American Council of Trustees and Alumni vice president of policy Michael Poliakoff on the state of the country’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges.
NOTE: this originally appeared on WSJ Live Online on 1/28/2014
America’s Colleges Flunk Out
If we wonder why our wildlife management practices have disconnected from science, we should look what we are teaching future scientists. Unfortunately, we are not training them to be scientists.
Education or Reputation? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni examines the 30 top-rated liberal arts universities in the United States. While specific to the elite liberal arts institutions, its conclusions can be extrapolated to higher education in general, including land grant universities and their agricultural departments, which often house and dominate their wildlife departments. All share these deficiencies because American education is homogenized.
And the consequences of inadequate intellectual training permeate our state and national wildlife agencies, which employ most of the graduates of the nation’s wildlife biology programs.
Why don’t our wildlife scientists follow science? After all, weren’t most trained at great expense in publicly endowed and funded, land grant universities? Part of the answer, summarized in the report’s conclusion is that our colleges and universities “…have abandoned the rigorous, disciplined core-curriculum that prepares a graduate for the challenges of the dynamic and changing world economy, and for meaningful service to their community.”
By core curriculum, the authors mean composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, US government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural and/or physical science. Of these seven key areas, six of the colleges studied require only three; nine require only one or two; and five require none at all.
In other words, our colleges are not teaching students, including future scientists, reading, math, history, literature, how to write, economics, natural sciences, or a foreign language spoken only poorly.
I asked a friend, a retired Professor of Range Science at Sul Ross State University to comment in the context of the public universities. He responded:
“As to why there is no core curriculum (as described above), their response is always that their students should have those subjects already mastered. Of course, that is pure BS.
Nothing less than nationwide academic fraud has been perpetrated against the taxpayer by the public school systems over the past four or five decades. The failure actually begins at K continues through 12 and on into the Bachelors, Masters and PhD levels.
The product of this deception is the average (poor quality) high school graduate. SAT scores peaked in 1962 and have been in a steady decline since—in spite of numerous ‘adjustments’ to the data in an effort to conceal the truth. Top to bottom, it is one massive failure.”
Why do our scientists go along with Big Agriculture and Big Wildlife, doing things that are directly harmful to wildlife and wildlife habitat? Part of the answer is in the report which finds that “Far from preparing students for vigorous debate, and giving them the intellectual courage to pursue truth wherever it may lead, they . . . suppress free speech and free inquiry.” Of the colleges and universities in this report, not a single one was rated as not interfering with freedom of speech and expression. Fourteen were found to have substantial restrictions of free speech; another eleven have restrictions that jeopardize free expression.
And my retired professor expands:
“Actually, in all the ‘natural resource’ areas (range and wildlife), the government dictates the curriculum. It does that though the back door. That is to say that they ‘require’ a certain (specified) set of courses to be completed by the student before he/she is considered for employment. Since 90 percent of today’s propaganda camp escapees aspire to nothing more than a lifetime in an olive drab, government cubicle, they gladly (thoughtlessly) comply and the beat goes on.”
This rolls up to a scientific community which is trained to shut up and go along, and, because it is poorly educated takes group opinion – the party line – to be sound science. Just one example is the widely-accepted, crackpot science of Invasion Biology (click here).
The amalgamation of agribusiness, government, agencies, and education into an ever-expanding, self-serving entity is a concern in its own right. The colossus is so enormous it controls economic outcome across the economic scale. Of my contemporaries, many like it, some seem unaware of it while others appear resigned. Most everyone games — and fears — the system.
Less understood is that a rising generation of Americans – leaders as well as rank and file – is inured to the immovable fact of the amalgamation’s control. The memory of something different is recalled by fewer and fewer of us, who grow older year by year.
While this system and its concepts have been rebranded under a variety of appealing names, such as “Free Enterprise,” “Market Economy,” “Free Trade,” the ideas behind it are very old.
Time Magazine Cover, 1936. As Benito Mussolini once remarked, “Modern fascism should be properly called corporatism, since it is the merger of state, military and corporate power.”
This is the full report: Education or Reputation? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges
If you can’t view the PDF below please click HERE to review