Paul Greenberg
Dear Fellow Fan,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from another fan of that endangered species on American campuses, liberal education. It seems the more bureaucratic types in American education, whether they've burrowed into administration or become tenured members of the faculty, are busy transforming our universities into trade schools in every way but the name.

Recommended Reading: "Mission Lost/ California's state university system offers everything but a liberal education" in the Spring issue of City Journal.

This survey of the bleak horizon was written by Bruce S. Thompson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and professor of classics and humanities at California State in Fresno. His dispiriting conclusion:

"The disappearance of liberal education helps explain why today, despite their Latin mottos and medieval graduation gowns, most state universities look less like traditional colleges and more like other state-funded bureaucracies, run not by scholars but by managers and functionaries. No longer do they provide students with a grounding in the 'best that has been said and thought,' as (Matthew) Arnold put it. What they do provide is a poor substitute: vocational training and unexamined left-wing orthodoxy."

Can this trend be reversed? Yes, if we continue to raise our voices in defense of liberal education, which lies at the core of Western civilization itself. That civilization is now under attack not just by assorted jihadists around the world but, much more effectively, by our own intelligentsia around the country. Or at least by its more with-it members, who never met an attack on Western civilization they didn't like.

My hopes rose, new friend, on hearing this family story you shared: "I was working at some forgotten task with my niece who was home on a brief recess from her final year at an out-of-state Methodist school. ... Something was said or done to spark some distant memory of a vague and arcane quotation that had once registered in my subconscious, and I absentmindedly voiced the first part of it. In a twinkling she quoted the final part of it. I stopped, turned, and looked at her in a completely new light that has not left her since, and she said with that unassuming smile that makes everyone love her: 'Never underestimate the value of a liberal arts education....' "

What a fortunate uncle to have such a niece. What a fortunate community, republic, society we would be if we could complete each other's quotations.

Then we would all have common points of reference, which is one definition of a coherent culture.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.