Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education

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As I was reading through this book, I kept putting what I was reading back into a different time and historical situation.  This book, in other words, reminds me of the time before the Protestant Reformation.  I am thinking specifically of the pre-Reformers like Erasmus who called the Roman Catholic Church to account for its many errors and deviations.  Even Luther’s beloved 95 Theses were not a Protestant systematic theology.  He was arguing as a Catholic against Catholics. It is a story that can be found in many places and circumstances.  Huge entities develop huge mechanisms containing huge faulty practices.

Cracks in the Ivory Tower:  The Moral Mess of Higher Education by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness is published by Oxford University Press.

Both authors are scholars and academics.  While I think they may be of a more conservative bent than many academics, this book is a not a diatribe against ideological Leftists in the universities.  Nor is it an indictment against moral problems that so often dominate campus life.  Nor is it an attack on any specific university.

Instead, the authors examine several matters that appear in the world of universities across the land.  There are problems relating to the numbers and influences of the administrative side of university life in contrast to the number of faculty and students.  Administration, like government bureaucracy, always finds a need to expand.  Much of the cost of college is related to paying those who are far removed from the classroom.

But faculty are not exempt from the process of growing the numbers.  Required courses, general education requirements (gen ed classes), and other means are used to add course upon course and requirement upon requirement.  It hurt to read it, but the gist of these concerns related to English and composition courses in the colleges.  Of course, we always want to think that college produces well rounded people with appreciation for a wide range of learning and with much needed skills in writing.  And, we want to think that college training is pre-job training so that the graduate leaves the classroom for the workplace with scarcely a bobble.  The authors dissent from these assumptions.

Why?  Students graduate, but still have to be trained for their specific jobs.  Much of what is learned is forgotten within a few years.  And college students cheat, and they cheat a lot.  The thinking and reasoning skills of even most college educated people are still deficient.  Prior to this problem, those who write the materials promoting their particular colleges inflate the effects that college will have upon the students.

It was interesting to me to listen to my older son comment upon this book.  He read through it with hardly a pause and then pronounced it good.  So good, in fact, that he wished he had read it, he said, before he ever went to college.  It didn’t poison his attitude because he is entering graduate school this coming fall. I read through the book at a slower pace and wondered how applicable much of it was.  It has been too many years since I was a real college student. (I did take a graduate course this past spring.)

The solution is not the abolition of the university.  Reforms are always difficult and are usually rejected.  Think again of the comparison to those who tried to instigate reforms in the Roman Catholic Church.  But criticisms must be made.  This posting of some dozen or so theses on the door of the modern university will hopefully lead to some serious dialogues and, after much angst, change.

One thought on “Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education

  1. Before the invention of the printing press in 1450 was anything really “scholastic”? I think the reformers thought NO. Now, we might ask that question again: Before the internet, was anything “Scholastic”? I think future generations will say NO again. They may label much of pre internet studies and books as shallow. In the long term, I am optimistic, the Kingdom of God is Growing, like the mustard seed. So the current moral decline should rebound.

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