His hypothesis: that the academic left has destroyed higher education's credibility.
Partly this has happened because the academic Left is scared. Having completed its long march through the institutions, it has noticed that fewer and fewer people are accepting its rule. College enrollments peaked in 2011 at 21 million in 2011 and are now down to 18.8 million in fall 2017, and will drop again this fall. This has prompted colleges and universities to redouble their marketing. They are trying to entice more “adult learners,” more international students, more illegal immigrants, and more and more academically under-qualified students to enroll. Generally, that means pitching programs tailored to the interests and abilities of busy adults, nervous illegals, and bewildered blockheads.I'm inclined to agree with the broad outlines of his claim, and would add that, although running a university (or some kinds of eleemosynary institutions) like a business is a mistake, there is still a market for higher education, not to mention a marketplace of ideas, and that "incessant monologue" is a failure of the stewards of the market to deliver on some kinds of ideas. Teach the controversies.
Plummeting enrollments would be of concern to college administrators no matter their politics, but politics has exacerbated the problem. A large majority of conservatives now view the university as hostile to free speech and free inquiry. The traditional humanities are now so dominated by the race-class-gender-is-everything crowd that students shun their courses and elect instead to major in less polluted subjects, such as nursing and accounting.
The academic Left thunders that students are deserting the “liberal arts” in favor of “vocational training” because the business community and right-wing philistines have led them astray. But the real reason is that students are simply turned off by the Left’s incessant monologue about injustice and oppression. Is there nothing else?
Furthermore, I've groused, repetitively and at length, about Distressed Material and the follies of access-assessment-remediation-retention and the proliferation of subprime party schools and the chutzpah of griping about vocationalism after peddling that "to get a good job, get a good education" starting about the same time the first Interstate Highways opened. Mr Wood is simply making a point that regular readers will find familiar.
“Emergent coherence” is the sure path to post-modernism, where the controlling narrative of Western civilization gives way to a prevailing sense of randomness and disorder. We can hardly blame the students for that. It is what the universities offer. Sometimes they offer it straight up as part of a cultural studies course. Mostly it is conveyed in the form of curricular entropy: the lack of a comprehensive intellectual vision of what is worth learning, why, and in what order. The lack of such a vision is masked by the emphasis on such fatuities as “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” and “critical thinking,” and by the promise of small packages of useful skills, which is the substance of “micro-credentials.”Put more simply, emergent coherence has its place, but that's at odds with paying forward the accumulated wisdom born of lots of prior mistakes.
All of these together may seem to those who don’t know any better a perfectly good agenda for the American college or university. But they do not add up to an adult who understands much about history, civilization, or culture—which is to say, a liberally educated person.
I wonder, though, if there isn't more at work. Our President's impromptu diplomacy has caused no end of consternation for the Front Row Kids who might be confronting their irrelevance, and that consternation appears to have motivated Mr Wood's essay. "Why has the vanguard of world history and multiculturalism suddenly settled into a fascination with the equivalent of collecting intellectual lint?"
Perhaps the Front Row Kids among the diplomatic corps and the establishment press, and the lint-collectors of higher education are in the position of the operators of seminaries and monasteries five centuries ago.
And when the old gatekeepers preach the old creeds, and urge the sinners to change their ways and pay their indulgences, and recant or be excommunicated, the deplorables say, pound sand.
I'm seeing enough parallels to the upheaval in the one apostolic and catholic church to consider additional posts on this theme.