My college friend Rob Koons was putting together a concentration on “Western Civilization and American Institutions” at the University of Texas, but he got the plugged pulled on him in a manner that was not only unceremonious but also confused, contradictory, and educationally unwise.
He learned some lessons from the experience, including:
Our program was rightly perceived as a threat to the monopoly of what I call the Uncurriculum, which prevails at UT and at most universities today. It is the absence of required courses and of any structure or order to liberal studies. The Uncurriculum dictates that students accumulate courses that meet a “distribution” standard—a smattering of courses scattered among many categories. Even within majors, the trend has been to eliminate required sequences.
The perfecting of the intellect and the formation of character through the attainment of what John Henry Newman called “liberal knowledge” have given way to engorgement with miscellaneous information. The suggestion that higher education should have something to do with acquiring moral wisdom is invariably met with the sophomoric query, “Whose ethics?” As Anthony Kronman has so well documented in his book The End of Education, nothing in the Uncurriculum encourages students to think through the great questions of life in a systematic manner, with the great minds of the Western tradition as their guides and interlocutors.
The Uncurriculum free-for-all gives undergraduates only the illusion of choice. In reality, the Uncurriculum model is entwined with the interests of the professoriate. If there are no courses students are required to take, there are no courses that professors are required to teach.
Professors at research universities focus on the accumulation of prestige through publication, the indispensable means for acquiring tenure and increasing one’s salary (through the leverage of outside offers). By allowing students to pick what they want to study, the Uncurriculum model eliminates a potentially great distraction from the quest for publications: the burden of teaching a required curriculum, unrelated to one’s own narrow research agenda.
This is further evidence that something is wrong with the American university. I’ll have more to post on this early next week.
Hat Tip: Divine Conspiracy Blog