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American Higher Education Reform

July 16, 2022

The names of reformers of higher education are many: a then-young member of Parliament, Margaret Thatcher assisted by LSE political theorist Michael Oakeshott, Robert J. Morris, Jack Eckerd, Fr. Robert Cook and Dr. Robert K. Carlson, Robert Luddy, Bruce D. Benson, the Australian Paul Ramsay, Dr. Richard Bishirjian and dozens affiliated with the startup University of Austin (Peter Boghossian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Kathleen Stock, Lawrence Summers, Nadine Strossen, and Arthur Brooks). Only one reformer has written a book explaining why efforts at higher education reform in America face enormous difficulties and are prone to failure.

All the Americans were motivated to reform American higher education by avoiding domination of “Progressive” programs and can be described as “anti-cancel culture” and “anti-woke.” At the University of Dallas southern scholars promoted study of Southern literature. Many sought, and some still do seek to advance study of Western Civilization through “Great Books” programs, but others revalidate the corpus of Western philosophy and theology. Some are motivated  by commitment to Catholic faith.

They are remembered at Eckerd College, University of Buckingham, University of Dallas, University of Plano, University of Austin, Thales College, and Yorktown University. Plano and Yorktown University are closed, Eckerd College remembers Jack Eckerd’s bequest but not his political philosophy of limited government, UD’s Politics Department still recalls its brief acquaintance with Willmoore Kendall who died in 1967, and Colorado University alumni who donated one quarter million dollars a year to fund the Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy have been co-opted by tenured faculty in CU’s Department of Government.

The Trivium and Quadrivium of classic “liberal education” was abandoned after WW II when American higher education became commercialized for returning WW II vets using their “GI Bill” to earn a college diploma. What remains of Liberal Education may be found in courses taught by political theorists influenced by Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss.

Three examples, all in Canada, are Barry Cooper at Calgary University, Grant Havers who teaches at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and John von Heyking at University of Lethbridge in Calgary. Essays published at VoegelinView reveal the expanse of Voegelin’s influence. The influence of Leo Strauss and “the Straussians” are sustained at the Claremont Review of Books.

Next: What they teach

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