Peter Berkowitz | Colleges’ Big Fail: Protecting Feelings, But Not Speech

Peter Berkowitz, Real Clear Politics:

The annual ritual of freshman orientation, which begins in mid-summer and extends through mid-September, is in full swing. Colleges are welcoming students and showing them around, acquainting them with classmates and college facilities, and making them aware of the full range of campus activities, clubs, and programs.

Amidst the festivities, colleges will also be introducing students to the spirit in which they should pursue their four years of study. Laudable in principle, that is bad news in practice for those who believe that the heart of college should be a properly liberal education.

While there are honorable exceptions sprinkled throughout the country, relatively few freshmen will learn at orientation that the venerable purpose of a liberal education is to transmit the fundamentals of the humanities and sciences. It also involves cultivating students’ capacity to think for themselves, which is inseparable from posing—and responding to—difficult questions. And it means providing students a core curriculum that features the moral and political principles that underlie free societies.

Freshmen are unlikely to hear at orientation a straightforward account of the content and benefits of truly liberal education because most colleges and universities don’t provide such an education. They cannot do so because in 21st century America, most professors and administrators are unfamiliar with its content and structure or, worse, they deny its value.

Instead, college authorities will summon bright-eyed freshman to see their education as indissolubly bound up with the pursuit of social justice, which almost always means a progressive interpretation of political reform. Typically topping universities’ agenda is a focus on “sustainability,” which—far from merely incorporating an exhortation to care for the environment—teaches that protecting the earth requires greatly increasing government regulation of the economy to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels.

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