Opinion: Colleges undermine American values rather than instill them

Are universities graduating students unprepared for jobs or civic life.

In a column today, economist Peter Morici assails American universities for graduating students ill-prepared for a technology-driven job market and dismissive of foundational American principles. Morici is a business professor at the University of Maryland.

(You can read other pieces by Morici here and here.)

While I agree that college career counseling lags the reality of the job market, I don’t join Dr. Morici in holding colleges accountable for how students regard hard work, self-discipline or marriage and child rearing. Most people develop their views on marriage and child rearing in relation to their own families. I also think home life is the greatest influence on a student’s self-discipline.

By Peter Morici

American universities pose a dire threat to our prosperity and democracy.

College graduates, whatever their major, should be well equipped to engage in “critical thinking.” Simply, evaluate a collection of statements and data to reach measured conclusions, independent of their own preconceived notions.

This is essential for entry-level professional work and responsible participation in our civic life. Yet employers find those qualities lacking in about four in 10 graduates, and data from the College Learning Assessment Plus shows four years of college often adds little to students’ analytical abilities.

These failures do not appear correlated to the prestige of the institution. Modest Plymouth State in New Hampshire did pretty well in a recent assessment, whereas the University of Texas at Austin, often viewed on par with the Ivy League, scored poorly.

General education requirements have been corrupted and the structure of majors and career counseling are woefully outdated.

In the 1950s, freshman composition was an arduous rite of passage. Students wrote a theme every week that was rigorously graded for grammar and logical structure. They learned not merely how to bang a subject against a verb for expressive effect, but also how to think clearly and put aside personal biases.

Gradually, such rigor has been removed from required undergraduate curriculum. These days repeating professors’ and university presidents’ libertine prejudices — of which there are many, loudly expressed — and running off campus speakers whose ideas challenge their beliefs are all that appears required to demonstrate intellectual competence.

Whereas in a less technical era, a general education — with a major in anthropology or history — was enough to launch a career, these days a degree in something more practical like software engineering or finance is required for most students to succeed.

Too often professors in the liberal arts — and college administrators that do not want to endure the pain of restructuring — dupe students with nostrums like “you can accomplish just about anything with a degree in the humanities” and cite examples of graduates in their 40s and 50s with marvelous careers.

Peter Morici

They don’t tell students those alumni graduated into a more robust, less technologically demanding job market and were better equipped for continuing self-education. And we can hardly expect to compete internationally with such ill-trained citizens.

Most importantly universities are undermining American civic values of tolerance and respect for due process under the law.

Broadly the theology of political correctness — namely, most social ills and differences in citizens’ circumstances can be traced to the conspiracies of the elite and sex and gender discrimination — is infused into the curriculum and enforced by Orwellian controls on speech.

In a recent op-ed, two law professors from the Universities of Pennsylvania and San Diego argued the decline of a unifying culture that valued hard work, self-discipline, child rearing in stable marriages, service to employers and community, and respect for authority greatly contributes to generally poor economic and social conditions among working class whites and minorities. Colleagues, led by their deans, responded with a firestorm of attacks and the usual invectives about racism.

Campus rape tribunals have been rebuked in federal court and are places where basic rules of evidence and due process are disregarded to railroad innocent men.

We should not be surprised by cultural witch hunts against voiceless historical figures — for example, at Christ Church in Alexandria to take down memorials of Robert E. Lee and George Washington — or liberal journalists exhorting members of Congress to treat President Trump as not merely wrong on policy but as illegitimate. The malefactors learned their chauvinism at school.

America is unique among nations, because it was founded on the idea of the fundamental sanctity of individual liberty and freedom of thought, and not as a place defined by a specific ethnic, language or religious identity. All that is needed to become an American is to embrace this basic creed and take up the joint responsibility to preserve it.

It is difficult to see how a civilization that puts so much stock in those values and equal treatment under the law can long survive when its young people are required to embrace such intolerance and taught by example those accused of transgressions are entitled to no more due process than the sham proceedings of a fascist state.

 

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
RGVT
RGVT

Have you gone to college?  If so, you could have written a coherent article.  Poor thing.

RGVT
RGVT

Trump University or Liberty do not count.

redweather
redweather

Writing Tip for Pete Morici: Don't begin an Op-Ed piece with a nonsensical claim. Unless of course you have no interest in being read.

The fact that you have a PhD. is also quite ironic.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Gosh, talk about a broad brush. 

Perhaps if he had picked one of his many objections and written about that, I'd be happy to read and learn something.  But with all the generalities he speaks in, it's hard to anything seriously.


As for this rape thing on college campuses--part of what's going on there is an effort to protect both parties.  The girl (generally speaking), doesn't want to ruin a boy's life, she just doesn't want to see him in the dining hall everyday.  But, if you folks insist on "due process", by all means, give him a criminal record. 

cmcwilli
cmcwilli

Where did Trump's "malefactors" learn their "chauvinism?" Clearly university is not their excuse for decay. #GetOffMyLawn

Pbae
Pbae


.  The decline of critical thinking skills began with No Child Left Behind and excessive testing.


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

I do not think his contention is true for an engineering school. School work and later professional work bolstered my "critical thinking" skills by not only pursuing correct answers, but also by appraising "what is the real problem to be solved". Solving a "problem" that is ill defined, or developing the solution that causes more problems is not the "critical thinking" we  need. 

Q1225
Q1225

Who considers UT-Austin "on par with the Ivy League"?

Q1225
Q1225

@MaureenDowney @Q1225 So Morici ignored the top 55 National Universities to draw his conclusion?  Hmmm...I wonder why?

Jmand65
Jmand65

Perhaps a good liberal arts education helps one realize that there is more to life than just making money and that there is more to education than just job preparation.   It is difficult for a lot of people to define success in something other than monetary terms, but I do believe more young people are defining their own success as something other than the Morici definition.


It is also my observation that people who select their career based on the societal probability of success do not usually last long.

JakeJohnson
JakeJohnson

This article makes rather wild claims, doesn't it, based on one school in Texas and the opinions of two lawyers? And a school in Texas doesn't promote critical thinking? What a surprise.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@JakeJohnson The Collegiate Learning Assessment is used by colleges to see how far students have progressed in critical thinking and problem-solving in their time at the schools. Dr. Morici just cited two examples of surprising results – a small New Hampshire college had the best results and one of the more prestigious schools, University of Texas, that had less impressive results.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, the overall national results weren't encouraging: Four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to the results of a test of nearly 32,000 students. The test, which was administered at 169 colleges and universities in 2013 and 2014, reveals broad variation in the intellectual development of the nation’s students depending on the type and even location of the school they attend.

I included a link to a Stanford assessment of the CLA in the blog, but here is again if you want to go deeper.

 https://web.stanford.edu/dept/SUSE/SEAL/Reports_Papers/higher_ed_papers/The Collegiate Learning Assessment_Ford Policy Forum Monograph 2008.pdf

Astropig
Astropig

I agree with a lot of Dr. Morici's assertions.They make some uncomfortable,so you know that there's truth in there.


IMHO,the best thing that loving parents can do when their kids are growing up is talk with them,get to know them as people (but NOT try to be their buddy),be involved,but not suffocating,and teach them to recognize when they are being played for profit or power.Only unconditional love can do this.Nearly every other person in their life will have an agenda that may not be in their best interests,and colleges are for many students the first place that they are away from their mentoring support network-good old mom and dad.


Helping them develop a filter for the propaganda of both the left and the right will help them have the courage to do the right thing,even when it is not popular.Only when they know that they have a bedrock of support and -again-unconditional love from their parents will they develop this trait.


I think that the university setting attracts a lot of predatory types that realize that there are a LOT of young,confused,insecure kids that are cast onto life's ocean with very little underpinning of confidence and life experience.Those kids are easy prey for radical professors (protected by tenure) and insane activists that exploit these insecurities by either peer pressure or flattery to turn some kids into unhappy people that their families don't recognize when they come home from school.

feedback1
feedback1

The political correctness which holds such a grip on campus debate has far too much in common with the Reign of Terror blighting the later stages of the 1789 French Revolution.

Aristocrat! was the charge leveled at any who dared question the destructive direction of social events then; Racist! is what is screamed at them now.

Astropig
Astropig

@feedback1


That was an interesting analogy about the French Revolution.In conversations with my friends,I liken the PC madness of today to the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960's-today's icons are swinging from gallows tomorrow,no radical is quite radical enough when other radicals become even more radical,etc...


We'll look back on this time in a few years with a sense of astonishment of how crazy it all was,like we today look at McCarthyism in the 1950's.

proudparent01
proudparent01

This guy is all over the place. If you don't want a liberal arts degree,get something else. You can even go to a technical school. Let the market bear out.

StanJester
StanJester

@Maureen,  Morici references two law professors who blame a decline in culture that valued hard work, self-discipline, child rearing in stable marriages, service to employers and community, and respect for authority.


I don't think Morici or the two law professors are blaming colleges for that.  I think Morici is, however, saying the subsequent attacks by the dean and colleagues of those law professors is what is being instilled by the colleges.


Just a thought.  --Stan

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@StanJester 

I get that but he is also saying the college culture that fueled and supported the attacks on the op-ed writers illustrates the values and attitudes being inculcated in students. 

I think kids arrive at college with many of those attitudes already fixed as a result of family influences. In general, my experience is that family is the biggest factor in whether a person has a strong work ethic or a strong commitment to community service. I don’t necessarily mean that kids follow their parents in every instance; in fact, some people vow to be not like their parents. But those parent influences are the guideposts, whether students follow the same path or decide to walk in the opposite direction.

StanJester
StanJester

@MaureenDowney

Right.  Morici is saying that college culture is fueling the violence when a group doesn't agree with what someone else is saying.


Morici is not holding colleges accountable for  marriage or child rearing.