Society is materialistic.  The university used to be a safe haven where ideas mattered and thoughts were given greater standing than finding ways to make more money.  Peter Thiel believes higher education is a bubble ready for the bursting — but you can only agree with Thiel’s thesis if you also believe students attend university to get a job.  I don’t happen to purchase his premise.  I believe students should attend university in order to learn what they do not know.

I realize my argument is in the minority mind.  Parents pay a lot of money to buy their offspring status in a prestigious university and the way they see the payoff on their bet is in the acquisition of a proper paying job — but that purchasing of an education to open monetary doors, and not intellectual wondering, makes the university a vocational school and not one of intellectual learning.

That change from intellectualism to materialism in the university is rather new.  The university used to be about honing skills to become wise.  Now the university is about getting a job.  Wisdom is no longer necessary in a computer society.

This focus on jobs started over the last 50 years or so with the rise of the dedicated “Business School” on college campuses.  Business students were frowned upon 50 years ago.  Then, in the early 1970’s, the business schools began to run the universities and set the agendas because they had the majority of the student majors.  In 1971 Yale University — after having survived for 250 years without a business school — opened its Business School and the university’s “Light and Truth” motto has been marred ever since.

Columbia University in the City of New York also opened a Business School — and now that school makes all the campus decisions for the university because 70-80% of Columbia University students are business majors.

Higher education was built to teach us there is no safety in the world. It is wisdom that prepares us for an unsafe world and how to deal with it.  A business degree prepares us to count money, but not on how to count on the terrified humanity percolating within each of us. There is no warmth from a tax shelter. There is no wise protection from a financial meltdown.

With the predominance of the business school on campus, we have a failure of people who wish to be educated.  These students aren’t interested in expanding their minds or learning what they do not know — they only want to build personal wealth — and so we are all then forced to struggle with their imperfections and lack of safety that they perpetuate on the rest of society.  We are now a nation of scared dimwits who are acted upon instead of behaving wisely.

In 1929, at the age of 29, Robert Hutchins became Chancellor of the University of Chicago and the first thing he did was ban football on campus.  He believed the first objective of any education is to “help students learn” and sponsoring a university football team did not abide that mandate.

Late in life Hutchins mused about his years in Chicago, “Our idea there was to start a big argument about higher education and keep it alive.” The son of a preacher, he portrayed himself as a prophet without honor in his own country, the lone voice of reason in a world of mediocrity. He often quoted a line from Walt Whitman, and once suggested it as a motto for the University of Chicago: “Solitary, singing in the west, I strike up for a new world.” Claiming that “thinking is an arduous and painful process, and thinking about education is particularly disagreeable,” Hutchins focused on the highest abstractions — morals, values, the intellect, the “University of Utopia,” the “great conversation,” and above all the study of metaphysics — while others, he claimed, preferred to deal with “academic housekeeping.” In fact he inspired a loyal cadre of admirers and fans who spread his gospel across the land.

Hutchins created a course titled — “Organization, Interpretation, Integration” — and the purpose of the course was to create utility thinking skills that could be applied to anything in an unsafe society to explain, understand and solve. Every student was required to take the course — it is still taught today — and every faculty member is required to teach that course at least once.  Jewish students on campus call the course “Oy!” because of its initials:  OII.

Vocational training teaches us how to live a life for an eight-hour workday.  What about the other 16 hours in the day?  How are those hours managed?  Education cannot be a vocation.  Education is 24-hour a day training every single living day.

Tangentially complicating matters today, compared to 50 years ago, is that women hold 50% of the jobs.  We now have double the competition for the same slots as gender is set against gender and the university is used as a fulcrum to press bodies into marketplace jobs instead of thoughts into greater concepts for creating a cohesive society that thinks more than it blinks.

A college major is not a vocation.  Go to a trade school to learn a skill or a craft.  A major is used to simply define the final two years of study that suggest a focus.  Skills are not an education.  Dr. Howard Stein, while at the Yale School of Drama in the 1970’s and ’80s, would tell his graduate students, “No course you can learn on the job in 30 days will be offered.  No ‘How to Audition’ or ‘How to Rehearse a Film’ will be considered as school courses.”  That thinking is, of course, right — but that doesn’t mean students then or now accept the fact that higher education must be of the mind and not of the bottom line.

Technology creates a society that is not very smart.  We have evidence of that now.  We can’t choose our own values, we don’t even know who to vote for president — everything is told to us and thrust upon us and the fault is our own as we tremble in fear for a safety we are no longer wise enough to compel or create or comprehend in our anti-intellectual and routinely vocational lives.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

17 Comments

  1. This is pretty thoughtful. When I was a student on campus ever so long ago, it was the law school that ran everything, not the biz school. Is it still that way today? I also remember feeling how unfair it was that the “money schools” like law and such had such beautiful classrooms and furniture while the English and literature and language kids has to suffer with outdated and ugly everything. That kind of disparity between programs on campus leaves a real clear message in kids’ minds. Go for the money. Let business be your vocation.

    Like

    Reply

    1. Hey Anne —

      You’re right that money now talks and walks the hallways of academia — and who wouldn’t want a pristine school that wasn’t dingy and overused like the lesser, less rich, programs of study? I don’t like the limitations put on building access now. If you’re a computer student, you aren’t allowed to study inside the business school and vice-versa. If you want equality and equal access, go to the student commons…

      The Law Schools run the graduate programs — although the MBA is certainly catching up — but the undergrad business schools now set the agenda and the direction of all university learning and they do it with power and money and the majority share of the student business major mindset. It’s sad to watch, really, because we have turned our universities into trade schools — and I fully support the idea and purpose of trade schools — but not on campus masquerading as the business school.

      Like

      Reply

  2. That’s a crazy number about Columbia — and frightening. My mother always told me that nobody could take away your education but at the same time my parents always made it seem that we were getting university educations so that we would get better than minimum wage jobs.

    Like

    Reply

    1. More and more jobs are requiring degrees before for employment — but I find it is only a vague notion and not a real plan of attack. Having “that degree” is only a way to winnow the field of applicants to pool together those you originally preferred but couldn’t legally get away with asking for in the job description.

      Like

      Reply

  3. […] job, you make them spend money to grab that piece of paper, and the more people in your program the more power and money you have on campus and in the marketplace.  Credentialism helps the schools — but it also […]

    Like

    Reply

  4. […] which specifically encourages men and women who have innovative ideas to pursue those ideas and gives them grants of up to one hundred thousand dollars to help them do so. University is a tremendously valuable […]

    Like

    Reply

  5. […] Damon recently stood up for teachers and the teaching profession.  He crushes the Peter Thiel method of thinking about education, as I described, on April 26, 2011: Society is materialistic.  The university used to be a safe […]

    Like

    Reply

  6. […] directly in her midst who was betraying her good work by deceit and not by some earned, omniscient, Panopticonic bully, eyeing her from across the continent.  She could handle a local scoundrel, but not one blindly […]

    Like

    Reply

  7. […] change was accommodated by a — Business First — mentality that has infected and downgraded a people into the lowest-common integer by […]

    Like

    Reply

  8. […] It takes a certain SuperGenius like Eben Moglen to stand forward and wrench conversation away from ordinary convenience and place the public issues of the day into the open square so we can all more readily decide if and how want our lives to be shredded for social consumption.  We must be willing participants in that dissection and not just goats led to a populist slaughter in the name of Big Business. […]

    Like

    Reply

  9. […] foreign language fluency is fired from two barrels.  The first is, of course, the sad, “We can’t afford it!” lamentation that has been stagnating the world since the beginning of time, and the second […]

    Like

    Reply

  10. […] As aluminum changed in value over the past hundred years, so too, have other cultural touchstones changed.  We used to value a nuclear family over one broken by divorce.  We used to honor the Sabbath.  We used to value education over extremism. […]

    Like

    Reply

  11. […] The administration loves Pathways because they can enroll more students and churn a faster graduation rate. […]

    Like

    Reply

  12. […] I have had in my life.  Howard brought me to graduate school in The City of New York at Columbia University with a renewable Presidential Scholarship that helped pave the way to a bright East Coast future […]

    Like

    Reply

  13. […] and diminishing, rate of return.  Art must not be commerce. Creation must not be commercial.  The Arts must never belong to the business school. The only thing of value you have as an Artist — and can control forever — is your […]

    Like

    Reply

  14. […] think they’re playing a divine game of craft against commerce — but in the end, it is always business that ruins the day and wins the graveyard — and every great and aspirational intention of the author is […]

    Like

    Reply

Share Your Thoughts:

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s