If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?or: College, Uninspired and Undermined


By John Raby

Last November 15, in The New York Times, Ross Douthat bemoaned what he sees as the moral and intellectual collapse of the American university.1 This is more than a right-wing rant on his part. From the political left, William Deresiewicz has written extensively about the same thing. In an article that appeared in last September’s Harper’s Magazine, Deresiewicz notes that the majority of current undergraduates major in vocational and commercial fields such as business and computer science, while enrollment in the physical sciences, math, humanities, and social sciences is plummeting.2 To underscore the point, Deresiewicz describes Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement, in which he omitted any reference to public service or improving the human condition, along with the phrase, “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” Instead, Walker proposed that the university’s mission should be “to meet the state’s workforce needs.”3 If Douthat and Deresiewicz are right, colleges and universities have traded in the search for truth and love of learning for the art of the deal. They have given in to the pathologies of neoliberalism that afflict the nation as a whole: a blind faith in technology; the worship of wealth and prestige; a turn away from programs of social uplift; and the assignment of worth to education, work, knowledge, and skill based solely on the profit motive.4

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