In the budget squeeze that every government of affluent democracies is facing, increases in tuition are causing some of the most vocal and nasty reactions. British students are storming offices, creating chaos, and threatening mayhem. Once, coal miners brought down British governments. Now, parasitical college students threaten to break the British government. California students are doing much the same, although the bias in favor of in-state illegal alien students and against out-of-state American citizens does not seem to bother these students too much. All over America, all over the Western world, academia is revolting! It sure is. More and more, the left urges us to buy the notion that academia is indispensable to informed societies and to national power in science and technology. In fact, academia is a heavy burden, in every sense of the word, upon modern society. Over the last century, colleges (nearly all of which are now instead "universities") have devolved from places of serious study and intellectual inquiry into vast, generally malign, priestly castes. Rote memorization of correct dogma has replaced genuine thinking. Evolution by natural selection, for example, is an iron law of anthropology, despite gaping holes which have grown wider and more serious over time. Any mind free enough to challenge the dubious theory of Darwin faces the lash, as Ben Stein showed so well in his film. Global warming, another convenient myth of corrupt academia, squelches publication of doubters and schemes secretly to hide conflicting evidence. If that is the situation in the "hard sciences," one needs little imagination to grasp the greater horror in the "soft sciences" and the liberal arts. History departments for the last twenty years have been in utter denial regarding the Cold War (John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written an entire book about this subject). Soviet infiltration of America was worse than almost anyone had believed in the 1950s. The redundant, corroborating, incontestable evidence from Venona, KGB files, GRU files, and other sources is simply overwhelming. Yet academia still pretends that rogue anti-Communists during the 1950s savaged many innocent lives.
President Obama's catastrophic "stimulus" plan was firmly rooted in Keynesian economics, which were novel, perhaps, when his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published seventy-four years ago. This theory, though, is wrong. It does not predict economic behavior. Worse -- much worse -- is the continued infatuation of academia with the horrific thinking of Karl Marx. One might hope that a misanthrope who influenced Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao, and whose ideas have turned nations into charnel houses without the slightest positive benefit, might cease to attract serious, moral thinkers -- and that would be true. Academia, however, long since stopped seeking serious, moral thinkers.
Why do we need academia? Knowledge and myriad new ways of learning are easy to find outside academia. Fifty years ago, my father, who had an advanced degree in science with highest honors, worked for a large corporation dependent upon cutting-edge technology. New college graduates, even the brightest ones, left college four to five years behind the frontiers of science and technology. While there is good scientific work done in many universities, it is simply wrong to assume that this system is the best way of doing research. It is, to be sure, the most comfortable for tenured dons, but comfort and theoretical breakthroughs are not connected.
Academia, we were once told, provided "well-rounded individuals." Today it produces instead Orwellian cookie-cutter people who share the same premises, use the same lines of thought, and reach identical conclusions. Comparison of academia today with the medieval university system is unfair...to medieval universities. Controversy, contrary to modern pseudo-history, was common and tolerated in those universities. There were different schools of thought; there were independent and respected minds. Thinking itself was intensely rigorous.
"Higher education" today resembles even less the original Academy where Plato helped guide the minds of a few young Greeks. This had no curriculum, no faculty, no tuition, and no demand for conformity. Plato's most famous student, Aristotle, developed a different approach to philosophy and science from Plato's. Reprising that Academy would require dismantling the huge complexes and vast support bureaucracies of modern "academia."
Academia today is like the Inner Party in Orwell's 1984. In the book within that book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchal Collectivism, Orwell describes specifically who would be in the Inner Party: "teachers," "scientists," and "sociologists" among a few others -- enslaved minds captured in academia, which was already becoming a grim barracks for future overlords. The Inner Party, of course, was addicted to power, and that addiction trumped everything else, especially truth and morality. It was a church without a god, a priesthood lacking any faith, punctuated by a lust sated only by misery.
College, in the early years, was intended to teach moral purpose. The idea that this institution would be a dreadfully expensive form of advanced vocational education would have stunned professors and students in the past. The notion that academia was needed to produce militant cadres in some ideological army would have horrified our ancestors. Colleges, more than anything else, were intended to allow people to become noble and pure in ways that everyday life could not.
Now we have brats demanding that the taxes of cafeteria ladies and garbage collectors be used to provide them with their mystic, meaningless college degrees. Now we have legislative buffoonery like the "DREAM Act," which implies that an illegal immigrant who goes to college somehow "helps" society. Even conservatives seem entranced by college, and funds to help the children of slain soldiers go to college rank high among patriotic charities. Academia, facing the same sort of financial distress as the rest of us, is revolting. Indeed, it is very revolting.