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SLAC Degradation

January 2, 2013

I am *amazed* at how much Adrian College, the focus of this story, resembles the school I just left, Monmouth College: institution in deep crisis almost 20 years ago (death feared), investment in athletics, rise of careerism (i.e. pre-professionalism), high numbers of business and sports/athletics-oriented “academic” programs, humanities relegated to mere minors, intense focus fundraising, super-high tuition costs, need for “institutes” to give veneer of humanities to careerism, etc. The only thing missing was the prominence of double and triple majors I saw at Monmouth.

Despite my disillusionment, I don’t mean to pick on Monmouth or Adrian. Larger cultural changes, what Daniel Rodgers called the pervasiveness of market metaphors (e.g. neoliberalism, competition), have forced the hands of our small liberal arts colleges over the last 30-40 years. We have readily embraced what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” without thinking through all the costs. What have we lost? What of the arts? What of the deep understanding of the human person and her/his complexities? What of deep, focused reading? What of those who must drop out before obtaining a degree? What of debt? It’s not that these problems have never existed. Rather, the scale of changes in higher education overall, and at small liberal arts colleges in general, require more attention than ever before.

What’s the solution? I propose bait and switch—only somewhat mockingly. Give students the “education” they think they want, selling the liberal arts by promoting them with capitalist/market language: entrepreneurship, leadership, competitive edge, career prep, projected earnings figures, blah, blah, blah. Then give them the education they really need: deep thinking and reading, history, philosophizing, an appreciation for true impractical science and the experimental method, language skills, edu for citizenship, ethics, etc. Finally, instill lifelong learning. – TL

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