X Close

America is fighting the wrong university wars Ron DeSantis is blind to the bigger problem

Kafka was right all along (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)


March 23, 2023   6 mins

The University of Texas at Arlington consists primarily of large parking lots, brown patches of grass and rectangular buildings capable of holding thousands of students. When I was a tenure-track assistant history professor there, for four years in the mid-2010s, it was staffed mainly by underpaid adjuncts and overstuffed with unmotivated students biding time that would have been better spent in community college, or in some apprenticeship programme. All of us were overseen by a university president who was later forced to resign when revelations surfaced of his cosy financial relationship with Academic Partnerships, the private company that ran the school’s ever-expanding online programme, which was essentially a diploma mill intended to generate cash.

When I wasn’t giving attendance-optional history lectures to hundreds of undergraduates — who’d sit there watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad — I was inveighing against the university’s debased standards: writing in The Atlantic and going on National Public Radio to explain that I didn’t even bother to grade most of these sad, ill-informed consumers who were going into debt for a degree worth less than the paper on which it was printed. By the time I departed in 2016, I was arguing that this mediocre school, and other lesser universities like it, should be taken apart brick by brick. UT-Arlington was doing a disservice to most of its students and defrauding taxpayers along the way.

Now, Republican politicians around the country are taking aim at state higher education institutions. But their reasons differ greatly from my own: they seek control of what is being taught, rather than an overhaul of the system. Most notably, Florida Governor and hopeful Presidential nominee Ron DeSantis has made it his mission to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programmes at all state-subsidised universities overseen by his administration. He is also advocating for governor-appointed trustees to have the power to eliminate majors in certain subjects.

In January, DeSantis replaced six of the 13 members on the New College of Florida’s board with trusted supporters, including Christopher Rufo, who has spearheaded the nationwide push to restrict critical race theory (CRT) in public-school curricula. Other big-state GOP governors are making similar moves in their states, with Greg Abbott of Texas going after CRT, and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia appointing conservative trustees at the Virginia Military Institute.

DeSantis’s stated reason for taking over New College was that it was no longer serving the students of the state, citing an enrolment decline of 27% between 2016 and 2021, which he attributed to the school’s emphasis on race and gender theory (while conveniently omitting the fact that the incoming class for fall 2022 was the largest in New College’s history). New College doesn’t grade its students, but rather encourages them to explore a variety of liberal arts subjects — though its faculty, student body and course offerings lean far to the Left. The Florida Governor appears to be proposing to turn an offbeat hippie college into an offbeat “Great Books”-inspired college. Critics of DeSantis argue that he is attempting to turn New College into “Hillsdale South” — referencing the influential Right-affiliated college in Michigan where a number of eminent conservative thinkers have taught or been educated.

Behind DeSantis’s focus on this tiny school — which currently has a total of 700 students — is a bigger project: his move is supposedly the first in a series, per Chris Rufo, that will allow conservatives to effect their own “long march” to reclaim these institutions.

But while his rhetoric is grabbing headlines, DeSantis’s battle for ideological control of curricula is merely a distraction from the much greater crisis in education — the one that troubled me during my own time in academia. Instead of kvetching about CRT and bathroom access, our governors ought to be completely restructuring the country’s lower-tier state universities, which, aside from one or two flagships per state, are generally third-rate operations. Nationwide college enrolment has declined by 9.4% in the past two years, and these schools have been hit especially hard. State-funded universities are having their budgets slashed and adjuncts are even more overworked and underpaid; there is more focus on ineffective online classes, and worse learning outcomes for students who have been paying to watch ill-run Zoom courses in their cramped dorm rooms.

DeSantis’s own state is a textbook example of academic bloat. The State University System of Florida consists of 12 public universities, with 341,000 enrolled students, of which only four are engaged in what the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education refers to as “very high research activity”. The rest of these institutions, such as the enormous Florida Atlantic University, are vast and shabby post-secondary “student warehouses”, similar to UT-Arlington.

It is these universities, not the tiny New College of Florida, that constitute the real threat to public education — and not because they are “woke”, but because their retention and graduation rates are horrific. They are enrolling students, taking their federally-subsidised student loans, and barely graduating around 50% of them. The students, mostly commuters unsure of what to do with themselves but unable or unwilling to enter the workforce after high school, drift in and either drop out immediately, pocketing their first helping of financial aid, or linger forever, accumulating vast amounts of debt for a degree in a vague, meaningless subject like “Communications” or, as at UT-Arlington, “University Studies”.

The more complicated the system becomes, the more difficult it will be to reform it. America’s public post-secondary education depends on a welter of separate and sometimes overlapping budgets, but to be eligible to get a cut of the all-important $235 billion pool of federal financial aid, colleges have to meet Kafkaesque accreditation standards. Each state works with a cartel-like private accreditor, subjecting all universities to its review, regardless of the ambitions or capabilities of their student bodies. Typically, the result is a report that numbers hundreds of pages with innumerable recommendations, which creates absurd amounts of work for administrators and often drives excessive spending increases in order to meet supposed shortfalls in facility or faculty quality.

DeSantis, like other Republican governors, has little to say about this vast system that serves almost no one and does nearly nothing. He just wants to turn a silly boutique Left-wing school into a silly boutique Right-wing school. If he had genuine vision, befitting a potential president, he’d look to scupper the ageing hulks in his university fleet, sinking the likes of Florida Atlantic University to the bottom of that ocean, and starting from the ground up. Not every university needs to be a research-driven “multiversity” intended to be a “prime instrument of national purpose”, of the sort envisioned by former University of California president Clark Kerr in 1963. What the nation needs more of are small, single-subject institutes of the sort that propelled American higher education forward in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The single-building Litchfield Law School founded by Tapping Reeve in 1774, set the standard for American legal education, educating everyone from Vice President Aaron Burr to Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin, before closing in 1833. Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, also confined to a single building, was the centre of Jewish Studies in America, training luminaries such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s father Benzion until its closure in 1986.

In other words, DeSantis — indeed, governors of all stripes — should be figuring out how to radically shrink higher education. College must be more than an open-to-all holding cell for twenty-somethings. Community colleges, consistently the best value throughout the US when it comes to technical certifications, can pick up the pre-professional slack, as can trade union training centres and apprenticeships. And focused, single-subject institutes will offer far better training for those with specialised skills. Law school should no longer require a degree for admission — an onerous and stupid prerequisite that sets the US apart from other Anglophone countries — and should also accept far fewer students overall, in order to increase the wages and job opportunities of those who graduate. (At the moment America, a nation of 332 million people, has 1.3 million lawyers.) Meanwhile, American students with talent in specific areas, such as computer science or drama, could be directed to small state institutes that offer rigorous, focused training.

That’s not to say all flagships should be eliminated. Students seeking a wider curriculum, and the attendant rah-rah sporting events and beer-saturated Greek life, should be catered for. The same goes for students who prefer institutions with a certain ideology. There is nothing inherently wrong with a college having a political leaning, as long as it’s not the only option. Left-leaning states such as California should open their own state-subsidised far-Left version of the Hillsdale model. What harm would that cause, provided the state supports a few institutes representative of the Right’s vision of liberal arts?

The structure of American higher education has been deeply informed by politics for centuries, but it has not been informed by much, if any, innovation since Clark Kerr outlined his grand, all-encompassing vision for the “multiversity” five decades ago. Ron DeSantis has awkwardly stumbled upon a solution, but he and his team can’t see the wood for the trees: they want to win votes and donations for a single political slap fight over a 700-student college, at a time when the fate of higher education — and the accompanying $1.75 trillion debt load carried by current and former students — hangs in the balance. The solution, to borrow a phrase of Kafka’s, is nothing short of a “guillotine, just as heavy, just as light”. A courageous politician would let the guillotine drop, taking as many of the higher-ed hydra’s heads with it as it possibly can.


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

MoustacheClubUS

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

64 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

It’s a shame the author chose to use this essay to swipe at DeSantis because he otherwise highlights an important problem.
I believe one of the main reasons for the existence of so many third-rate colleges is to maintain the illusion of opportunity. We have been socialized to believe white collar office jobs, typically filled by graduates, are preferable to blue collar manual jobs. But the well-paid office jobs of yesteryear are fast disappearing and most university graduates will not find such employment, but they still have hope that something will show up, and they’re probably not much interested in manual labor.
If the university system shrinks, and the path to white collar professions is heavily restricted, there will be a huge, dissatisfied population of young people unless society places greater value on blue collar occupations or reimagines the very nature of work.

AL Crowe
AL Crowe
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Welcome to Oliver Bateman world, where the only aim is to perform mind bending acts of mental gymnastics in order to blame something right leaning rather than admitting that the left dominated ideological monoculture might be the root of the problems he identifies.

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
1 year ago
Reply to  AL Crowe

You put your finger on one key source of all the trouble–thesis, antithesis, a desperate quest for re-balancing because of excesses on the other side.
While I agree w much of the author’s views, I note a glaring omission. The greatest weakness in the educational system is in the lower grades: k-12. Generous liberal policies such as social promotion and race based affirmative action allow some students to journey forward without acquiring academic habits and basic competencies.
What this finally produces are university entrance students who cannot read complex material, cannot think analytically, and who dumb down the entire learning experience for all. As well as produce teacher despair and abdication of standards: because so few can meet the standards. It is much easier to give them a passing grade rather then attempt to deal with such unprepared raw material.
Another glaring omission: teacher instructional skill k-12 is shockingly low. True, each school has it handful of exciting, excellent teachers–everyone knows who they are and try to get into the class. But most are time servers and not truly cut out to be gifted teachers. It’s a job, not a calling. I speak as a former public school teacher, a creator of three new high performance schools, and a former principal at two secondary schools.
We need to focus on K-!2. It’s the key.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruce Edgar
Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

Very much agree. Yes, of course there are always some outstanding students but the level of literacy, numeracy, ability to think, etc of the median/average university student has got worse over the years. University administrations do not permit failing grades for such students because they cannot claim high success rates in their promotional material. It’s about b*ms on seats.

ke Cronin
ke Cronin
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

In LA a three-day strike just finished. Teachers went out on strike to support staff members seeking higher pay. While teachers could be sympathetic to the plight, there was no need to deprive students of school, but they did. A family member had been a union rep for teachers. The concept of what is best for kids never rolled off his tongue. It was about representing his client the teacher. But children are now pawns for what teacher unions want. Just like federal loans and later the inability to declare student loans in bankruptcy created this massive educational infrastructure that is useless. Fifty years ago LAUSD graduating high school students most assuredly would have mastered what is now expected in college. Now they cannot read or do math.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

Very much agree. Yes, of course there are always some outstanding students but the level of literacy, numeracy, ability to think, etc of the median/average university student has got worse over the years. University administrations do not permit failing grades for such students because they cannot claim high success rates in their promotional material. It’s about b*ms on seats.

ke Cronin
ke Cronin
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

In LA a three-day strike just finished. Teachers went out on strike to support staff members seeking higher pay. While teachers could be sympathetic to the plight, there was no need to deprive students of school, but they did. A family member had been a union rep for teachers. The concept of what is best for kids never rolled off his tongue. It was about representing his client the teacher. But children are now pawns for what teacher unions want. Just like federal loans and later the inability to declare student loans in bankruptcy created this massive educational infrastructure that is useless. Fifty years ago LAUSD graduating high school students most assuredly would have mastered what is now expected in college. Now they cannot read or do math.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AL Crowe

Yes! Quotes like “What harm would that cause, provided the state supports a few institutes representative of the Right’s vision of liberal arts?” give me a laugh. He doesn’t mention the fact that Hillsdale is successful and still open ONLY because they don’t accept a single dollar of Federal money. If they did, they would be forced to simply turn into a UT Arlington.

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
1 year ago
Reply to  AL Crowe

You put your finger on one key source of all the trouble–thesis, antithesis, a desperate quest for re-balancing because of excesses on the other side.
While I agree w much of the author’s views, I note a glaring omission. The greatest weakness in the educational system is in the lower grades: k-12. Generous liberal policies such as social promotion and race based affirmative action allow some students to journey forward without acquiring academic habits and basic competencies.
What this finally produces are university entrance students who cannot read complex material, cannot think analytically, and who dumb down the entire learning experience for all. As well as produce teacher despair and abdication of standards: because so few can meet the standards. It is much easier to give them a passing grade rather then attempt to deal with such unprepared raw material.
Another glaring omission: teacher instructional skill k-12 is shockingly low. True, each school has it handful of exciting, excellent teachers–everyone knows who they are and try to get into the class. But most are time servers and not truly cut out to be gifted teachers. It’s a job, not a calling. I speak as a former public school teacher, a creator of three new high performance schools, and a former principal at two secondary schools.
We need to focus on K-!2. It’s the key.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruce Edgar
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AL Crowe

Yes! Quotes like “What harm would that cause, provided the state supports a few institutes representative of the Right’s vision of liberal arts?” give me a laugh. He doesn’t mention the fact that Hillsdale is successful and still open ONLY because they don’t accept a single dollar of Federal money. If they did, they would be forced to simply turn into a UT Arlington.

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The delivery of higher (and lower/middle) education throughout the West suffers from the same problems as any socialised system: the economic resources devoted to it are completely divorced from the degree to which it adds economic value.
Human capital is no different from any other sort. In a socialist economy, central planners use complex (and almost always politicised) algorithms to determine how capital is deployed to create goods and services; the resultant gluts and dirths are well documented.
Education is the same. You are taking people out of the workforce for many years, during which they fail to produce any goods or services but consume capital. Some of these people will add tremendous nett value to an economy once they finish their studies; but many will not, and, because of State and Federal subsidies, there are few genuine price signals telling prospective students which courses of study will, on balance, benefit the economy (and they themselves through this economic benefit being reflected in their pay packets).
Education is not a natural monopoly, so there is no need for State involvement in its production.
The only real answer to the crisis in Western education is to abolish State funded education, because it inevitably devolves into what we see today: a central-planned quagmire that produces a good (education) that meets political rather than actual needs.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim C

You are ignoring all the successful state-funded universities in other Western countries. Typical right-wing US myopia

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago

I’m not in the US. And neither do I consider myself “right-wing” (the go-to Progressive heuristic for wrongthink).
But please do show me some of these “successful” state-funded systems that aren’t on the same ruinous trajectory of expending more State resources than they generate in return.

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago

I’m not in the US. And neither do I consider myself “right-wing” (the go-to Progressive heuristic for wrongthink).
But please do show me some of these “successful” state-funded systems that aren’t on the same ruinous trajectory of expending more State resources than they generate in return.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim C

You are ignoring all the successful state-funded universities in other Western countries. Typical right-wing US myopia

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Indeed. To dial the cynicism up a notch or two, I would also point out that the author is using a questionable tactic here. The article subtitle drops the name Ron DeSantis while the article says very little about DeSantis or his policies. Instead, the author focuses on higher education generally, and while he has a good point, this is clearly a pet issue for him and he is simply using a popular hot-button politician to get people to read an article. Those familiar with the term ‘clickbait’ will no doubt recognize the more blatant version of this tactic used by purveyors of questionable internet content. Then again, perhaps the subtitle is something added by the editor, in which case my criticism would remain valid but be properly directed at other quarters, namely Unherd’s editors. So whoever did it, shame on you.

AL Crowe
AL Crowe
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Welcome to Oliver Bateman world, where the only aim is to perform mind bending acts of mental gymnastics in order to blame something right leaning rather than admitting that the left dominated ideological monoculture might be the root of the problems he identifies.

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The delivery of higher (and lower/middle) education throughout the West suffers from the same problems as any socialised system: the economic resources devoted to it are completely divorced from the degree to which it adds economic value.
Human capital is no different from any other sort. In a socialist economy, central planners use complex (and almost always politicised) algorithms to determine how capital is deployed to create goods and services; the resultant gluts and dirths are well documented.
Education is the same. You are taking people out of the workforce for many years, during which they fail to produce any goods or services but consume capital. Some of these people will add tremendous nett value to an economy once they finish their studies; but many will not, and, because of State and Federal subsidies, there are few genuine price signals telling prospective students which courses of study will, on balance, benefit the economy (and they themselves through this economic benefit being reflected in their pay packets).
Education is not a natural monopoly, so there is no need for State involvement in its production.
The only real answer to the crisis in Western education is to abolish State funded education, because it inevitably devolves into what we see today: a central-planned quagmire that produces a good (education) that meets political rather than actual needs.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Indeed. To dial the cynicism up a notch or two, I would also point out that the author is using a questionable tactic here. The article subtitle drops the name Ron DeSantis while the article says very little about DeSantis or his policies. Instead, the author focuses on higher education generally, and while he has a good point, this is clearly a pet issue for him and he is simply using a popular hot-button politician to get people to read an article. Those familiar with the term ‘clickbait’ will no doubt recognize the more blatant version of this tactic used by purveyors of questionable internet content. Then again, perhaps the subtitle is something added by the editor, in which case my criticism would remain valid but be properly directed at other quarters, namely Unherd’s editors. So whoever did it, shame on you.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

It’s a shame the author chose to use this essay to swipe at DeSantis because he otherwise highlights an important problem.
I believe one of the main reasons for the existence of so many third-rate colleges is to maintain the illusion of opportunity. We have been socialized to believe white collar office jobs, typically filled by graduates, are preferable to blue collar manual jobs. But the well-paid office jobs of yesteryear are fast disappearing and most university graduates will not find such employment, but they still have hope that something will show up, and they’re probably not much interested in manual labor.
If the university system shrinks, and the path to white collar professions is heavily restricted, there will be a huge, dissatisfied population of young people unless society places greater value on blue collar occupations or reimagines the very nature of work.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
1 year ago

In the final week of term in London, the situation is remarkably similar in the UK. Attendance-optional lectures, self-service Extenuating Circumstances resulting in neverending assignment deadlines, copycat exam formats where critical thinking is de minimis, enormous numbers of high paying overseas students who pay for new infrastructure but with insufficient English to rise to the oppprtunity (english language testing relaxed during Covid). Indeed, plenty of evidence that education is more about a permanent right to remain than education with an escalator between UG and PG degrees, aided by the institution. My sense is that we are past peak university, and professional apprenticeships are growing in popularity. Can’t happen soon enough. Between student customers and universities as profit centres the model is broken.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

A few years ago I met a Chinese student with a newly minted UK MBA, and he could not have a conversation in English…

Stuart Adams
Stuart Adams
1 year ago

Also a few years ago, I met a former child soldier from Uganda who said he had the equivalent of five years of primary school and, now working on HIV/AIDS prevention for UN peacekeeping forces, was taking up their offer of a correspondence course that would result in a masters degree from a UK university. Said masters degree would certify him as an expert in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. A noble cause, true, but does it really require a masters degree to distribute condoms and demonstrate how to use them? The British woman who engineered his admission to the course explained that it would have been “race profiling” to deny him admission.

Stuart Adams
Stuart Adams
1 year ago

Also a few years ago, I met a former child soldier from Uganda who said he had the equivalent of five years of primary school and, now working on HIV/AIDS prevention for UN peacekeeping forces, was taking up their offer of a correspondence course that would result in a masters degree from a UK university. Said masters degree would certify him as an expert in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. A noble cause, true, but does it really require a masters degree to distribute condoms and demonstrate how to use them? The British woman who engineered his admission to the course explained that it would have been “race profiling” to deny him admission.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

And yet the people running and working in these institutions have not one shred of doubt about their virtue and about the value of the service they provide to their students and wider society

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

A few years ago I met a Chinese student with a newly minted UK MBA, and he could not have a conversation in English…

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

And yet the people running and working in these institutions have not one shred of doubt about their virtue and about the value of the service they provide to their students and wider society

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
1 year ago

In the final week of term in London, the situation is remarkably similar in the UK. Attendance-optional lectures, self-service Extenuating Circumstances resulting in neverending assignment deadlines, copycat exam formats where critical thinking is de minimis, enormous numbers of high paying overseas students who pay for new infrastructure but with insufficient English to rise to the oppprtunity (english language testing relaxed during Covid). Indeed, plenty of evidence that education is more about a permanent right to remain than education with an escalator between UG and PG degrees, aided by the institution. My sense is that we are past peak university, and professional apprenticeships are growing in popularity. Can’t happen soon enough. Between student customers and universities as profit centres the model is broken.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

‘Left-leaning states such as California should open their own state-subsidised far-Left version of the Hillsdale model. What harm would that cause,”

hahahaaa, surely you do not mean that? Actually reading your article I would say you do.

DeSantis is striking at the snake – no one else is, so why single him out? Why not take on the utterly Insane Governor of Minnesota?

Back when I did a bit of off and on again University and college 15% went, I think.

13.6% of American people have an IQ between 115 – 130, and 2.4% have IQs above that…16%

University is just not really suitable with an IQ under 115, not if it is University. This has long been thought the case – and 120 really, for anything complex, and over 140 (mine) for serious stuff……

So how can 50% go to University? Only one way – it is not University.ï»ż

Jimjim McHale
Jimjim McHale
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Oh! I highly enjoyed your reply and agree 100%

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

This may be ungenerous but it has been my experience that the only people who will tell you they have an IQ of 140 in the course of a logically and stylistically average essay are people who don’t have an IQ 140. Other than that, I agree with you.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Sisyphus Jones

I discovered my IQ as a teenager at boarding school 45 years ago, when I broke into my housemaster’s office at about 3am one night after drinking half a bottle of Smirnoff. I won’t be telling you what it was though.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I grew up in rural America. I’m not sure they even did IQ tests when I was in school. Boarding schools and headmasters only existed in movies. They did sell Vodka in my town but no self-respecting redneck would be seen drinking it. Anyway, your serviceable IQ was mostly measured by how well you could operate farm machinery.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I grew up in rural America. I’m not sure they even did IQ tests when I was in school. Boarding schools and headmasters only existed in movies. They did sell Vodka in my town but no self-respecting redneck would be seen drinking it. Anyway, your serviceable IQ was mostly measured by how well you could operate farm machinery.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Sisyphus Jones

I discovered my IQ as a teenager at boarding school 45 years ago, when I broke into my housemaster’s office at about 3am one night after drinking half a bottle of Smirnoff. I won’t be telling you what it was though.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I suggest what is important is knowledge acquired before going up to university. Prior to WW1, universities required people to pass papers in Greek and Latin. If one compared Olympic standards between 1914 and today one would see a great improvement, yet academic standards have declined.In the mid 19th century Vivas were conducted in Latin why not today?

Jimjim McHale
Jimjim McHale
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Oh! I highly enjoyed your reply and agree 100%

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

This may be ungenerous but it has been my experience that the only people who will tell you they have an IQ of 140 in the course of a logically and stylistically average essay are people who don’t have an IQ 140. Other than that, I agree with you.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I suggest what is important is knowledge acquired before going up to university. Prior to WW1, universities required people to pass papers in Greek and Latin. If one compared Olympic standards between 1914 and today one would see a great improvement, yet academic standards have declined.In the mid 19th century Vivas were conducted in Latin why not today?

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

‘Left-leaning states such as California should open their own state-subsidised far-Left version of the Hillsdale model. What harm would that cause,”

hahahaaa, surely you do not mean that? Actually reading your article I would say you do.

DeSantis is striking at the snake – no one else is, so why single him out? Why not take on the utterly Insane Governor of Minnesota?

Back when I did a bit of off and on again University and college 15% went, I think.

13.6% of American people have an IQ between 115 – 130, and 2.4% have IQs above that…16%

University is just not really suitable with an IQ under 115, not if it is University. This has long been thought the case – and 120 really, for anything complex, and over 140 (mine) for serious stuff……

So how can 50% go to University? Only one way – it is not University.ï»ż

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago

Great essay overall, but a rapidly increasing percentage of publicly-funded university labor costs are going towards the lgbtqia+bipoc comfort bureaucracy, as well as instructors in garbage soft subjects informed by the critical social justice ideology.
These make-work positions for otherwise unemployable gender-studies and psychology grads exist partly due to the feminization of higher education and the influx of high-anxiety career women whose impulse is to treat twenty year-olds like toddlers, but also because college administrators are screamingly liberal and they actually believe that fat studies courses and bias response teams serve a purpose.
Elected officials pulling the rug out from these deluded morons is a small step towards reform at least, and should hopefully result in reduced tuition costs and some unemployed diversocrats.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Chase

Whenever i read someone using the phrase “the feminization of…” i realise i’m reading someone with an agenda. Women represent (slightly more) than half the human population. What on earth would you have them do? Desist from being educated? There are countries such as Afghanistan where such views are popular, i believe.
Once educated women reach certain positions within institutions, of course they will act in a way that their way of looking at the world may incline them towards. This can’t be inherently bad, since that assumes a preference for a value system skewed entirely in favour of males. Surely the purpose of education is to allow for critical thinking which eschews such a prejudice?
Higher education is drastically in need of reform, but ascribing the problems it faces to the female sex is quite simply mindless.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
laura m
laura m
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

It is reference to a recent City Journal essay by scholar Heather Mac Donald, no sensible person could ever describe Mac Donald’s arguments as simple minded. She was one of first to document the expansion of the diversity infrastructure and it’s negative effect on social sciences.

Last edited 1 year ago by laura m
Stevie K
Stevie K
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To respond to your point that feminisation of a field is not necessarily a bad thing, you are right as far as that goes. But that change almost always does bring about huge changes in incentive structures, and consequently vast changes in social outcomes, many of which are, counterintuitively, very bad for the interests of women in that society.
Life is a good deal more complicated than our younger utopian selves supposed. It turns out the the delicate creative balance of influence, control and power between the sexes is easily lost to chaos and hard to regain.

laura m
laura m
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

It is reference to a recent City Journal essay by scholar Heather Mac Donald, no sensible person could ever describe Mac Donald’s arguments as simple minded. She was one of first to document the expansion of the diversity infrastructure and it’s negative effect on social sciences.

Last edited 1 year ago by laura m
Stevie K
Stevie K
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To respond to your point that feminisation of a field is not necessarily a bad thing, you are right as far as that goes. But that change almost always does bring about huge changes in incentive structures, and consequently vast changes in social outcomes, many of which are, counterintuitively, very bad for the interests of women in that society.
Life is a good deal more complicated than our younger utopian selves supposed. It turns out the the delicate creative balance of influence, control and power between the sexes is easily lost to chaos and hard to regain.

Claire England
Claire England
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Chase

As a former professor who spent 23 years teaching at various universities, I can assure you that “high-anxiety” types are found in equal numbers of men and women. It’s practically a job requirement.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Chase

Whenever i read someone using the phrase “the feminization of…” i realise i’m reading someone with an agenda. Women represent (slightly more) than half the human population. What on earth would you have them do? Desist from being educated? There are countries such as Afghanistan where such views are popular, i believe.
Once educated women reach certain positions within institutions, of course they will act in a way that their way of looking at the world may incline them towards. This can’t be inherently bad, since that assumes a preference for a value system skewed entirely in favour of males. Surely the purpose of education is to allow for critical thinking which eschews such a prejudice?
Higher education is drastically in need of reform, but ascribing the problems it faces to the female sex is quite simply mindless.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Claire England
Claire England
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Chase

As a former professor who spent 23 years teaching at various universities, I can assure you that “high-anxiety” types are found in equal numbers of men and women. It’s practically a job requirement.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago

Great essay overall, but a rapidly increasing percentage of publicly-funded university labor costs are going towards the lgbtqia+bipoc comfort bureaucracy, as well as instructors in garbage soft subjects informed by the critical social justice ideology.
These make-work positions for otherwise unemployable gender-studies and psychology grads exist partly due to the feminization of higher education and the influx of high-anxiety career women whose impulse is to treat twenty year-olds like toddlers, but also because college administrators are screamingly liberal and they actually believe that fat studies courses and bias response teams serve a purpose.
Elected officials pulling the rug out from these deluded morons is a small step towards reform at least, and should hopefully result in reduced tuition costs and some unemployed diversocrats.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Bateman, pointing out that there is another separate problem does not mean the first one goes away or becomes irrelevant.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Bateman, pointing out that there is another separate problem does not mean the first one goes away or becomes irrelevant.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

In the UK the universities largely exist to indoctrinate young people with the values of a ‘cognitive’ elite that no longer produces anything much but which continues to monopolise the country’s wealth through its control of the media and institutions.

The consequence is that too many businesses and institutions employ too many people whose roles have little to do with their central mission.

The single most constructive policy that any government could adopt would be to close most of them and convert most of the remainder into trade schools along German lines.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Again we can thank John Major Esq for the enormous proliferation of absolutely worthless UK Universities.

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago

It’s been a decades-long trend across the West, from politicians of both “Left” and “Right”.
Because it’s popular with voters, who seem unable to grasp the fact that the subsidies they want their children to receive will be paid for by… they themselves, through taxes, inflation or lower-quality education.
You can’t hammer education aimed at people with 120+ IQs into 50% of the population, unless you drastically simplify that “education”.

Jim C
Jim C
1 year ago

It’s been a decades-long trend across the West, from politicians of both “Left” and “Right”.
Because it’s popular with voters, who seem unable to grasp the fact that the subsidies they want their children to receive will be paid for by… they themselves, through taxes, inflation or lower-quality education.
You can’t hammer education aimed at people with 120+ IQs into 50% of the population, unless you drastically simplify that “education”.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Again we can thank John Major Esq for the enormous proliferation of absolutely worthless UK Universities.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

In the UK the universities largely exist to indoctrinate young people with the values of a ‘cognitive’ elite that no longer produces anything much but which continues to monopolise the country’s wealth through its control of the media and institutions.

The consequence is that too many businesses and institutions employ too many people whose roles have little to do with their central mission.

The single most constructive policy that any government could adopt would be to close most of them and convert most of the remainder into trade schools along German lines.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

I said it at the time: Blair’s target of getting 50% of school-leavers into University was simply a cunning way to warehouse the unemployed.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

A rather expensive form of National Service then, but with NO actual service involved! Brilliant!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

A rather expensive form of National Service then, but with NO actual service involved! Brilliant!

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

I said it at the time: Blair’s target of getting 50% of school-leavers into University was simply a cunning way to warehouse the unemployed.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Totally agree with the author. The university system has utterly failed its students and society. It almost needs to be burned to the ground. I think he might be a bit harsh on DeSantis, who is at least trying to do something.

One issue that he doesn’t explore is the perception that everyone needs a university degree. The vast majority of students should be doing something else – anything else.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Canadian universities are doing fine, and international comparative studies show our high school students are the best educated in the world.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago

Educated in what?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

S Level paper for 16 to 18 year olds when Britain still had rigorous exam system.What does Canada have now?
Mathematics examination paper from 1970 – The Student Room
How does Canada compare to the old entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge? The Maths papers for Cambridge were very tough.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago

Educated in what?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

S Level paper for 16 to 18 year olds when Britain still had rigorous exam system.What does Canada have now?
Mathematics examination paper from 1970 – The Student Room
How does Canada compare to the old entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge? The Maths papers for Cambridge were very tough.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Canadian universities are doing fine, and international comparative studies show our high school students are the best educated in the world.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

Totally agree with the author. The university system has utterly failed its students and society. It almost needs to be burned to the ground. I think he might be a bit harsh on DeSantis, who is at least trying to do something.

One issue that he doesn’t explore is the perception that everyone needs a university degree. The vast majority of students should be doing something else – anything else.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

“…DeSantis’s battle for ideological control of curricula…”
This phrase ignores the fact that hostile, toxic, and dishonest political activists have ALREADY seized “ideological control of curricula” and are using it to aggressively undermine the United States and Western Civilization in general, and that DeSantis is working to bring these institutions back to a normal state.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

The article as a whole does not ignore what you say it does.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

The article as a whole does not ignore what you say it does.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

“…DeSantis’s battle for ideological control of curricula…”
This phrase ignores the fact that hostile, toxic, and dishonest political activists have ALREADY seized “ideological control of curricula” and are using it to aggressively undermine the United States and Western Civilization in general, and that DeSantis is working to bring these institutions back to a normal state.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

We park the kids in education for an extra three to five years, keeping them away from real work, stuffing them up with debts, with the result that we’re now having to extend retirement age – by about three to five years, because there’s not enough money saved up.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

We park the kids in education for an extra three to five years, keeping them away from real work, stuffing them up with debts, with the result that we’re now having to extend retirement age – by about three to five years, because there’s not enough money saved up.

Sam C
Sam C
1 year ago

Florida State schools are among the most affordable in the nation. Those commuters are paying about $5k a year, not bad, considering similar schools in other states charge close to $20k a year for the same mediocre education. Strange to choose Florida for this article

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam C

Better an affordable bad education than an expensive one.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam C

Better an affordable bad education than an expensive one.

Sam C
Sam C
1 year ago

Florida State schools are among the most affordable in the nation. Those commuters are paying about $5k a year, not bad, considering similar schools in other states charge close to $20k a year for the same mediocre education. Strange to choose Florida for this article

Dan Comerford
Dan Comerford
1 year ago

While the realignment at New College has garnered quite a bit of press there is a significant change at the University of Florida which has recently hired Ben Sasse as President. Sasse wrote an interesting piece in The Atlantic last year on How to Fix American Higher Ed. I suspect there will be long term changes changes at UF under Sasse’s leadership and these will likely not be headline grabbing but should result in profound changes at UF and could be a model for other institutions.

Dan Comerford
Dan Comerford
1 year ago

While the realignment at New College has garnered quite a bit of press there is a significant change at the University of Florida which has recently hired Ben Sasse as President. Sasse wrote an interesting piece in The Atlantic last year on How to Fix American Higher Ed. I suspect there will be long term changes changes at UF under Sasse’s leadership and these will likely not be headline grabbing but should result in profound changes at UF and could be a model for other institutions.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

It’s not either/or. I’m in North America and there is a massive ideological problem on campus which is now seriously undermining STEM – not least by diverting hundreds of millions, probably billions, of dollars in a time of austerity. But yes HE is twice the size it should be; more emphasis should be a small, local, community-based artisanal high tech craft colleges and apprenticeships – as I sketched here for the SDP blog https://sdp.org.uk/sdptalk/a-localist-model-for-higher-education/

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

You make some great points in your article – I like the emphasis on re-localising education and a return to more apprenticeship-based learning. Is there anywhere in the world that you think has got the balance right in higher education, or at least has a better balance than in the US/UK?

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

You make some great points in your article – I like the emphasis on re-localising education and a return to more apprenticeship-based learning. Is there anywhere in the world that you think has got the balance right in higher education, or at least has a better balance than in the US/UK?

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

It’s not either/or. I’m in North America and there is a massive ideological problem on campus which is now seriously undermining STEM – not least by diverting hundreds of millions, probably billions, of dollars in a time of austerity. But yes HE is twice the size it should be; more emphasis should be a small, local, community-based artisanal high tech craft colleges and apprenticeships – as I sketched here for the SDP blog https://sdp.org.uk/sdptalk/a-localist-model-for-higher-education/

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

“Instead of kvetching about CRT and bathroom access, our governors ought to be completely restructuring the country’s lower-tier state universities”
False dichotomy. The author’s suggestions are good ones, but content matters too. DeSantis is starting with content, perhaps because that’s more doable. Besides, a school that teaches something legitimate might be easier to reform structurally. IOW, make the schools worth saving, and then save them.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

“Instead of kvetching about CRT and bathroom access, our governors ought to be completely restructuring the country’s lower-tier state universities”
False dichotomy. The author’s suggestions are good ones, but content matters too. DeSantis is starting with content, perhaps because that’s more doable. Besides, a school that teaches something legitimate might be easier to reform structurally. IOW, make the schools worth saving, and then save them.

Paul Davies
Paul Davies
1 year ago

Well who would have thought it that academics could be so corrupt as to perpetuate a system which is downright dishonest in its aims objectives and outcomes. And I though lawyers were bad but then they have now been supplanted by the media.

Paul Davies
Paul Davies
1 year ago

Well who would have thought it that academics could be so corrupt as to perpetuate a system which is downright dishonest in its aims objectives and outcomes. And I though lawyers were bad but then they have now been supplanted by the media.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Stanford now has more than 10,000 administrators who oversee the 7,761 undergraduate and 9,565 graduate students—almost enough for each student to have their own personal butler. (There are about 2,290 faculty members.) These bureaucrats make up an increasingly powerful segment of the university population, as they expand their portfolio and send the message that all conflict should be adjudicated by them.
There’s the problem. Bureaucracy has been ballooning with social justice warriors of all stripes who need to find problems to justify their positions.
We need to figure out how to get rid of these busybodies. Perhaps removing tax exempt status from schools with greater than a 1:5 ratio of bureaucrats to students, or something.
https://open.substack.com/pub/bariweiss/p/stanfords-war-against-its-own-students?r=gac4u&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Stanford now has more than 10,000 administrators who oversee the 7,761 undergraduate and 9,565 graduate students—almost enough for each student to have their own personal butler. (There are about 2,290 faculty members.) These bureaucrats make up an increasingly powerful segment of the university population, as they expand their portfolio and send the message that all conflict should be adjudicated by them.
There’s the problem. Bureaucracy has been ballooning with social justice warriors of all stripes who need to find problems to justify their positions.
We need to figure out how to get rid of these busybodies. Perhaps removing tax exempt status from schools with greater than a 1:5 ratio of bureaucrats to students, or something.
https://open.substack.com/pub/bariweiss/p/stanfords-war-against-its-own-students?r=gac4u&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

DeSantis is trying to free colleges (in this case, one small school in Florida) from the racist DEI and CRT agendas. As a Florida resident taxpayer, I do not want my money funding such ugliness.
To you overall point about the cost, well, it became a lucrative industry when government took over student loans. When I went to college, my dad and I went to a bank, applied for a loan with a ten-year repayment plan, which he co-signed, and I paid the bank back in less than five years after leaving. Get the government out of the student loan business and you’ll have far fewer worthless “studies” majors, fewer worthless administrators, and more people finding work in useful trades and professions. (I was one of those low-paid adjuncts, but I’m very proud to say that most of graduating seniors I taught went on to be very successful in their field – commercial art!).

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

DeSantis is trying to free colleges (in this case, one small school in Florida) from the racist DEI and CRT agendas. As a Florida resident taxpayer, I do not want my money funding such ugliness.
To you overall point about the cost, well, it became a lucrative industry when government took over student loans. When I went to college, my dad and I went to a bank, applied for a loan with a ten-year repayment plan, which he co-signed, and I paid the bank back in less than five years after leaving. Get the government out of the student loan business and you’ll have far fewer worthless “studies” majors, fewer worthless administrators, and more people finding work in useful trades and professions. (I was one of those low-paid adjuncts, but I’m very proud to say that most of graduating seniors I taught went on to be very successful in their field – commercial art!).

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago

There are two problems with higher ed: 1) Universities and colleges are failing to teach anything useful to 70% of their students. 2) Instead they have turned to indoctrinating students with actual lies (gender theory, queer theory, CRT, inster-sectionalism).
DeSantis and other Governors are tackling issue 2). You have top stop the bleeding and root out all the unqualified admins and bureuacrats that administer this stuff before you can tackle 1). That’s a long road, and will probably require the collapse of many schools and systems. Stopping the indoctrination is a good first step in the meantime.

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago

There are two problems with higher ed: 1) Universities and colleges are failing to teach anything useful to 70% of their students. 2) Instead they have turned to indoctrinating students with actual lies (gender theory, queer theory, CRT, inster-sectionalism).
DeSantis and other Governors are tackling issue 2). You have top stop the bleeding and root out all the unqualified admins and bureuacrats that administer this stuff before you can tackle 1). That’s a long road, and will probably require the collapse of many schools and systems. Stopping the indoctrination is a good first step in the meantime.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

UK universities are in a similar state. My solution is to make universities, rather than the taxpayer, responsible for providing and recovering student loans. That should incentivise them to turn out employable graduates.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

UK universities are in a similar state. My solution is to make universities, rather than the taxpayer, responsible for providing and recovering student loans. That should incentivise them to turn out employable graduates.

laura m
laura m
1 year ago

Attack DeSantis with an empty swipe, and totally ignore why/how the state college systems expanded remedial education. Is Unherd losing it’s edge, this is a boring long winded essay.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago
Reply to  laura m

This is an instructive recording of a confrontation between Rufo and a college administrator. I don’t think the administrator is politically motivated. I think we have a clash of personality temperaments – risk taking and risk avoidance, perha[s disagreeableness and agreeableness etc.
https://twitter.com/realchrisrufo/status/1619126074641612800?lang=en

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago
Reply to  laura m

This is an instructive recording of a confrontation between Rufo and a college administrator. I don’t think the administrator is politically motivated. I think we have a clash of personality temperaments – risk taking and risk avoidance, perha[s disagreeableness and agreeableness etc.
https://twitter.com/realchrisrufo/status/1619126074641612800?lang=en

laura m
laura m
1 year ago

Attack DeSantis with an empty swipe, and totally ignore why/how the state college systems expanded remedial education. Is Unherd losing it’s edge, this is a boring long winded essay.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
1 year ago

If you appeared on NPR and wrote for the Atlantic then you are a major part of the problem No and’s if’s or but’s.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
1 year ago

If you appeared on NPR and wrote for the Atlantic then you are a major part of the problem No and’s if’s or but’s.

G A Braine
G A Braine
1 year ago

The fact that Ron desantis talks with such a degree of sense and rationality this really annoys the so called “left”. The problem is the left and liberal anymore they have gone so far now they are like dictators who simply cannot see reason in anything! Universities seems to teach socialist propaganda feeding into democrat far left leaning ideologies, as they will push for some sort of Chinese regime and be supported by these so called students. The hardworking manual jobs that USA was so well known for created strong moral family based values, academia has created jobs with no purpose, and therefore society has been completely eroded. Hard work and sacrifice for the common good creates strong society, USA has outsourced all of these hardworking jobs and in-turn weakened the fabric of their society so they no be highly manipulated whilst fighting on supposedly progressive issues with no answers, like Gender! What a mess, only hardship and horrendous times will allow society to restart and rebuild!

G A Braine
G A Braine
1 year ago

The fact that Ron desantis talks with such a degree of sense and rationality this really annoys the so called “left”. The problem is the left and liberal anymore they have gone so far now they are like dictators who simply cannot see reason in anything! Universities seems to teach socialist propaganda feeding into democrat far left leaning ideologies, as they will push for some sort of Chinese regime and be supported by these so called students. The hardworking manual jobs that USA was so well known for created strong moral family based values, academia has created jobs with no purpose, and therefore society has been completely eroded. Hard work and sacrifice for the common good creates strong society, USA has outsourced all of these hardworking jobs and in-turn weakened the fabric of their society so they no be highly manipulated whilst fighting on supposedly progressive issues with no answers, like Gender! What a mess, only hardship and horrendous times will allow society to restart and rebuild!

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 year ago

I was dismayed to learn that my college in Oxford is remodeling its student accommodation so as to provide en suite bathrooms for every student room. Apparently it’s what the consumers demand. It’s just wrong.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

But this is a non-frivolous point that is really understated. The author talks about the need for universities to be small and perfectly formed and I agree. The only defence of modern universities that I can muster is to say that they are what policy has driven. Big is beautiful. The austere (for want of a better term) institution I went to 30 years ago is definitely out. Being attractive to high-paying globalist students with high expectations of a ‘student experience’ is very much in. I can and do make many criticisms of the HE we have in the UK but undeniably any institution that did not try to keep up with the Joneses with massive expansions, vanity buildings, globalist aspirations, high fees and the like would not have survived long in the climate that policy created.
I briefly worked in HE and I suspect that there was no shortage of people who had no love for where policy and the very high risk business model was taking HE, but the politics of rationality were against them.
30 years ago my institution was not a global powerhouse and was focussed locally. It turned out very good people who studied there living and learning in conditions that simply would not fly now. Needless to say the levels of debt 30 years ago reflected the austere conditions I and others lived in. Your en suite is a sign of where policy has taken us.
And of course bloat fed bloat. As the fees system became ever more dominant and complex so a vast number of administrative staff was needed and the professional managerial class took over. The woke courses simply were a product of demand and once started could never stop. And, significantly, there was no incentive to stop.
The author is spot on I think that the way to fix HE doesn’t lie in bashing woke and the professional managerial class, problematic as those things are. Rather it is in going to small, well-formed institutions and dialling right back on the idea of HE as a ‘student experience.’ But getting those genies back in the bottle won’t be easy.
I do think that some of the critics of modern HE perhaps overegg the pudding. There should be a soft landing for young people between 18-21. That soft landing needn’t be a classic 3 year HE, but there should be a time when young people can move to truly independent living. The age 18-21 should not be a sink or swim time and I really think some people would do well to remember that.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sam Hill
Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

But this is a non-frivolous point that is really understated. The author talks about the need for universities to be small and perfectly formed and I agree. The only defence of modern universities that I can muster is to say that they are what policy has driven. Big is beautiful. The austere (for want of a better term) institution I went to 30 years ago is definitely out. Being attractive to high-paying globalist students with high expectations of a ‘student experience’ is very much in. I can and do make many criticisms of the HE we have in the UK but undeniably any institution that did not try to keep up with the Joneses with massive expansions, vanity buildings, globalist aspirations, high fees and the like would not have survived long in the climate that policy created.
I briefly worked in HE and I suspect that there was no shortage of people who had no love for where policy and the very high risk business model was taking HE, but the politics of rationality were against them.
30 years ago my institution was not a global powerhouse and was focussed locally. It turned out very good people who studied there living and learning in conditions that simply would not fly now. Needless to say the levels of debt 30 years ago reflected the austere conditions I and others lived in. Your en suite is a sign of where policy has taken us.
And of course bloat fed bloat. As the fees system became ever more dominant and complex so a vast number of administrative staff was needed and the professional managerial class took over. The woke courses simply were a product of demand and once started could never stop. And, significantly, there was no incentive to stop.
The author is spot on I think that the way to fix HE doesn’t lie in bashing woke and the professional managerial class, problematic as those things are. Rather it is in going to small, well-formed institutions and dialling right back on the idea of HE as a ‘student experience.’ But getting those genies back in the bottle won’t be easy.
I do think that some of the critics of modern HE perhaps overegg the pudding. There should be a soft landing for young people between 18-21. That soft landing needn’t be a classic 3 year HE, but there should be a time when young people can move to truly independent living. The age 18-21 should not be a sink or swim time and I really think some people would do well to remember that.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sam Hill
Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 year ago

I was dismayed to learn that my college in Oxford is remodeling its student accommodation so as to provide en suite bathrooms for every student room. Apparently it’s what the consumers demand. It’s just wrong.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago

Look at the statistics on US tuition fees- scandalously outstripping inflation.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago

Look at the statistics on US tuition fees- scandalously outstripping inflation.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

Many of the author’s criticisms of higher education generally are spot-on. There are simply not enough white collar jobs for college graduates to justify the ‘put everyone in college’ approach currently favored by academia and government. Academia, from researchers to administrators all the way down to professors, has a clear and obvious economic self-interest in this approach. The motives of government, however, depending on where one falls on the sliding scale of cynicism toward humanity generally and government specifically, largely fall into some combination of misguided idealism and base indoctrination. My opinion falls nearer the latter, which brings us to Ron DeSantis, whose name is gratuitously dropped in the subtitle then largely forgotten by the actual substance of the article. The specific example of Ron DeSantis reorganizing this one university, along with the other examples cited, is only tangentially related to the author’s topic or higher education at all. It is a political tactic used for political ends and it is by no means new or unique. It is better understood as a woefully belated attempt to counter what others in government have been doing for most of my lifetime, that is leverage governmental authority to push academia towards certain political alignments and indoctrinate youth into particular ideologies. Whether or not colleges and universities should be used like a political football is at this point, pardon the pun, academic. One can hardly blame the other team for taking the field and playing a bit of defense, however belatedly. What’s good for the goose after all. None of that, however, is really all that relevant to the author’s actual point, and he does make a good point. In short, this is a decent article that would have been better served by sticking to the topic and avoiding any political name dropping lest he appear to be engaging in obvious bait and switch tactics.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

Many of the author’s criticisms of higher education generally are spot-on. There are simply not enough white collar jobs for college graduates to justify the ‘put everyone in college’ approach currently favored by academia and government. Academia, from researchers to administrators all the way down to professors, has a clear and obvious economic self-interest in this approach. The motives of government, however, depending on where one falls on the sliding scale of cynicism toward humanity generally and government specifically, largely fall into some combination of misguided idealism and base indoctrination. My opinion falls nearer the latter, which brings us to Ron DeSantis, whose name is gratuitously dropped in the subtitle then largely forgotten by the actual substance of the article. The specific example of Ron DeSantis reorganizing this one university, along with the other examples cited, is only tangentially related to the author’s topic or higher education at all. It is a political tactic used for political ends and it is by no means new or unique. It is better understood as a woefully belated attempt to counter what others in government have been doing for most of my lifetime, that is leverage governmental authority to push academia towards certain political alignments and indoctrinate youth into particular ideologies. Whether or not colleges and universities should be used like a political football is at this point, pardon the pun, academic. One can hardly blame the other team for taking the field and playing a bit of defense, however belatedly. What’s good for the goose after all. None of that, however, is really all that relevant to the author’s actual point, and he does make a good point. In short, this is a decent article that would have been better served by sticking to the topic and avoiding any political name dropping lest he appear to be engaging in obvious bait and switch tactics.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
rob clark
rob clark
1 year ago

Very good points made in this piece. Yes, DeSantis may be going a bit overboard for political reasons as the author suggests. However, much of the blame for our current “higher education” crisis is the Democrat approach to sanctimoniously throw gobs of taxpayer funded money into the existing system year after year.

rob clark
rob clark
1 year ago

Very good points made in this piece. Yes, DeSantis may be going a bit overboard for political reasons as the author suggests. However, much of the blame for our current “higher education” crisis is the Democrat approach to sanctimoniously throw gobs of taxpayer funded money into the existing system year after year.

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

An interesting article that makes some good points about waste and aimless credentialism undermining education. I believe that what de Santis is doing is the wrong way to go about tackling what is a genuine problem: the capture of educational institutions by a narrow ideology. It is wrong because it sets a precedent of government interfering in educational curricula that will no doubt be used by the other ‘side’ to justify as escalation in furthering its own agendas by imposing them on the education system.
I believe that a better approach would be to allow higher education institutions freedom in what they teach, while setting standards in how it is taught to ensure that this meets basic standards of competence and fairness. At the same time, state funding of higher education should be primarily delivered in the form of a ‘voucher’ system, so that students take their funding with them, rather than the institution being directly funded. Doing this would mean that students can ‘vote with their feet’ and leave institutions that are delivering education that doesn’t match their values. It would also be necessary for government to legislate that professional membership bodies can only base their accreditation of training on whether the course is professionally delivered and includes core subject content, not on its ideological position/s. Like free speech, education requires autonomy and freedom to truly flourish and act as a safeguard against totalitarianism, and this means that the state must not try to silence those whose beliefs it dislikes, but rather promote a culture that values learning and developing the critical thinking that will allow students to see through one-sided ideologies.
To the author’s broader thesis, there is clearly a necessity for some level of public funding for higher education, but a level that is targeted far more carefully than is done now. In particular, there needs to be a move away from credentialism, the tendency to require ever higher and longer-lasting degrees for professional training. This leads to bloating of the educational sector, unnecessarily large student debts and among some professions is used as an unfair form of ‘gatekeeping’ to keep their numbers small and elite. Many professions that formerly had a more apprenticeship-like training format could likely work just as well through operating under this structure again, or at least a format that places a higher weight on skill development and unnecessary amounts of theory (of course theory is important, but it’s about getting the right. balance).

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

An interesting article that makes some good points about waste and aimless credentialism undermining education. I believe that what de Santis is doing is the wrong way to go about tackling what is a genuine problem: the capture of educational institutions by a narrow ideology. It is wrong because it sets a precedent of government interfering in educational curricula that will no doubt be used by the other ‘side’ to justify as escalation in furthering its own agendas by imposing them on the education system.
I believe that a better approach would be to allow higher education institutions freedom in what they teach, while setting standards in how it is taught to ensure that this meets basic standards of competence and fairness. At the same time, state funding of higher education should be primarily delivered in the form of a ‘voucher’ system, so that students take their funding with them, rather than the institution being directly funded. Doing this would mean that students can ‘vote with their feet’ and leave institutions that are delivering education that doesn’t match their values. It would also be necessary for government to legislate that professional membership bodies can only base their accreditation of training on whether the course is professionally delivered and includes core subject content, not on its ideological position/s. Like free speech, education requires autonomy and freedom to truly flourish and act as a safeguard against totalitarianism, and this means that the state must not try to silence those whose beliefs it dislikes, but rather promote a culture that values learning and developing the critical thinking that will allow students to see through one-sided ideologies.
To the author’s broader thesis, there is clearly a necessity for some level of public funding for higher education, but a level that is targeted far more carefully than is done now. In particular, there needs to be a move away from credentialism, the tendency to require ever higher and longer-lasting degrees for professional training. This leads to bloating of the educational sector, unnecessarily large student debts and among some professions is used as an unfair form of ‘gatekeeping’ to keep their numbers small and elite. Many professions that formerly had a more apprenticeship-like training format could likely work just as well through operating under this structure again, or at least a format that places a higher weight on skill development and unnecessary amounts of theory (of course theory is important, but it’s about getting the right. balance).

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago

Just keep the background in perspective: humanities enrollments are dropping precipitously, and DeSantis’ polling numbers are dropping. While the US is engaged in noisy culture wars STEM is saved by foreign and immigrant students. Just look at the percentage of Indians in silicon valley.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 year ago

Just keep the background in perspective: humanities enrollments are dropping precipitously, and DeSantis’ polling numbers are dropping. While the US is engaged in noisy culture wars STEM is saved by foreign and immigrant students. Just look at the percentage of Indians in silicon valley.

Douglas H
Douglas H
1 year ago

Great article, thanks for this

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago

Interesting New Yorker piece on Rufo linked (per Chris Rufo) in the article, particularly Crenshaw’s comments.
Rufo’s opprobrium is directed at what he considers ideological capture of academic depts by political activists intent on promoting an identity marxist ideology under the guise of scholarship.
Rufo’s sub stack article on his motivation and reasoning, is worth a read, as is James Lindsay’s rigorous description of the Critical Race Theory (see Lindsay’s analysis in his book Race Marxism) of Kendi, DiAngelo and Crenshaw et al.
https://rufo.substack.com/p/shut-down-activist-academic-departments?utm_source=post-email-title&publication_id=1248321&post_id=108402492&isFreemail=true&utm_medium=email
and
https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-critical-race-theory/

Last edited 1 year ago by michael stanwick
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 year ago

Governments should get out of the higher education business altogether.

But considering the damage that leftists have already done, it’s tempting to use taxpayers’ money to undo the damage.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago

The fact that Oliver Bateman believes that his history students were watching Breaking Bad during his lectures because some private entity was stealing their money tells you everything you need to know about him as a teacher, journalist, and logician. When he name-drops about “writing in The Atlantic and going on National Public Radio,” he thinks that lends credibility to his mangled reasoning instead of yoking him to the most popular purveyors of mangled reasoning. Oliver Bateman is a master at his craft.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 year ago

The fact that Oliver Bateman believes that his history students were watching Breaking Bad during his lectures because some private entity was stealing their money tells you everything you need to know about him as a teacher, journalist, and logician. When he name-drops about “writing in The Atlantic and going on National Public Radio,” he thinks that lends credibility to his mangled reasoning instead of yoking him to the most popular purveyors of mangled reasoning. Oliver Bateman is a master at his craft.