Paul Greenberg

Higher education keeps getting lower. And not just in this state, where the core curriculum at the University of Arkansas' campus at Fayetteville is being hollowed out. It's happening all over. In Britain, the study of the humanities is being diluted, too.

Happily, this sad trend has inspired a familiar reaction. Over here, as state universities cut back on required courses that once were considered necessary for a well-rounded education, small liberal arts colleges have taken up the slack. Now comes word from England that A.C. Grayling, the renowned philosopher, has joined with other free-spirited academics to start a new, private College of the Humanities.

These new schools are part of an old tradition. Isn't that how the first universities in Europe began -- as communities of scholars teaching the classical curriculum? They were founded, organized and run by the faculty, not administrators. And out of those universities came a great renaissance, the rebirth of classical education after what we now call the Dark Ages.

Even in the darkest times, learning was kept alive by communities of scholars, whether in ancient monasteries or through that new invention, the university. No matter how dark the times, some never give up on the light. May their tribe increase in our time, too.

But it won't be easy, reviving the standards of higher education in this country. Case in point: The most obvious message of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is that its editors could use some.

The article was supposed to be about the educational background of state legislators in this country. It put Arkansas's at the bottom of the list, claiming they had the least amount of college education in the country, with a quarter of the lawmakers having no college at all. Including the half-dozen lawyers and professors who are state legislators.

The only thing clear about such a report is that whoever wrote it needs to rewrite it. After getting his facts and stats right. This kind of "research" makes our state legislature here in Arkansas, for all its faults, look like the very picture of probity and responsibility by comparison. That takes some doing, but the Chronicle of Higher Education is up to the job. Or rather down to it.

The best response to the report came from state Senator Jim Luker, a lawyer in little Wynne, Ark., who was listed by the Chronicle's source, Project Vote Smart, as having no higher education. (Maybe it should change its name to Project Vote Dumb.)

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.