24.7.15

THE HIGHER PURPOSE OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

University Diaries also responds to Kevin Carey's latest, albeit in a different vein than I did.  "The university is where we gather to read and talk about morally charged language, like Doctorow’s."  She bases her response on a 2000 essay by Richard Rorty that appears to be a response to the response to fifteen years of the Perpetually Aggrieved's wreckage of received institutions and traditions in the name of Diversity or Multiculturalism ... and the lunacy has become more acute since.

That noted, I do want to cut Professor Rorty some slack, as he also observes,
I want to turn now to the relation between morality and religion, and to distinguish between three senses of the term “moral.” In one sense, this term is used to describe someone relatively decent, trustworthy, and honest–one who gives correct change, keeps promises, doesn’t lie much, can usually be relied upon to take an appropriate share in cooperative efforts, and so on. It seems to me if you’re not that sort of person by the time you’re eighteen, it’s probably too late. I don’t think that sociopaths who enter the university are corrigible by any measures that the academy might adopt. If the family, the community, the church, and the like, haven’t made you a relatively decent member of society, haven’t given you a conscience that stops you from cheating the customers, administering date rape drugs, or doing a lot of things we hope our eighteen year olds won’t do, the university won’t either. The academy can’t take on the job of straightening you out, of creating the conscience that the rest of the culture didn’t manage to produce during your first eighteen years.
Leave for another day the havoc wrought by the long march through the institutions and the deconstruction of the very guardrails that helped produce the Distressed Material that the university is not capable of straightening out.  It appears as though Professor Rorty and I and University Diaries are in accord.  The university is the place where a moral and inquisitive people can safely play with ideas.
When Rorty calls the university “not incoherent,” he doesn’t mean it’s coherent, as in fully pulled together, fully ordered and organized around some shared principle or faith. (And as readers of this blog know, once a university decides to organize itself around Joe Paterno, forfuckinggetit.) He means it’s coherent enough – it’s ordered enough to be free enough to generate the sorts of conversations, readings, and experiences that tend to make people (students, professors, readers of the research professors and students generate) more lucid and more compassionate. And more free, rather in the way of, as Saunders puts it, having fun — being part of a classroom where people are experiencing “the riveting sense that a particular and wonderful human mind is having a great time riffing on the things of this world, trying to make sense of them.” That mind, in the university setting, is a collective one, made up of the free and at the same time ordered synergy between a professor and her students.
Yes, although there is a connection between the breakdown of the traditional vision of university as endorsed by Professors Rorty and Soltan and the hollowness of a Penn State, or a North Carolina running its eligibility centers in the way that bothers Mr Carey. "Carey believes the freedom Rorty identifies in the American university has dissipated into disorder, so that anything goes in terms of pedagogical content, which makes the world safe for the endemic cheating we know goes on at virtually all big-time sports schools." There is truth to that.  Let the Perpetually Aggrieved run student affairs and set up various Grievance Studies programs, then let the athletics department take on the role of cruise director, and what everybody understands without saying about Grievance Studies being gut degrees simply becomes eligibility protection for the athletes.  The cruise directors and the Perpetually Aggrieved win.  The students lose.

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