Mark C. Taylor, contrarian philosopher and chair of Columbia University’s Department of Religion, caused a firestorm in the academic community with his op-ed, “End the University as We Know It,” in yesterday’s New York Times. The op-ed remains at the top of the NYT’s most-emailed list.
There are few better places to have a debate about the philosophy of education than the University of Chicago, where the Core Curriculum and the school’s historical emphasis on liberal education and distaste for vocational education permeates everything.
The achievements of the past provide the only means at command for understanding the present. …The institutions and customs that exist in the present and that give rise to present social ills and dislocations did not arise overnight. They have a long history behind them. Attempt to deal with them simply on the basis of what is obvious in the present is bound to result in adoption of superficial measures which in the end will only render existing problems more acute and more difficult to solve.
After all, I got into teaching for the same reason, I suspect, that many people did: because I thought it was a high-stakes affair, a pursuit in which souls are won and lost.
One of the ways we’ve tried to be attractive is by loosening up. We grade much more genially than our colleagues in the sciences. In English and history, we don’t give many D’s, or C’s, either. (The rigors of Chem 101 may create almost as many humanities majors per year as the splendors of Shakespeare.