“The manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings of American higher education that I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.”
This forward, in-your-face commentary on the state of today’s higher education caught the attention of many in the realm of the Ivory bell tower, but should also serve as a wake-up call to those who don’t follow higher ed as closely. Smith is sounding the alarm on the many problems plaguing modern day, American education.
In a phone interview with Red Alert Politics, Smith stated, “I’ve been learning about higher education since I went to graduate school ... there is much good, but also many institutional-level troubles.”
Smith catalogues 22 specific instances of “BS” in higher education, mentioning a “loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions,” “the relentless pursuit of money and prestige,” “a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars,” and “the grossly lopsided political ideology of the faculty of many disciplines ... creating a homogeneity of worldview to which those faculties are themselves oblivious, despite claiming to champion difference, diversity, and tolerance.”
In fact, Smith believes academia is partly to blame for our current political climate of “dramatic political polarization, fake news, legislative paralysis, torrents of blatant lies told with impunity, violent radicals in our city streets, [and] scandalous ignorance of large swaths of Americans about the basic facts of our most pressing national problems.”
“These are exactly what develop when even the ‘educated’ citizens of a country are for too many decades not educated well, and when the institutional centers of enlightened learning and debate become havens of ideology, intimidation, and mission drift,” Smith writes.
While Smith knows what’s wrong with academia today, he says he “does not have the answer” to re-correct its course. He says the issues are “[e]mbedded in a problematic system, and beneath that is a problematic culture ... we have a crisis in morality and truth. Is there truth? Are there moral truths? When these things become questioned the vacuum left behind is filled with money and power.”
Yet, Smith does think a few changes could be made. University presidents could put a several-year moratorium on compliance with outside ranking agencies and liberal arts programs could help return academia to its original purpose of producing educated, free-thinking citizens, rather than cogs in the workplace machinery.
“I actually think everybody, whether you are an auto mechanic, nurse, or lawyer, should have more or less a liberal arts education,” Smith told Red Alert Politics. “It is about being an educated person. People of all professions should have an opportunity to learn about things they love that are not necessarily ‘practical.’”
Ultimately, Smith believes that “real change will most likely happen long-term and be forced on academe from the outside against its own lumbering inertia.”
If academia is to change from within, Smith believes it will require both “visionary traditionalism and organizational radicalism.”
“We will need people with the capacity to retrieve and revitalize the best of higher education’s past and restructure it organizationally in ways that are most effective in the future,” he concluded.
Kate Hardiman is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.