What Colleges Forget to Teach

City Journal, Winter 2006.

he university is worth fighting for. No other institution can carry the burden of educating our young people. That’s why we must redouble our efforts to restore integrity, civility, and rigorous standards in American higher education—particularly in the area of civic education.

I’ll be the first to admit that the situation is dire. I sympathize when critics throw up their hands in despair. I sometimes feel that way myself. Darkness often prevails in places where the light of learning should shine. I often trade horror stories with my friend Hadley Arkes, a distinguished scholar of jurisprudence and political theory at Amherst. On one occasion, I explained that the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton was sponsoring a viciously anti-Catholic art exhibit—one that it would never even permit were some favored faith or cause, such as Islam or gay rights, its target. Every year, some outrage along these lines seems to prove that anti-Catholicism really is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals, though anyone familiar with academic life today knows that anti-Semitism itself is making a run at being the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals.

Professor Arkes listened sympathetically and said, “Things have gotten pretty bad here at Amherst, too: we’ve granted tenure in political science to a guy promoting a theory explaining the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush by reference to his alleged homoerotic attraction to Ronald Reagan.” “Well,” I replied, “Princeton has topped that. We’ve given a distinguished chair in bioethics to a fellow who insists that eating animals is morally wrong, but that killing newborn human infants can be a perfectly moral choice.” (This professor has since gone on to say that there would be nothing wrong with a society in which large numbers of children were conceived, born, and then killed in infancy to obtain transplantable organs.)

And so we go back and forth with each other, in a macabre game of one-upmanship….

City Journal