American universities pose a dire threat to our prosperity and democracy.
College graduates, whatever their major, should be well equipped to engage in “critical thinking.” Simply, evaluate a collection of statements and data to reach measured conclusions, independent of their own preconceived notions.
This is essential for entry level professional work and responsible participation in our civic life. Yet employers find those qualities lacking in about four in 10 graduates, and data from the College Learning Assessment Plus shows four years of college often adds little to students’ analytical abilities.
These failures do not appear correlated to the prestige of the institution. Modest Plymouth State in New Hampshire did pretty well in a recent assessment, whereas the University of Texas at Austin, often viewed on par with the Ivy League, scored poorly.
General education requirements have been corrupted and the structure of majors and career counseling are woefully outdated.
In the 1950s, freshman composition was an arduous rite of passage. Students wrote a theme every week that was rigorously graded for grammar and logical structure. They learned not merely how to bang a subject against a verb for expressive effect, but also how to think clearly and put aside personal biases.
Gradually, such rigor has been removed from required undergraduate curriculum. These days repeating professors’ and university presidents’ libertine prejudices — of which there are many, loudly expressed — and running off campus speakers whose ideas challenge their beliefs are all that appears required to demonstrate intellectual competence.
Whereas in a less technical era, a general education — with a major in anthropology or history — was enough to launch a career, these days a degree in something more practical like software engineering or finance is required for most students to succeed.
Too often professors in the liberal arts — and college administrators that do not want to endure the pain of restructuring — dupe students with nostrums like “you can accomplish just about anything with a degree in the humanities” and cite examples of graduates in their 40s and 50s with marvelous careers.
They don’t tell students those alumni graduated into a more robust, less technologically-demanding job market and were better equipped for continuing self-education. And we can hardly expect to compete internationally with such ill-trained citizens.
Most importantly universities are undermining American civic values of tolerance and respect for due process under the law.
Broadly the theology of political correctness — namely, most social ills and differences in citizens’ circumstances can be traced to the conspiracies of the elite and sex and gender discrimination — is infused into the curriculum and enforced by Orwellian controls on speech.
In a recent op-ed, two law professors from the Universities of Pennsylvania and San Diego argued the decline of a unifying culture that valued hard work, self-discipline, child rearing in stable marriages, service to employers and community, and respect for authority greatly contributes to generally poor economic and social conditions among working class whites and minorities. Colleagues, led by their deans, responded with a firestorm of attacks and the usual invectives about racism.
Campus rape tribunals have been rebuked in federal court and are places where basic rules of evidence and due process are disregarded to railroad innocent men.
We should not be surprised by cultural witch hunts against voiceless historical figures — for example, at Christ Church in Alexandria to take down memorials of Robert E. Lee and George Washington — or liberal journalists exhorting members of Congress to treat President Trump as not merely wrong on policy but as illegitimate. The malefactors learned their chauvinism at school.
America is unique among nations, because it was founded on the idea of the fundamental sanctity of individual liberty and freedom of thought, and not as a place defined by a specific ethnic, language or religious identity. All that is needed to become an American is to embrace this basic creed and take up the joint responsibility to preserve it.
It is difficult to see how a civilization that puts so much stock in those values and equal treatment under the law can long survive when its young people are required to embrace such intolerance and taught by example those accused of transgressions are entitled to no more due process than the sham proceedings of a fascist state.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.