Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Cultural Captivity of the American University

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Downtown Monroe on a rainy day, through my car window
For years I have followed and admired the work of University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. He's the one that came up with "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" as the prevailing religion of today's American adolescents. 

I just read Smith's critique of the American university in The Chronicle Review - "Higher Education Is Drowning in BS." Much of what Smith says can translate to the American Church, as it is in the same cultural captivity.

The entire article is well worth reading. Here are some highlights, some of the current BS the American university is wallowing in.

  • The university has lost its capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.
  • The university now expects that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.
  • Universities have been hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous "excellence" peddled by recruitment and "advancement" offices in every run-of-the-mill university).
  • Universities embrace the fantasy that education worthy of the name can be accomplished online through "distance learning."
  • Universities have the grossly lopsided political ideology of the faculty of many disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, creating a homogeneity of worldview to which those faculties are themselves oblivious, despite claiming to champion difference, diversity, and tolerance.
  • Universities live by the ascendant "culture of offense" that shuts down the open exchange of ideas and mutual accountability to reason and argument. It is university leaders’ confused and fearful capitulation to that secular neo-fundamentalist speech-policing.
  • Universities create the standard undergraduate student mentality, fostered by our entire culture, that sees college as essentially about credentials and careers (money), on the one hand, and partying oneself into stupefaction on the other.
  • University leaders in higher education fail to champion the liberal-arts ideal — that college should challenge, develop, and transform students’ minds and hearts so they can lead good, flourishing, and socially productive lives — and their stampeding into the "practical" enterprise of producing specialized workers to feed The Economy.
  • University administrators delusional thinking believes that what is important in higher education can be evaluated by quantitative "metrics," the use of which will (supposedly) enable universities to be run more like corporations, thus requiring faculty and staff to spend more time and energy providing data for metrics, which they, too, know are BS.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I'm now working on #3 - How God Changes the Human Heart.