Victor Davis Hanson

Universities claim they are committed to creating a student body that looks like America. In fact, they deliberately ignore the most important diversity of all -- thought. About half the country is fairly conservative. Yet by any measure -- faculty profiles, campus speakers, student organizations -- colleges discriminate against those not deemed sufficiently progressive.

Conservative speakers are now routinely disinvited from commencement addresses. Students or faculty members who offer public skepticism about gay marriage or unfettered abortion, voice pro-Israel sentiments or express doubts about man-caused global warming can easily earn campus pariah status.

The liberal arts curricula are likewise fossils of the 1960s era of their professors' race, class and gender activism. Such therapeutic courses short the very skills -- written and oral proficiency, historical knowledge, and math and science mastery -- that alone prepare graduates for a chance at a successful career trajectory.

Most disturbing is the inability of the modern university to adjust to the 21st century workplace. Students are not graduating in four years. They are piling up crippling debt. They cannot figure out the Byzantine nature of their high-interest student loan packages. And they are hardy assured of jobs commensurate with their unsustainable investment in education.

The university's reactionary response is to keep jacking tuition higher than the rate of inflation, to count on still more open-ended federally guaranteed student loans, and to keep its budgetary figures mostly hidden.

How odd, then, that the campus is more reactionary than the objects of its frequent vituperation, from the corporation to the military. Academics resist the sort of long-needed reforms that they always seem to demand of others in American society.

We cannot expect the current self-interested establishment in charge of the university to reform it. Its failure to educate students for well-paying jobs while charging them excessive fees may alone force a reckoning.

The Internet, tech schools and correspondence courses are already eroding the monopolies of the campus. Whether the academic establishment likes it or not, a new generation of leadership will have to ensure equal pay for equal work, an end to lifetime sinecures, a new way of assessing university achievement, transparency in budgeting and admissions, political balance and tolerance, and a complete overhaul of the liberal arts curriculum.

Either higher education will give up its medieval privileges, begin to be accountable and live in the modern world, or it will be reduced to a costly relic for a tiny elite.

An aging campus generation that has nearly wrecked the university should bow out and let more open-minded and innovative minds repair the damage that the old generation has wrought.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.


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