The Renaissance Man is about to be bounced by Robot Man as the emblematic hero of our era. Data processing machines, computers and smartphones have become the primary means of communication, and the next generation of "educated persons" is likely to be as narrowly focused as flat-earthers before Galileo.
This isn't an exaggeration. The brave new world of high-tech is thrilling in its ability to expand information and enhance our lives, but those responsible for extending arts and letters as the needed complement to science are nevertheless committing academic malpractice.
The causes are many.
The universities are bloated with administrators at the expense of professors, process people whose emphasis is more on expanding perks within the system -- luxury dorms, accessible gyms, great athletic teams -- than on focusing on what the professors should teach. The University of Michigan, for example, has 53 percent more full-time "administrators and professionals" (9,652) than full-time professors (6,305). The Chronicle of Education reports that this is an accelerating trend. We read it and can only weep.
Even when the focus is on what universities are supposed to do, which is to teach, the emphasis goes askew. A prestigious university system, such as the University of California, suffers a divided mentality typical of the elite schools.
There are two Universities of California, one centered on the sciences, still measured by meritocratic standards, and the other takes the humanity out of the humanities, putting a value on victimhood, lowering critical standards for evaluating literary quality. "Sitting atop an entire civilization of aesthetic wonders," writes Heather MacDonald in The Wall Street Journal, "the contemporary academic wants only to study oppression, preferably his or her own, defined reductively according to gonads and melanin."
This academic emphasis on diversity and sexuality has coincided with diminished exposure to the humanities, what Matthew Arnold in the 19th century described as "the best that has been thought and known in the world." He thought that the great works of literature provided a common pathway for equalizing the classes. In America, the humanities aimed to deepen appreciation of the heritage of Western civilization, to build on the intellectual bonds of the Founding Fathers. Democratic idealism surged with a respect for the wisdom of the past.