Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Challenge of Higher Education (1970)

The Rodda Project: The Challenge of Higher Education

Although this paper speaks to one of Senator Rodda's abiding concerns—higher education and its role in society—it carries no indication of having been prepared as either a speech or position paper. It had the cadences one would expect in one of the Senator's spoken addresses, but it may be simply an essay he prepared and kept among his papers for future use. He returned to this topic time and again.

We note that Sen. Rodda was rather forward looking in his inclusion of bioengineering, gene manipulation, and the environment among his concerns. The date on this paper shows that it was written a few weeks before the first Earth Day.


Higher Education: The Challenge

March 6, 1970

The Greeks brought into the mainstream of Western civilization a manner of thinking which has had implications perhaps even more far-reaching for contemporary society than the Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Beginning with Greek intellectual explorations into epistemology and metaphysics, it ultimately developed into the scientific method, a fantastically effective instrument for the advancement of the frontiers of human understanding. The end-product has been the full exposure to human reason and manipulation of the most obscure phenomena of nature. A concomitant effect has been the transformation of the way in which modern man visualizes himself in relation to the cosmos, his natural environment, the earth, and God. It has produced for man a vision of himself as homo sapiens, the maker of his own destiny and the master of nature. To a rapidly growing number of individuals, however, this new image of man, alone and independent, the free agent, absent a relevant agreement on morality and ethics, is less than reassuring, more than disturbing, even frightening.

Absorbed in an intellectual interest which has focused upon the desirability of rationalizing social organization to achieve practical goals, civilized man, significantly a product of the academy of higher education, has truly become homo faber or the technical man.

Inferior to none as pragmatists and scientists, the American people may point with pride to a record of accomplishment which, judged or measured by the three criteria of economic affluence, military power, and scientific technology, is without question a success story unmatched in the history of human endeavor.

The national biography is, however, not free of significant faults, which come into view when one examines the side effects of the American success story. They are so massive that they force one to question the initial judgment which rendered the verdict of success and to apply instead the Scottish verdict of “not proven—not innocent and set free, not guilty and condemned, simply not proven.”

It does not require the formal judgment of a professional economist, for example, to establish that a steadily rising Gross National Product may be a poor indicator of a nation's economic well being—that it tells nothing about the degree of inequality in the distribution of income and the diffusion of wealth, the uneven incidence of unemployment or its devastating effect upon the individual, the baneful quality of many consumer goods, the cruel effects of inflation upon those with fixed incomes and upon the poor, or the widespread exploitation of unorganized, unskilled labor.

Obviously, our obsession with crude measurements of economic growth has blinded us to the dramatic economic realities of American life and has prevented us from utilizing our tremendous resources for the achievement of genuine economic welfare.

Imagine a nation which possesses 6% of the world's population and which produces over 50% of the world's economic goods tolerating widespread hunger and malnutrition and confessing to the world that it cannot build housing for a substantial portion of its citizens. Is this a story of success?

The existence of a thermonuclear over-kill admittedly provides the nation with the ability to destroy its enemies, but it cannot be honestly argued that it affords the nation a genuine feeling of security. It enables us to live only with the assurance that each day that passes may bring us closer to the ultimate moment in time when “civilized man” will achieve his total self-destruction.

Arthur T. Hadley, in The Nation's Safety and Arms Control, expresses the view that the “balance of power or terror” concept is useless as a formula for the achievement of peace, and he wryly comments that “technical equipment and arms have as much to do with peace as frogs with weather.”

He argues that the road to peace is not through the creation of greater military power. but through large-scale arms limitation and a significant modification in the structure and operation of the “national state system.” Unfortunately, in the present context of American thinking, his proposal is so susceptible to the charge of “unAmerican” that seriously to offer it as a viable alternative to international arms competition and proliferation is almost impossible. A potential avenue to world peace, therefore, is practically removed from meaningful consideration. And so, despite the obvious lessons of history, we blindly pursue an irrational plan for the avoidance of destruction which defines the metes and bounds of world peace in terms of megatons of nuclear power and an expanding arsenal of modern weaponry.

Our technical competency was displayed to the world when the first American walked on the moon, and we may point with pride to achievements such as a developing capability for bioengineering and genetic manipulation, the regular occurrence of human transplants, the development of fantastic computers, dramatic progress in cybernetics, and the continued probe of outer space. But these accomplishments hardly tell the full story of technical progress. There are adverse side effects which must be considered: pollution, resource depletion, crime, urban decay, drug addiction, racial warfare, hunger and malnutrition, mental disorder and widespread social alienation and disorientation, all of which seem closely related to the advancement of science.

Our mechanical marvels and our scientific knowledge leave us with the substance of material success, but also with a crippled man, who exists, but has almost ceased to experience a wholesome life. He feels alienated and, therefore, is deficient in the experience of personal fulfillment. The reality of “progress” as being significantly counterproductive is a fact of life that we have been too prone to ignore.

Dr. Willis Harmon, in a scholarly paper entitled “Contest for Education in the Seventies,” contends that the “operational values and goals” of American society, which must be inferred from the “actions taken,” are inadequate for the requirements of tomorrow. Referring to them as the “pathogenic premises and values in the culture,” Harmon insists that they must be replaced by “more constructive humane ones.”

My inclination is to agree, since I am extremely dismayed over the direction in which Western civilization is moving. I am troubled because I can see important elements of the future present here and now. We need only to project them forward, either in a magnified or diminished degree, to obtain a partial vision of our tomorrow. Admittedly, elements not now present will emerge in the future, but—if I understand our dilemma correctly—not as a matter of rational choice. Instead, they will of necessity be the response of a computerized technical society to its own self-directing mechanism rather than to the rationally conceived metaphysical and material needs of people.

The almost certain probability of the eventualization of my vision of the future, which maybe thought of as the “contextual imperatives” of the human condition, forces me to view the future quite pessimistically.

An honest extrapolation of the “Brave New World” of tomorrow would, in my view, include, although not be limited to, the following:
  1. a more destructive and costly military kill-capability;
  2. massive manipulation, pollution and destruction of the natural environment and ecology;
  3. overpopulation, mass poverty and hunger;
  4. a bioengineering and genetic manipulation capability, with a non-existent or inadequate ethic for its direction and control;
  5. racial tension and, perhaps, organized racial oppression;
  6. urban decay and rot and an urban sub-culture which spawns deviant and criminal behavior;
  7. massive reliance upon the power of institutional violence for the preservation of social order;
  8. an exaggerated functional materialism, which equates human happiness with the abundant life; and
  9. widespread alienation from and non-commitment to society.
I must admit that my look into the future is bleak and I suppose that one may ask: Is there anything better to anticipate? I can only answer affirmatively if there is a positive and constructive response to the challenge which confronts western civilization.

Arnold Toynbee in The Story of History indicts man himself as responsible for human tragedy, since civilization takes direction from human response to historical confrontation. Toynbee's thesis is that disaster results if human beings, when challenged by crisis, react unrealistically and irrationally. Toynbee sees in history, therefore, no promise of good or bad, only a challenge.

In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper reasons to essentially the same conclusion and hurls essentially the same challenge. History, he argues, has no metaphysical or philosophical significance, since it leads mankind nowhere. It has meaning only in a “pragmatic or existential sense” or to the extent that man gives it meaning through his response to crisis.

Since history has no ends or goals of its own, Popper argues that meaning for mankind may not be discovered in history. It is imparted to history by man through his freedom of choice. Mankind is not, therefore, fated to an end which is predetermined: he has the freedom to choose—the way and the end.

Like Toynbee, Popper makes no promise and no prediction for tomorrow, but he argues that man will choose well if he chooses human freedom, social justice, individual equality and peace.

In this connection, Tom Wicker of the New York Times observed in his critique of the “Report of the Eisenhower Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence” that the “greatest threat to American society is internal and not external.”

And he made the observation that the “... greatness and durability of most civilizations have been finally determined by how they responded to ... challenge from within,” and that “ours will be no exception.”

Wicker is greatly disturbed, however, by what he observes in America today because he cannot discern the presence of a national will to produce an appropriate response to the American crisis. Sadly, he predicts that the will to respond will not emerge until “... there is a move away from materialism, apathy and complacency and the vulgar know-nothingness that so often passes for common sense along Main Street ...”

If I interpret Wicker correctly, he is arguing the absolute necessity for the nation significantly to modify its operative values and goals and to adjust its institutions and behavior patterns accordingly. I am inclined strongly to agree.

Abraham Maslow in The Psychology of Being suggests that, perhaps, we are experiencing such a change. “A new vision of the possibilities of man,” he contends, “is emerging ... and its implications are many ... for our conceptions of, politics, literature, economics, religious, and even ... the non-human world.” Whatever the change may be—and Maslow thinks of it as “a new philosophy of man”—it must, I believe, induce a will to change dramatically how we behave toward each other and in our natural environment. Without a change in our purposes, individual and collective, we will continue to misuse our talents and in the end totally deny the very nature of our being.

Man will become the victim of a system of his own creation, and the underlying deterministic assumptions of Marxian and of Behaviorist psychology will have been fulfilled. Human decision-making will be primarily and simply a response to the logical imperatives of an economic system geared to mass consumption as a means to maximize profits, to a science and technology whose goals are an extension of the mathematical logic of their own structure and development, and to a political power structure totally governed by irrational and doctrinaire responses to problems affecting national security, the rights of minorities, and internal disorder and violence.

A consequence of externalizing the rationale of our lives and of adjusting them totally in response to the outward world rather than the inner man will be a depersonalization and dehumanization of ourselves and our society. We will sadly discover that we have, in the process of becoming “programmed human beings,” surrendered our capability of being self-actualizing persons or of achieving meaningful fulfillment.

Probably, at the time of the discovery, we will be functioning within a totalitarian utopia which will have emerged as the only viable social alternative in a society torn by materialism, exploitation, brutality, and a general feeling of non-fulfillment. The frustrations, tensions, and anxieties of such a social condition will certainly have produced social alienation on such a massive scale that the continuance of a political system legitimized by popular support, will of necessity have been abandoned.

Hopefully, the ability to achieve a transformation in contemporary society, which will maximize rather than minimize the opportunity for human fulfillment, is still an option open to us. There are some constructive forces which give an indication or sign that a leavening influence is at work. They are, for example:
  1. the youth revolt against materialism and-against the dehumanizing and irrational forces in contemporary society;
  2. expressions of concern among scientists about the ends served by science;
  3. the development of experimental colleges and universities and new curricula;
  4. religious ecumenicalism and a revival within churches of the importance of personal witness to the teaching of Christ;
  5. the emergence of new and powerful influences in psychology and philosophy, which jointly are altering our view of man's nature .and needs;
  6. a modest recognition by industrial and political leaders of the need for a positive response to the problems of hunger, war, environmental destruction, racial conflicts, and personal alienation.
As encouraging as these signs are, it is my view that the principal operational forces and goals in the world society remain as described by Tom Wicker and that they account for the unfortunate non-existence of a will for change.

The “establishment” is devoid of a genuine capacity for self-evaluation; the authority of the conventional wisdom remains largely unquestioned; and the propensity to apply materialistic criteria in therefore, that a will to create a more humane, person-centered society can develop into a meaningful force in contemporary society.

Incremental shifts in the premises and values of a civilization sometimes occur, but major adjustments occur seldom, if ever. And yet, if one believes that the drift of things is to make man irrelevant, one must force a dialogue which challenges the adequacy of the status quo—its values and goals.

Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of higher education to provide such a dialogue. Hopefully it will continue to do so. And, of course, if it does, the dialogue must not be mere pretense; it must be a genuine and searching analysis of basic premises, principles, goals and institutions of contemporary life.

If such is to be the character of the intellectual probing of the quality of our society, the institutions of higher education must be free and independent; otherwise, their explorations will have no other capability than that of providing an intellectual reinforcement of the present arrangements.

This presents the academy of learning with two problems: first, of course, to achieve a significant degree of academic freedom, and, second, to utilize its intellectual freedom to produce a new synthesis of human understanding and aspirations.

Only if this is accomplished will higher education contribute significantly to a change in the directional movement of society, of technology, and, therefore, of the human race.

As a politician, I have a relation to the first problem—that of academic freedom; and, you in higher education, private and public, have a relation to the second—that of the integrity of the academic community.

My task, as a legislator, is to preserve the freedom of higher education to explore truth. This is a difficult assignment and its difficulty will increase with the intensity of the conflict between emergent values directed toward a restructuring of society and the “operative values” of a well established system.

Perhaps, it may not be accomplished, since it is very questionable, in my view, that the outer community or the “town” will be so permissive toward academia. Higher education appears to have become such an integral part of the status quo that it is almost nonsensical to talk of its independence or autonomy. Academic freedom can be expected, therefore, to survive in the coming critical years in form, but not in substance. Scholars may be allowed to discuss “yes-yeses,” but not “no-noes”; otherwise, budgets will be cut, faculty dismissed, personnel made subject to ideological litmus tests, which identify right from wrong thinking; the social sciences and the humanities minified within the world of learning; science and “skill and service training” given even more prestigious status; the faculty diminished in influence, and trouble-making or non-conformist students disciplined.

The “town” holds to a strong feeling of “ownership” toward academia, and the manifestations of this possessiveness are clearly set forth in a legislator's correspondence, in the character of the legislation designed to cure campus disorder, and in the posture and attitude of executive leadership at all levels of government.

The public mind evaluates the university on a scale of imperfectability inversely proportionate to its conformity to the conventional wisdom, the requirements of law and order, and the status quo. Any propensity on the part of the intellectual establishment toward a pathological diagnosis of society produces an immediate “hue and cry” for legislation designed to punish, discipline, control, and even, in extreme cases, to “shut it down.”

Against the political pressures, which are a natural concomitant of a mindless public response to “campus radicalism and divergency,” all politicians who stand for academic freedom do so at their political peril. During times of social stress, when there is a conflict between those who would use their minds and those who would not, the elected official who supports academia is considerably more expendable politically than is normally the case. And yet this is a vulnerability to which a thinking politician must submit if he is to protect his own integrity. This is a fact of political life in a democratic society derived from the vital importance of academic freedom, objective and honest dialogue, and freedom of speech to the formulation of social values and goals, and to the creation of an informed public opinion.

Obviously academic freedom is relative and it is weaker during a time of ideational conflict.

Viewed in this context, one would be irresponsible to assume that great success will accompany the efforts of those desirous of providing independence and freedom for the intellectual establishment. But to rush to the other extreme is quite possibly unjustified, also. If we assume, therefore, a reasonable degree of freedom to explore ideas, to define goals, to wrestle with problems of student unrest and campus turmoil, and to experiment with curricula, another question yet remains: Can academia respond appropriately? Can it make its freedom meaningful?

Frankly, I doubt that it can.

I cannot advise higher education what it should become. I would expect, however, that there should emerge some significant changes within higher education, for example:
  1. assurance that higher education research will not prostitute the ideals and values of academia;
  2. abandonment of the impulsive—almost neurotic—drive for professional academic success which seems more and more to separate the professor from the teacher and the teacher from the student, since the establishment of a viable teacher-student relationship seems less and less the road to success in academia;
  3. modification of the university curricula in order to relate it more closely to the spiritual, psychological and esthetic;
  4. involvement of the academic world in community service, not militant activism and confrontation, but rather in a constructive involvement to effect those ideals which will produce a society more idealistically motivated and less prone to produce anxiety, hopelessness, pessimism, alienation and deviant behavior;
  5. improved cross-fertilization of ideas and knowledge among the professionals within the various specialties;
  6. continuous and relevant process of self-evaluation within all areas of academia;
  7. exploration, through innovative curricula structures and new models for internal organization, of ways to improve the educational process, despite the fact that to experiment is to hazard the embarrassment of failure;
  8. exposure of the flaws in the institutional structure and value fabrics of Western civilization which lead to the pursuit of goals removed from relevance for the psychological and physiological well being of man.
Perhaps, it is asking too much to expect higher education to respond to the challenge of our times; yet a “critique” must be made, for civilization must have a capability for ongoing self- evaluation. Western civilization is predicated upon the assumption that science and technology will provide the means to utopia; higher education must advise us of the validity or invalidity of this premise.

Former President of the University of California, Clark Kerr, stated that the idea of the multiversity “ ... has its reality rooted in the logic of history. It is an imperative rather than a reasoned choice among elegant alternatives.”

To the extent that this is a description of the origin of the multiversity or of higher education today, as well as an historical interpretation of its development, the expectation of human fulfillment through the fulfillment of higher education is not likely to materialize.

If higher education is so much apart of what is that it may not become the creator of what ought to be, we may find it necessary to rely upon other centers of learning—those independent of the status quo, if there are any.

Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka in Phenomenology and Science in Contemporary European Thought describes the dilemma of modern man as follows:

“Modern man ... has lost his innermost roots in his experience of nature, his relations with others, and his awareness of metaphysical dimensions. Technocratic man, limited to conventionalized social responses and utilitarian functions designed for mere material comfort, is infested with endemic diseases which threaten to end humanity if not human nature.”

Jonathan Swift foresaw the dilemma of modern man when he placed Gulliver on the Island of Laputa, where Gulliver encountered a people so single-mindedly devoted to pure reason that they were totally isolated from the problems of real life and existence. Gulliver fled in dismay. That we need to fly from Laputa is as obvious as it was to Gulliver; the question is: Can we fly from Laputa without crashing upon the barren desert of Nihilism or the wasteland of Caesarism, so frequently the fate of those who turn from reason and mind to emotion and heart?

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