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Right Turn
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 09/02/2012

Decay, decline and dishonesty in higher education

The moniker on Harvard University’s shield is “Veritas” (meaning verity or truth). That’s a fine aspiration for a university. Alas fidelity to truth and more generally the promotion of good character and superior intellect are lacking at Harvard.

Consider two incidents. Both point to the moral rot at the core of the jewel of the Ivy League.

Bloomberg reports: “About 125 Harvard University undergraduates are being investigated for cheating on a final exam earlier this year, the most widespread academic misconduct scandal known at the school, college officials said.” Even worse is the “everyone’s to blame” response from the purported adults there. The undergraduate dean proclaimed: “This is a national problem — an international problem — a technologically enabled problem.” Actually not; technology doesn’t make students into cheaters. The sort of “everyone does it” attitude is, don’t you think, sort of the root of the problem?

Then there is the Cuba sightseeing trip. No, seriously. Elliot Abrams points to this “people to people” exchange on the Communist island featured on the alumni Web site: “These programs are not vacations. Every hour must be accounted for and involve meaningful interactions with Cuban people. . . . Participants attend a full daily schedule of activities that include lectures, roundtable discussions and break-out sessions, private performances, artistic demonstrations and interpretations, and informal conversations, all delivered by local people. Speakers and guests include professors and students from the University of Havana, docents from museums, artisans and craftsmen of various trades, musicians and dancers, and local residents. They will help you gain a better understanding of the history, economics, education, healthcare, politics, art, architecture, and culture of Cuba.”

Actually, as Abrams points out, what would help the participants better understand the politics of Cuba would be visits with imprisoned dissidents and the wrongly held American USAID contractor. (“Cubans fighting for human rights can use our solidarity and support. Alan Gross, who has lost 100 pounds in prison, can use it as well. But this kind of well orchestrated tour will instead serve the purposes of the Cuban regime. Travelers who have a conscience should stay home.”)

In essence the alumni association is peddling a monstrous lie: that Cuba is a transparent society in which a comprehensive understanding can be obtained by ignoring the most egregious elements of the regime. Not exactly the stuff of “Veritas.”

We’ve know for some time that the insularity of the academy is increasingly failing to foster understanding of our civilization and elevation of character.

In that vein, Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institute writes about a new report on California’s university system:

The cost of attending college, greatly outpacing the rate of inflation almost everywhere, has skyrocketed in California: Whereas nationwide tuition and fees at public universities over the last five years have risen on average by 28 percent, the average increase at UC campuses is an astounding 73.1 percent and at Cal State campuses a still more astounding 83.8 percent. While turning away students and seeking billions for new buildings, California institutions are significantly under-using classroom and laboratory space. And, absent drastic reform, in little more than a decade the Cal State and UC systems are unlikely to be able to meet their obligations to faculty retirement programs.
More menacing to higher education in California is educators’ adoption of curricula, classroom pedagogy, and limitations on free speech that fly in the face of liberal education’s fundamental requirements. These practices also fly in the face of public opinion.

Endemic mismanagement — a collapse of ethical standards, financial mismanagement and refusal to meet the needs of its students — is not limited to one state.

At the Republican National Convention, former Florida governor Jeb Bush went on a tear against higher education. He told a group of us that universities should price degrees differently through aid that depends on the major: A psychology major “is probably the easiest route to go get another degree maybe that has higher purpose. Maybe you price that differently. The argument against that is, that goes against our business model. And my argument against them was, you don’t have a business model. Your model is . . .build the moat deeper, build the walls higher, don’t let anybody come in and try to influence how you operate. Use academic freedom as this . . .prophylactic over your . . . operations and hope they go away.”

The higher-education system, institutions dominated overwhelmingly by the left, have made opaqueness into a fine art. These entities are in a state of financial, academic and ethical decline. Perhaps it’s time to start cleaning house and cut off the flow of financial support from American taxpayers until these entities can get their act together.

Maybe we need to put in power people who actually understand the mission of educational institutions and embrace the values of our civilization. I did just recently hear such a person speak to a large gathering: “More than at any other time in history — the ability to mobilize the creativity and ambition of human beings forms the foundation of greatness,” Condoleezza Rice told the Republican National Convention. “We have always done that better than any country in the world. People have come here from all over because they believed in our creed — of opportunity and limitless horizons. They have come from the world’s most impoverished nations to make five dollars, not 50 cents — and they have come from the world’s advanced societies — as engineers and scientists — to help fuel the knowledge-based revolution in the Silicon Valley of California; the research triangle of North Carolina; in Austin, Texas; along Route 128 in Massachusetts — and across our country.”

Well, yes, America would be a better place if Condi Rice, Peter Berkowitz and Jeb Bush were running universities. For now, we should start listening to what they are saying and move universities to align themselves with the values and needs of our country. That’s required for economic prosperity and also to perpetuate American civilization. Right now universities are endangering both.

By  |  08:45 AM ET, 09/02/2012

Categories:  Education

 
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