The Breakdown of Higher Education: The Atlas Society Asks John M. Ellis

April 03, 2024 01:00:30
The Breakdown of Higher Education: The Atlas Society Asks John M. Ellis
The Atlas Society Presents - The Atlas Society Asks
The Breakdown of Higher Education: The Atlas Society Asks John M. Ellis

Apr 03 2024 | 01:00:30

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Show Notes

Join CEO Jennifer Grossman for the 199th episode of The Atlas Society Asks. This week, she interviews John M. Ellis about his book "The Breakdown of Higher Education, How it Happened, the Damage it Does, and What can Be Done."

Previously interviewed by The Atlas Society back in 1998, Ellis is the author of many books, including "Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities," and received the Peter Shaw Memorial Award by the National Association of Scholars. A Distinguished Professor Emeritus of German Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ellis founded the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics in 1993 and served as president of the California Association of Scholars in 2007–13 and chairman of its board since then.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hi everyone, and welcome to the 199th episode, if you can believe it, of the Atlas Society asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I am the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit engaging young people with the ideas of Ayn Rand in all kinds of fun, creative ways, from graphic novels to animated videos, even music videos. Today we are joined by John Ellis, our guest. Before I even begin to give his introduction, remember, all of you who are watching us, whether on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube, use the comment section to type in your questions and we will get to as many of them as we can. As we were chatting just before we went live, John Ellis has quite a long history with the Atlas Society. He was previously interviewed by the Atlas Society back in 1998. He rejoins us to talk about his latest book, the Breakdown of higher education, how it happened, the damage it does, and what can be done. Ellis is the author of many books, including literature, social agendas, and the corruption of the humanities. He received the Peter Shaw Memorial Award by the National association of Scholars. A distinguished professor emeritus of german literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ellis founded the association of Literary Scholars and Critics in 1993 and served as president of the California association of Scholars in 2007 to 2013, chairman of its board since then. John, thank you so much for joining us. [00:01:48] Speaker B: Well, thank you for having me. [00:01:50] Speaker A: So you've certainly had a distinguished and very productive academic career. Take us back to the beginning. Where did it all begin? Where did you grow up? Were there any early influences that helped to shape your professional trajectory? [00:02:08] Speaker B: Well, I'm a Londoner. I mean, I was born right in the middle of London, just 200 yards from Nelson's column in the middle of Trafalgar Square. I went to high school by just simply going half a mile along the north bank of the Thames to the City of London school and then to college. By going north from there, three quarters of a mile to University College London. I think probably the most important thing that happened to me around that time was that leaving high school was normal for kids to try and get into Oxford or Cambridge. But the person who had taught me german literature in my high school happened to be very closely acquainted with all the senior professors of German in the British Isles, because he was the only school teacher who was a member of the council of the English Goethe Society, which was dominated by senior professors at Oxford, Cambridge and so on. And so this very knowledgeable person, a very good teacher, said to me, stay away from Oxford and Cambridge. You go to University College London, the most brilliant department in the country. And that was a wonderful accident that he was the one, the one person, one school teacher in a position to know that. And so I go to University College London. Over time, I realized that people in other colleges of London, London University, were doing survey courses. They covered the whole field, you know, the 16th century, and I didn't. The people, the very brilliant faculty of University College London, had one aim in mind, and that was to get me to think like a scholar. And by the time I'd been there a year, I sort of felt I knew what I was doing, and that shaped my whole attitude to university education. I mean, I always felt my job was not to teach kids, you know, sort of a completely encyclopedic knowledge of german literature, but to get them to the point where whatever they wanted to read, I knew they'd do a damn good job of reading and understanding and analyzing. And so that's really, in a way, that history is part of what made me write this book, the breakdown of higher education, because what's happening now is that kids are not getting taught how to think like scholars, how to analyze issues for themselves. So this main thing that higher education can do for you to get you to know what the hell you're doing, first and foremost, that's going by the wayside, because the priorities of faculty now are to make converts to political causes. [00:05:12] Speaker A: Right. I was struck by how you said that in the past, people would go to the university to avoid being small minded or parochial or just, you know, limited by what you know of one particular set of circumstances. And that what you describe in the book is academia. That no longer serves the function of academics as we properly understood it. So tell us about your own introduction to the way in which identity politics undermines honesty and integrity was at the University of. In western Canada, is that right? [00:05:54] Speaker B: No, it hadn't really started then. I was in western Canada, 63 to six, and all the fuss about race and so on, that was not on the horizon yet. But, no, my education in that respect began when I became dean of the graduate division in the University of California in 1977. And there was at that point, heavy pressure from the federal government to practice affirmative action, which in those days simply meant looking for right minority kids, not treating them differently, but just making sure you didn't overlook them, finding them, especially finding bright kids who might not, of their own volition, have decided to apply to the University of California. So I pretty soon had staff on the road getting to local colleges so that we could recruit first rate graduate students. And I very soon found out that once you do that, you unleash a fury, because it will never stop there. The people who did the finding for me naturally checked with the departments that these kids applied to for graduate status, and they found a lot of them were getting turned down. Well, you know, obviously a lot of kids get turned down. I mean, at that time, we. Something like one quarter of grad students got through. I mean, three quarters didn't get through the admissions process. That's probably normal. But the people who had found these kids to apply out it, I mean, they were disappointed. In fact, the admissions rate for the kids they found that way was slightly lower, which you understand. I mean, they were likely to be, since we could encourage them to apply, they were likely perhaps to be a little bit less, on average, successful. But anyway, all of a sudden, the inquiries by my talent spotters about what fared, why was this kid turned down by the chemistry department or by the literature department slowly morphed into lobbying, and lobbying slowly became successful and more and more successful. And within two, three years, those kids were being admitted just because they were minority applicants. We finally sort of slid all the way down to the bottom of the hill on this one. And one year, one major department had ten grad student admittees, all black. And it was so. It become so mindless so quickly. That thing ran away with this. We just couldn't seem to put a brake on it. Once you got into the minds of people and attitude, that was a good thing, to have more black kids on the campus, which is true. That idea swept all before it. And it became so absurd that I had two faculty of that department, both of whom were Marxists, on the phone, to me saying, this is ridiculous. We're having kids who just completely cannot do the work. You have to do something about this and stop it. And I remember the time thinking, my God, if Marxists are complaining about this, it must be really bad. [00:09:57] Speaker A: Well, let's get to that. About the Marxists now beginning to show up more and more on campus. In your book, you really don't pull any punches. But I was particularly struck by how dramatically the political composition on campus became so completely one sided to exclude moderate, much less conservative professors. Maybe if you could give us a bit of context, going back to earlier stages in your career, was it always unbalanced? Was it always, you know, kind of one sided? When did. When did it really start to take off? [00:10:39] Speaker B: That's a good question, because nowadays, I mean, what the campus left tries to tell us is that, well, campuses have almost leaned left. Well, the figures don't actually bear that out. It was a survey done in 1969 by Martin Troh, actually a friend of mine, and he found that for every three left of centre faculty there were two right of center factor. So there's no doubt that there was a preponderance of left, but it was in the region of 60 40, that sort of ratio, plenty of opportunity for good debate between the two sides. And no one at that time seemed to be recruiting with any kind of political motive. In fact, I remember early years of Santa Cruz campus at the University of California was one year where the sociology department of all places had two very senior, very prominent conservatives. And they were very fine people. Everybody recognized they were first rate scholars. Nobody on the left complained. I mean, it just wasn't that kind of era. But that was the late sixties. Now, the next big survey that was done was 1999 by Stan Rothman and his team, again a friend of mine, and that was 30 years after the first 169 to 99 that found that the preponderance had become five to one, five left to one right. [00:12:22] Speaker A: So we go from three to two to five to one to one. [00:12:26] Speaker B: So which proved that, you know, it is absolute nonsense to say that, well, conservatives just simply not inclined to be part of the academy or conservatives never have been, you know, much in the head of much. The historical record shows that, in fact, conservatives were a very large part of the university world in the sixties. Now what happened after 99 was interesting intellectually anyway, but catastrophic. I mean, the next surveys done were done within about six, seven years. So mid first decade of the 21st century, 2005, six, seven, that sort of time, there were several of them and they showed, I mean, the average was something like eight to one. Now, now to go from five to one to eight to one in about five to six years, if you do the math. Well, what you're going to find out is that every single, practically every single point was left because you can't go from five to one to eight to one. Assuming that over, say, six years, the retirement of turnover would be no more than 30% to get from five one to eight one. Given that there are only 30% retirement or replacement, everything was in fact sorted by politics. Now, in 1999, when there was five to one, Stan Rothman had found that that was not uniform. So in other words, history, literature, foreign languages that were in the region of 15 to one to 20 to one. So virtually a close shot. I mean, it was a complete complete monoculture and those things. But to get to the figure of five to one, obviously, what you obviously have is professional and stem fields with a substantial presence of conservatives now. So the importance of going from five to one to eight to one is that the political recruiting was going on everywhere, in every department, because you can't get from 521 to 801 without the whole campus going to hiring. Now, since the floodgates were now open, I mean, by this point, the radicals had complete control of the appointments process. They were beginning to get complete control of the administrations. So that, I mean, a typical process on campus is that a search committee is formed when you need a new chancellor or a new dean. And the search committee is selected by the administration, and they interview people, suggest a few names to the chief campus officer, the chancellor or president, who then makes a decision. But by about 2005, it was clear that the radicals had completely complete control. They had seized total control of those appointments mechanisms and that new deans, chancellors were all behind them. In other words, you've now changed from a situation where the role of a dean and a chancellor and a vice chancellor used to be quality control. You know, used to be people that looked at faculty appointments and made sure they were up to up to quality and looked at the curriculum, looked at the teaching, and made sure it was up to the university's level and that it had integrity now. But. So by this point, you're getting administrators whose job was not quality control. Their job was to protect the radicals, and that's what they now do. Remember the congressional hearing in which there were three university presidents, MIT, Harvard, and University of Pennsylvania? You only had to watch that five minutes to realize that those presidents weren't about protecting the integrity of the university. They were about protecting the radicals from scrutiny. [00:16:56] Speaker A: Right? So, if you would, when did these various grievance studies departments come on the scene? The departments devoted to postcolonial theory, gender studies, career theory, critical race theory, intersectional blah, blah, blah. What's the genesis of those? Because they seem relatively new. [00:17:17] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, look, going back to my time at the University of California, it starts off in 1966. We were certainly interested in hiring minorities whenever we could. People were good. I remember I saw a recent issue of the journal in my field, saw a particularly good article by a young assistant professor at the University of Chicago. So phoned my friend who was chairman of the department, says, I hope you don't mind if I try and recruit this guy. And he said, oh, he said, I expect it. Everybody will be after him. He's black. And I said, I didn't know he was black. I just knew he was damn good from the point of view of what he'd written. So that was where we were in the sixties. We were grateful if we found someone who was first rate and minority, but we certainly wouldn't compromise on quality because that seemed pointless. Now, about 1970, probably mid seventies, I think, the pressure began to grow intense to hire especially women, I think women. Women's studies. Feminism was the vanguard of all of the studies departments. And when I became dean in 77, the first thing that happened was this tremendous push for a women's studies department. Now, to this point, black faculty had resisted this. They didn't want it. So if you had a black historian, he wanted to be a historian first and foremost. And he didn't want to be judged by any other criteria than was he a good historian. And the campus was relatively happy with this. I mean, the minority faculty, if they were biochemists, they were first and foremost biochemists, and only secondary were they minority. But the women radicals pressed very hard for their own department. I remember that time so well. And I can tell you the motivation of the people that let them have it. The motivation could be summed up very simple. Let them have it. Get them out of my hair, give them their own place, get them out of my way. And that was the most short sighted attitude imaginable, because they weren't out of our way. I mean, they formed a nucleus out of which radical ideas radiated. And pretty soon, those black faculty had been resisting their own black studies department. They saw what would happen to the feminists, and they wanted their own department. And so those departments proliferated. We didn't have a law faculty. We still don't have a law faculty. But on the other campuses, I was pretty close to other administrators on the other nine campuses, because as a dean, I met every other month with my fellow deans of the graduate division of all those places. So I knew what was going on. And essentially, critical race studies managed to get a toehold in almost every one of the law departments in the university of California. But once again, the attitude was, I hate to say it, but it was, let them have it, get them out of my way. Just they'll do their own thing in their little end of the law department, and they won't bother us anymore. And again, very short sighted, because it took, you know, a period of time where they build up their apparatus, build up their loyalties, built up their connections in other departments, and all of a sudden they're really asking to be not just a minor part of the law department. They're asking actually to start to take it over. And that's how the thing developed, really. It was almost self protective at the beginning. The regular faculty were just tired of these people just screaming at them all the time and just imagined that by giving them own departments, they would be rid of them and just they could do their own thing and they wouldn't get in the way anymore. That was one of the worst miscalculations we ever made. [00:21:57] Speaker A: Very short sighted. So we've got a lot of questions here. Some of them like Alexander Ambrose on Facebook. I think that we already covered the answer, but let's try to get to a few others. Also on Facebook, Candice Morena asks, do you think that graduate education is still worthwhile, or has the curriculum and degree become worthless? [00:22:23] Speaker B: You mean graduate education now? Not just undergraduate graduate education. We must have graduates students because, you know, those are the major figures in the professions. I mean, you know, well trained scientists, well trained thinkers in philosophy and in literature. We'll always need them. Probably there's an overproduction and that reduces quality. But the reason for the overproduction is that we have too many campuses. My feeling is that the case for keeping children full time in education beyond the age of 18, I doubt that there's more than 10% of the population that really can benefit from that adequately. And I think there's an awful lot of time wasting going on. People who are in university programs who really would be much better off somewhere else. I mean, I know better off, not just simply unable to benefit from this thing called university education. Plenty of other things to do in this life. It's one thing. [00:23:46] Speaker A: So on YouTube, Kingfisher 21 has a question about people who write off english and german literature as relevant because it was written by, quote, old white men. Do you find that the increasing politicization from the sixties through the seventies on, did that impact how people were, how many people were interested in studying german literature? [00:24:16] Speaker B: Oh, yes, yes, and literature generally. I mean, the, the, I think I was reading statistics the other day. The number of people who had graduated with baccalaureate degrees in fields like English, philosophy, history, literature, foreign literature programs, and so on, that represented about 17% of total baccalaureate degrees in the sixties. Now, by about 30 years later, that had dropped to 5% from 17. And then after that, we've had a further drop. I mean, quite a serious drop. I'm not sure what the figure is now, but, I mean, it's not more than something like a 6th or a 7th of what it was at its height. But, you know, my feeling is that, again, with consistent with the way I entered the academic world. At the University College London. I'm not so sure it matters what the material is that you study, as long as the people teaching it. Are oriented towards getting you to think for yourself in dealing with it. I mean, there was a very long time when people figured that employing people with a very good degree in English, for example, was a very good bet for employment in almost any field. You know, people who understood the english language well, understood its subtleties and nuances well. They were going to be first rate lawyers, you know, whatever you want. And I think there's something to that. I've had, you know, students do extremely well who did German, went into other fields and did just splendid things, but. [00:26:17] Speaker A: That they had had that prior training. In terms of how to think about. How to approach subject matter, think about things in a critical and independent. [00:26:27] Speaker B: Yeah. How to deal with problems, how to make progress on very complicated issues, how to take complicated problems apart and solve them. That's the thing that binds all parts of the academy together, it seems to me. [00:26:43] Speaker A: So you write. You had a really striking phrase in the book. You write, critics of today's campuses talk of students as snowflakes. But the real snowflakes here are the ideas of campus radicals too fragile to survive unrestricted debate. So maybe if you could unpack that a little bit, that there seems to be an awareness that these ideas are very, very unpopular. When they're aired to the broader, uh, population. And, um, controversial when tested in. In debate. Um, so is that kind of part of what's driving this effort to make sure that they never get challenged on campus? [00:27:34] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, take. I mean, the most basic one here is Marxism. Now, if you go off the university campus and talk to ordinary people, the attitude to Marxism is not just that they disagree. They think it's stupid. It's unutterably silly. And that the real world has shown that all it produces is misery. Not everybody in the real world knows that Marxism equals misery for everybody on campus. You have a completely different attitude. Marx is God, and everything he says must be studied and understood in the real world. The labor theory of value is a joke. That is not the value of anything. The labor that went into it. There's all sorts of things like planning, investment, savvy, setting up machinery to produce something. Having confidence in the fact that that was the way to go versus another way to go. Judgment, in other words. So in the real world, the notion that labor the labor that went into a commodity is what its value is, is simply laughed out of court on campus is absolutely true. [00:28:58] Speaker A: What percentage do you think of professors in the humanities are actually self identified Marxists now? [00:29:08] Speaker B: A very large number. I mean, it was always, I mean, you always in any situation have a mix of true believers, people who go along, because that's the prevailing wisdom of the people, careerists, who simply are adept at picking the, you know, the particular idea that is on the ascendancy at a particular time. You have people cowardly and don't want to challenge the prevailing wisdom. So being able to sort out the precise dimensions of this, I mean, maybe 30% true believers, maybe only 20% true believers, but if they believe hard enough and intimidate enough other people, then it can look as if it's a complete consensus. So it's always extremely difficult to figure out what the real situation underneath is. But I would, I hazarded a guess in that book I wrote, literature lost, which is about almost 30 years old now. I hazarded a guess that the committed, the really committed people, the careerists and the cowards, were about one third, one third, one third. Now, I think years later, because the whole field has collapsed in numbers, I'm guessing the committed block is well over half now. Wow. And I mean, that's just one of the ideas that off campus affirmative action really doesn't fly very well. I mean, everybody knows that. It produces chaos, it produces resentment, it produces danger, because you have people who are incompetent running things they shouldn't be running on campus. If you challenge affirmative action, you are a racist, you are a bad person. So that's what I meant when I said that on campus, these ideas are snowflakes. They cannot survive being challenged. And the whole point of being on university campus is that you can spout these ideas and get away with it. And the minute you step off campus, you can't. And that's why, of course, when something like you don't have a war church or that radical mouthing off about what happened, 911, that everybody there deserved what they deserve, what they got, because they were all implicit in the corrupt system on campus, what he said played very well, the minute people off campus heard it, they recoiled. [00:32:03] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:32:04] Speaker B: They had to fire them. Yeah. So it's a kind of world, you know, the same statement here on campus, this narrow little world is lionized and cheered. You step off campus, the same statement gets you flat. [00:32:20] Speaker A: Yeah. So sticking with the theme of snowflakes for the moment, Greg Lukianoff, who's appeared a couple of times on this show, makes a compelling argument that much of the politicization of campus is being propelled primarily by students who are being over parented, over protected, showing up on campus demanding all kinds of restrictions in order to avoid being offended by various ideas or opinions that they find objectionable. I'm assuming you actually disagree with that argument. [00:33:04] Speaker B: What is your perspective on how compelling is an understatement? I mean, I think when you're dealing with colleagues arguments, you know, one has to deal in terms of ideas plausible, or are they worth analyzing? A certain amount of respectful behavior is required if you think that there are pros and cons and so on. But you have to have, you have to retain a sense that some ideas are so stupid they're not even worth looking at. And that is one of them, the notion that students could produce this effect. And Jonathan Haidt has a similar argument. He says that this all dates from 2015. Now, notice in my book, I prove that it dates from 69 at least, and going on with that, and was already well advanced by 2015, years before 2015. Anyway, Jonathan Hayd argues that 2015, there were signs that teenage girls were getting very anxious about their future on this endangered planet, and it was then anxiety that drove this change of the mood on campus. Well, I'm sorry, that's the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard, that students could actually change the climate on campus when they are. Obviously the dominant factor is always the faculty, the nature of the faculty. We have documented clearly that there's a predominance of radical faculty on the campuses by the year 2015. That is overwhelming and that long predates these things that these two are talking about. [00:34:45] Speaker A: Moreover, what about the role of the students for Democratic Action? And how does what that started in terms of how it was not well received outside of this small radical group, how did that kind of unfold and have a later influence on academia? [00:35:13] Speaker B: Well, look, the influence is really the other way around. It's radical faculty that influence students. It's really not the other way around. All the evidence suggests that students come on campus somewhat more conservative than they are within six months. So radical faculty influences put on, moreover, this idea that students are looking out if the students are overprotected. I wonder if he's ever heard of the breakdown of the nuclear family that's going on, especially black families are destroyed. There's less parent overprotectedness going on now than any, at any time in our history. [00:35:57] Speaker A: I'm talking about the students for Democratic Action. When you make the argument in your book. [00:36:02] Speaker B: Yes, yes. [00:36:03] Speaker A: About the students for Democratic Action. So I was hoping you could talk. [00:36:07] Speaker B: About that a little. Yeah. That was a group of very young men in 1962. They were Marxists, a small number of them, but 200. And they met a pescoporthun and they adopted it. Policy statement. They were honest enough to see that Marx's ideas will never succeed at the ballot box. Americans will never elect Marxists. Now, it may have been a bit too soon because New York elected an openly marxist mayor, but anyway, at that time they despaired of ever getting anywhere at the ballot box. So they decided there was one way forward for Marx's ideas, and that was to seize control of the universities. And so they instruction. Yeah, they set about simply increasing their numbers. And they were correct, of course, that was the only way they could possibly succeed. It was a very undemocratic way, because what that really meant was that they were abandoning the ballot box and they were opting instead for a mode in which they could indoctrinate. Now, they could never have succeeded. I mean, that was at the time. I was already there. My first faculty appointment was late fifties, back in the dark ages. So I was around, I heard about this statement and I laughed, which I somewhat regret now, but I thought this was the silliest possible idea that they could ever seize control of the universities. But what actually happened was it was an accident of historic proportions, really. It was something so unforeseeable that was grotesque. It was this, that the. The years 65 to 75 remember, these kids were writing this report, Huron statement was writing in 62, 65 to 75, two things happened. They were independent of each other, but the combination of the two was lethal. One of them was that the baby boomers generation, let's say that. That the families where babies were born after servicemen returned from the second World War, there was a baby boom, 45 to 50. Now, that group of children came of age for college entrance 20 years later, obviously. So by 65, 20 years after the first, the second world War, they were starting to be ready for college. So that meant a huge expansion of the university. But in any case, the spirit of the age was that more people should go, that we should be more egalitarian society, that more kids should go. The result was a staggering increase in the size of university, the university population, the public students, public university student numbers in 65 with 3.8 million. By ten years later, they'd gone to over 8 million. So it's over double. Now, think about that. I mean, the number of professors you had in 65 you needed to more than double that number in ten years. That is a huge task, and obviously the quality can't possibly hold up. When you have to think of all the professors that existed in America in 65, you had to get as many as that and more within ten years. So there was this wild dash to get people. It was a very fortunate time for people who are in the profession. So people were promoted early. I mean, I was, for example, I was a full professor, Tom. I was 33, which in a normal time would have been very unusual. But the other thing that was happening in 65 to 75, I'm sure you can guess, is the Vietnam War. So at just the time when we were looking for graduate students to become assistant professors, the beginning stage of being an academic, at just the time we were looking for huge numbers of beginning assistant professors, the campuses were roiled by radicalism, which was not generated by political radicalism per se, was generated by opposition to the Vietnam War. So the campuses were radicalized by the Vietnam War, and that was precisely the time that we were hiring huge numbers. So it was a perfect storm. Radical percentage of the professoria in America shot up immediately, and only that could have allowed the radical agenda to succeed, because had there been no Vietnam war, even that big expansion, there would have been a few radicals at a time coming in, and they would have had to adjust to the very robust professional ethic. In other words, if you have just a few people coming in, the fact that 99% of the people around them are all dead against politicizing your students, dead against indoctrinating your students, and you'd get fired if you were found doing it, because the whole campus is against it. But when you suddenly have pouring in through the door hundreds of radicals, which is what you had in that decade, there were so many of them that they didn't socialize, too. The prevailing ethic of the academic, which is teach your kids to think, not what to think. [00:42:20] Speaker A: Right? [00:42:22] Speaker B: For the country. [00:42:23] Speaker A: Interesting question on LinkedIn, Mike. Laurel asks, what advice would you give a college student interested in pursuing a PhD in literature? [00:42:38] Speaker B: Well, believe me, it's a question that occurred to me a great deal, that question, in the last ten years, I was active, and I had to say to bright students, look, you're very bright. And normal circumstances, I was just. Your stay on, I think you'd have a wonderful career in this profession, but you have to decide whether you can survive in a profession that no longer, no longer believes in people like you. And that's a very painful thing to say, that you're basically advising your students that it would be, you have to. [00:43:22] Speaker A: Follow in your footsteps. [00:43:24] Speaker B: Yeah, no, it was very painful. But look, there were always possibilities. I mean, at the moment, there's a new university starting up in Austin. University of Austin. [00:43:34] Speaker A: All right. We've had pano canelos on this show. [00:43:37] Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah. Who did you have on Neil Ferguson or Pano Canelos? [00:43:43] Speaker A: Who's the dean? [00:43:44] Speaker B: Oh, yeah, he's the boss. Yeah, no, he's a great man. Yeah. No, that now is a real possibility. There's Hillsdale college. There are now some colleges in Florida that are being whipped into shape. So I think now I probably would be a little more optimistic. Now, I would say that. Try Charleston, Texas, try Hillsdale, try Florida. Places in Florida. There may be more coming down the pike. Who knows? I think possibly some movement in North Carolina, possibly some Texas. [00:44:22] Speaker A: Question on X from Alan Tully, which speaks directly to point you made in your book, and he is asking on x, do you think there will be a pendulum swing away from young people going to campus, making them fewer but possibly more competent? So I guess you've also talked about avoiding the idea that there's just pendulum of history always goes back and forth and to avoid that. But do you think more people will just give up on going to college and that there'll be less of a demand for universities and, well, look, from. [00:45:03] Speaker B: 2011 to about 2020, there was a pretty savage drop, you know, 20 million down to 17 million students in higher education. There's a slight blip in the latest figure this fall, 1% up. And I attribute that to the post COVID, you know, the sort of bounce downwards and up again. So I don't think you can really read too much into that. But I do think more and more parents are concluding that college is not worth the trial. In today's news, there was the fact that tuition from many places now over 90,000 a year. And naturally, more and more people are asking, well, you know, is it really worth it? And I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal suggesting that on balance, the net of the positives and negatives for higher education, they're doing more damage to the country than they're doing good. And I think that point of view is spreading. I think. Yeah, I don't know. [00:46:07] Speaker A: It was echoed by, speaking of Wall Street, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, he made headlines with the observation, quote, if you look at kids, they got to be educated to get jobs. Too much focus in education has been on graduating college. It should be on getting a job. I think the school should be measured on did kids get out of there and get a good job? So do you think that's a fair measurement? And regardless if we use that measurement, how are the universities performing? [00:46:43] Speaker B: Well, look, the verdict of employers and all kinds of people, this problem of kids, their entry into the workplace, been studied by all kinds of think tanks, academic researchers, employers groups and lots of others, and pretty well everyone comes to the conclusion that the kids are very poorly prepared for the workforce, very, very poor, and they don't mince their words. I mean, they're scandalously badly prepared. And I think preparation for the workforce is really, is really important. And I sympathize what he's saying. I mean, I think jobs is a big factor. When kids graduate with degree in black studies and then don't get a job, I feel very sorry for them. But having said that, I come back to my fundamental principle. If we teach people in college, we teach kids in college how to think, how to solve problems, they're prepared for any job. And that was the way we used to think of a college education. I mean, what you did, if you were employed, you found someone who had done well at college, and they would probably be a good employee, a resourceful, imaginative, thoughtful, problem solving employee. At the moment, we don't produce thoughtful problem solver, analytically minded people. We produce people who've been brainwashed. [00:48:20] Speaker A: Activists. [00:48:22] Speaker B: Yeah. I mean, they're good for political campaigns, maybe, and they might be good for employment in DEI offices, which actually has produced a boom. [00:48:36] Speaker A: There is, yes, that is a growth industry, sadly. [00:48:40] Speaker B: And it's produced jobs for the studies, studies in women's studies, black studies, ethnic studies, it's to boom in employment for those people. So ten years ago, everyone used to say, well, you'll never get a job with those things, with those. [00:48:55] Speaker A: Now, apparently there will be demand. So in terms of this unpreparedness of young graduates coming into the workforce, is this connected to the declining amount of time students spend actually studying for their coursework? Maybe give us a little bit of context of how that has been declining over the years in terms of just fewer times hitting the books and what's driving it? [00:49:26] Speaker B: Well, look, my wife went to Stanford about 50 years ago, and she reports to me that doing the core course, the western civilization course, kept her reading every hour of the day and night. I mean, there was just no time to do almost anything except eat and sleep. Now you don't get courses like that anymore. There have been some surveys of the number of hours put into work outside of class. Now something, it's something like this. Go back 30, 40 years. The number of hours outside of classwork, in other words, being in the classroom number of hours is something like 20 to 24 depending on the survey you pick. Now it's something like twelve. That's half. Now why is that? Well, it's very simple. If in your literature course or all you're getting is you're getting harangued about the evils of western society. And if in your history course you're also getting harangued about the evil western society and in your art history course you're also getting hired about elitists in western society, pretty soon you stop, you know, you're getting the same thing from all these different sources and you're getting the message that there's really. You're not learning anything. So you don't need to read books. You know that you know the train of thought very well because you get it given to you over and over again. All you've got to do is produce an essay that simply says western society is exploitive and evil and racist and bigoted and so on. And you get by and you get by and you know, if it's a history course, well, you just make a few adjustments to mention history now and then. If it's literature, you just adjust it for literature. You can get by with almost nothing because all you're getting is rant, political rants, class after class, topic after topic. Now people in the sciences there, they have to know something at least. I mean, for the most part. But now we're finding medicine, the mandatory harangues on social issues, mandatory even that. [00:51:43] Speaker A: You have to have a mandatory DEI. [00:51:46] Speaker B: Statement to be considered for anything watered down on now. But anyway, in the humanities and social sciences fields, the repetitiveness of the instructors, arguments, material events that they refer to in world history and so on. The sheer repetitive. The similarity of the train of thought means that little is demanded of students and they respond accordingly. The thing I find most disturbing is that the survey I'm thinking of finds that black students put in even less hours than white students and that they fall further behind. So they start off their college careers behind in the college learning assessment by about 40 points, I think. And within a couple of years they're behind 50 points instead of 40 points. Now that you know, that has to be a heartbreaking result. We should be higher education ought to be moving us towards more equal standing. It is actually a cause of the increase of the divide between the races. [00:53:06] Speaker A: So you have your final chapter. It's entitled what can be done to restore higher education? And I found it sobering. You're definitely not sugar coating any of this. Walk us through some of the most important recommendations or trying to restore academia to what it should be and could be. [00:53:38] Speaker B: Well, you first start with saying what you can't do. What you can't do is reform universities from the inside, because the practical faculty control them and they control the administration. So the administration won't deal in quality control and the faculty won't give up control. Boards of regents ought to be overseeing this and saying that this is not good enough. Overwhelmingly, they're too cowardly to do that. So you can only reform from outside. Now, there are two sources. There's one. State universities get their funding from state legislatures. Now, state legislatures can seize control and make conditions. I mean, that funding can be made conditional on the university shaping up. State legislatures and governors could, for example, fire the president of a state university, install a new president with instructions to depoliticize the faculty, to stop the politicizing of classrooms, to fire people who refuse to stop ranting political rants, and to find faculty that are genuine academics, not political operatives. Now, in practice, there is some movement there. I mean, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, not nearly as much as there should be. I mean, for example, there's a healthy majority in the Idaho legislature on the conservative side. But it's like pulling teeth to get those people to act on this particular topic. So the only other solution is public opinion. And my feeling is, and that's why I write for the Wall Street Journal regularly, to try to get across to the public, because when you write for the Wall Street Journal, you reach about 5 million people. But to try to get across to the public that this is not their grandmother's university, this is not a place where you save up and buy something with tuition and self payments for your children, grandchildren, but is really worth having. This is, on the contrary, this is boot camp for radicals. And if you contribute $50,000 a year for your kids to enter, you are subsidizing a political regime that you don't really want and you don't like. [00:56:15] Speaker A: Now withdraw the sanction of the victim. [00:56:18] Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, we're subsidizing our own destruction as a society. Most people still are on autopilot. Their kids reach age 18. I think I said in the Wall Street Journal piece I wrote recently that they want parents on autopilot. You know, the kid reaches 18, time for college, and they still assuming that Harvard the great name, the magic is still valid. It isn't. They still assume that professors are people of great intelligence and responsibility, wisdom and open mindedness. They aren't. I think I concluded by saying, on the contrary, professors are narrow minded, intolerant. They are. Apart from being unusually intelligent, they're stupid enough to believe that Marxism still works in spite of all the historical evidence to the contrary. And once parents really grasp that, that this is a fundamentally different world they live in, in which colleges are not, you know, the mystique of a college, it is no longer valid. You have to look at each college one by one, and there may be in the whole country maybe nine or ten that you might think about, but simply plump for Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and so on. Yeah, it's going to be very disappointing. [00:57:54] Speaker A: Well, as, as Ayn Rand said, you can evade reality, but you can't evade the consequences of evading reality. So I really think that with this book, the primary service that you are rendering in excruciating detail for folks, that I highly recommend you pick up the book. You read it. It's also available on audible, a really great audio recording of this. So, John, what is next for you? I understand between writing your op eds for the Wall Street Journal Journal, you've also completed another book, maybe just a sneak preview of what that's about. [00:58:36] Speaker B: Well, it's called a short history of relations between peoples. And the subtitle is how the world began to move beyond tribalism. And it basically is all about the way in which this perfect, non racist world that radicals imagined has never existed until very recently. And in my book, I demonstrate what the world was like in the year 1500. And it was definitely no one country had much respect for any other country. No one race had much respect for any other race. Nobody had any sense that we were all members of a great family of human beings. They were very, very tribally oriented. So I traced how that changed who the key players, who the key actors were. And the results, of course, will not be attractive to radicals, because the conclusion is that the very people that they attack most for being racists were the ones who turned the world in this positive direction. [00:59:45] Speaker A: Enlightenment, enlightenment scholars. Well, thank you, John. Thanks all of you who joined us today. Of course, if you enjoyed this video or any of the content and programming from the Atlas Society, remember, we are a 501 C three nonprofit. I hope you will consider making your first time gift to support our [email protected]. Donate and be sure to come back and join us next week when Doctor Judith Curry joins us to discuss her book, climate uncertainty and risks. Rethinking our responses on the 200th episode of the Atlas Society asks. We'll see you then.

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