Is it wrong to find something curious in the current hatred directed toward universities and colleges? After all, there was a time, not long ago, when places of higher education were relatively immune from strong feelings of any kind. Among those who never went to college there was a little envy, some longing; a large indifference. Those who did go felt some nostalgia, some possessiveness; sometimes, gratitude. Those who stayed as teachers felt lucky or isolated or underprivileged. In the culture as a whole, respect for the mysteries of learning was mixed with condescension from the abstraction from real life and for the general mendicancy. The sense was that colleges and universities were different from everything else: a little better or a little less real; higher up, or off to one side; part of society, but not all of it, symbolically or in any other way.
Now the attention is constant and pitiless. The academy is news: it has become a place where reportable events occur, where trouble is normally to be expected. Scarcely a day goes by without two or three campus incidents, most of them involving discontent with the authority of faculties and administrations. We are not even spared political murders—murders in the palaces of wisdom. Every tactic of insurgence is practiced within the walls: the palaces of wisdom are now the theaters of—what, really? Equally strange, professors and others have made the academy into an academic subject. Books and articles continue to come out on learning as an institution. Energy that used to be devoted to the creation and transmission of knowledge about the world is deflected into a very sad self-consciousness. Scholars turn into philosophers of education, while students, their education barely begun, speculate freely about Education and make curricular planning into another extracurricular activity. The world shrinks to the dimensions of the school. All the passions usually scattered in a thousand different directions confine themselves to the campus. And the passions are often fierce and hostile.
I find it impossible to imagine the circumstances in which the academy would be able to return soon to its former quiet. Or, at least, I find it impossible to imagine a return to quiet in circumstances that were not dreadful: a great fear, a great crisis, a great repression. Campus violence and murder need not, must not, become normal. But contestation, interruption, institutional preoccupation, the destruction of the boundaries between the academy and the world, crises, demands, demands, demands, all seem certain to go on, and perhaps grow more intense. The principles of democratic participation and self-determination will continue to be ruthlessly transferred from the body politic to universities and colleges. The transfer may be philosophically untenable, but how much has philosophical ten-ability ever counted for in the face of desire and will? Especially when desire and will appear to be so in accord with the prevailing values of the culture, from the family to the state? Isn't it easy for students to see themselves as citizens of the academy? And black militance—the academy has not started to feel it in all the fullness of its impact. There is a terrible score to settle: elements of the black leadership want to compel the white adversary to accord blacks the right to live as once the whites forced the blacks to live, apart. To remain apart, and then be begged to come in, as once they were forced to stay apart.
And then, Catholic reawakening, the effects of the draft, the spirit of the Kennedy brothers, the malaise and secret strengths of affluence, the incalculable damage done to the fabric of American life by the war in Vietnam, and on and on: the sources of disturbances are also the sources of new life and new danger.
So much has been said on all this, is there more? Isn't most of it captured in Clark Kerr's The Uses of the University, published in 1963, before Vietnam mattered except to a few, before Berkeley, before Columbia?
So many of the hopes and fears of the American people are now related to our educational system and particularly to our universities—the hope for longer life, for getting into outer space, for a higher standard of living; our fears of Russian or Chinese supremacy, of the bomb and annihilation, of individual loss of purpose in the changing world.
What one institution could bear such weight? Add to what Kerr says, and a new question arises. How can the academy endure the strain of being mother and father, leader and victim, asylum and enemy, playground and hospital, healer and criminal, reformer and delinquent, church and state? Everything is expected of it, nothing is forgiven it. It arms its assailants with mind, and finds the weapon turned against it. It must make good everyone else's deficiencies, while everyone else stands by in stupid incomprehension and crazy impotence.
Or is this too paranoid? Perhaps so. Many have referred to a general crisis of authority: not only in the United States, but in many other countries as well; not only in universities and colleges, but in almost all other social and political institutions. All right. The fact remains that the academy is peculiarly vulnerable, for the reasons given by Richard Hofstadter in his commencement address at Columbia in June 1968. Further-more, the academy is entitled to feel betrayed, or at least that it has been paid back for its efforts with an awful ingratitude. It has helped to forge the conscience of the country, but is now held up as a great sinner. It has helped to formulate the principles of critical analysis, but is now denounced as backward or reactionary. The attack lacks discrimination. To ask it again, why so much hatred?
The first sentences of the first chapter of the Cox Commission Report, Crisis at Columbia,1 are: “The present generation of young people in our universities is the best informed, the most intelligent, and the most idealistic this country has ever known. This is the experience of teachers everywhere.” This line is currently standard, and may be true. But are the young self-created? How can that be? They are the creatures of a democratic middle class. The contractual nature of the American family is the precondition for youthful independence. The parents inhabit the children, and both are ignorant of that truth. New modes of sensory experience are made available by the very culture that is rejected. The children are creatures of privilege. New dreads haunt the imagination; ancient sorrows are suddenly felt as real, even when, as is most often the case, the sorrows are not one's own. The children are herded into the global village. There is a tangle of unacknowledged benefits, unacknowledged dependence, sweet tenderness, youthful excess, youthful exploitation, misdirected hatred, genuine feeling. In the young, the three parts of the Freudian soul have thus expanded. The id has new pleasures to seize and feed on. The ego detects new opportunities in which to claim the right to control or not to be controlled. The superego everywhere finds new burdens. But does mind grow automatically with the soul? If it does not, how can the academy survive? To do its work, the academy must war on the id and the ego, and arrange a kind of truce with the super-ego. That is the cost of training intelligence liberally. Cox's assertion needs a great deal of complication.
One then reads beyond the first sentences of the Cox Report, hoping to find understanding of the hatred, and of other things besides. An elegant, humane book it is. One moves along with it; one is caught by the way in which chaos is seemingly made clear. A sense of justice seems to preside over it. But one must draw back with the feeling that something is wrong in the analysis. The first part is on the “conditions giving rise to the disturbances”; the second part is the “history of the disturbances.” But there is no connection between the two parts: the first does not prepare for the second, despite the intention of the authors.
The “history of the disturbances” shows that the initial seizure of Hamilton and Low was carried out by black and white students whose aims had little if anything to do with the “conditions” of student life and learning at Columbia. The ultras in the SDS could not have cared less about the way Columbia worked, whether for good or bad. They found in Columbia one or several of the following things. The university is the “weakest link” in the American social system. To damage it is easier than to damage any other institution in the system; to damage it is to contribute to the overall weakening of the system. Or, the university is the most sensitive nerve in American society. To touch it rudely is to make the middle class anxious and demoralized; anxious and demoralized, the middle class would then perhaps apply certain pressures on the political leaders of America. Or, the university is the most available target. Though largely innocent of the wrong-doing so fiercely and in most cases so rightly resented by the young, and which emanates from American government, the university is largely defenseless. Resentments can be displaced on it. Or, the university is the most available training-ground. It brings together large numbers of people who are of the right age and the right dispositions for the purposes of “radicalization.” The provisional equivalent of revolutionary activity is student confrontation, student sit-ins, student strikes. After leaving the university, radicalized students can help to transform American society.
As for the blacks (all they do is understandable, but not all they do is acceptable), the Cox Report quotes a “close observer” as saying,
Whatever guilt they [black students] may [feel] about having advantages which the average kid of their age in Harlem doesn't have, is somewhat ameliorated by this action which is—to take their phrase—“for the black brothers in the ghetto.” And they get publicity while they do it . . . by this act they were demonstrating they were part of the movement, and “movement” is very important. Such action helps to deal with guilt, too, not being the privileged Negroes, pets of the white establishment but as militant as Malcolm, Stokely, and Rap.
The specific grievances of the black students were minor in comparison with the need to perform gestures of displacement.
So that, to start with, those responsible for the first stage in the Columbia crisis focused their general hatred on what was nearest to them. The conclusion seems unavoidable that no matter what Columbia was like, it would not have escaped its troubles. Given Vietnam, the draft, the spread of radical ideas, and given also the enormity of American racism, the internal constitution of Columbia counts for little in explaining the upheaval. Accident, energy, personality, geography, the spirit of New York count for more. The conditions of American life count for most.
The second stage was marked by the take-over of other buildings. There can be no doubt that the plight of graduate students at Columbia played some role in these events. But a number of things must be said. First, the situation at Columbia does not differ substantially from that at many other universities where similar take-overs have not occurred. Second, the act of occupying a building is contagious. It combines heroism, fun, and the chance for solidarity, community, and communion—all so desperately craved by the young—not afforded by many other acts. Once again, the university was simply the most available place, the most available training-ground. The reason for contagiousness did not lie in Columbia's shortcomings. Third, there would have been no second stage without the first stage.
The third stage was marked by the police “bust.” The greatest desire of the ultras was realized. Sympathy for the victims of police action swelled. Outrage grew from the thought that the sanctuary had been defiled. Many moderates were at last won over. The policy of “the worse, the better” was vindicated. The question persists, What had the “conditions giving rise to the disturbances” to do with this development? Where is the connection between ante-bellum grievances and responses forthcoming in the melée? And, truly, how long can the effects of radicalization last without continuous reinforcement?
The fourth stage was the student strike which involved a considerable number of students. Would there have been a strike, however, without a “bust”? Would there have been a “bust” if buildings had not been occupied? Would buildings have been occupied if not for grievances which derived in the main from every source but Columbia?
To be sure, after the first two stages, there was much talk about the necessity to “restructure” Columbia. It is certain that Columbia needs to become a coherent institution. But let us try to be clear about this matter. First, the end of reform could never justify the means used by the extremists, even if the extremists had been interested in reform. Second, apart from the moral lightness of the means, the means in fact were not in the service of reform as an end. Third, the “liberal” reformers took unseemly advantage of a situation they had no hand in creating. Their response bore too close a resemblance to the spirit of the magnificent contribution Prof. Ithiel de Sola Pool recently made to political morality:
Despite the horrifying [a fine word, that] consequences of the war, South Vietnam is a stronger, more prosperous, more self-conscious country than it has ever been before. It even shows the first small glimmer of a participant political system.
The extremists saw the dark glory of their villainy wasted on the very meliorism they scorn, but which only they could hasten and facilitate. Fourth, it remains to be seen whether or not the promised reforms will in reality be academically desirable, and if they are, whether they will outweigh the harm done to Columbia by the turmoil that made the reforms possible.
In sum, it cannot be said that the Cox Commission Report, whatever else it does, does explain the events at Columbia in accordance with the pattern of underlying and precipitating causes. The narrative of the crisis, day by day, is in almost all respects analytically separable from the description of Columbia on the eve of the crisis. Only a casual reading of the book could lead to the feeling that Columbia deserved what it got. The sense of tragic inevitability is fake. The truth of the Report is that Columbia was made to pay for the terrible faults of the larger society. And these faults include not only aggressive war, poverty, and racism, but also unpreparedness in the face of new wealth and new possibilities for more ample life.
Another attempt to show that the academy deserves its troubles and the hatred directed toward it is made by James Ridgeway in The Closed Corporation.2 The book is slovenly, ill-written, hectic, and shapeless. In his eagerness to disclose wicked truths, Ridgeway has missed his main chance. He is out to show up the academy for two main reasons. The first is that many professors, especially in the social and natural sciences, are cunning entrepreneurs who use their base in the universities to make as much money as they can. The second is that many professors (and administrators), again in the social and natural sciences, engage in secret research for the government, most of which aids a cruel and expansionist foreign policy. Other things are on Ridgeway's mind, including the heartless real-estate practices of urban universities. Each of these charges is grave, to put it mildly. What is required is careful, painstaking scholarly research. A model for such inquiry, particularly into the ways of the professor-entrepreneur, is provided by an article by Martin Tolchin, which appeared in the New York Times in the fall of 1968. With remarkable deftness, and in a quiet tone, Tolchin scrutinized the exchanges of favors that bound New York State legislators and New York businessmen. The confusion of private and public roles, the complaisance of the supposed custodians of the public interest, the use of public office as a base for private profit and influence, are all spelled out. Bitterness is probably the only feeling an attentive reader could have after reading Tolchin's article. I am afraid that Ridgeway's book will appeal almost entirely to those who, before they read it, are convinced that the academy is a corrupt and irredeemable whore.
What is an unfanatic reader to do with sentences like these?
It is difficult to gain any clear understanding of the university because it remains as one of the few large secret organizations within the nation.
Certainly part of the idea . . . is to transfer the attitudes and styles of university life to the rest of society so that the corporation executive or government official may bully his subordinates the way Dr. Pusey does his students.
While the general citizenry may well believe the university interests itself primarily in educating students, in reality, universities are aggressive in advancing themselves as institutions in society, and this has led many of them rather far afield.
(In fact, because of its greed, Columbia had its own reasons for peddling the filter.)
. . . the university [California] has two wholly owned subsidiaries—the Atomic Energy Commission and the Directorate of Defense Research and Engineering in the Pentagon.
. . . the University of California begins to look like the dummy behind which the different interest groups in California maneuver. . . .
The policies of the Daley administration are identical with those of the University of Chicago, a highly regarded independent institution which, in fact, is little more than a handmaiden of the machine in the South Side of the city.
It would be difficult to find an institution of higher learning in the country so deeply and justly detested as is Columbia University in New York City.
All this may sound like absolute truth to extremists, and provide them with more justification for aiming their hatred at universities. The attack is vague and broad enough to be usable by a movement not devoted to exact knowledge. But to those less susceptible, Ridgeway will make universities unrecognizable. He gives no indication that the great majority of teachers are guiltless of the malpractices he describes; that universities and colleges are normally in a precarious economic position, and naturally will cultivate the goodwill of businessmen in order to make ends meet; that much scientific research must be subsidized by the government, or go unsubsidized altogether; that urban universities are threatened in their very existence by the deterioration of their neighborhoods; and that, finally, thousands teach and many more thousands learn and grow and may even find life at the universities and colleges which he so brutally reduces to the institutions of the market place.
When Ridgeway comes to his conclusions, he outdoes himself. It is impossible to be half as amusing as he is, so let his own words carry the burden of convicting him of folly. He says,
The idea that the university is a community of scholars is a myth. The professors are less interested in teaching students than in yanking the levers of their new combines so that these machines will grow bigger and go faster. . . . What difference does it make whether the instructor has a degree, or how many books and honors he has to his name? It really is not especially important whether the student comes along for two or four or six years, or whether he gets a diploma, or for that matter whether he meets the entrance standards some psychologist has laid out for him to meet. . . . But it may make good sense for the residents of Hyde Park in Chicago or Morningside Heights in New York to insist on electing the presidents, respectively, of the University of Chicago and Columbia. They may also want guarantees of certain unskilled jobs, including those in the social science research projects, and receive free college education for their children. In the case of the University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard or MIT, this would mean that the professors would find it necessary to spend a certain amount of their time in the streets teaching ignorant people. But this wouldn't hurt them. In recent years the clergy has found it a bracing experience to rediscover the parish, and the teacher may find it equally refreshing to meet some students.
If Ridgeway's metaphor for the university is the greedy business enterprise, and his voice is the voice of a mindless populism (the phrase is not really tautological), then Christopher Jencks and David Riesman's metaphor in The Academic Revolution3 is the power-and prestige-minded guild, and their voice is the voice of the foundation executive reared in American sociology. I do not mean to equate their book with Ridgeway's. The Academic Revolution is so obviously the product of enormous labor and a deep solicitude for institutions of higher learning. Rather, my fear is that if the book were not so long and hard to read, it would, like Ridgeway's, give weapons and comfort to some of the worst enemies the academy now has. It too often loses sight of the plainest fact about the academy, namely, that it is a place where great numbers of people are improved, and improved as they could be nowhere else. It too is eager to re-describe the academy in a novel way in order to expose neglected deficiencies. But again the result is, on balance, to make universities and colleges unrecognizable.
The thesis of the book is “the rise to power of the academic profession.” To put the matter this way is quite startling, and is meant to be. Here we have language traditionally used about great political figures, social classes, and nation-states now turned on a profession. Jencks and Riesman give us an earnest of their tough-mindedness—putatively a virtue. That such a formulation would strike members of the profession as odd is, of course, no reason to reject it. Advance in inquiry is commonly made by just such “odd” re-descriptions. To see things newly may cause them to be reported in an unexpected way. Metaphors may compress fresh outlooks. What then is “the rise to power of the academic profession”?
Well, the answer is not completely clear. It would seem that, in essence, the rise to power in this case is the successful imposition of a standard. “If this book has any single message it is that the academic profession increasingly determines the character of undergraduate education in America.” At first sight it would not appear contrary to nature that those who make their living by teaching and research should determine “the character of undergraduate education.” Surely Jencks and Riesman have something special in mind? Two considerations stand out. First, an examination of the historical record in America shows that until the latter part of the 19th century, higher education was dominated by unacademic forces: piety, vocationalism, regionalism, ethnicity. The quest for truth was incidental to the achievement of certain practical purposes in a competitive, heterogeneous, and unfinished country. “The vision of a college professor as an independent expert with a mission transcending the college where he happened to teach was almost unknown.” So that, from a historical point of view, the professionalization of intellect, and its centering in colleges and universities, are rather recent phenomena. Second, it is the graduate schools with their emphasis on specialized research and on the preliminary training for it that have come to dominate the curriculum and style of life at all undergraduate institutions that aspire to a reputation for excellence. The standards of research are the standards of teaching. The upshot is that teaching has suffered, and that much of the malaise among the young can be attributed to “the academic revolution.”
Let us take up the historical point first. Off-hand it would seem good that the academic standard was imposed with ever greater success. If colleges and universities had not become the locus of disinterested inquiry, where, one wonders, would that locus have been? Despite the inflated self-importance of many professors, and despite the aridity of some academic pursuits, it would seem greatly desirable that the old and much too worldly (or earthy) concerns of colleges and universities gave way, and permitted the United States to join the collective and international effort to advance and disseminate knowledge. America just had to find much more room for mind. Of course Jencks and Riesman know this to be true. But then again they sometimes write (especially in Chapter V, “The Professional Schools”) as if the imposition of the academic standard were a power grab covered by an irrational mystique. Because other social groups strive for power, Jencks and Riesman assume that professors as a group must do so too. One of the strong characteristics of their book is to assimilate higher education to all kinds of human endeavor. No one wants to deny that individual teachers love influence and fame as much as anyone else does. But they fight each other for these goods. The difficulty is to show that they seek these things while pretending to seek other things, like advancing and disseminating knowledge; that they pursue inquiry only in order to achieve influence and fame; that the standards they impose are derived solely from the requirements for possessing influence and fame.
With that leveling tendency common to men who see themselves above the fray and privy to the secrets of all combatants—hence my phrase, “the foundation executive reared in American sociology”—Jencks and Riesman subsume the activity of professors under the general category of professionalization. And their comments on professionalization are unfriendly, indeed. They say,
Unlike many people, we do not regard an occupation as a profession simply because it requires advanced training or expert knowledge. We use the term only to describe an occupation that is relatively colleague-oriented rather than client-oriented . . . professionalization means that the practitioners seek the exclusive right to name and judge one another's mistakes.
It sounds only faintly sinister so far. Then they say,
The historical causes of professionalization are unclear. It is often attributed to the increasingly specialized division of labor, the explosion of knowledge, and the rising demand for expertise in the management of a highly technical and highly bureaucratized society. But it is not evident what is cause and what is effect in these relationships. . . . The relationship between esoteric knowledge and professionalism is, then, problematic. Our feeling is that professionalism depends relatively little on the intellectual demands of a line of work and much more on its social setting, economic arrangements, and the like.
What is the setting, what are the arrangements?
It seems to be easier to professionalize groups sufficiently small, powerful, visible, or all three, to form an in-group in terms of both communication and policing quackery and trespass.
Jencks and Riesman go on to question whether anything useful is learned in professional schools, like those of law and medicine; and dwell on the point that graduate schools do not prepare university teachers to be teachers, only researchers, if that.
Reading their words, one is led to wonder whether there is any qualitative difference between the forces that used to dominate American higher education and the one that now supposedly does. Our authors pay a great price in looking, or in trying to look, at education from the outside. I suppose they think they are unsparing in their objectivity. Perhaps they may have even felt some pain at abandoning what they assume to be the conventional academic pieties. But really education is different from other things. Most people now in it entered it at a time when it promised little power and less money. After a while, the guild spirit works its infectious way. But how comparatively innocent its manifestations usually are. Jencks and Riesman do acknowledge that the power professors want is the ability to remain unsupervised, not to command others. To make this acknowledgement incidentally, however, is not enough. One must have it central to analysis, for the distinction it makes in kinds of power is crucial in moral discourse. One must also say that the very nature of intellectual labor demands the kind of power professors want.
When it comes to Jencks and Riesman's second point, the impact of graduate-school aims on undergraduate schooling, even more serious problems arise. It would appear that among other things Jencks and Riesman worry about two in particular: the kind of people colleges and universities recruit for their faculties, and the kind of training these people receive in their time of apprenticeship as graduate students. The training is for specialized scholarly competence rather than competence in the arts of teaching; and those so trained are then recruited as teachers but rewarded as scholars. There can be no doubt that in theory the situation seems not quite rational. In practice, as everyone knows, the situation is frequently unsatisfactory. Too much graduate training is trivial and debilitating; too much teaching is mediocre or worse. What then to do?
There are no easy answers; there may not be any genuine answers at all. Jencks and Riesman are extremely tentative. Their approach is commendably modest. Modest though it is, it strikes me as tending in an anti-intellectual direction.
The confrontation between teachers and students is . . . usually a confrontation between those who are in some sense mature and those who are less so. The central purpose of a college can thus be defined as socialization. In nine cases out of ten a college pits the old against the young and becomes both a battlefield and a negotiating table in the ceaseless war between the generations.
To be frank, I had never thought that by teaching undergraduates I was “socializing” them, or that the difference between their age and mine was the defining characteristic of our relation. I had thought that the family) the neighborhood, and to a large degree, elementary and secondary schools were intended to be responsible for “socializing” the young. By the time the young arrived at college, they were, I imagined, ready for “desocialization”: for rescue from blind habit, unexamined obedience, programmed cant, and junk of all sorts. Ideally, the college teacher of the liberal arts (whatever his scholarly specialty) was supposed to be dedicated to liberality, liberation from the aforementioned junk. He was to use his trained mind (if he had one) to help train other minds (even if their formal training stopped with the bachelor's degree). I also thought that the college I went to—Columbia—set out to liberate, and if it failed with me, the fault was mine, and not its. To re-describe in a “sociologizing” and “foundationizing” way, my undergraduate days—and those of countless others who attended many kinds of schools—as “socialization,” as part of the war between generations, makes me want to throw up. “Colleges have always been institutions through which the old attempt to impose their values and attitudes on the young.” Thus, professors are merely part of an age group; values and attitudes are apparently arbitrary; the values and attitudes of the young are on the same moral level, only they are adversary, and must be put down out of self-interest and, more, out of the need to preserve the identity of those older. The sociologist's relativism takes over totally, at this point, and qualitative discriminations cease.
Fortified with this relativism, Jencks and Riesman make some proposals for reform. It must be said at once that our authors do not take a very sympathetic view of student power. In a few pages, they consider—and since I agree with them, I must call their consideration “judicious”—the case for increased student involvement in issues of curriculum and faculty membership, and reject it. It must also be said that late in the book, casually and grudgingly, they allow that:
Given the character of American society generally, it is hard to identify any other group or groups which would have served undergraduates better. Nor do we see any grounds for nostalgia about the cost of the academic victory. By almost any standard we can think of, the young are better off as a result of it. . . . Not only are entering freshman better prepared, but they appear to learn more during their undergraduate years.
But for all that, some “marginal” reductions in “the pervasive influence of the academic guilds” are imperative.
In what name? Most generally, in the name of making students happier. Jencks and Riesman do not put it that way. In fact, there is little exposition of the principles that ought to govern reform. It is almost as if the imputation of power- and prestige-mindedness to professors were enough to make them objects of reform. After all, since everybody struggles for power and prestige (or influence and fame), and nobody is permitted to have all that he wants, and everybody tries to hold everybody else in some check, then why not assume, without much more argumentation, that professors are due for a measure of restraint and chastisement? They are no different from, and certainly no better than, others.
What can we infer will make students happier? Early in the book, there is hint of an answer. “[Administrators] are also, in our experience, far more responsive to students and more concerned with the inadequacies and tragedies of student life than the majority of faculty.” Much later on, in the last two chapters, the hint is developed (though not, as I have already said, with any philosophical thoroughness). Jencks and Riesman want two things: more therapy and more practicality. They realize that good teachers are born, not trained. They therefore do not think that a lot of effort to prepare graduate students for teaching will yield much of a return. If teaching really cannot be markedly improved, then the strategy must be to direct some of the regular academic teaching into non-academic channels, and to make room on the campus for other endeavors than teaching academic subjects. By so doing, the implication is that students will be happier; their personal problems will get more attention, and their personal predilection toward action will be satisfied more. That cursed word “relevance” fits Jencks and Riesman's program.
Now it is possible to take their line for cynical reasons. The thought may be to avoid student upheaval by making student life more interesting. At the same time, by endorsing what seem to be reformist and humanitarian positions, liberalism could be thought to be served. If liberalism is served, if only in appearance, the cause of radicalism is seriously weakened. Furthermore, a good deal of busyness and a good deal of perceived sympathy for the troubles of individual students tend to dry up the students' wish to be radical or to undertake the intellectual exertion radical criticism necessitates. One last benefit that may accrue to some administrators, if they incline this way, is the diminution in the general importance of the faculty, if therapy and practicality are enlarged. There would be an administration-student alliance against the faculty. It would not be unfair to attribute this kind of cynicism to the foundation mentality, the educational version of “corporate liberalism.” But I think it would be unfair to attribute it to Jencks and Riesman: they are not foundationist through and through. They are, or think they are, on the side of the students. The only trouble is that they supply legitimation to the disguised purposes of others. More important, they unintentionally show the pragmatic compatibility of the pedagogy of tenderness (their own position) and the pedagogy of manipulation (the foundationist position). Behaviorally, the two pedagogies would be indistinguishable. All the while, the loser would not be the academic profession but critical philosophical thought and high imagination, neither of which can endure much therapy or practicality. They thrive on sickness and idleness, and they need some distance from the world. Adjustment crowds out philosophy; practical experience is a poor substitute for imagination, and too much of it kills imagination.
Bernard Weinraub, in the New York Times (December 1, 1968), tells of a “school” in New York City, called Encounter House, which seems to follow the pedagogy of tenderness to the limit:
The classes at Encounter House are deliberately casual and unstructured. Sessions start and end informally. A psychologist trained in group dynamics sits in on several classes and interrupts during discussions to ask each member of the group, “What's going on in your mind while this is taking place?”
Though we are assured that no money to support the school is taken from foundations, I can only wonder why it isn't.
Jencks and Riesman cast about for allies and for new methods. They find little support in community colleges and in the general education movement. Academic hegemony is impervious to such enterprises. When the authors canvass other possibilities, they are dismayed: nothing but the new generation's coming of age offers much hope. I think one can also be dismayed by the fact that Jencks and Riesman canvass some of the possibilities they do.
For example, “some might urge taking undergraduate education away from 'subject-matter specialists' and turning it over to men whose special skill and training is in working with late adolescents, i.e. clinical psychologists and psychiatrists.” It turns out that there are not enough clinicians to go around; and besides not many of them seem interested in saving undergraduate education. Still, some lessons can be learned from graduate programs in psychology and psychiatry. Those who teach in them are a model for all teachers:
If undergraduate teachers were equally committed to preparing their students for some sort of responsible work, and if they supervised their students' performance in such work, they might be more sensitive to the fact that the young need non-academic as well as academic help.
Jencks and Riesman toy with other related ideas: clinical training for would-be teachers, staff courses taught jointly by old and new teachers who correct each other, doctoral degrees that certify young men and women as teachers but not scholars. All of it is half-hearted. I take no pleasure in their despondency. I only wish that they showed greater sensitivity to the implicit dangers of therapy. Perhaps they should indicate that if therapy were to become one of the governing principles of higher education the harm it would do to the life of the mind could outweigh the relief it gave undergraduate unhappiness.
Jencks And Riesman take two other tacks. First, they plead for the presence of non-academicians in the academy and for granting academic credit for non-academic work. This is where their emphasis on practicality, and their desire to blur the boundaries between academic and non-academic work, are most obvious. On the presence of non-academicians, they say:
The faculty would include substantial numbers of tenured members who were not scholars but doctors, lawyers, administrators, and so forth. The program would include not only regular academic courses in literature, psychology, and chemistry but clinical experience and field work of various kinds. Recognizing that students learn from what they do and whom they meet as well as from what they read, such a college would try to expose them to a wide range of alternatives.
This sounds nice and matey. But what actually would go on? What besides having a good time for a while, and then the inevitable boredom consequent on the confusion and disarray inherent in such activities? It is true that not all scholars are good teachers. It is also true that those who are not scholars, those who do not give their lives to the discipline of word and thought, are almost never good teachers. As for granting academic credit for non-academic work:
. . . the critical problem of graduate instruction in the social sciences is to narrow the gap between individual students' personal lives and their work. . . . A sociology student cannot get credit for union organizing in the South or for selling textbooks to school systems, even though either of these activities might teach him as much about America as any course.
But the point of graduate instruction in sociology is not to learn anything at all about America in any way at all. It is to learn how to make some analytic sense about America in the light of general or abstract or philosophical principles. The graduate student has his whole life before him in which to let reality discredit his principles. But he must start with principles, he must first detach himself from the onrush of experience, he must learn also to be historical and comparative. Otherwise he will remain a prisoner of the parts, he will never consider the whole. He might, if Jencks and Riesman had their way, make a lively teacher. He would be, however, a teacher dazed by the latest piece of trouble, his mind intimidated by the latest burning particularity, and tend to confine his students similarly. The same point applies to subjects other than sociology.
The second tack Jencks and Riesman take is to call on forces outside the academy to save it from itself. “A realist must therefore ask whether there are now any new forces at work or on the horizon which might upset the existing balance of power.” The “realist's” way of putting the question prepares him to greet any new force. Or if not to greet it, then to receive it in a matter-of-fact manner. One such force is the reallocation of funds. Money may be used, for instance, to help educate the Negro poor. Less would then be available for traditional academic pursuits. “Indeed, the universities' meritocratic standards could easily become a major target of black criticism, for they symbolize the system of tests and credentials that today legitimizes the privileges of the white-collar and professional classes.” Whether anything would be improved by upsetting the “existing balance of power” is not asked. Apparently, as long as it is upset, justice will have been meted out. How about citizens, taxpayers, legislators, other political leaders, alumni? Will they push for reform?
The authors assert that when there is explosive student discontent, as in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, the dissenters were no less satisfied with their teachers than the students who took no part in the dissent. “The students' complaints were directed at the larger society, and at the administration which tried to mediate between them and that society.” At this point in the argument, Jencks and Riesman say that while students may not blame the faculty, the public will. Once aroused, the public will move to reduce the flow of money into the academy. Then their argument takes a curious dialectical twist. Instead of lamenting the predicament of the faculty, which finds itself helpless in the cross-fire between a conventional society and a rebellious student body, they offer another kind of lamentation. “Yet it is far from clear that the academic profession will respond to the threat of what we have called ‘adult backlash’ by adopting a reform program of the kind we have been discussing.” What could that mean except that the faculty should try to pacify the students by offering them new distractions from the condition of society, and by giving peace to the campus, get in exchange more money? A strange calculus, this. Fortunately, Jencks and Riesman know that “adult backlash” is filled with peril and can produce effects the opposite of what they want. But the mere fact that they approach the subject as they do is, at the least, unpleasant.
In my discussion of The Academic Revolution, I have concentrated on the tone and spirit of its authors. I have found much to criticize. I do not want to take back the criticism. Out of fairness, however, I must say that apart from the subject of the academic revolution and its consequences for students, there are many other subjects taken up fairly and exhaustively. Jencks and Riesman deal with the contribution of expanded higher education to social mobility, the tensions and contrasts between public and private higher education, women's colleges, Protestant denominational colleges, Catholic colleges and universities, and Negro colleges and universities. All these matters have been affected by the professionalization of intellect, but a hundred other considerations enter to complicate the picture. Jencks and Riesman are masters of the art of laying out complication, and what they write in these chapters is remarkably scrupulous and instructive, and, at times, courageously candid. It is only on the largest issue of all, the hatred directed at colleges and universities, that, in my opinion, they mislead, mislead seriously. The academy is not blameless. But the major source of student malaise is the larger society, both in its crimes and in its successes. To try to remove the malaise by reforming the academy so as to make it more like a democracy or more like a hospital or more like a workshop is to debase the academy, rob it of its chance to do what it does best and what nothing else does, and to leave the fundamental social problems untouched.
With relief one turns to Jacques Barzun's The American University: How It Runs, Where It Is Going.4 The book is Barzun's reflections on his many years as a teacher at Columbia, and twelve years (until 1967) as Provost and Dean of Faculties at the same institution. Its excellence derives from its commitment to the simple view that the academy is a place where teachers and students gather to promote learning. Admittedly that is a simple view: it may excite the charge of pompousness or hypocrisy. So be it. Nothing will change for the better in the academy unless that view guides reform.
For Barzun, a radical change came over universities at the time of the Second World War. Elaborating Clark Kerr's theme, Barzun pictures the university as a “residual institution.”
. . . the main tendency, when a gap appears in what someone conceives as the beneficial order of things, is to think: we will get the school to do it; we will find the money and urge the university to take it on.
The universities lost their simplicity of structure, their apartness from the world, their boundaries. The result had to be confusion, strife, “rapid expansion and limitless answerability.” Barzun does not wish to declare the academy innocent: some of its members have been only too ready to accommodate the larger society, and some of its members had to accommodate it if they were to get their subsidies. In any case, there is no going back to an earlier simplicity. There can only be an effort to simplify appropriately for the present condition, and to respond to reasonable requests for change. Barzun is especially strong on the need to restore the primacy of teaching. But it is teaching, not therapy, not praxis, that Barzun wants. He never forgets what most of the critics of the campus forget. If some of the time he seems a bit bewitched with the central budgetary powers of university administration, it must be remembered that his experience has been at a huge and multifarious institution. If he tends to be dismissive of the tradition of liberal-arts teaching, because of the supposed improvement in secondary education, one is entitled to call his opinion into question. But one will know that one has to do with a man for whom intellectual values predominate. I can think of no other book that accomplishes what Barzun's does. It would be best to end this necessarily skimpy account of a rich book with his last sentence:
I do not doubt that the United States today still possesses the making of a university, as I do not doubt that if circumstances send the institution into eclipse, the idea of it will survive into another day.