Fashions Change on Campus

From an article in the Washington Post.

As colleges grapple with the widespread problem of sexual assault, there is a growing consensus that the nation’s schools need to do more to educate young people about sex and relationships before they ever set foot on campus.

The focus of the article is on attempts to use sex education in grades K-12 to explain the concept of consent to young people.

My point is not to say whether this is good or bad. What strikes me is how swiftly the fashions have changed on elite college campuses. As recently as five or six years ago, if you had asked me, I would have have said the colleges do too much to encourage casual sex–telling the resident assistant to keep a set of condoms in a candy dish so that anyone could come by and grab one as needed. Now, the colleges seem to be headed in the complete opposite direction. Not that they want to get rid of the condoms, but they seem to be trying to make sure that no one can have fun using them.

On a rather different note, Bart Hinkle gives an example of the campus fashion for “inclusion.”

Among other things, candidates should “include a list of activities that promote or contribute to inclusive teaching, research, outreach, and service”; they should report information about their “contributions to an inclusive campus”; they should write about their “active involvement in diversity and inclusion”; demonstrate that they have pursued “training in inclusive pedagogy”; incorporate “the Principles of Community into course development”; and so on. A spokesman for the university says providing such information is purely voluntary — but who applying for promotion or tenure is likely to see it that way?

He points out that if someone were to impose a similar requirement on professors to demonstrate their patriotism, people would be properly outraged.

I am becoming increasingly concerned that sending children to college is dangerous for their intellectual health. I am afraid that instead of being told how to think, students are being told not to think. They are being ideological role models, not intellectual role models.

Had someone expressed such sentiments to me fifteen years ago, I would have dismissed that person as a paranoid right-wing nutjob. I infer that in the meantime either I have turned into a paranoid right-wing nut job or there has been a significant erosion of intellectual integrity at American colleges, or both.

I am inclined to believe that it was rapid erosion of intellectual integrity. I think that the last 15 years have witnessed a change in the demographics of the professoriate. Professors with intellectual integrity have aged out or otherwise departed. An anti-intellectual conformity has appeared in their place. When you have intellectual integrity, you don’t see these sorts of abrupt fashion changes. I think of intellectual integrity as getting your beliefs from careful reflection. That means that you did not rely on fashions in the first place, and you do not change your beliefs to fit the latest fashion.

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24 Responses to Fashions Change on Campus

  1. Civilization-Barbarianism axis, no?

  2. David R. Henderson says:

    Wonderful post, Arnold.

  3. Adam says:

    I think it’s more than just intellectual integrity. The entire experience is at odds with the goal of helping people to become intellectual *and* moral adults. After a highly and artificially structured life in K-12, they’re thrown into a situation with less oversight and fewer immediate consequences for errors, less responsibility, and much less structure. Moreover, the hedonistic aspects of college run completely at odds with actually becoming disciplined and responsible.

    I’m not quite sure what the redeeming qualities are of the system as it stands.

  4. R Richard Schweitzer says:

    Agreed: What David said.

    Notable in the period Arnold selects (beginning earlier) has been a transition in emphasis in the post-secondary levels from student learning objectives to objectives of teaching as a function of “institutions” and a “role” or relationship perception of faculty members.

  5. Bob says:

    Fortunately, even young people are able to see through most kinds of indoctrination.

  6. Andrew' says:

    Something is certainly accelerating. The loss of speech freedom is definitely troubling, and possibly responsible for the acceleration.

  7. Jeff R. says:

    15 years ago, I would have said the same thing, and I was in college, then. We are all paranoid right-wing nut jobs now.

    That said, I wonder what the view looks like from those on college campuses right now. I suspect that, despite being loud, obnoxious, and in your face, the diversocrats are actually pretty easy to ignore or mollify in practice. You sit through a pointless seminar or two, check a couple of boxes on a form, add a Chinua Achebe novel that no one’s going to read anyway to your syllabus, and they leave you alone.

    I could be wrong, of course.

    • Andrew' says:

      But what happens when they have purged the rest of any remaining resistance?

    • Slocum says:

      My perception is that this is widely ignored and/or mocked on most college campuses. If students are forced to sit through the freshman indoctrination sessions, they do so with a combination of cynicism and inattention. After that, the Kafkaesque disciplinary system is there, of course, but it claims relatively few victims (a college male’s chances of being ensnared by the star chamber is about the same as being hit by a campus bus). That’s from the student prospective, it may be more pervasive and insidious to the faculty.

      • Andrew' says:

        The idea that kids don’t actually absorb what they are taught is some combination of wishful thinking and cynicism. I’m with you. :)

      • Jeff R. says:

        Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking. I suspect that the academic career of Elizabeth Warren is indicative. If a blond haired, blue eyed woman can pass herself off as non-white and land a position at Harvard, this sort of suggests that the system is pretty easily gamed. Of course, Ms. Warren had the benefit of being a woman and demonstrably already held all of the Correct Views, but still, if the rules are bent so egregiously in one instance, it suggests they’re probably bent all the time; ie, no one is taking them all that seriously.

  8. Jeff says:

    An alternative explanation (rather than anti-intellectual professors) is the growth in number of university non-teaching administrators. It seems like many of these “fashions” are driven by the non-professorial staff, and those people may have more influence over student life on campus. Also, it is clear that the number of non-teaching staff has been growing a lot faster than teaching staff. (It could be that professors have less intellectual integrity than in the past… But I think that the growth of non-teaching staff is at least as important.)

  9. Lord says:

    Because exclusion is the proper goal of education? What if they substituted integrity for inclusion? Would it then be mindless ideology? Just about any idea can be ridiculed in the extreme even if the opposite is repulsive. Is junk thought any better than ideological thought?

    • Thomas says:

      Noxious quasi conundrums and tiresome sophistry.

    • Andrew' says:

      The constant tacit threat is that of exclusion.

    • Jeff R. says:

      Because exclusion is the proper goal of education?

      Here’s a radical thought: the proper goal of education is education.

    • Devin Helton says:

      “Lord” has a good point. There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong. A good education cannot teach all theories, it must make exclusions. The problem with the university is that the true explanations and true theories for many of its objects of study are now outside the Overton window. The problem is that it is excluding true, sane ideas, and promoting crazy ideas.

  10. Thomas says:

    It’s probably useful to learn to behave with proper caution in a society that enforces correct thought. The students will after all take employment in corporations with HR departments, etc etc.

    I’m curious where real thinking is being done, however, now that it’s being driven out of the universities.

    • Thomas says:

      Right after this, I see someone elsewhere complain of vacuous Facebook petitions enforcing correct thought. Workers in this society will also be held to task for views they have once had, by the intellectual vanguard. So there is also that element, the “voluntary thought police”, to be managed.

      Unfortunately for intellectual development, though straightforwardly enough in practice, this stance reduces to simply agreeing and complying with whatever is being held forth.

  11. charlie says:

    The best observation here was of the 180 turn on campuses, from pushing Sexual Liberation to now Victorianism.

  12. Taimyoboi says:

    If there is a serious risk that sending children to college is dangerous for their intellectual health, what then are the potential alternatives, to the extent a parent can guide their children to such alternatives?

    For example, I’ve wondered of late whether the military academies provide a sensible alternative to the four-year university, although they may pose risks to intellectual development from another direction.

    Or steering your children into associations and/or programs before matriculating, which can keep them grounded while they navigate some of the more ridiculous aspects of a four-year university education.

    Or are we left to just hoping that if their parents were mostly immune to it, then hopefully their kids will follow suit?

  13. Devin Helton says:

    For those interested, I have posted a longer reply to this piece on my own blog: Historical amnesia about intellectual discourse in academia. My issue is that I think that this problem is not new at all. Intellectual discourse in the academia has been constrained for decades, and we are already experiencing the devastating real-world consequences.

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