anonymous said...

I loved every minute of Georgetown. What about you, Vic?

Bizarro Jack said...

I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying that you do need context. So really, what are you talking about?

Sarah said...

Plus you always have to say, "Johns. Yes, with an 's.' Yes, Johns. No, that's how you spell it."

Anonymous said...

Why do you hate learning, Jonathan? Why do you hate knowledge?

Anonymous said...

Appreciating the New Yorker is a betrayal of everything Sean Hannity stands for. What kind of a conservative are you, Last? Have you learned nothing from Ann Coulter? Nothing at all?

Anonymous said...

Just to weigh in on the New Yorker debate, I have to say that even though reading the opening Talk of The Town Essay generally drives me (and most conservatives) bonkers (you can always tell the ones written by Hertzberg from the first paragraph), as well as anything on Catholicism, it is a satisfying intellectual read most of the time. Sure, it's skewed to the left. But it's not The Nation. And much of the writing -- laying aside any politics -- is just wonderful. I also like that it isn't just politics -- The City of Z article Last mentioned is a great example, but there are a millon more like that that are just plain good, interesting reads by smart, deft writers. If you can disregard the politics (which seems rather difficult in the comments section) you can nearly always appreciate the craft. Not to mention the cartoons.

-Leigh

Anonymous said...

Why won't you acknoweldge my anonymous accusations, Last? What are you so afraid of?

I QUESTION YOUR TASTE IN MAGAZINES! AND YOUR VIRILITY!

Anonymous said...

The administration has covered itself in glory in Darfur! HOLD THE GOP CONVENTION IN NEW ORLEANS! I HEAR TOM DELAY IS HUNG LIKE A DONKEY!

Anonymous said...

Just because I want to carry Grover Norquist's love-child does not make me a Ms. Anonymous! HOW DARE YOU FAIL TO TAKE ME SERIOUSLY! I WILL POST YOUR TREACHERY AT FREE REPUBLIC!!!

Anonymous said...

It's something about his beard. (I hear she's Muslim.)

And don't even get me started on Ralph Reed. Such firm moral rectitude!

Anonymous said...

What in the name of Jim Trafficant happened in this comments section???

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but someone is damn funny. : )

Anonymous said...

Do not mock me with your neo-con emoticons! I demand to have my periodical preferences treated with respect!

WHY WON'T R. EMMIT TYRELL RETURN MY PHONE CALLS?!?