In Review: “The Breakdown of Higher Education”

John David

  • Article
  • April 21, 2020

CounterCurrent: Week of 4/19

A substantial, ever-growing contingent of scholars and citizens both within and without the academy agree that American higher education is in dire need of reform. Colleges and universities are a far cry from what they once were: cultural cornerstones dedicated to promoting the disinterested pursuit of truth, teaching students the great ideas of human history, and instilling civic virtue. Compare that to now, where even the most prestigious schools have been all but completely overrun by institution-wide corruption and radical activists masquerading as educators.

This is not to look upon higher education of old through rose-colored glasses—all institutions suffer their fair share of vice. But it is to say that, by and large, academic virtue was the norm, not the exception. The opposite is true today. Many, including the NAS, have long since realized this and committed themselves to taking action. But what shape should reform take? What must be done to restore higher education to its former glory?

Dr. John Ellis offers answers to such questions in his forthcoming book, The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done. Ellis serves as Chairman of the Board of the California Association of Scholars, one of NAS’s state affiliates, and is also Professor Emeritus of German Literature at UC Santa Cruz, where he has taught since the 1960s. 

If there’s anyone who has intimately observed the evolution (read: devolution) of higher education over the last 50+ years, it’s John Ellis. Those dedicated to reform would do well to consider his recommendations. In this week’s featured article, Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix does just that through her review of the book. She describes Ellis’ approach as a “scorched earth” strategy, one that goes beyond other proposed solutions in scope and intensity.

Kabbany begins by highlighting Ellis’ seven “reform goals”: 

restore ideological balance to faculty; remove radicals who pose as professors; allow viewpoint diversity; dismantle the campus diversity industrial complex; teach about the accomplishments of Western Civilization; fire cowardly administrators; and appoint trustees who act as watchdogs, not lapdogs.

In order to accomplish these, Ellis argues that “half-measures and calls for reason cannot obtain the necessary results.” It will not do, for example, to appoint a handful of conservative professors in order to try and “balance the ideological scales”—this will not get at the heart of the problem and will be ultimately ineffective.

Ellis contends that higher education “can no longer be reformed from within,” and that strong legislative action is necessary to accomplish true change. “They [legislators] must develop the political will to argue that universities are committing ‘fraud and embezzlement’ by promising to educate young minds and instead subsidizing radical-left politics. Then they must enact reform.”

Scorched earth indeed. We at the National Association of Scholars encourage you to give Ellis’ book a read and mull over his recommendations—they may in fact be what is needed to save higher education.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Steven Goddard, Public Domain

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