Gertrude Himmelfarb [“What To Do About Education: The Universities,” October 1994] describes two “reformations” of higher education: its post-World War II expansion, both in size and in multiplicity of functions, and its post-60′s descent into trivia, obscurantism, and ersatz radicalism. Miss Himmelfarb then recommends that we forgo any “counter-reformation” meant to “undo the damage,” since it could not prevail against the “interests” that have become entrenched. Instead, she urges an “oasis” or “enclave” policy of reinforcing a “saving remnant” of professors and students—those who have managed to retain serious and unpoliticized scholarly interests. I believe, however, that Miss Himmelfarb has overestimated the difficulties that stand in the way of counter-reformation and underestimated the forces that, without counter-reformation, would undermine her strategy.
First: it is indeed correct that higher education suffers from a long-term case of gigantism and that this is one of the underlying causes of the post-60′s disaster. Yet it is only one cause, not the complete cause. It is, therefore, a mistake to suppose that a correction of the 60′s legacy must also confront those large interests created by the academy’s earlier expansion. We do not need to abolish schools of social work, education, and business or spin off research centers (both of which, Miss Himmelfarb implies, would have to be accomplished in a counter-reformation) in order to reverse the rising tide of trivia and politicization. Bloated administration, for example, is ripe for an attack, since it is a major factor driving up the cost of education. Reducing that bloat will remove from our campuses a large number of people who create work for themselves by pushing political causes, cranking up sexual-harassment scares, mandating sensitivity-training courses, running special programs that teach selected minorities to think like victims, and so on. One way in which Miss Himmelfarb overestimates the difficulty of counter-reformation is by demanding that it undo two reformations rather than one.
About the Author