This post was authored by Austin Henshaw.
If the purpose of a college education is for students to learn, the academy is failing in its mission, according to Richard Arum’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.
The book cites data from self-reported student surveys and analyzes transcripts to show that many college students have minimal classwork expectations comparative to the past. Former Governor of North Carolina, James G. Martin laments “As a former college Chemistry teacher, I have become increasingly concerned that there is too little commitment to academic rigor on our campuses.” The book tracked the academic gains of a sample of 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at multiple four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking and analytic reasoning) at various points before and during their college educations, and the results are not encouraging:
- 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
- 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.
- Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains.
What can be the reasons behind such low gains in critical thinking we’ve seen from the results of the study above? As Martin lamented above, it is argued there is a lack of academic rigor in modern universities. While we’ve been seeing record student enrollments in recent years, the amount of campus administrators (Diversity Coordinators, Title IX Administrators, Bias and Incident Responders, and other “Student Affairs” Administrators) has increased disproportionately comparative to the student population, whereas faculty size hasn’t increased comparatively to match increasing student enrollment.
I recognize the role that campus administrators can play in having a positive impact on the intellectual and social development of students and obviously academic advisors and residence hall directors are needed, but unfortunately Student Affairs administrators are becoming increasingly interested in protecting students from conflicting points of view through trigger warnings, safe spaces, and rhetoric regarding microaggressions (despite the utility of such concepts seriously being called into question). Student Affairs Administrators and faculty in select departments have also received criticism from the National Association of Scholars for their promotion of “New Civics” in place of a traditional civics education
These past couple of years have seen a record number of speakers disinvited from campuses as it was feared they would create an “unsafe space” for students. While most of these speakers would be considered to be on the “right” side of the political spectrum (no pun intended) such as Ben Shapiro, Condoleezza Rice, and Milo Yiannopoulos, even speakers which would traditionally be considered from the “left” aren’t immune. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a liberal critic of modern Islam who has been a victim of female genital mutilation and escaped a forced marriage, has been disinvited from campuses and had her honorary degree from Brandeis University revoked. Christina Hoff Sommers, the “Factual Feminist” from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) who criticizes misleading sexual assault statistics and gender wage gap data, has been labeled a “rape apologist” from extreme student activists, where a “safe space” at Brown was created to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as staff members trained to deal with trauma.
Another area of concern I have is the proliferation of “Bias Response Teams” on university campuses, where many students fear punishment for innocuous statements which are interpreted as offensive by other students or even faculty or staff. “Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer and Investigative Reporter Adam Steinbaugh. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes-anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”
Many professors in the social sciences and humanities ascribe to a philosophy of “postmodernism”, which actively rejects logic and reason as “other forms of knowing”. Much of Social Justice and Student Affairs theory is rooted in postmodern philosophy. Many examples of postmodern “scholarship” can be seen on the @RealPeerReview Twitter page. See some screenshots taken from the page below-
While there are many more examples, I’ll let you peruse the page for yourself. Just from the examples I’ve listed above, you can see the scientific method dismissed as “androcentric (too male)” and the scientific method actively called to be abolished to be replaced with a “feminist science.” “Drawing accurate conclusions from accurate data” is now problematic in STEM syllabi. As somebody who previously worked in Sexual Violence Prevention, modern academic feminism’s efforts to disrupt objective rape research is ultimately doing more harm than good. The problems with postmodernism in academia have gotten so bad, Clay Routledge, a Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University, has argued for this issue to be confronted and for social scientists to sit the March for Science out.
I am not offering any comprehensive solution here, but I would argue that the current “safe space” culture we are seeing taking place on campuses needs to be combated by encouraging resiliency among students and encouraging people to be open to different, controversial points of view, while ignoring calls to “no platform” speakers even if people find what they are saying objectionable (no matter if it’s rooted in facts and evidence). As for the liberal arts and humanities, postmodern philosophy needs to be rejected and logic and reason need to be brought back to the forefront to allow students to develop critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills. Since a great deal of public and private funds go into funding higher education, we should all be concerned that we are receiving a positive Return on Investment, and that our future leaders in government and business, many of whom are graduates from our higher education institutions, are able to think critically and come up with practical solutions to the problems we face as a society.