So, I was reading this piece by Roger Scruton on “The Idea of a University” which came across my twitter stream, and in the fifth paragraph, I saw this:

The middle-class father, preparing to meet tuition fees of $40,000 or more, and board and lodging on top of that, will naturally dwell on all the ways in which this represents a good investment. But when his daughter emerges three or four years later with a degree in Women’s Studies, the main outward sign of which is a well-honed grievance against men in general and the last one in particular, he is likely to question the wisdom of throwing away a third of a million dollars on such an outcome. Finding that his daughter’s ignorance of the classics is as great on leaving university as it was on entering it, that she has graduated from her teenage pop idols only to immerse herself in more “advanced” forms of rock and heavy metal, and that her attitude to career, marriage, childbearing, and all the other things that he had hoped for her is entirely negative, such a father is sure to regret the use of his money.

And I thought, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. But then I looked to the top of my phone and saw American Spectator, and said, “oh, of course! Publisher of Jeffrey “Shirley Sherrod lied because her relative was beaten to death, not hanged” Lord—which will never be surpassed for stupidest thing ever written on the web. Sorry, Scruton, try harder next time!”

But here’s my question:

Scruton follows the nonsense above with:

OF COURSE that is an extreme case.

Then why write it down? He is, supposedly, a scholar, capable of logic and using his intellect. Why put such garbage in a piece trying to make an argument?

I finished reading the article, but really, it’s not worth addressing. Despite having admitted it’s an extreme case, he continues to use “a four-year course in resentment” as a foil to highlight the problems of the university, save for “the natural sciences and a few solid humanities like philosophy and Egyptology”. To save you the bother of reading the article and giving the American Spectator clicks, here’s his position, such as it is:

Could we not envisage a wholly new kind of university, responsive to the wishes of parents, and liberated from the phony subjects and dubious social mores that have occupied the American campus? … I envisage an experiment in “distance learning,” in which students work from home, and attend lectures, receive tutorials, and engage in discussions through Internet connections.

The entire piece is written in this sort of faux-Henry Fielding style, and I swear the commenters picked it up. Or maybe that’s how they always talk over there, I don’t know.

There’s a somewhat interesting set-up, before that:

Most students now graduate in soft subjects that require ideological conformity rather than intellectual growth, and most spend their leisure hours in ways of which their parents would not approve. This is often defended as the natural result of academic freedom. You cannot grant to universities the intellectual freedom that scholarship requires, it is argued, and also deny the moral freedom that enables students to adapt through their own “experiments in living.” Freedom is indivisible, and without it knowledge cannot grow.

I did not realize that colleges looking the other way while 19-year-olds drink was the natural result of academic freedom. I’ve never in my life heard that argument, or indeed, got the impression that universities had any moral qualm about applying policies inconsistently. I’d have liked to hear a bit more about that point.

PS. Egyptology?

PPS. Do I mean Henry Fielding, eighteenth century author of early novel Tom Jones? Hell if I know. Not having had a classical education, I don’t know who he’s trying to mimic. I’m probably doing it too, though, I’m very susceptible to things like that.

PPPS. Can anyone figure out how Scruton arrived at one-third of a million dollars?

PPPPS. The
American Spectator has still appended no correction regarding Lord’s errors of fact about the Sherrod issue. Is there a way to anti-subscribe to a magazine?

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