I spent last week at college. And not just any college. Stanford University.
And this is what I thought.
If you wish to learn facts, the university can be a great place. If you wish to study the natural sciences, the university is a great place. But if you want to acquire wisdom or to become a mature adult, the university is usually an impediment.
By and large our major universities are located on gorgeous land, isolated from the real world. The university, for a tenured professor in particular, is closer to a socialist utopia than any place on earth. He does little work, is relatively well paid, has extended time off, is surrounded by adoring young men and women (more about that later), and alone among wage earners, can be wrong all the time and pay no price.
This isolation is a major reason why most of society's stupid ideas, and few of its better ones, come from professors. You have to live on campus, as I did (at Stanford's Faculty Center) to appreciate just how isolated you are. Everything is campus based. You eat there, socialize there, study there for four years, read the college's newspaper, and rarely watch television or listen to the radio. In fact, for more than a few students, the university environment is not all that different from that of a cult. As a student, you are well fed and live among fellow impressionable young people. The only adults you encounter are there, for the most part, to shape your thinking. Other adults and other ideas are largely kept out.
As for the faculty, the university is one of the only places in society where it is actually a challenge to grow up (Hollywood is another). If you have gone from kindergarten to graduate school to teaching in college without serious time in the non-academic world, it takes a major effort to be an adult. Spending your entire life with minors is a recipe for permanent immaturity.
Any college that required its teachers to have spent five years doing something, anything, outside of academia -- driving a taxi, starting or running a business, waiting tables, playing sports -- would probably have the most mature (and therefore most conservative) faculty in America.
This problem, of professors never having had to live in the real world or work with adults, should not be underestimated. I recall interviewing on my radio show years ago a professor who had uncovered data showing that male high school and college teachers were the group least likely to remarry after divorce. Living and working around so many young and attractive women makes it very tough to commit to one adult woman.
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