Exemplars of openness and inquiry in the twentieth century, colleges and universities have turned toward orthodoxy and indoctrination in the twenty-first. Heather Heying explains that a small number of traditional academic departments and “grievance studies” enclaves are the catalysts of this change, but that college presidents—including George Bridges at Evergreen State College, where Heying was tenured—have played no small role.
Free speech, open inquiry, and the study and debate of a broad range of ideas have long been central features of any properly functioning university. Unfortunately, these are not predominant features at Yale University, perhaps the most politically influential university in America. Instead, the tribalism of identity politics, punctuated with a fierce intolerance for non-conforming thought, has replaced the old ideal.
University presidents seem powerless to address the wide range of problems currently plaguing higher education. Defenders deflect blame toward off-campus targets for such difficulties as skyrocketing tuition, fiscal insolvency, attacks on free speech, and poor workforce outcomes. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, has tackled them all.
A faculty member at the University of Missouri-St. Louis watched in amazement and horror as UM-Columbia President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned over allegations of racism at the university. The allegations themselves were based on little or no evidence, but the 2015 crisis at UM, according to Professor J. Martin Rochester, “provides a window into how ‘institutional leftism’ has subverted the modern university throughout America.”
“Texas,” writes Mark Pulliam, “exhibits a governance vacuum for higher education—a perfect storm for mischief by leftist faculty and bureaucrats.” Gregory Fenves, a former Dean of UT’s engineering school appointed president in 2015, has been no corrective, proving himself a “fulsome social justice warrior in his own right.”
Arriving late behind select religious institutions and municipalities, American college campuses are now full partners in the effort to protect illegal immigrants. With increasing enrollment of both legal and illegal foreign students—as well as growing financial dependence on the foreign assistance many of them bring—it was inevitable that universities and colleges would emerge as leaders in the movement to change, ignore, or defy federal law.
The fragmentation of higher education into increasingly narrow fields of specialization, along with its vocational focus, has precluded the quest for wisdom and, hence, happiness. What’s needed, says Micah Sadigh, is an integrated, dynamic approach to a higher education that can illuminate life, provide a deeper understanding of self, and allow for self-transcendence.
The son of an illiterate Slovak coachman, Tomas G. Masaryk rose to become the founder and first president of Czecho-Slovakia in 1918, a “Western-oriented, non-Marxist, democratic republic in Central Europe which remained the only democracy east of the Elbe into the 1930s.” While Masaryk’s lasting political influence, wartime leadership, and personal courage invite comparison with Winston Churchill, Kevin McNamara believes that his thirty-two year career as a prolific scholar and busy professor sets him apart, and provided the foundation for his political achievements.