SURVIVING THE POLITICS OF
HIGHER EDUCATION TODAY
The young man who lives next door is heading off to one of our state universities (which one I’ll leave unspecified). Having graduated at the top of his high school class, he’s looking forward to a career in engineering.
I wish him the best. And I pray that he emerges from the experience of modern higher education not only well prepared for a fruitful work life, but with his rationality and emotional resources intact.
Everybody knows about safe spaces and political correctness. All have heard of snowflakes and social justice warriors. The intellectual destruction of American Academe is well documented.
But this young man’s field of study will be engineering — a realm of accurate measurements, demonstrated principles, unchanging physical laws. And it’s generally assumed that, amid the many perversions of scholarly life, the quantitative, fact-based scientific / technical disciplines remain undistorted by trendy politics, free to focus on tangible reality.
With the exception of meteorology, which has been corrupted by the global-warming mafia, that’s mostly so. Mostly.
Science is still science, right? E still equals mc-squared, right?
If only it were that simple.
Writing on the blog of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Dr. Indrek S. Wichman, professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State, bemoans a growing trend toward injecting ideology into engineering curricula. He tells of how…
“a phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians, and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself in America’s college and universities. The destruction they have caused in the humanities and social sciences has now reached to engineering.
“One of the features of their growing power is the phenomenon of ‘engineering education’ programs and schools. They have sought out the soft underbelly of engineering, where phrases such as ‘diversity’ and ‘different perspectives’ and ‘racial gaps’ and ‘unfairness’ and ‘unequal outcomes’ make up the daily vocabulary. Instead of calculating engine horsepower or microchip power/size ratios or aerodynamic lift and drag, the engineering educationists focus on group representation, hurt feelings, and ‘microaggressions’ in the profession.”
Wichman points to Purdue University, which he notes was once known as the “MIT of the Midwest.” Purdue now has a School of Engineering Education, whose website declares its dedication to…
“a more socially connected and scholarly engineering education. This implies that we radically rethink the boundaries of engineering and the purpose of engineering education.”
I would have thought the purpose of engineering education was to build things. But Wichman zeroes in on the school’s real goal, which is…
“reimagining engineering and engineering education, creating field-shaping knowledge, and empowering agents of change.”
Ah yes, those agents of change so dearly loved by the Left.
Wichman quotes Purdue’s engineering education dean, Dr. Donna Riley on her vision for the school…
“I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics, and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups …. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism, and colonialism …. Gender is a key … [theme] … [throughout] the course …. We … [examine] … racist and colonialist projects in science….”
Yes — well.
So here’s my question…
While Riley and her faculty are examining racist and colonialist projects and de-centering Western civilization (not to mention uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups), will Purdue spend any time training engineers to fix our bridges?
Maybe they’ve decide that improved civic infrastructure merely enhances the privilege of middle-class whites, or that structurally sound roads and bridges only let rich male executives get to their high-paying jobs more easily. And after all, such advantages contribute to U.S. economic dominance and exploitation of the Third World poor.
Hey, don’t laugh. I’ll bet some graduate student at Purdue is already making these points in her Ph.D. dissertation.
Is there any question why learnedness is disrespected today? Why the college applicant pool is shrinking, and enrollment is rising at proprietary technical schools? Why certain universities are desperately seeking revenue by renting out empty dorm rooms as hotel accommodations to people coming to campus for football games?
The young man who lives next door is embarking on a great adventure that could change his life for the better. But he needs to be careful. Very careful.
He’s stepping into an ideologically super-charged world where the presumption will be that…
- His white skin marks him as a racist.
- His small-town upbringing is evidence that he’ll be hostile to non-American / non-white cultures.
- His academic success in a rural high school must indicate conformity to a narrow-minded conservative outlook.
- His male sex automatically makes him a misogynist, a gender bigot, or an incipient rapist (or all three).
He’ll find himself scrutinized closely — by faculty members, administrators, fellow students — for any deviation from the prevailing ideological norm. He’ll be subjected to steady indoctrination, reminded regularly of his white privilege, and pressured constantly to adjust his parochial attitudes.
His pleasant personality, good nature, and warm heart will afford him no cover. Neither will his accomplishments nor the challenges he has overcome up to this point in his young life.
If he’s lucky, he will make a few friends with whom he can speak candidly (in whispers) and share confidences. If he’s really lucky, he’ll come under the influence of some professors who are less corrupted by campus politics (or shielded from it by academic tenure), who can mentor him and guide him through the ideological minefield.
In four years he may emerge with a degree and — if he’s really, really lucky — a knowledge base and a trove of experiences on which to build a career and a purposeful life.
If he were to ask me for my advice as he embarks on his grand adventure, the best I could give him is…
Find a church in which to be involved during your student years.
Faith provides more comfort than ideology, and makes more sense. It also provides a place to which you can escape once in awhile.
Also, religious people are more accepting and encouraging than are the self-absorbed, politically-deluded hucksters with which you’ll be surrounded on campus.
And since I am quite familiar with the town in which your university is located, I can suggest a very good parish (with a great music ministry, incidentally).
Other than that, all I can do is pray that the young man who lives next door will survive higher education reasonably unscathed.
Good luck, Kid.
Remember, you’re in God’s hands.
If you’re interested in how the Left is transforming university engineering programs, here are links to that article by Michigan State’s Indrek S. Wichman. His analysis is astute, and his conclusion pointed — to wit, that engineering schools should…
“stop pretending that we can ‘game’ our wonderful profession so that anyone can succeed. Nor should we attack engineering’s foundations, its dominantly Western character, so that non-Westerners might suffer fewer ‘microaggressions’ and somehow feel better about studying it.”…
For a bit broader perspective on current higher education in general, Damon Linker, senior correspondent at The Week, examines the differences between how liberals and conservatives approach learning. He downplays the political dimension (perhaps a bit too much), but he does offer some insights into how we approach knowledge and its uses…
The politicization of American Academe (along with the outrageous costs involved) has prompted many young people to take a second look at jobs that don’t require college degrees. Mike Rowe, host of the popular TV series, “Dirty Jobs,” has made it his mission to “close the skills gap” that keeps many satisfying, good-paying jobs unfilled. He’s established a foundation to help those interested in high-skill employment receive the technical training they need. Check out the Mike Rowe Works Foundation at…