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A New Era in American Higher Education?

December 15, 2010

Political philosophy is nourished by institutions. The émigré philosophers who fled Europe during World War II found homes in universities that welcomed them—at least for awhile. Eric Voegelin found a home at Louisiana State University. Gerhart Niemeyer was welcomed at Princeton and then spent the remainder of his career at Notre Dame. Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt found refuge at the New School. In this movement to safety they enabled young American scholars to absorb the philosophic disciplines of Western European scholarship and to inseminate American scholarship with seriousness of purpose, knowledge and wisdom.

That era of institutional support for intellectual discovery ended two decades after World War II when America’s universities and colleges were captured by ideologues who rebelled against American foreign policy, popular culture and traditional religious beliefs. Beginning in 1964 for more than a decade and a half, it has begun to be impossible for traditional scholarship to earn credentials and sustain research within the walls of bricks and mortar colleges. So for three and a half decades these institutions have acted to eliminate the vestiges of Western European scholarship from their ranks and replaced them with the remnants of 19th and 20th century ideologies.

Institutions operated as autonomous parallel universities with talented scholars who earned Ph.D. degrees but were unable to find university appointments, and a vibrant culture of journals and publishing houses supported semi-scholarly works that could easily earn their authors academic tenure if they despised their own country. The Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Hoover Institution, Hudson Institute, Foundation for Economic Education and such journals as National Review, Modern Age, Reason, Commentary, American Spectator, Weekly Standard and the American Conservative gave voice to a generation of intellectuals who were cut off from institutional higher education.

Those who desired to teach found positions in exile from mainstream academe at private academies, junior colleges and the equivalent of the pariah states of Israel, South Africa and Taiwan—Hillsdale, Grove City and later Liberty and Regent University.

A great nation of 330 million people had allowed its best and brightest intellects who supported the values of the West to struggle at institutions forty miles from the nearest Interstate highways. The word “backwater” best describes these institutions that are the equivalent of historic Black colleges before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If allowed to continue, if new recruits with scholarly aspirations and ability are forced to live in an intellectually segregated America, traditional culture will be dumbed down, children from traditional families will be recruited for left-wing revolutionary causes, and America will become what we now see the current Presidential Administration has planned. A European model socialist state in which citizens are employees of municipal, state and federal governments, and all higher education is federalized.

That fate, of course, can be averted but only through vigorous utilization of new technologies and a revolution in a system by which academic institutions are accredited. In America today a resistant Guild of traditional bricks and mortar colleges denies regional accreditation to new institutions using new technologies that seek entry into the higher education marketplace. Once admitted these Internet-based institutions grow enrollments and dominate participation in U.S. government student loan programs. In a speech I gave to the Philadelphia Society I remark that every new enrollment in the University of Phoenix is “good for America.”

That suggests that if the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Fund for American Studies, Intercollegiate Studies Institution, Hudson Institute and other “parallel” universities actually became regionally accredited colleges and universities, the tide would shift and a degree of sanity would enter the American higher education landscape.

Will these institutions rise to the challenge we face and do what is necessary to establish themselves at actual universities and colleges? The answer to that question will determine whether in fifty years America is still the land of the free and the brave.

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