It is clear the University system is broken and almost surely beyond repair. Even secular sources are saying so. Public ideological commitment to “Diversity” (strict enforced uniformity) is increasingly required; oaths are in some places mandatory. When diligent readers searched, we could find only a scant handful of universities that was not corrupted by offices of Diversity.
From this it does not follow that many good things are not found at some universities, and that some of the part of even the most cancerous institutions are not worthy of emulation. But it is to say that trying to reform the system from within is likely doomed.
We’ll take a granted that the modern university system should be replaced. The question is, by what? This article is expected to be first in a series discussing the problem.
How about this? A, for now, distributed system of elite scholars dedicated to Truth & Reality who are capable of passing on their knowledge to others.
Some word is necessary to distinguish this new creation, or rather re-creation, from the extant university. The only worthy alternative I can think of is realversity, which sounds stupid. I do not have talent for titles and names, and leave it to readers to devise a better term. To help us keep track, let’s use scholar for those populating the realversity and professor for those at universities.
Any realversity must have authority to teach, and that implies an organization empowered to grant that authority. The university has the State. The realversity used to have the Church, and still should. The Church has on the books a law called Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which directs professors to swear allegiance to Truth & Reality. When this document was promulgated the effect was monstrous derision and official scoffing. The so-called Land O’Lakes Statement directed professors at universities to swear fealty to the State over the Church. For this act, they were not punished, but indulged. The rest of the story is well known.
The problem now with seeking the Church as authority is that the Church is led by, to use C.S. Lewis’s apt phrase, men without chests. Give control of the realversity to the Church now and it will quickly devolve into a university.
Authority, then, at least temporarily, must come from within and from the trust that remnants of the manly Church would approve. (This would not preclude associating with prelates who recall their duty.)
Universities are accredited, a secular blessing which allows them to enter into certain relationships with the State. Accrediting organizations are like peer review at universities, acting to enforce conformity. There is nothing wrong with conformity per se; after all, the realversity swears to conform to Truth & Reality.
But it is clear accreditation with State-oriented agencies must be avoided. The realversity will then be hampered and harassed by all sorts of legal difficulties which have to be sorted out.
Who decides who is to be a scholar? This is the same problem as deciding the authority. By invitation only. That requires leadership and organization, and these both require time and, in the end, money. Methods of encouraging good scholars and of purging bad ones and entryists must come quickly. (The effort at first would be in English, but should spread.)
The university rewards professors for, in this order, (a) bringing in money, (b) quantity of work, (c) quality of work, (d) ability to teach. There are overlapping interests in all four, of course, but it is clear the order is inverted. Innovation for the sake of innovation and the requirement to produce for the sake of producing degrade scholarship to an astonishing degree. Scholars cannot be rewarded for “paper counts” in realversity publications, nor in grants secured from the State. Indeed, there can be, at this time anyway, no official ties of any kind with the State or with most other organizations. Seeking extension will force the realversity along the university path in short order.
The realversity does not need to be a place where “research” occurs; indeed, it would be more efficient if, for example, genetic medicine experimentation and the like were conducted at separate dedicated institutions.
Scholars will be charged with assigning students reading and then in assessing how well students have assimilated the material. The organization of this needs to be worked out. The scholars will decide on a list of minimum works students must know. This list will not be small. The realversity degree must be precious. The subjects themselves will be fixed and classical: e.g., theology, philosophy, history, arts & literature, mathematics, physics, biology. (We’ll tackle this in a future discussions.)
Since, at first, there will be no physical location, or rather many separate locations, one per scholar, students are free to live anywhere. There does not even have to be official enrollment, since there will be no regular lectures (except the on-line and rare in-person kinds). Any person who thinks he has mastered the requirements should be allowed to be tested. Only tutoring and testing would incur a fee. (The fees have to be transparent.) The result of the examination will be certification the student has mastered the stated material to the satisfaction of the scholars. This would be equivalent to a Baccalaureate. At first, invited scholars would perforce be granted the equivalent of a university PhD (note the order is reversed here too).
A hidden benefit of the lack of infrastructure is the realversity will not degrade into an entertainment complex with “learning centers” (what used to be called libraries), spas, and don’t-call-us-professional sports.
The number of horror stories of Truth & Reality organizations founded but subsequently co-opted by money or the world are so common as to not need retelling here. Any donor (unless he himself is a scholar) must relinquish all paternity, must forswear any ties. Scholars need support, but they cannot serve both God and mammon. At first, scholars will have to make their own way in the world (some may even write grants at universities!), and see their teaching as a calling. Truly promising students should be financed, but it is better this is done outside the realversity.
Why have a realversity after all? We already have, and have had for several centuries, the largest free realversity ever created, which is the library system (on- and off-line). Students then and now can without official hamper study what they would. And for no or low cost. If somebody wants to become, say, a scholar of ancient Arabic poetry, all the means for doing so already exist. All it requires is a library card, ability, and desire.
The last two qualities are lacking in most. Even the most gifted would-be Arabicist needs guidance if he is not to become isolated and fall into a university trap.
Fields, like physics, which have the closest connection with Reality are in less need of the realversity, while others, like history, are in dire need. We have already seen the social justice warriors are going after mathematics, but since the State has need of the services of some sciences, the inroads made by activists will be limited to a certain extent. However, in the heat of battle it is not always possible to remember where one’s best interest lie (a Maltese Falcon paraphrase).
The realversity is not a jobs program. It’s role is to make interesting men more than well acquainted with Truth & Reality.
Sounds like your Realversity is an online school.
Seems like all your requirements are met by an online learning environment.
There are good platforms for such ventures.
This article provides an overview of the range of solutions, and specific solutions available:
Realversity.edu is already taken, though! It’s a real estate licensing school.
Realversity.com and Realversity.net are available.
Go for it!
It’s already been done.
Realversity is a silly title.
Something less childish, emotive, I feel, for the good outcome. That title vies away a lot of back lash and simply hangs off the broken old system. If, in fact, it is the system that is broken and not simply the entrance requirements.
Just School, with a person’s name, would be enough.
Perhaps philosophy school.
University began with the church and with theology, in England.
It really seems to be secularists who bother you most and simply setting out your stall around that will lead you straight into a church type indoctrinating, ministry of truth type of environment. Briggs, nobody but those who agree with you will want to come? In which case just set them a list of books to read and be done.
Keith Ward is doing an excellent job of sharing information on line ordinarily reserved for his students. What.generosity of spirit I say.
It’s not clear whether what bothers Briggs most is that people undeserving get to claim they have a degree or PHD and I’m with him on that, or whether it is spreading of good information and truth, critical thinking, true wisdom. Which would be more noble.
This article smacks of bitching at the old system and Briggs you do this all the time. Now, you decide to say something towards a solution and you still lapse into covert bitching.
Grow up. If you want to be taken seriously.
“All it requires is a library card, ability, and desire.”
Amen to that, and well said. Also, I can’t help but appreciate the allusion to one of my favorite lines of dialog, from one of the best scenes, in one of the finest movies ever made.
As to the rest of it, can we assume that, as this idea would seem to be animated by some of the traditions of the Traditional Church, that you envision seas of eager and compliant young men, happy to enter into very special bonds with their wiser and older, yet still impressively virile and active, teachers? A tradition, well known among the ancient Greeks, that the State seeks to suppress with its oppressive, secular laws?
The number of horror stories of Truth & Reality organizations founded but subsequently co-opted by money or the world are so common as to not need retelling here.
Not just a number, but all — that means ALL — such enterprises eventually founder. You must build in a sunset trigger, a poison pill, a fail-safe, a phoenix-like device that inaugurates regeneration when the operation approaches corruption. Good luck, doing so might be harder even than launching this dream.
Check out Patrick Henry College, Poolesville, VA. https://www.phc.edu/
They don’t take a single penny of government money.
How about this for the name of your educational institution: The Heinlein-Pratchett School of History and Moral Philosophy.
Don’t waste anybody’s time and effort with “better than now” universities. Instead, make a (computer aided) inventory of all claims (etc) which are contradictory (controversial, etc). If you don’t achieve the latter, you’ll never arrive at the former. However, whenever the inventory has been established, the “universities” cannot be worse than now, and new forms of organization emerged (unknown today).
We would go a long way to realizing the new University by eliminating all government subsidies to universities, eliminating all government funded research at universities, eliminating government backed student loans, and eliminating all government regulations on admissions, academic matters, and sports. Simple.
What do we want to preserve? Online is great (to a degree, no pun intended) but what about the personal interaction? Would Socrates have wanted to teach from behind a screen whilst burrowed in a Starbucks? I think the discussion should start with what is great and what works currently, or has worked for millennia, and then move from there.
The Social Sciences are the main SJW conduit. How about putting those in separate universities, by law.
Secondly, involving students in doing research results in better scientists. At least, it does so for the physical sciences.
…like money is the only motivator and corruptor?
I don’t think that’s what motivates the average university professor of yore. It really never was. If that were true they could seek more gainful employment outside of academia. The problem has often been rather that there was nowhere else for them to go but to stay in academia and teach.
Historically it was a good living, a respectable profession, not a great money maker. Many pursued their chosen field for purely self indulgent reasons, like a painful stamp collector or anorak.
That changed when jobs were given to otherwise incompetent people who would not have a hope of securing the kind of living that even a university lecturer could expect. For that ditto any public sector role, including health professionals. It is not that government money is involved per se but that governments engineer using money to push their new ideas born, wouldn’t you know it, of the universities who’s professors are self serving and who use their power to proclaim their doctrine is correct.
Money is an essential, not the evil.
Drying up, diverting much of the money that’s sloshing about, to use my Dad’s terminology, would work and Trump’s the man for that.
If money can corrupt then it also can purify.
Of course if the cause is noble people will want to be involved. If it’s covert and really has another purpose they will smell it a mile away.
Well, there are male only seminary schools, which seem to be your ideal school described here.
To many people, the reality is that they need food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Would being well acquainted with truth and reality make a person more honest and better and kinder?
“The scholars will decide on a list of minimum works students must know.”
Is anyone contemplating the implications of Briggs’ Utopian vision? Note the following elements:
“Any realversity must have authority to teach, and that implies an organization empowered to grant that authority. The university has the State. The realversity used to have the Church, and still should.”
“Who decides who is to be a scholar? This is the same problem as deciding the authority. By invitation only. That requires leadership and organization, …”
That’s even more heavy-handed than the current state of affairs. And who are these authorities going to be in this revised wholesome system that would replace the Leftist propagandizing system now in place? And why should anyone believe that such a structure would not at some point evolve to the current mess; why
Everyone buying into Briggs’ Utopian vision is making exactly the same mistake observed among the acolytes of the Left regarding their Utopian vision — they see only the good outcomes they can envision and none of the warts experience has demonstrated is the real-world result. The wonderful outcomes envisioned are dependent on a very particular “authority” — an unacknowledged human dictator implicitly assumed to be not only benevolent but perpetually so via immunity to both corruption and mistake-making. There ain’t no such human. Such visions amount to a mere point estimate of a transient, if achievable, social condition that is fundamentally unstable and destined to degrade to totalitarianism.
If the problem is an authoritarian control over education institutions, the solution is not another authoritarian control (especially one based in theology — even more impervious to evidence-based self-correction).
Creating the material (e.g. https://www.wmbriggs.com/post/category/class-applied-statistics/) is a good way to answer the current corruption.
Organizations that could serve as granting the authority to teach have mostly compromised with modernity, so that’s best set aside for better times.
@Ken: Yes. See my comment above. All earthly authorities eventually become abusive.
Not sure what the problem is here. The referenced articles make it fairly clear to me that the system is working the way it is supposed to. Universities are trying new stuff and either succeeding or failing (accountability), and it’s happening out in the open. Some people attend a university for reasons other than an education, and in a capitalistic society, they get served, too.
I really like the Quillette article – I read it several times, and each time got a little something different out if it. The mental image I get is Mike Paros tiptoeing around with a razor-edged machete. I couldn’t quite decide if he was an embarrassed liberal or a stealthy conservative, but researching him further seemed like a detraction.
JH, do you now know (or pretend not to know) that you are a man? Of what species are you, then?
*not* know. Dang!
Do you think (pretend to think) that some people don’t know their sex to show your contempt and superiority? I hope you are not a Christian.
JH – I assume, given your foreign language character symbol, that English is not your primary language. So, here is a small bit of education for you. In English, “man” can mean a male human, or a generic representative of all humanity. Another word for humanity is mankind.
If, instead, you are merely an annoying SJW (as seems likely, for the Orientals are not known for their feminism), then you can sit and spin.
I have no way of knowing your character without direct interaction. So, please choose whichever of the previous two paragraphs is pertinent, and ignore the other. It is possible, however unlikely, that both may apply.
Also, I find it amusing how use appear to use “Christian” as an epithet or a whip. How very un-Christian of you.
Game set and match.
What kind of people would ask people if they know their own sex? Malicious people.
Yes, indeed, it was very un-Christian of me to respond the way I did. I did so purposely.
Annoying SJW? How about just a Trump-wannabe?
Orientals are not known for their feminism?! What does this mean? The prejudice hidden in your words.
Well, in Chinese, “man” has also been used as another word for humanity is mankind. It wouldn’t surprise me that Briggs would want all male colleges only.
“Students then and now can without official hamper study what they would.”
Well, there’s your problem!
Students don’t go to university to learn – how old fashioned!
They go to get qualifications, which they believe gives them a shot at a better paying job, or at least a chance to get a job and get promoted further than if they did not have such qualifications.
Learning to think and question – not required to get those qualifications, therefore best avoided.
Study is only required in order to be able to answer the exam questions well enough to get a passing grade. Grades are of course normalised (in climate science terms, adjusted or homogenised), so there is no objective standard.
And that is what is missing – objective standards. Not for every field, certainly, but definately should still exist for the “hard” sciences. Alas…
H I am a Christian, but what has that to do with knowledge of English? I do have contempt for people who pretend that “man” is always a designation of sex, and therefore an exclusion of women, when context makes clear that it is no such thing. That sort of passive-aggressive poison you can keep to yourself.
That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing–perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing–our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value.>
She had a point when writing this about” the loss of the tools of learning”
Good article. My take is that the important observation in all this is – education has to be a dialogue. To ensure that this happens and only this happens is far from straightforward. Education shouldn’t create it’s own political reality and political reality starts happening with three people together, I am quite certain about that.
I aim to do the same thing and so far I am failing in quite an interresting manner – which, of course, is very eduacating.
I invite the author and everyone who gets what all this is about to check my take on this here