Egalitarian U.

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by John Galvin

My last article commended Christopher Woodhead for having the cojones to expose the reality of "bog-standard universities" in the UK. The former #1 education administrator in England was willing to go on record opposing the lowering of university admissions standards and supporting Kingsley Amis' dictum that "More means worse."

I described my experiences as a Little League manager because they afforded me a real-life opportunity to participate in implementing an affirmative action program and to witness the results. We lowered the standards required to enter the upper league, thereby pushing a large cohort of lesser-qualified players into a more competitive situation. Rather than waiting years to see the results filter through society, as is required with some other affirmative action programs, we saw the results of our actions immediately: an abrupt drop in the quality of play all across the league. Our system, burdened by the weight of affirmative action, was no longer able to be competitive.

I contend that this is an accurate experimental model that demonstrates what happens in every affirmative action program. Imagine a pyramid of talent and skill which could represent intelligence or artistic aptitude, just as easily as baseball playing ability. Somewhere you need to draw a horizontal line across that pyramid to differentiate the "Major Leagues" from the "Minor Leagues." The higher you draw that line, the higher the quality level you achieve in BOTH the upper section AND the lower section. Every time you lower that dividing line, you lower the average level in both the upper and the lower groups.

But does the Little League analogy really apply to education? Let me tell you about my recent "close encounter" with an institution of higher education, and you decide whether standards have been lowered.

My oldest son will soon begin his pursuit of a college degree at the University of Cincinnati. This institution of higher learning is famous primarily for its Bearcat basketball team whose players, while understandably not intensely focused on academics, are not even very interested in learning to play basketball. "Just give me the damn ball and get out of my way," seems to be the team motto.

Parents and students were invited to come for two days of orientation. Students were separated from the parents and went through a different program. As for the parents, the first few sessions concerned realities of financing, housing, etc. But soon it became apparent that these activities were not the real purpose of the program. The sessions started to focus on "tolerance" and "diversity." In fact the director of the program accidentally let slip the phrase "diversity training." Our so-called "Parents' Orientation Days" was technically, from their point of view, "diversity training"!

As I suffered through two days of "diversity training" sessions, I waited in vain for some mention of academic standards. The presentation by the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was our last hope for some evidence of intellectual activity, but it was not to be. He talked about majors, courses, credits and graduation requirements – certainly essential topics – but not a word about the pursuit of knowledge or the love of learning. At no point was there the smallest indication that students should have anything but a strictly pragmatic interest in whatever they study. Even the presentation on the Honors program spoke only of the canoe trip and spring break in Hawaii.

As I listened to the AD of the CAS, it was easy to imagine that I was living through C.S. Lewis' science fiction novel, "That Hideous Strength." For the first time we were in a room that looked like a real classroom, rather than an experimental laboratory, located in a building which stands like a lonely island of classical architecture amidst a sea of never-ending construction and hideous poured concrete. The AD looked like a real professor and spoke like someone who had probably received a decent education. But like the characters in "That Hideous Strength," somewhere along the line he had traded in a life of genuine study for the politics of administration. And just like the characters in the novel, the poor fellow practically had to shout to be heard over the din of the construction going on behind him.

The money, the activity, the projects, they're astounding! The size of the campus and the number of students makes the mind reel. And this is just one small corner of the project of higher education in the United States. But nowhere in this massive project is there room for even the tiniest bit of actual intellectual activity, most especially any intellectual activity that dares to question – don't even dream of threatening – the dominant PC mindset.

At last we reached the final event: a panel discussion where we could present questions to the team of S.O.L.'s (Student Orientation Leaders) who had guided us around campus and acted out a dramatic presentation of "A Year in the Life" (of a freshman, consisting of sex, beer, and indoctrination programs in which white males have their consciousness raised to be tolerant of other races, sexes and sexual preferences). They had been presented to us as the "top of the top" of the previous year's freshman class (no europhile phrases like "crème de la crème" here please!).

Parents asked about buying books, securing parking, etc. Then I raised my hand and asked, "How would you describe the intellectual atmosphere on campus?" Stunned silence. First I was asked to repeat my question, which I did. Then I was asked to clarify what I meant. Using words of only 1 or 2 syllables, I asked, "What do you talk about on campus? What do you read? What do you care about? What issues do you debate?" More stunned silence. Apparently the "top of the top" does not read, think or discuss (unless required for class).

Finally a double winner – a member of 2 victimized minority groups – spoke up and said, "Well the intellectual atmosphere isn't too great during most times of the year, but it gets real intense around mid-terms and finals." Another S.O.L., Steve, replied, "I don't think that's what he had in mind."

At the session on the Honors program, Steve had been described as the prize pupil, a model of what an Honors student should be. To give Steve his due, he was perceptive enough to realize that they were unable to answer the question and that this inability revealed a profound ignorance of what "education" is supposed to entail. And he was too honest to claim, "My roommates and I typically have fierce discussions concerning the relationship between neo-Thomism and Platonism."

Steve was intelligent enough to be embarrassed, which is more than can be said for the female pre-med student who came back with, "Well I guess we must be interested in this stuff because we wouldn't spend all this time taking these classes if we weren't interested, would we?"

Robert Bork proposes that this breakdown in the academy is the result of a system imposed upon the unwilling masses by a small elite. My experience does not support his hypothesis, in fact it suggests the opposite: that democracy run amok has taken over elite institutions and replaced historic value systems emphasizing things like "knowledge" and "learning" with the values of the lower classes. Here are two events that occurred at the orientation:

Incident 1:At the conclusion of the drama "A Year in the Life," there was a discussion session designed to elicit concurrence from the parents. My wife threw some cold water on the party by questioning their outright promotion of homosexuality, casual sex and alcohol and drug abuse. She was especially outraged at the skit where the girl gets herself drunk, has sex, and then decides the next day that she was raped. After all, if she was so drunk, she couldn't she have given consent, could she? Or so went the party line.

But the other parents were eager to demonstrate how thoroughly indoctrinated they were by parroting lines like "No means no" (even when it's unspoken). They couldn't be too quick to disassociate themselves from my wife's heresy. They were thoroughly in favor of tolerance (except towards white heterosexual males). And my observations would tend to indicate that they were not members of the "intellectual elite" that frightens Judge Bork.

Incident 2:At the end of the orientation program, we were asked to fill out evaluation forms. Here is the actual conversation of two ladies sitting behind me:

Lady 1: "I gave the SOLs a 5 [on a scale of 1 to 5], but that didn't really show my true feelings so I added 3 plus signs."

Lady 2: "Ohmigod, I can't believe it. Look at my sheet. I added 3 plus signs too. I gave every session a 5, so I just had to give an even higher grade to the SOLs, they're just so wonderful."

With parents like these, can you really place the blame on the administration for grade inflation and the lowering of standards? If our group of parents had been offered a proposal to guarantee every student an automatic 4.0 GPA, it would have passed in a landslide. The only discouraging word heard during the weekend was from some parents of engineering student who were shocked to find out that this was going to be a difficult program with demanding standards and that the engineering school expected their little darlings to work their tails off.

To be fair, some programs, like the engineering school, continue to maintain high standards in admissions and a rigorous program of instruction. And the PC indoctrination had the feeling of play acting; it had none of the fierce zealotry of the true believer that one encounters at an East Coast Ivy League institution. Despite the messages encapsulated in the orientation program, the student newspaper reported that organizers of "womyn's programs" are rather like Maytag repairmen, while the sororities, described in the paper as "drunken brothels," are overflowing.

But the College of Arts and Sciences, which should be producing Cincinnati's next generation of doctors, lawyers, scholars and scientists, seems to have declared "unconditional surrender." The barbarians are no longer at the gates. They have breached the walls, captured the town and are running the show. Having long ago cast aside moral standards, they have abandoned intellectual standards as well. For some time now, primary schools have been forthrightly proclaiming that "socializing" students is a higher priority for them than teaching mere facts about numbers and letters. Based on my experience at the parents' orientation program, I have to conclude that this philosophy dominates at the university level as well.

John Galvin is a businessman living in Cincinnati. His most recent publication is “Humanae Vitae: A Critical Re-evaluation.”

© 2001

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