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A case for shutting down liberal arts programs

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As Scruton notes: “Moral relativism clears the ground for a new kind of absolutism. The emerging curriculum in the humanities is in fact far more censorious, in crucial matters, than the one that it strives to replace.”

But this isn’t just about the handful of protests the student clubs get up to. The problem has leaked into all of the humanities – the once sacred home for all forms of inquiry.

It’s about dismantling anything connected to the past, anything that suggests we can learn from the people who came before us: “The Marxist theory of ideology, or some feminist, poststructuralist, or Foucauldian descendent of it, will be summoned in proof of the view that the precious achievements of our culture owe their status to the power that speaks through them, and that they are therefore of no intrinsic worth.”

In other words, too many of the departments are screwed. What do we do now?

The change George Will predicted coming almost 30 years ago never did because while he was right to note that the silent majority clearly agreed that education was going down the tubes, they weren’t the folks running the academy. All you need is enough relativists to become heads of departments and that sets the trend.

Instead, spoiled brats savvy enough to know how to use a bong pipe shut down Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking at their campus, and the administration supported them instead of telling them to grow up or get lost.

There are people not worthy of a genuine liberal arts education. Unfortunately, far too many of them infest our universities today. Prediction: It’ll get worse. The rot hits the elementary schools now, creating an expectation from early childhood that university is where we learn to think Correct Thoughts and then go on to a government job. (Or Starbucks, maybe.)

In 2010 University of Ottawa students forced the shutdown of an an Ann Coulter event because they couldn’t deal with the idea of someone who thinks differently from themselves speaking on the campus.

The irony for those of us educated before all this took hold is that, originally, universities were created precisely to be the place where views contended without violence. One might perhaps hear the scholar from China or Persia or the learned rabbi, and just listen. For once.

I found Anthony Furey’s example of Ann Coulter interesting because some years ago, a commenter was railing against her in the combox here. I wrote in to say something like this: Who gives her her power? Yooo dooo! [You and your fascist buddies.]

Don’t like her? Then don’t listen, don’t watch, don’t buy the books. No one is making you do any of that except you.

But now, it turns out, you want the whole world to turn on her when most of us aren’t paying much attention most of the time anyhow.

Talk about a recipe for an illiberal society… Prediction: As liberal arts programs increasingly become the enemies of a free society, we’ll see more of this before we see less.

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

5 Replies to “A case for shutting down liberal arts programs

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Wow! For once I actually agree with News. Universities should be bastions of intellectual freedom. Freedom of speech means having to listen to views you might find objectionable. These people need to be reminded that the aphorism attributed to Voltaire still embodies what free speech is all about: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

  2. 2
    News says:

    Believe it or not, in the 1960s, liberal arts degrees were not (necessarily) therapy or 24/7/365 parties for young adults on student loans.

    I remember in Honours English (4 yrs), they made us learn Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, so that we understood the history of our language. That served me well.

    Today, Anglo-Saxon could be interpreted as a trigger warning subject if one must approach it, and Middle English as a microaggression.

    By contrast in those days, our profs (most of whom were women) would just say, this person is not fit for the Honours English program (in which they slaved for low wages).

    It was like the USMC without the guns or violence, actually.

    Long, long gone, and sorely missed, at least by me.

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    Scruton is about 40 years behind the trends. The brief softening-up phase of ‘moral relativism’ in the early ’60s had already given way to hard inquisitorial orthodoxy by 1978.

  4. 4
    Timaeus says:


    I know there is little point responding to you, since you haven’t replied to me the last two times I’ve commented on your posts, but I’ll say this anyway:

    It does little good for universities to be committed to freedom of speech in the abstract when in the concrete they conduct themselves in a way that virtually guarantees that only one dominant view in each field will be heard. When hiring, tenure and promotion decisions are made, departments have to actively recruit and advance people with different points of view, or the students will never hear any different point of view — but current practice is the opposite, to reinforce the majority view (or at least, the dominant view) and marginalize dissident views.

    For example, there are fully qualified climatologists who are skeptical that man-made global warming amounts to very much in comparison with factors that are out of human control; but because those fully qualified climatologists are out of favor with their peers, they are not going to be hired, or, if already hired, given tenure, or, if already given tenure, given the research grants necessary to attract graduate students etc. The net result is that, at most universities, students will do their degrees hearing only one side of the climate science picture, and will have to rely largely on popular arguments on the internet to hear the other side; it would be far better if they could hear the other side not from internet cranks but from legitimate research professors, right on the campus of their own university.

    You learn from watching your professors dispute in a civil manner; this was the old medieval model of education to which News referred, and it was a better model of education than the one we have now, where undergraduate students are taught very early on — especially if they hope to go into the field — not to respect or pay any attention to the maverick professor, the one with the minority view, the one who doesn’t go along with the consensus.

    Similarly, since anyone who openly favored intelligent design would never get even an interview, let alone a job or tenure, in any biology department, no matter how many excellent peer-reviewed articles they had published on molecular biology, etc., the students will never hear the intelligent design perspective articulated (on a regular basis, as opposed to a fly-through speaker once every two years for an hour or so) on their campuses by active research scientists. So they will learn a monolithically anti-ID view, i.e., all life and species came about essentially by accident, with some accidents sticking around because they happened to be more functional than others. And to find out about ID, instead of hearing it from a trained biochemist like Behe, they will resort to reading creationist columns written by a Baptist clergyman who knows no science. But what they should see is Behe debating Coyne on the stage at the University of Chicago, Behe and Coyne running labs right across the hall from each other, etc. That is the way students learn about honorable intellectual difference.

    And of course, no anti-feminist, not even the most brilliant and well-published, would be hired to teach in a Women’s Studies department, so we know what perspective will be taught there. The students in Women’s Studies will never hear how badly and ideologically their profs are misrepresenting history, literary criticism, sociology, economics, etc., because of the prevalence of a single, anti-male, conspiracy-theory point of view.

    If I were running an Economics department, for example, and the department was staffed by acolytes of Milton Friedman, I would go out of my way to make sure that a Marxist was hired next. Not a stupid Marxist, a streetcorner, pamphlet-waving Marxist, but an articulate, well-informed Marxist, Oxford-trained or Paris-trained or Montreal-trained, with a record of publications. And if I were running a Religion department staffed almost entirely by atheists, agnostics, and very liberal Jews and Christians (a pretty accurate description of most religion departments in North America), I would go out of my way to hire competent religion scholars who held to traditional Calvinist, Thomistic, Greek Orthodox, Orthodox Jewish, traditional Hindu, etc. perspectives. And if I were in charge of a Philosophy department, and it was staffed almost entirely by deconstructionists, I would force it to hire some British analytical philosophers, traditional historians of philosophy, and Thomists.

    We worry about all kinds of intellectually irrelevant diversity of faculty in the university — making sure we have X% of women, or visible minorities, or people with glass eyes, etc. — but we don’t worry at all about the most important kind of diversity in the university — diversity in fundamental matters such as methodology, epistemology, and conclusions. So a department of Religion is very proud of itself if its faculty are 60% female, and 30% people of color, and 20% homosexual or transgendered; but the same department doesn’t even notice that 95% of its professors despise Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc. and embrace New Age paganism, ultra-liberal theologies, or secular humanism; or that 90% of them vote Democratic and are in favor of abortion on demand, carbon taxes, same-sex marriage, but against capital punishment, etc.; or more generally that you can hardly find a religious, political or social conservative professor anywhere in the building. They don’t worry in the slightest that they may be yielding to unconscious or even conscious bias in the selection of new faculty, based on the views and conclusions of these faculty rather than their intellectual competence.

    So, while I agree entirely with the sentiment you’ve expressed in your comment, I doubt very much that we would agree on how to create a university in which there would be real freedom of speech and opinion, and real intellectual diversity. But I’m willing to be surprised, if you will tell me how you would get rid of the professional intimidation that is a major facet of modern university life, and stand up the bullies in every department to ensure that a diversity of intellectual viewpoints is represented.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    This thread is part of the reason there is so much trouble.
    Everybody is saying what is said to university kids is more important then others because they are more important. They will rule our nations.
    in fact they don’t matter more and won’t dominate the common people.
    Its a myth.
    therefore say this and then say the schools belong to the people of the nation and everyone has freedom to persuade kids of this or that.
    Attacking this freedom is immoral and illegal and against the common people.
    Its that simple.
    Even these people must think the publicity hurts more then allowing a few speakers etc to talk to a few kids.
    its a spirit and deeds of thought/speech control by the upper class.
    Just like in the old days.

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