A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities

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I think it is time to close the universities, and perhaps prosecute the professoriat under the RICO act as a corrupt and racketeering-influenced organization. Universities these days have the moral character of electronic churches, and as little educational value. They are an embarrassment to civilization.

I know this. I am sitting in my office in Jocotepec, consorting with a bottle of Padre Kino red — channeling the good Padre if you will. It is insight cheap at the price. A few bucks a liter.

To begin with, sending a child to a university is irresponsible. These days it costs something like a quarter of a million dollars, depending on your choice of frauds. The more notorious of these intellectual brothels, as for example Yale, can cost more. This money, left in the stock market for forty hears, or thirty, would yield enough to keep the possessor in comfort, with sufficient left over for vices. If the market took a downturn, he could settle for just the vices. In the intervening years, he (or, most assuredly, she) could work in a dive shop.

See? By sending our young to college, we are impoverishing them, and ourselves, and sentencing them to a life of slavery in some grim cubicle painted federal-wall green. Personally, I’d rather be chained in a trireme.

Besides, the effect of a university education can be gotten more easily by other means. If it is thought desirable to expose the young to low propaganda, any second-hand bookstore can provide copies of Trotsky, Marcuse, Gloria Steinem, and the Washington Post. These and a supply of Dramamine, in the space of a week, would provide eighty percent of the content of a college education. A beer truck would finish the job. The student would save four years which could more profitably be spent in selling drugs, or in frantic cohabitation or — wild thought — in reading, traveling, and otherwise cultivating himself.

This has been known to happen, though documentation is hard to find.

To the extent that universities actually try to teach anything, which is to say to a very limited extent, they do little more than inhibit intelligent students of inquiring mind. And they are unnecessary: The professor’s role is purely disciplinary: By threats of issuing failing grades, he insures that the student comes to class and reads certain things. But a student who has to be forced to learn shouldn’t be in school in the first place. By making a chore of what would otherwise be a pleasure, the professor instills a lifelong loathing for the material.

The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you want to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.

But no. The student must go to a class in American Literature, and be asked by some pompous drone, “Now, what is Twain trying to tell us in paragraph four?” This presumes that Twain knew less well than the professor what he was trying to say, and that he couldn’t say it by himself. No. Not being much of a writer, the poor man needs the help of a semiliterate drab who couldn’t sell a pancake recipe to Boy’s Life. As bad, the approach suggests that the student is too dim to see the obvious or think for himself. He can’t read a book without a middleman. He probably ends by hating Twain.

When I am dictator, anyone convicted of literary criticism will be drawn and quartered, dragged through the streets as a salutary lesson to the wise, and dropped in the public drains.

Why is the ceiling spinning? Maybe I’m caught in a gravitational anomaly.

The truth is that anyone who wants to learn anything can do it better on his own. If you want to learn to write, for example, lock yourself in a room with copies of Strunk and White, and Fowler, and a supply of Padre Kino, and a loaded shotgun. The books will provide technique, the good Padre the inspiration, and you can use the shotgun on any tenured intrusion who offers advice. They tend to be spindly. A twenty-gauge should be sufficient.

Worse, these alleged academies, these dark nights of the soul encourage moral depravity. This is not just my opinion. It can be shown statistically. Virtually all practitioners of I-banking, advertising, and law began by going to some university. Go to Manhattan and visit any prestigious nest of foul attorneys engaged in circumventing the law. Most will have attended schools in the Ivy League. The better the school, the worse the outcome. Any trace of principle, of contemplative wonder, will have been squeezed out of them as if they were grapes.

Perhaps once universities had something to do with the mind, the arts, with reflection, with grasping at man’s place in a curious universe. No longer. Now they are a complex scam of interlocking directorates. They employ professors, usually mediocre, to sell diplomas, usually meaningless, needed to get jobs nobody should want, for the benefit of corporations who want the equivalent of docile assembly-line workers.

See, first you learn that you have to finish twelve years of grade school and high school. The point is not to teach you anything; if it were, they would give you a diploma when you passed a comprehensive test, which you might do in the fifth grade. The point is to accustom you to doing things you detest. Then they tell you that you need four more years in college or you won’t be quite human and anyway starve from not getting a job. For those of this downtrodden bunch who are utterly lacking in independence, there is graduate school.

The result is twenty years wasted when you should have been out in the world, having a life worth talking about in bars — riding motorcycles, sacking cities, lolling on Pacific beaches or hiking in the Northwest. You learn that structure trumps performance, that existence is supposed to be dull. It prepares you to spend years on lawsuits over somebody else’s trademarks or simply going buzzbuzzbuzz in a wretched federal office. Only two weeks a year do you get to do what you want to do. This we pay for?

What if you sent your beloved daughter to a university and they sent you back an advertising executive?

I think we’re having an earthquake. When the floor stops heaving, I’m going to send out for more Padre Kino.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be.

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