8/28/2009 3:10 PM
In this week's Lone Star Report, Managing Editor William Murchison wrote the opinion piece discussing how his alma matter, the University of Texas, has abandoned teaching in Western Civilization. We post it below for your reading pleasure:
You know, don’t you, what kind of university trembles at the idea of affirming Truth? Right – a state university; which is one reason state universities are unlikely, in the broad, liberal sense, to amount to much in the 21st century.
Yeah, sure, they perform valuable scientific research. They can furnish a patina of basic knowledge. They can press diplomas into outstretched young hands. Their sports teams can rack up championships.
Which brings us to the idiots at the University of Texas, who quietly demonstrate what a state university can’t or won’t do, because, stupid, it’s a state university: a political construct, mindful of political currents and tides; unable to give offense; unable – here’s the point – to sort out life’s great questions, which questions it leaves to more intrepid, and better protected, private institutions.
The University of Texas, in its present incarnation, would no more sort out great questions than it would abolish football scholarships. The University of Texas is a gentle joke when it comes to the quest for Truth. It trembles, it quakes at the idea of offending constituents, save, perhaps, the kind who would have benefited from exposure to the Western tradition as Prof. Robert Koons hoped the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions would provide.
UT canned Koons last November as program director, then got around this spring to abolishing the whole program, replacing it with one more flexible in content and approach. It figures. Koons’ program had the wild notion that certain great works of the human mind were timeless as to worth and relevance, hence should be studied, debated, and absorbed.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but, you know, in defining a “canon” of great books you define what lies outside the canon, thereby giving offense to those committed politically to the idea that Truth is personal, hence constantly shifting. Yes, have Dante; but don’t forget Maya Angelou or Sandra Cisneros, or maybe the reprobate philosopher Peter Singer.
Now nothing is wrong, and much is right, with a university’s exposing students to Angelou and Cisneros as sources useful in illuminating social trends. But you do this outside, not inside, the context of the quest for Truth, because no 21st century worthy has been in circulation long enough to demand our attention. We build meanwhile on Plato and Aristotle and Descartes and Machiavelli and Locke and — well, you get the idea. You master these, then you add the newcomers, like whipped cream topping, for flavor.
Trouble is, “the Western tradition,” of which Plato and the like are representative types, gives offense in the politicized nostrils of the professoriate and the bureaucracy.
These construe their mission as one of righting social wrongs and dabbing liniment on old wounds – making new coalitions and populaces Feel Worthy. That can rule out, to the professoriate’s and the bureaucracy’s way of thinking, the teaching of what has lasted. Let’s one of these days stack Maya Angelou up against Alexander Pope – or for that matter Robert Frost – and see who seems deeper. The great books have stood the test of time – which is why Koons and his cohorts wanted to teach them; and why, by extension, the idea of teaching them excited so much internal opposition. There was about the idea the scent of discrimination.
Why, yes. To discriminate is to prefer. We prefer some things over others on account of quality and importance. A university will hold up for admiration and study those ideas whose quality has emerged, and been proved, over centuries. That’s undemocratic, of course, and non-pluralistic. We can’t prefer one thing over other things, except as politics teaches us we must, in the interest of constituency-appeasement.
This unedifying aim seems to hold sway at UT these days. Recently, I picked up a Daily Texan. A headline stuck out its tongue at me: “Faculty gender imparity persists.” It does? Who says so, the headline writer? Turns out, according to the story that “UT’s College of Liberal Arts is aiming to even out the higher proportion of male instructors, which (sic) are especially prevalent in the number of professors who hold tenure or are on the tenure track.” A faculty spokesman was quoted as saying, “College of Liberal Arts administrators have noted the existence of gender inequity among their higher-ranking professors.”
My lexicon defines inequity as “injustice; unfairness.” That tells us anyway what UT is up to – viz., defining justice outside the Western understanding, which is traceable back to the Greeks. Gee, wouldn’t some talk about the actual meaning of “justice,” as mediated by the Western greats, be nice before UT “spokesmen” started slinging around terms such as “inequity”?
Might be. But I wouldn’t look for such a discussion at my old university, where the pursuit of political ends seems to outrank various other ends traditionally associated with universities. Maybe, in search of such a discussion, one would look to Baylor, or Trinity, or Southwestern, or the University of Dallas, or Austin College (as distinguished markedly, from the University of Texas at Austin). Truth will out. Just maybe not at certain political, and politicized, institutions of the higher learning.