We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits.”

Virginia Postrel.

There may indeed be what US law professor and uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds calls an education bubble in the US (and for that matter, here in the UK). That does not, however, mean that studying a “liberal arts” degree is somehow shameful or pointless, and yet that is the impression I sometimes get on part of the right-of-centre blogosphere. By all means let’s cut the state education establishment down, but that is utterly different from the argument about education per se and ideas about how people should broaden their horizons culturally and intellectually. It is important that libertarians/classical liberals understand that distinction, and make it often.

45 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • CaptDMO

    “…studying a “liberal arts” degree is somehow shameful or pointless…”
    Of COURSE not, when such folk are capable of shame, or actually have a point.
    1. why is it so expensive?
    2. Who exchanges actual labor for that?
    3. Who’s “responsible” for the subsequent fruits of such an investment?
    4. What are the consequences of proved ignorance in relentless pursuit of such endeavors?
    I always thought the origins of the word “school” meant “free” or “leisure” time.
    I could be wrong.

  • Mr Ed

    My own experience: A politics student might have 9 hours of lectures a week. After 3 years, that student might be able to write essays on, say, the FLN in Algeria in the 1960s, or a critique of feminism in 1950s Australia.

    A Biology student might have a 27 hour week, and after 3 years, be able to isolate bacteria and viruses from tissue, fluid or food samples, identify the bug concerned, sequence its genome or part of it, identify possible treatments for a disease, and so on, as well as carry out genetic manipulations on organisms, or simply elucidate biological mechanisms or establish the workings of ecosystems.

    An Engineering student would be well on the way to chartered status.

    A Chemistry student might well on the way to being able to devise processes for chemical manufacturing etc.

    I could go on, but you might get the impression that I hold the notion that the funding of or subsidy of the ‘liberal arts’ by the State is nothing but a route to the production of ‘Orcs’ more likely to be fit for a management role in the State apparatus doing positive harm, rather than anything useful that may ultimately advance or maintain civilisation and have no adverse effects.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Jonathan touches on the distinct anti academic thread that runs through libertarianism. As with most seductively simple ideas, the notion that academia as a concept is worthless is quite simply wrong. Even the “liberal arts” as a subject group mostly predate the statist era and do have their uses, no matter how esoteric.

    The problem is not just what unscrupulous universities are teaching their students, but also the climate of employment into which they are then thrust. Employment law ensures it is hard to fire someone but easy for them to quit. consequently employers look for assurances of commitment where they can find them. It’s not just a case of having the skills, experience and motivation any more – now they also want someone who really believes in the company/government department ideology. Your not selling your labour, nowadays many employers want a piece of your soul as well.

    It is unsurprising that such a climate favors “orcs”. The free thinkers don’t get a look in.

    How I long for an employer like John Wayne’s Mclintock

    Devlin Warren: I don’t know what to say. Never begged before. Turned my stomach. I suppose I should have been grateful that you gave me the job.
    George Washington McLintock: Gave? Boy, you’ve got it all wrong. I don’t give jobs I hire men.
    Drago: You intend to give this man a full day’s work, don’tcha boy?
    Devlin Warren: You mean you’re still hirin’ me? Well, yes, sir, I certainly deliver a fair day’s work.
    George Washington McLintock: And for that I’ll pay you a fair day’s wage. You won’t give me anything and I won’t give you anything. We both hold up our heads. Is that your plug?
    Devlin Warren: Yes sir.
    George Washington McLintock: Well, hop on him and we’ll go get your gear.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It is possible to agree that the distinction made by Johnathan Pearce is real and important; and still come down against “liberal arts” education on both sides of the distinction: in other words, it is possible to argue that the State should not fund them AND, independently, that they are pernicious even if privately funded.

    The key is another distinction: that between a _formal_ education in the humanities, and the humanities themselves. I’d never deny the value of the humanities, but, as i understand, the argument of _North American_ conservatives is that formal education in the “humanities” has turned into political indoctrination.

    The emphasis on North America is important. It is possible that the same happens in the UK and on the Continent, and goes unnoticed; but don’t forget an important difference: in North America, faculty in the “humanities” have a large captive audience, so they are free to impose their values on their classes. If they try that in Europe, they’d have empty classrooms on which to impose their values.

  • Lee Moore

    My sympathies are with Mr Ed on this one. No doubt there are a few students beavering away at intellectually challenging liberal arts degrees, and emerging three or four years later, larger in spirit and wisdom – and conceivably more employable than they were when they started. But in the main, not. If a giant blob from the Planet Duh suddenly zapped all liberal arts colleges, courses, academics and students – KERPOW ! – human life and civilisation would be damaged. But not as much as it would be by another penny on the income tax. People would still act, and sing and dance and write books, and make movies and clever adverts with Japanese forest xylophones. And there are zillions of old books on liberal artsy stuff we could read in our spare time. I did a liberal arts degree myself – philosophy (I think that counts.) I had a great time for three years, but frankly, I could have absorbed the material that I did absorb in about a month of actual work. I do not say that there wasn’t a lot more material that I could have absorbed if I’d been trying, but I wasn’t. But that certainly didn’t stop them handing out a very serviceable degree. I have even found my snippets of philosophy to be mildly useful in business – a little logic helps you spot when an opponent is either confused or bluffing.

    But basically at university I spent three enjoyable years honing my work avoidance skills. All the actual liberal arts education I have acquired has been acquired afterwards, mostly by glancing at books. I am, I concede, lazier than most people , but other than that I don’t think I’m an atypical liberal arts graduate. It would be nice if liberal arts degrees weren’t a waste of time and (other people’s) money. But, except where they’re worse than useless, a waste of time is probably as good as it gets.

    Usefulness, for a consumption good like a liberal arts degree, is in the eye of the beholder. But I think we’d be allowed to heckle from the side even if we weren’t paying. The people choosing these degrees are children. Whether they are seeking personal growth, job opportunities, or casual sex; there are far cheaper and less time consuming ways of pursuing these things.

  • momo

    how people should broaden their horizons culturally and intellectually

    I think a lot of the libertarian problem with modern academia comes from the feeling that modern does not “broaden … horizons culturally and intellectually”.

    The common feeling is that modern academia is a political indoctrination scheme that creates homogenized thought, shallow analysis, and provides an echo chamber that reenforces GroupThink and punishes ThoughtCrime. The way to an high grade is to parrot your professor’s opinion back to them.

    If libertarians felt that modern academia and liberal arts provided a solid grounding in classical education, the view towards it would be very very different.

    In short, the product is worthless and costs too much.

  • William O. B'Livion

    hat does not, however, mean that studying a “liberal arts” degree is somehow shameful or pointless,

    A liberal arts degree from the 1950s? Great thing for a young adult. Wish I’d had more of it.

    A liberal arts degree from most Unis in the 2010s? To quote the United Negro College Fund advertising campaign, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    Then again, what do I know. I’ve got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in the mid 90s. Most of what I know about the world I learned by reading on my own and/or going there.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Once again, I feel the need to argue in favour of academia. I get the impression some of you are arguing against how you imagine things to be rather than how they really are. It is a strawman that does not reflect the reality in many institutions. While I don’t doubt that there is a world of Noam Chomskys out there who seek to turn their student into intellectual clones of themselves, the academics I work with, on the whole, are very tolerant of differing opinions and are genuinely delighted when their students show a modicum of independant thought. I’ve had the occasional experience to the contrary, but they are conspicious by their rarity. In those cases I was the postgrad tutor on those modules, and I was able to “subvert” the message I was being asked to transmit into something altogether more critical.

    That said, if my children told me they wanted to follow in my footsteps into Psychology, or they wanted to study Philosophy or English Lit – I would not be happy. Mostly because the opportunities to do something both profitable and meaningful with these qualifications are very limited. That is not the same thing as saying they are without value.

    I got an enourmous amount out of my arts degree. In my case though, I went into university already sure of my values, expecting my lecturers to try to brainwash me, and determined to learn as much information as I could. I deliberately did not allow them to shape how I think – only what information I possessed. The net effect of this was I emerged from my “arts” degree knowing:

    What “they” believe

    Why “they” believe it

    Why “they” are wrong

    This is extremely useful. Now I appreciate that for every one of me there are at least 50 naive students doing sociology degrees and being brainwashed into bien pensant thought. So what I take from this is only bloody minded, fiercely independant people are likely to get much from an arts degree. But that’s something at least.

    I we accept that an arts degree can, in theory if not in practice, be good for the mind – then the last thing we want is to hand that teritory wholesale over to the authoritarian left. I would like to think that someone like myself has the potential to do a lot of good in academia.

  • William Newman

    Virginia Postrel is sharp and notices a lot of good things, but I think that is a weak article.

    OK, effective central planning is particularly hard. OK, even individual job planning is pretty hard. But I think Postrel is insufficiently careful about separating arrogant planners from other people who have ideas about this. And Postrel is also too dogmatic about platitudes that IMNSHO aren’t as true as she thinks.

    In particular, Postrel writes “The most valuable skill anyone can learn in college is how to learn efficiently — how to figure out what you don’t know and build on what you do know to adapt to new situations and new problems.” ORLY?

    Knowing how to learn efficiently is hard to test, so there’s room for reasonable people to disagree. But my strong impression is that modern college is not a reliably useful way to learn how to learn efficiently. To the extent that a particular kind of college graduate reliably knows how to learn efficiently, it seems to me that most of the effect is (1) roughly an IQ test plus (2) some secondary testing of ability to focus for many semesters. There might be a significant practice effect in there too, but it’s pretty hard to detect above the strong effect of filtering out the high school graduates who already knew how to learn. (Go to a good engineering school and see how many students had impressive technical hobbies before college. In my anecdotal 1980s experience, the proportion was high. How did they do that if they didn’t know how to learn?)

    Also in particular, the “dropout graph” in http://www.paulgraham.com/college.html is an alternative point of view that is not central planning and is not the “learn in college … how to learn efficiently” platitude. I don’t endorse the Graham POV uncritically, but it seems to me that it’s closer to the truth than Postrel’s preferred platitude-as-simple-fact. In particular, a basket of math skills close to the the engineering/physics core curriculum (calculus, linear algebra, various related numerical methods like perturbation and variational analysis, not-for-poets statistics) is really foundationally useful and is unlikely to be obsolete until the Industrial Revolution ends. It may be telling that Postrel’s stranded organic chemist examples — unlike nearby technical specialties like chemical engineers — don’t generally learn this basket of math skills. And unlike some other foundationally useful baskets of skills (e.g. programming, running businesses, knowing how to learn, or various people skills like sales or organizational politics) people who have the engineering-ish math basket of skills are exceedingly likely to have been taught it in college, not just learned it on their own or on the job. (And from my experience self-studying both programming and engineering math, with great success in the former, I rather think this is not just a coincidence. Self-studying that math is not impossible, but it seems particularly difficult.)

    (The value of the math basket is partially obscured by high levels of occupational licensing and credentialism, and partially obscured by the transitive Dunning-Krueger effect described in http://lesswrong.com/lw/ua/the_level_above_mine/ , and partly obscured by people simply not looking for it — e.g., many more people seem to know of Charlie Munger’s success than know the bits of his background that suggest he has this basket. But it seems clear to me that people who get good at this stuff seldom lack ways to apply it.)

  • Rob

    If you want to broaden your mind culturally and politically, a liberal arts degree, especially in the US , is the last place you want to go. An open mind, a good internet connection and a year of free time is more than enough, and cheaper.

  • Mr Ed

    Angry birds does wonders I’m told.

  • Laird

    I have to take issue with William Newman’s argument. He asserts that “a basket of math skills close to the the engineering/physics core curriculum (calculus, linear algebra, various related numerical methods like perturbation and variational analysis, not-for-poets statistics) is really foundationally useful and is unlikely to be obsolete until the Industrial Revolution ends.” That’s certainly true in some types of careers. But not all, and I would posit not even most. The vast majority of people never use (or need) anything beyond high school math in their daily jobs. And that’s true even for people in number-oriented fields like banking and finance. In those rare instances where you need something a little more complex (calculating bond yields or net present values) Excel can do the job for you just fine.

    The sad truth is that most of what anyone needs to know to function effectively in a given career is learned on the job. Maybe (probably) engineers and physicians can immediately apply what they learned in school once they get out into the “real world”, but even they quickly find that there are all sorts of things which were never covered but are crucial to job success. As Postrel says, one needs to have an appreciation for what doesn’t know, and the ability to learn it on the fly. I suspect that any reasonably rigorous course of study (even in the liberal arts) will help develop that skill.

  • Snorri:

    If they try that in Europe, they’d have empty classrooms on which to impose their values.


  • Mr Ed


    I suspect that any reasonably rigorous course of study (even in the liberal arts) will help develop that skill.

    The sciences require knowledge, the ‘liberal arts’ are all to often a catch-up on Lenin’s dictum ‘we must teach the children to hate‘.

  • Laird

    Mr Ed, the liberal arts require knowledge, too, although probably of a type which you don’t consider worthwhile. But the process of acquiring that knowledge is, if not identical, at least similar, to that used in the sciences.

  • Mr Ed

    Laird, the Soviets had their ‘theoreticians’ who has to learn Marxist doctrine and recite it in the ‘right’ way, that is ‘liberal arts’ on steroids.

    Scientists have to demonstrate the validity of their conclusions and methods for all time.

  • Fred Z

    What passes for a liberal education today is neither liberal nor an education. The teachers and students are lazy, spending very few hours absorbing facts or skills. They spend their time blathering at each other. Foreign languages are rare and poorly learned and poorly taught. Marxist deconstruction has won the day and the professors design and teach courses to indoctrinate students. The philosophers who teach “logic” have never heard of Boole and the rest never heard of Goedel. If a professor of English can parse a sentence it’s news to me.

    A liberal education is worth a great deal. A fraudulent and counterfeit one has negative worth.

    I know, I got both. The useless one in uni and the real one after my father died and I inherited and read his books, and traveled. Thank God that some hard case Basilian priests banged some basics into my thick head at my Catholic high school.

  • bobby b

    As a holder of a B.A. degree conferred upon me by a well-known highly-ranked “intellectual” ultra-leftist liberal-arts mid-USA college lo these thirty-some years ago . . .

    . . . and as the father of three young adults who all spent time researching schools and programs and their own needs and desires only recently . . .

    . . . a few impressions I’d like to share:

    1. The concept of “liberal arts” originated long ago as a way to educate wealthy young gentlemen in comportment, decency, and responsibility, and to give them conversational tools to make their presence bearable as they frittered their way through life in rich society.

    2. The idea of learning a craft or a trade or skills or . . . anything remotely productive was exactly what those people were trying to avoid. Gentlemen were people of unlimited wealth who would never be expected to do needed or valuable work. Indeed, to do so was to fall out of the bottom of that part of society.

    3. Such a system was expensive, but it was financed through the great pools of wealth held by the few truly rich families.

    4. Once a completed high school education became the minimum acceptable training in the US, people looked to a college degree for some credential that would differentiate them from the masses.

    5. Now, the college degree has become the de facto floor credential.

    6. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of high school graduates are not able to handle what used to be the expectations of students in liberal arts programs. The bottom two-thirds of each class that used to end formal schooling at grade twelve or earlier are now being sent on to grades thirteen through sixteen.

    7. In order for this to work, the demands – the intellectual expectations, the expectations of hard and devoted studies – have had to be relaxed. Massively. We have major college programs teaching ninth-grade reading. We have mathematics classes in colleges teaching algebra. We have entire departments of large and well-regarded colleges in which the average student grade is a “B”.

    8. We can afford the existence of a college system which allows for a small minority of people to put off productivity for four or six or eight years so that they can learn skills and knowledge sets which require such a lengthy study. We can also afford a system that allows rich young wastrels to attend charm school on their own dime, for however long they desire.

    9. We cannot afford a system that calls for the bulk of our kids to extend their childhood for an extra four or six or eight years to no practical gain beyond an indoctrination in the philosophies and desires of people who took college degrees in “Education” decades ago and outlasted their peers in the system.

  • Mr Ed

    The Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov wrote in one of his books, The Liberators iirc, about how in the Soviet Army, there was a class of soldiers called ‘craftsmen’ who were highly valued for a practical skill, be it playing a musical instrument, painting, stonemasonry etc. as people who could actually produce things were few and far between, and they were needed to produce things for agitprop or to fix things, and they had a relatively cushy time as they were kept away from the grim duties of soldiering to concentrate on using their skills. Suvorov also said that when it came to the higher ranks, one needed a degree of some sort, but preference always went to those with social science degrees over engineers etc. as in Soviet society, one had to learn to ‘talk smoothly’, i.e. parrot and anticipate the Party line.

    I can’t help thinking that this mentality is getting close to being replicated in the UK Public Sector (+ the Quangos), and the ‘voluntary’ sector.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Alisa: the real question is: why not in North America?
    It is a question that i am unable to answer to my own satisfaction, in spite of almost a decade in North American academia; but certainly a partial answer is that, in North America, students get “educated” in the “humanities” no matter what they go to university for.

    But to try to address your question, let’s look at Britain. There was a study some time ago that showed that British people with English Lit degrees actually earn less than people without any degree; and yet, shortly before this study came out, i met a professor of English Lit who told us at the dinner table that his Department had more good applicants than they could take! This was not Oxford or Cambridge.
    It seems to me that intelligent, hard working students aren’t going to apply for a course that offers little in terms of career prospects, unless it has some substantial intellectual content. Perhaps not coincidentally, that professor seemed to have fairly conservative views.

    Or look at Italy. The humanities have always had a high reputation in Italy, but they are something to be learned in high school. Italian parents are (or were, in my time) horrified if their children profess an interest in studying Literature at university.

  • Mr Ed

    There was a study some time ago that showed that British people with English Lit degrees actually earn less than people without any degree

    Thinking of Eng Lit graduates I know, one is a mother of three with no need to work due to high-earning husband, and I wonder if the demographic of middle-class women who aspire and manage to marry out of work is disproportionately represented in the Eng Lit intake, thereby adding many a ‘0’ to the average earning stats, another (male) works in the voluntary sector (not in the high paid management end, but delivery of education). So that’s one zero salary to add to one relatively low salary to produce a low anecdotal figure.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m very close to finishing a PhD in Psychology, which is traditionally part of the Liberal Arts curriculum in the US, here it is classed as part of Arts and Social Sciences. As part of my degree I also studied English and Philosophy, so those are the only 3 degree paths I am qualified to comment on. Psychology is much lighter on the fluff and much heavier on the facts than the other two. I did enjoy all of them though, indeed I seriously considered switching my main degree to Philosophy.

    I appreciate that many of you are only saying what you believe regarding an Arts education, but I’ll say it one last time – it doesn’t reflect my experiences. There are nuggets of truth in what you say, but the best lies always contain a nuggest of truth.

    Are many students too dim for University? Yes

    Do some courses encourage fluffy thinking? Yes

    Do some lecturers try and indocrtinate their students into popular thinking? Sometimes, sure

    But these things are not the be all and end all of modern universities. Better universities seem to do these things less than poor ones (at least in my sample of one “middle of the road” uni, and one relatively poor one).

    In any case, I’m working very hard to try and complete a PhD I don’t want in order to provide for my family. I’m not going to quit and take a minimum wage job in a Newsagents just because it fits some Samizdatistas definition of “productive” better. Whether you believe me or not, I assert that Psychological research has the capacity to make the world a better place, and can be objectively valuable. As to whether modern Psychology always fits this criteria is another matter.

    I’ve grown very weary of the constant anti-academic snideness found in these pages – it undermines my motivation at a time when it is already low. Accordingly I’m going to be giving Samizdata a wide berth for a while.

  • bloke in spain

    Must say, I’ve always admired Pol Pot for his attitude to academics, albeit a bit biased on the caring & sharing side. Great shame the UK doesn’t grow rice. Get some use out of them.

  • PeterT

    There are areas in life where we feel like there is a role for action or management, even though there is no evidence that this provides any more benefit above that provided by passivity or neglect. Every investment bank feels like it needs an economist, although they are as often wrong as right. Management consultants come in to companies and change things round – possibly for no benefit. If I get another email from my corporate leaders on the re-branding of our diversity policy then I will scream. Politicians are of course the most useless of the bunch.

    It is inevitable that these jobs will arise even in a fully private economy – it is a demand issue as well as a supply issue.

    Given that these jobs will exist it is desirable that they are filled by wise individuals. In particular, they should be acutely aware of how little good they can do with their power and how much harm they can do, and act (or not) accordingly*. Certainly a formal education in economic logic, probability theory, and similar can be helpful in this regard.

    I myself studied economics at an engineering university and was made to work for it. Being made to understand new areas, do a certain amount of reading and synthesise the knowledge, within a set time limit (e.g. essay deadline) was in my view certainly good training. But it must be admitted that this experience could have been had much more cheaply through distance learning. I did a few courses with the Open University later and these were top notch, and developed much the same skills set.

    *Unfortunately these type of roles tend to be rewarded on the basis of activity rather than results.

  • NickM

    I did physics and then astrophysics. Not to put too fine a point on it the arts students were there for sex. OK, I said it.

  • JV, FWIW, I think that you are taking this way too personally – although I can certainly see why from your, well, personal POV. I can’t comment much further on this from a well-informed position, not being involved in academia and all, but it seems to me that psychology is different from other liberal arts/social sciences in that it is truly more useful than the rest (provided, of course, that it is not taken too “scientifically”, if you know what I mean). I guess my point is that the remarks regarding the whole issue common here on SI don’t apply to your field of study as much as to areas such as English lit. etc., not to mention silly things like Women Studies or Afro-American studies, or what have you.

    As to your particular experiences with professors and their political attitudes etc., I hope that you realize that this is all anecdotal either way. Just my $0.02.

  • Thanks for your reply, Snorri. I’m afraid though that I’m still a bit confused, and this is probably due to the fact that I am less unfamiliar with the American academia than with the European version. I guess that should have been my question to begin with: what are the general differences between those?

  • I’ll be grateful for others’ input as well, and also this may touch on JV’s arguments, maybe helping to put them in a more proper context.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think the thread of dislike of “education” and academia in libertarianism stems directly from the fact that it is so utterly bound up in the modern world with the state. This ranges from the compulsory attendance and compulsory funding laws through state funding being the main source of research dollars, to state funding of college education and so forth.
    Any attempt to introduce a little free market capitalism is hit with all the guns of the state in full resistance.

    There is no doubt that a rising tide does lift all the boats, however, I find it fascinating to wonder where we would be as a civilization were we to have applied all the power of capitalism to education, something that has rarely been done in history.

    Part of the problem is the idea that “the state should enable everyone to get an education” is the same as “the state should provide everyone an education.” The state tries to ensure that everyone can provide food for their kids, but it doesn’t run the farms, not yet anyway.

    A very simple solution? In an American context, (though readily applied elsewhere), provide a $7000 per child tax credit for legitimate educational expenses. Let the public schools compete for that money. So the state pays for education, as an uplifiting externality, but doesn’t run it.

    By my calculations that would reduce the federal government’s tax intake by a little more than it costs to run the department of education (and its various subsidies), so a wash financially.

    I believe that freeing all that money into the control of parents would cause a blossoming of the private education industry the likes of which we have never seen.

    Downtown where I live, the schools are so bad that I personally consider it little short of child abuse to send your children to those schools. These are not bad parents, they are just parents without options. Without options because the state has sucked up all the oxygen out of the room in the school market, and forced their kids into a nighmarish hell, normalized it, and then the politicians demand their obeisance and genuflexion for their kindness in providing such an abomination.

    Will my tax credit solution happen? Of course not. Control of education is a very necessary part of maintaining the big state. Another reason why there is a thread of dislike in libertarianism.

  • Fraser Orr

    Oh, just to clarify, downtown Chicago, there are actually some excellent schools, private and magnet, and perhaps even some public schools are OK. However, many are dreadful hellholes that I would be scared to spend the day in, never mind some innocent, defenseless kid. One wonders if the physical danger is more damaging than the gestalt of hopelessness and pointlessness that pervades every corner of the place.

  • Paul Marks

    A good post.

    And only a truly free market – i.e. 100% voluntary funding, can show what the “correct” amount of university education in the humanities should be.

    Neither Hillsdale or G. City College accept money taken (by the threat of violence) from taxpayers (including no government backed “student loans”) and neither should any other university. Such funding should not exist.

  • Libertarian

    This is Economics 101. When the government subsidizes something, number one, there’s too much of it, and, number two, it gets more expensive.

    I hope it’s possible to advocate the end of subsidized education without being accused of being against education. Just like it’s possible to advocated drug legalization without being accused of advocating drug use. What? Oh, never mind…………..

    (But yes, Mr. Pearce, I get your point).

  • Paul Marks

    As for ideas of “academic freedom”.

    This has been an Orwellian term since the time of Richard Ely (the mentor of both T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson).

    Richard Ely (the creator of both the American Economics Association and the academic “freedom” campaign) wished to undermine the property rights of the creators of universities – such as Mary Stanford of Stanford University (the wife of the founder of Stanford).

    Ely masked his true intentions with a lot of pious verbiage about “academic freedom” (Mary Stanford has objected to the vicious anti Chinese racism of a friend of his, as well as to the man’s Class War collectivism, and got the person fired fro Stamford), but his objective was intellectual CONFORMIITY.

    Ely (behind his noble sounding words) wanted to make all universities basically the same (in what OPINIONS they taught in the humanities) – so that whatever university a student picked the student would be taught the same basically “Progressive” view of the world.


    Not at all.

    Indeed, even today, the prime target of the various guilds (for want of a better word) that Richard Ely created is the handful of universities that offer an alternative to “Progressive” statism.

    These “academic freedom” people concentrate their attacks not against government funding (they are wildly in favour of that) – but against places such as Hillsdale, where an alternative to the “Progressive” (real collectivist) world view is offered.

  • Stuart

    Alisa, the diffrence between us and Uk (and i think European) universitys is that in the uk if you go to uni to study say chemistry, you will only do chemistry, where as i understand it int he USA all students have to do liberal arts of some kind or annother, so at least when i dated an american uni student (when i was a uk one) she had to learn piano and do sport and a bunch of other bullshit (at least from where i was standing) where as i only did politics philosphy and economics and in fact if i say wanted to do a modual of chemistry i don’t think i would of been allowed or able. hence why “libral arts” matters less int he UK becuase any one not doing a liberal arts course by and large has nothing to do with them, and at least in my case (PPE at essex in the early 00’s)i wouldnt of described the teaching or curriclum overly left wing, if anything democracy the rule of law and free market capitalism was pretty much the orthodoxy taught.

  • Snorri Godhi

    JV might take comfort from knowing that 2 of the most influential books on me were written by American psychologists: Winning the Games People Play, and Learned Optimism.
    Also, an American academic historian wrote another book extremely influential on me: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit.

    To attempt an answer to Alisa’s reframed question: there is the obvious difference that many US universities are private, even though research grants and student loan guarantees come from the State. However, the difference that seems important to me is that North American students “majoring” in a STEM subject are still supposed to take a few courses in the humanities. I don’t know about the rest of the world (please let me know about Israel) but certainly that is not the case in Europe: here, an university education is seen, basically, as the theoretical part of professional training.

    Now, it seems to me that the US system makes it much easier to indoctrinate students: the latter, if not interested in the humanities (and i think that few people can appreciate the value of the humanities at that age) would much prefer to attend a course where they have to do nothing more than toe the party line, rather than a course in which critical thinking is required.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: let me clarify that, in my time, North American universities did not seem as lunatic as they seem by following Instapundit today.
    I used to hang out with some Political Science graduate students, and with the benefit of hindsight i suspect that their Department was dominated by followers of Leo Strauss.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Something I once read but can’t source, or quote exactly: I think it was Arthur Gladstone addressing the incoming class at his old college.

    “I cannot tell you exactly what a liberal education consists of, but after four years of it you will be able to tell when a man is talking rubbish.”

    Of course, when a nominal ‘liberal education’ results in being always able to find an excuse for talking rubbish….

  • PersonFromPorlock

    OK, on further research I found this:

    JA Smith, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford University, opened a lecture course in 1914, just before the First World War, with:

    “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this – if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rubbish. And that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.”

    So, a miss, but not a complete miss.

  • Stuart and Snorri: thank you, that helps. FWIW, the state university where I once attempted to complete my engineering degree, had a requirement for all its students to take a Political Science course, and I was given the impression that this is common practice throughout the country. The course was quite dreadful, I must add.

    At the Israeli Technion we had to take one humanities course per semester, IIRC. Or was it per year? I remember taking Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, Italian for Beginners, and Introduction to Existentialism…

  • bobby b

    “I’ve grown very weary of the constant anti-academic snideness found in these pages.”

    Actually, I think it’s more of an “anti-academia” snideness.

    And, speaking at least for myself, it’s a snideness aimed, not at all of academia, but at one component of it. Specifically, the vast majority of US college professorships in the “humanities” areas (and perhaps “non-empirical” areas might be a better label) have been filled with very liberal personnel, to such an extent that it is rare to encounter a conservative in such a position. At the same time, it has become acceptable – expected, even – in those teaching circles to use whatever subject is at hand to inculcate students with very leftist political philosophy.

    My anti-academia snideness arises, in part, because I do value education so highly. In the US, post-high school education has been hijacked for purely partisan purposes. The fact that the students are fooled into thinking that hard-left thought is the only proper thought is bad. What’s worse, though, is that they get this indoctrination in place of the traditional subject matter of their classes. It’s not just that they get a lot of garbage along with their schooling; it’s that the garbage replaces much of their schooling.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . the diffrence between us and Uk (and i think European) universitys is that in the uk if you go to uni to study say chemistry, you will only do chemistry, where as i understand it int he USA all students have to do liberal arts of some kind or annother . . . ”

    In the UK and Europe, do you have the different college degrees of BA (Bachelor of Arts) and BS (Bachelor of Science)? I don’t know the answer to that – if you do, then someone please hit “delete” for me. But, if not . . .

    In the US, the BA defines the liberal arts education. One chooses majors and sometimes minors, and then studies more deeply in those chosen areas, but is still expected to fulfill a varied program sampling from most all areas of the humanities. It’s a well-rounded education, with special emphasis on your areas of interest.

    For the more focused student in the empirical areas of study, there is the BS degree. One taking this course of study concentrates almost solely on their specific subject, with far fewer (if any) requirements that they take classes in non-major areas.

    Thus, the holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology with be more technically proficient in that area, and will have taken two or three times as many courses in Geology as would a student with a BA degree, but the student with the BA degree will have had exposure to the humanities which the student with the BS degree did not.

  • Laird

    “but the student with the BA degree will have had exposure to the humanities which the student with the BS degree did not.”

    Bobby B, that is not entirely correct. I won’t rely on my personal college and grad school experiences (that was far too long ago to be relevant here), but my son recently received his BS in Mathematics (having changed from engineering) from a major US university and was required to take a number of humanities-related courses. There was some flexibility in which specific courses he took, but there was definitely a required number of humanities credit hours in the curriculum. (He ended up with double minors in History and Music to go with the math.) Incidentally, from what he told me, I don’t get the sense that there was a tremendous amount of hard-left indoctrination going on in those courses (of course, it is probable that he carefully avoided the ones where that would likely have been a problem; I’ve raised him to be a good libertarian!). Frankly, I think that was more of an issue for him in high school than in college.

  • Stuart

    we do have diffrent degrees (Ba and Bsc) but nither of them force you or expet you, or it hink in most cases allow you to do stuff outside the field of study your degree is in, its just if you study an art you get a Ba and if you study you get a Bsc, even though as i understand it some institutions give you a Ba for sciences and some a Bsc for art, why, i have no idea.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Stuart’s answer of course applies to the UK, not to “Europe” as a whole.
    Or actually, it applies to Europe as a whole, except that there are no degrees called BA or BSc on the continent, that i know of. I suppose there are some offshoots of Anglosphere universities which grant degrees with such labels.
    Speaking of which who would want a BS degree? (Please excuse the toilet humor.)

    There are also differences between high school systems, the only constant being that you are supposed to have a general education by the time you finish high school; or, in England, even earlier.