When I graduated from college my first job interviewer looked at me askance. “What can you do with a philosophy degree?” he asked. “Think,” I replied.
I didn’t get the job but never regretted my liberal arts education. As William Deresiewicz wrote in a recent essay, “College is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years, between the orthodoxy of your family and the exigencies of career.” Education, he adds is “the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart.” (“I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by the Ivy League,” by William Deresiewicz, The New Republic, August 4, 2014, pg. 27.)
Deresiewitcz’s essay is rich in thought, so I recommend the article but will summarize key points concerning what he considers the perils of an ivy league education to be. His initial objection is that most undergraduates are taught by adjuncts rather than professors. Adjuncts might be adequate teachers but a student isn’t getting exposure to the experts who justify a high tuition. This situation is unlikely to change, however, as long as private universities reward professors for published papers rather than for the quality of their instruction.
That Ivy league schools lack diversity is another issue. Students who attend a private university may come from different ethnic backgrounds but most of them share the same economic status and that, the author argues, leads to intellectual sameness. Unfortunately, this situation isn’t likely to change because, “Private colleges will never allow their students’ economic profile to mirror that of society as a whole. They can’t afford to–they need a critical mass of full payers and they need to tend to their donor base.” (Ibid pg. 29) )
Another flaw, and it’s a big one in my mind, is that to justify their high tuitions, private universities are forced to link their programs to the promise of future earnings. Pay more now and get more later is the philosophy. To keep that promise, the curriculum is skewed to serve the objectives of the business community and not the objectives of a democratic society. To get a return on their investment, students are fed onto the conveyor belt of corporate values as if they were widgets. But if premier learning institutions devote themselves to teaching corporate values what becomes of human ones?
Years ago, I was forced to ponder this question when one of my constituents, a prominent business man, complained that government was inefficient and needed to be run like a company. I disagreed. Governments do not exist to make profits, I told him. Governments provide basic human services and are most relied upon in of periods personal and social calamities. Educational institutions that claim to be create tomorrow’s leaders need to develop thinkers who can see past profit and loss.