Higher education: What’s the point?

The Wilmington StarNews Editorial Board recently published three letters on the subject of public university curricula; two responding to Gov. Pat McCrory’s interest in and comments on higher education related to job preparation, and a third suggesting that “a gender studies course should be required….” (link)

Obviously, the third letter writer wants to infuse her political agenda into university curricula. Many observers of the dysfunctions built into our higher education systems know that irrelevant race and gender indoctrination “studies” now compete for time and resources better spent on valuable classic liberal education such as reading great books. Further, these pseudo-academic offerings provide students with neither a good education nor anything useful for a productive job.

The second letter, directed at the governor’s recent public comments, sarcastically suggests that public universities “get rid of the fluff”; English, literature, sociology, philosophy, religion and history courses, so as to “graduate hirable employees.” Of course, this is ridiculous. McCrory has not even implied such a thing. Ironically, these courses are not now required of all students in a core curriculum by the University of North Carolina.

Further, in an article printed on the “Perspectives” page opposite the letters, Gov. McCrory states his position: “I have repeatedly promoted multiple paths to success for students….” (link) Even the president of the University of North Carolina agrees with McCrory; that it should “prepare students…to (work) and live in our new economy.” Incidentally, many college graduates are abysmally ignorant of economics and lack proper communications skills.

However, nothing now prevents serious students from getting a good education in the classic liberal arts, as well as taking courses that serve a more practical interest, such as being employable. For example, students enrolled in four-year business programs can achieve both. The second letter writer infers that the mission of our public schools is to produce people that are unemployable. Unfortunately, many of them are.

Our public universities load up the system with student bodies unprepared for or not serious about higher education. To keep the river of income from federal, state and parental sources flowing, administrators see to it that youngsters have fun and an easy academic time of it. Results are predictable. Large numbers of students with no solid core curricular requirements choose paths of least resistance; taking remedial and “fluff” courses, thus wasting valuable human resources and public money. Students, parents and other taxpayers get bilked by Big Ed.

The first StarNews letter by Paul Townsend, chairman of the UNC-Wilmington History Department, had a more thoughtful and knowledgeable response than the other two. However, even he found the governor’s remarks “discouraging”—jumping to conclusions about actions that might be taken by the McCrory administration. I doubt that Governor McCrory would disagree with Prof. Townsend that our “very expensive university system” has a “responsibility” to be efficient and intelligent. And we can all agree with him that faculty and administrators “must be accountable.” The problem is many of them aren’t.

Unaccountable and irresponsible people have subverted our universities. They tolerate hostility toward our historical religious faith; allow teaching collectivism over individualism; permit (and in some cases encourage) sexual promiscuity; dictate “moral relativism” rather than promote virtues and morality; and offer political race and gender feel-good studies in lieu of worthwhile subjects. And there’s much more to show that our public (and some private, e.g. Sex Week at Duke University) institutions of higher learning have failed in their responsibilities to citizens of this State.

These indictments (and others) have come from many serious scholars and education writers, including Nathan Harden, author of “Sex and God at Yale” and editor of The College Fix a higher education news website. (link)

Here in North Carolina scholars at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh have produced volumes of research, studies and commentary directed at improving our higher education system. (link) Recently, Jane Shaw, president of the Pope Center, supported Governor McCrory in a newspaper article. (link)

In my opinion, the best course of action for the governor to improve higher education in North Carolina with state policy would be to seek guidance from the Center.

Regardless, we can expect more demagoguery on the purpose of higher education—much of it in politics and press unrelated to improving instruction and learning at the University of North Carolina.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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