A Classical Critique of Higher Education: Timeless University
When it comes to higher education, there is nothing more important than the proper development and implementation of a mission statement. A mission statement gives a university direction amidst diversity and universalizability amidst particularity. Therefore, it is crucial to begin my discussion of the essential elements of Timeless University with a mission statement. Our mission is to define success through the process of dialectical reasoning so that our students and faculty can develop and carry out plans for promoting the success of themselves and others. In order to correctly apply this mission statement, the following conditions are necessary: a dialectical balance between research and virtue, a prompt return to a faculty-centered (as opposed to an administration-centered) model, and a decrease in the real financial cost of education. The remainder of this essay will be dedicated to an exegesis of these three conditions in relation to the mission statement.
Humanity has largely accepted that virtue is preferable to vice; however, the modern version of humankind has failed to consider the actual definition of the word virtue (a word that for the sake of this paper is coterminous with success). Without an actual definition of virtue, students and professors flounder in a pool of muddled purposes. Without an actual definition of virtue, there is no North Star towards which students and professors can move when deciding on topics for research. Ergo, like a man drawn-and-quartered, the university ends up torn apart, fragmented. In her book Schooling America educator Patricia Albjerg Graham perceptively writes, “[The higher education sector] has embraced the ideal of research as something that it expects from its faculty. They emphasize knowledge with a vengeance with no discussion of virtue” (Graham 230). An increase in virtue has not accompanied the increase in knowledge. New technologies abound, but ethics departments have lost their say in how those new technologies ought to be used for the benefit of the human race. Money is pouring into the hard sciences while the number of philosophers is decreasing rapidly. This imbalance is extremely problematic. Wake Forest, for example, no longer requires its students to take a course in philosophy before graduation. How can Wake Forest truly claim to be a “liberal arts” university when it fails to stress the critical study of ontology, epistemology, and teleology? Timeless University will correct this fatal flaw. The first half of any course in the natural sciences will consist of an examination of the subject’s telos. In this way no member of the university will lack an understanding of the particular definition of success that pertains to the given academic endeavor placed before them. Knowledge and virtue will constitute the two wings of the university’s academic life. Without either wing, the university will never leave the ground for an ascent to superiority.
Aside from a lack of balance between research and virtue, one of the modern university’s most salient impediments to superiority is bureaucratization or excessive administration. Administrators are siphoning off funding from professors and from research. There is no need for administrative branches under the titles of “Campus Life” or “Student Life” because the professors themselves ought to be promoting wellbeing in these areas. Additionally, administrators have few reasons to promote the quality of the institution’s academic life. Benjamin Ginsberg writes, “University administrators…view faculty research mainly as a source of revenue for the institution. They are not particularly entranced by its intellectual merits, except when commissioning puff pieces for the alumni magazine” (Ginsberg 2011). As opposed to viewing research as an end in itself or as a pathway to moral action in the world, administrators view research as a means to obtaining more donations. The need for more capital has triumphed over the needs for quality education and for the meaningful production of knowledge. The best alternative to the current model is the reintegration of professorship and administration. After all, who knows the intellectual and financial needs of the university better than the educators themselves? Moreover, students with leadership potential can dedicate some of their time to administrative tasks, including fundraising for the university. This shift will necessitate a commitment to the university’s long-term goals. Students and professors will have more loyalty to the university than to the national organizations associated with their specific academic departments. The university will become more like a community than a classroom.
In addition to giving administrative roles to professors and students, the new collegiate community at Timeless University will revolutionize higher education by opening itself to people of all sexes, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. To achieve this goal, the university will offer free tuition, room and board, food, etc. to all students. The statistics show that the average real cost per year of higher education has increased from $9,502 to $19,339 during the last forty years (U.S. Department of Education 2012). This jump in cost has severely crippled the accessibility of a university education for traditionally underprivileged ethnicities, for women, and for the lower classes. Therefore, there is no better way to allow for increased access for these groups than to slash the price completely. The benefits of this extraordinary policy will be numerous. For instance, students will learn to love education itself, not the perceived financial benefits of education. They will also come to understand that education is a gift for the many, not a privilege for the few. To pay for the costs of the school, Timeless University will rely on a diverse array of donors, both public and private. Professors will encourage the families of wealthy students to fund different projects, but payment will never be an obligation. Some may argue that this policy is unrealistic, but I do not doubt the willpower of dedicated professors and students.
Not only will opponents of Timeless University criticize its financial arrangement, but also they will criticize the philosophy behind the mission statement itself. They will cry, “You are standing in the way of progress by emphasizing the purposes of things and the meaning of success! Can’t you see that our world has moved from teleology to utility, from Aristotle to Hume?” I have no choice but to respond as John Henry Newman, a principal instigator of the Oxford Movement, responded over one hundred years ago:
Do not suppose, that in thus appealing to the ancients, I am throwing back the world two thousand years, and fettering Philosophy with the reasonings of paganism. While the world lasts, will Aristotle’s doctrine on these matters last, for he is the oracle of nature and of truth. While we are men, we cannot help, to a great extent, being Aristotelians, for the great Master does but analyze the thoughts, feelings, views, and opinions of human kind. He has told us the meaning of our own words and ideas, before we were born (Newman 2001).
The critic must address the validity of Newman’s declaration. If Newman is correct, then Timeless University is correct in its approach to education. If Newman is incorrect, then Timeless University will fail in its approach. Either way, only an education at Timeless University—a university which takes the definition of success seriously and unassumingly—will yield an answer. Only an education at Timeless University will determine its relevance.
Ginsberg, Benjamin. “Faculty Fallout.” Scientist 25.8 (2011): 70. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 7
Graham, Patricia Albjerg. Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation’s
Changing Needs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 230. Print.
Newman, John Henry. “Discourse 5. Knowledge its Own End.” Newman Reader. The National
Institute for Newman Studies, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
U.S. Department of Education, . “Table 381.” National Center for Education Statistics. N.p., n.d.
Web. 7 Dec 2013. <http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_381.asp>.