An Anatomy of a Most Peculiar Institution by Victor Davis Hanson

A Campus-full of Contradictions

Almost everything about the modern university is a paradox. It has become a sort of industry gone rogue that embraces practices that a Wal-Mart or Halliburton would never get away with. It is exempt from scrutiny in the fashion that the Left ceased talking about renditions or Guantanamo Bay once Barack Obama was elected, or a Code Pink goes after a NRA official in the way it would never disrupt a hearing on Fast and Furious. In other words, the university is one of the great foundations of the Left, and so is immune from the sort of criticism that otherwise is daily leveled against other institutions.

So let’s take a 10-minute stroll through the campus and learn why costs soar even as students are ever more poorly educated.

The Curriculum

A student’s life on campus is a zero-sum game. For each elective like “The modern comic book,” or “Chicana feminisms” or “Queering the text,” students have no time (or desire to) take more difficult and instructive classes on the British Enlightenment or A History of World War I or Classical English Grammar. (Yes, despite the relativist, anti-hierarchical university, concepts really do exist like “more instructive.”) The former are mostly therapeutic classes, entirely deductive, in which the point is not to explore an intellectual topic by presenting the relevant facts and outlining the major controversies, while sharpening students’ inductive reasoning and empirical objectivity, as well as improving their English prose style and mastering grammar and syntax in their written work.

The result is perhaps a fourth of the liberal arts courses — many would judge more like 50% — would never have been allowed in the curriculum just 40 years ago. They tend to foster the two most regrettable traits in a young mind — ignorance of the uninformed combined with the arrogance of the zealot. All too often students in these courses become revved up over a particular writ — solar power, gay marriage, the war on women, multiculturalism — without the skills to present their views logically and persuasively in response to criticism. Heat, not light, is the objective of these classes.

Why are these courses, then, taught?

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