Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"College's Priceless Value"

...Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a likely presidential candidate, signaled his membership in the [higher ed as skill acquisition & job placement] crowd when he recently proposed a 13 percent cut in state support for the University of Wisconsin. According to several reports, he simultaneously toyed with changing the language of the university’s mission statement so that references to the “search for truth” and the struggle to “improve the human condition” would be replaced by an expressed concern for “the state’s work force needs.”
I’m not sure where “Lear” fits into work force needs.


The debate over the rightful role of college goes a long way back. Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, documented as much in his 2014 book, “Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.” He noted that Thomas Jefferson exalted learning for learning’s sake, while Ben Franklin registered disdain for people who spent too much time in lecture halls.
Ronald Reagan did, too. In 1967, just after he became the governor of California, he moved to slash spending for the University of California system and its eclectic menu of instruction, announcing that taxpayers shouldn’t be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity” and that “there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without.”

That was a pivotal moment in the discussion of higher education’s ideal benefits, after which “the balance started to tip toward utility,” according to a recent essay by Dan Berrett in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “The Day the Purpose of College Changed,” it looked back at Reagan’s remarks. It also recalled President Obama’s, in particular a seemingly dismissive comment last year about art history degrees. Obama has called for a rating system that would take into account how reliably colleges place their graduates into high-paying jobs.
But it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.

And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations... Frank Bruni, nyt
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Postscript. A follow-up discussion with the former UNC teacher who inspired Frank Bruni:

Frank Bruni (@FrankBruni)
What's higher education's highest calling? A beloved English prof gives her answer: 'College, Poetry & Purpose,' nyti.ms/17RwzbY

The original column inspired supportive letters, including one that said:
My undergraduate degree is in philosophy. Its value was to teach me to think critically, a skill in short order when every meme is posted on Twitter, commented on and then discarded based on emotion or the sensibility of the day. When I graduated from college, I was asked, “So, what are you going to do with a degree in philosophy?”
Prepared by a discipline that taught me logical reasoning and limitless delight for inquiry, I went on to do many things: work in corporate communications and human resources and teach English. It is as a teacher that I try to inspire my students as profoundly as Mr. Bruni’s Shakespeare professor did.
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Philosophy Belongs in the Core Curriculum

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