John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is email@example.com..
This is the second of three lectures delivered by Dr. Cobb at the Sinclair Thompson Lectures, Chiangmai, Thailand, June 26-28, 2002. The others are “Religion and Education,” and “Envisioning a Fifth Model.” Used by permission of the author. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Like public schools, higher education now functions in the service of the capitalist market. Whereas public schools are designed to produce workers for the market, higher education is designed to produce engineers, scientists, accountants, managers, consultants, and executives for corporations, as well as the teachers, doctors, and lawyers required for the market society.
My account of higher education, like that of public education, follows the history in the West. I believe that it is well for Thai educators to be aware of this history, because in many ways it is also the background of Thai universities. These have not, in fact, grown out of the Buddhist schools that have existed in Thailand for many centuries. On the contrary, they were developed out of Western models and are quite similar to some of the universities in the United States.
My concerns about higher education are different from those about public schools, but in one respect they are identical. Like public schools, higher education now functions in the service of the capitalist market. Whereas public schools are designed to produce workers for the market, higher education is designed to produce engineers, scientists, accountants, managers, consultants, and executives for corporations, as well as the teachers, doctors, and lawyers required for the market society.
I call this devotion to the market and its needs "idolatry." Because the word is familiar to us largely from the Bible, and because in the Bible the writers had figures of metal, stone, and wood chiefly in mind, my use of the term may require explanation. The biblical condemnation of idolatry was because a physical depiction of deity could easily be too closely identified with the deity itself. Some Jews and Christians were led by this danger to avoid all depiction of deity. But most Christians have recognized that, despite the danger, paintings and statues can play a positive role in leading the mind toward the deeper reality they represent. Statues of Christ in Christendom or of Buddha in Thailand need not function as idols.
Furthermore, statues and paintings do not pose the greatest temptation to falsely identify a finite object as that which is worthy of our devotion. Today, at least, there is greater danger of treating the nation, or wealth, or personal success as if it were of ultimate importance. These, then, are the idols against which we should issue our warnings.
Idolatry is a serious temptation to all of us. We give our ultimate allegiance to something that is not ultimate. For Christians, the church or the Bible can become an idol. For many individuals personal success or sexual prowess can become an idol. One main theological task in each generation is to name and expose the prevalent idols in the culture and also within the church. When we view our global situation today, it is clear that the most powerful idols are wealth and its servant, the market.
The main resistance in the university to the orientation toward wealth is another idolatry. I have called this disciplinolatry, and I will explain later how this idolatry has been encouraged in recent times. Many scholars in many departments of the university devote themselves to the advancement of their disciplines with little concern for their contribution to society or the world. If they are recognized as successful by their peers, that suffices. Even their students are not equally important to them. Their loyalty is to their guild rather than to the university that employs them.
These idolatries have become important in universities only in the past two hundred years. To understand this, I will describe the rise of modern and contemporary universities against the background of earlier ones. What have been the purposes of universities in the past? How did the present situation come about?
My friend and colleague, Marcus Ford, has recently completed a manuscript on the university. It will be published later this year (2002) by Greenwood Press under the title Beyond the Modern University: Toward a Constructive Postmodern University. He identifies four models, and I am borrowing extensively from him in the account I will offer. Even the quotations I include from other authors are ones that I derive from his text.
The four models discussed by Ford are twelfth-century Paris, seventeenth-century Halle, nineteenth-century Berlin, and twentieth-century Phoenix. They provide an excellent typology for types of universities. They also offer an historical sequence that is illuminating.
We will see, however, that the emergence of a new type does not put an end to the older ones. The ideal of Paris is still with us, as are those of Halle and Berlin. Nevertheless, Berlin is more representative of the contemporary university than are Paris and Halle, and today this is being replaced by Phoenix. My critique of the contemporary university will focus on Berlin and Phoenix.
Paris was not the earliest of the great medieval universities. Universities dotted the Mediterranean world already when the University of Paris was founded between 1150 and 1170. But Paris was soon recognized as the greatest of medieval universities. Hence its self-understanding and actual practices have had the greatest influence.
The University of Paris served the society of its day primarily by serving the church. Europe understood itself as Christian, and the church was the primary institution of Christendom. Most Christians, however, saw no conflict between their Christian faith, on the one side, and reason and scholarly knowledge, on the other. The general assumption was that the more one knew and the better one reasoned, the better Christian faith would be articulated.
The university was comprised of four faculties. We might describe one, the faculty of liberal arts, as constituting the college. The other three were graduate professional schools: medicine, canon law, and theology. To become a physician one studied for thirty-two months in the faculty of liberal arts and an additional five and a half years in the school of medicine. To become a doctor of canon law, the times required were four years and an additional forty months.
The most demanding and prestigious program was in theology. In the thirteenth century the total time required was similar to that for the physician: five years of liberal arts followed by three in the graduate program. But in the fourteenth century the requirement had doubled: six in liberal arts and ten in theology!
The primacy of theology was displayed not only in the special prestige of the theological program but also in its influence on the liberal arts. Although the tradition of liberal arts went back to the Greeks, the medieval form was fully Christianized. The value of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium) was understood to lie ultimately in their clarification and promotion of the faith. The same can be said of the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy. Jacques de Vitry made this fully explicit. "Geometry is good by which we learn how to measure the earth, the domain of our bodies; arithmetic teaches us to count the newness of our days; music reminds us of the songs of the blessed in heaven; astronomy makes us think of the celestial bodies and stars shining brilliantly in God’s presence." (Quoted in The Medieval University: 1200-1400, by Lowrie J. Daly. NY: Sneed and Ward, 1961, p. 103.) The primacy of theology was displayed also by the fact that the actual curriculum emphasized learning Latin, the language of the church, and among the liberal arts, logic, the tool of accurate reasoning required for good theology.
Paris eventually declined, but other universities took up its great program of providing an overall understanding of reality grounded in Christian faith. In England, Oxford and Cambridge followed the basic model of Paris. When Harvard College was founded in Boston in the mid-seventeenth century, one can discern the same basic purpose and form of education. Its task was the "education of the English & Indian youth of the country in knowledge and godliness." It differed from Paris in that, instead of Latin, it taught Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic, since Protestants wanted scholars to study the Bible in its original form. Also the curriculum included history, botany, ethics and politics along with the traditional liberal arts. But clearly it was a liberal arts education, geared to the appropriation of the Christian tradition, and assuming that learning and faith are mutually supportive.
The shift from Latin to the biblical languages reflected the influence of the humanism of the Renaissance on the leaders of the Reformation. Humanism emphasized getting back to original documents and appreciating their literary form. During the nineteenth century, the emphasis on the biblical languages waned, but the humanistic approach to the broader human past flourished. Thus the liberal arts were separated from the rather narrow focus on Christianity that characterized their medieval and early Protestant form, while being reshaped by the influence of the Renaissance.
The dominant form of higher education in the United States up until the Second World War was the liberal arts college. Most of these colleges were established by Protestant denominations. Well into the twentieth century, they continued basic elements of the model that goes back to the University of Paris. Although the emphasis on biblical languages declined, and the new sciences, including the social sciences, were given large place, these colleges resisted practical training in favor of liberal arts, understood in a humanistic, Christian perspective.
The close tie of these colleges to the churches began to weaken in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Although the reality was actually mixed, churches were thought by much of the public to oppose the new evolutionary theories arising in biology. The easy assumption that Christian faith and broad learning were mutually supportive, an assumption central to the Paris model, was challenged. By the early twentieth century many liberal arts colleges founded by the churches were distancing themselves from commitment to official church doctrines. They were more likely to speak of Christian values or, even more generally, of good character. Their ability to resist further secularization has been weakened, so that many of them now have lost much of their liberal arts character as well as their rootage in Christian faith. Nevertheless, even today, the heritage of Paris is not dead.
By the middle of the seventeenth century the primacy of Christian faith and the church were giving way to the primacy of the nation state. At Westphalia in 1648, thirty years of religious wars were brought to an end by giving to rulers the right to establish, within their realms, whatever pattern of institutional religion they desired. In this way, religious institutions were clearly subordinated to secular government. Rather rapidly, in the decades that followed, there developed a primary self-identification in terms of nationality. Most Europeans in the eighteenth century were French, Prussian, or English first, and only secondarily Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican. Wars were fought for the glory and power of nation states rather than for Christianity against the infidel, or for sectarian religious beliefs.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a new form of university was established, geared to the service of a nation rather than the church. This happened first at Halle in 1697. Frederick I of Brandenburg established the university initially as a center of Lutheran culture, but this church relationship was soon abandoned. The new ideal was free inquiry, scientific ways of thinking, and rationalism. Latin was abandoned, with German becoming the language of instruction. Professors were given almost complete control over their work.
Instead of a curriculum geared to preparing leaders for the church, the work at Halle was designed especially to prepare people for service to the state. Geography, politics, public administration, and statecraft displaced theology. The sciences were also given a prominent role. The university was to "advance the worldly practical purposes of men and the benefit of society." (Christian Thomasius, The Decline of the German Mandarins: The German Academic Community, 1890-1933, by Fritz K. Ringer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969, p. 17)
This idea that the university existed to serve the state, and that it did so best by communicating practical knowledge, caught on widely. Other universities that accepted this general purpose emphasized other types of practical activity. For example, the curriculum at the University of Stuttgart consisted in courses in law, military science, public administration, forestry, medicine, and economics. When Thailand first established its universities, they, too were in the service of the state. In this case, however, the Buddhist sangha was more closely integrated with the state.
This model of the university also came to the United States. The idea was affirmed by Benjamin Rush who called for a university dedicated to "those branches of knowledge which increase the conveniences of life, lessen human misery, improve our country, promote population, exalt the human understanding, and establish domestic, social and political happiness." (Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America, by Page Smith. NY: Viking Press, 1990, p. 33.)
In the nineteenth century the idea of a university serving the practical needs of the nation caught on in the United States. It was given a great boost by the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. This act allowed each state to establish colleges "where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts." (Cf. The Magnificent Charter: The Origin and Role of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, by Joseph B. Edmond. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1978, p. 16.) As a result of this act at least one institution of higher learning was established for these practical purposes in each state.
Within German-speaking countries there was a strong reaction against turning universities into training grounds for employment. Many felt that the university’s real task was research. Research aimed at knowledge, but it never claimed to have attained it. In the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, research universities "always treat knowledge as an as yet unresolved problem, and thus always stay at research." (Daniel Fallon, The German University. Boulder: Colorado Assoc. University Press, 1980, p. 17.) Whether what was learned had practical application was of secondary interest.
In many ways this was closer to the medieval understanding than to that of Halle, but it was radically secularized. At Paris the truth that was sought was Christian truth. It was finally truth about God, who was understood to be the Truth. It was a wisdom that could guide all thought and action. In the eighteenth century, the intellectuals who opposed training for useful service sought mundane information. They were concerned neither about an overarching, all-inclusive Truth, nor about a truth that could orient people or guide their lives.
The philosophy of Immanuel Kant was influential in shaping this quest. Kant emphasized the limits of reason. It could not tell us what the world, apart from our experience of it, is really like. It certainly could not lead the mind from knowledge of the world to knowledge of God. It could only deal with the world as it is given in our sensuous experience, that is, with the phenomena. This world is ordered by Geist, the human mind or spirit. The study of Geist, the distinctively human, proceeds on quite different grounds. There are, therefore, two sets of studies or academic disciplines, those that study the phenomena, which are what we mean by nature, and those that study the distinctively human. The first are called in German, Naturwissenschaften, and the latter, Geisteswissenschaften. In English these are understood to be the sciences and the humanities.
Throughout the eighteenth century, this vision of a true university was unrealized, but the destruction caused in Germany by the Napoleonic wars provided an opportunity for something new to happen. In 1810 the University of Berlin was founded, based on the vision of a true research university. It shaped the understanding of what a university should be, influencing the other German universities, and making Germany the world center of scholarly research.
Since it was understood that professors were dedicated to research, ready to follow the evidence wherever it took them, great emphasis was placed on their freedom. Noone was to be pressured by church or state to adapt research or to avoid certain topics. Since practical outcomes were not in view, it was assumed that financial considerations would have no distorting effect on research.
The academic disciplines came into being as contexts for research. For this purpose, a delimited subject matter was required. The natural sciences, for example, could focus on living things or inanimate ones. But even this elementary example indicates that the distinction is not a simple one. Living things have inanimate components. Thus the full study of living things should include chemical and physical analysis of their inanimate components. However, biology as an academic discipline does not do this. It leaves this part of the study of living things to other disciplines. It analyzes its objects only into cells. In short, it is not an exhaustive science of living things, but a study of some aspects of these things. Chemistry and physics study other aspects of these same things. Thus the physical sciences are not distinguished so much by the entities they study but by the level at which they study them.
Having defined a subject matter, a discipline works out the best methods of inquiry for that subject matter. Actually, there is a dialectical relation between method and subject matter. In biology for example, the methods chosen have been largely analytical. The biologist studies organisms by examining their organs, and organs by examining their cellular structure. This method proves very fruitful. Nevertheless, quite obviously, there are characteristics of the behavior of a living animal that are not directly examined in this manner.
This defect is compensated for in part by examining the behavior of laboratory animals. They are subjected to stimuli and their responses are carefully recorded. Again, much can be learned by such methods. Nevertheless, the behavior of animals in the wild cannot be examined in this way. Only a few biologists have actually lived with animals in their native habitats in order to study their behavior there, and the results are not always recognized as "scientific", since they are not readily repeatable in the fashion required by science.
In the humanities the typical subject matter is a body of texts. The method of study is interpretation or hermeneutics. Different disciplines grow up around different bodies of literature. The hermeneutical methods found most effective in the diverse disciplines differ from one another.
I was myself shocked by the extent of this difference within the Claremont School of Theology. For some years we required a course introducing students to the scholarly study of the Bible. We initially supposed that historiography and hermeneutics could be taught in a way that would be applicable alike to the Old and New Testaments and to church history. Once students were introduced to these critical methods they should be able to move directly to their employment in all their historical courses.
It turned out, however, that this would not work. Courses in Old Testament, New Testament, and Church History are staffed by scholars who operate in separate guilds. Each guild has its own history that has led it to identify cutting-edge scholarship in its own way. As a result the historiographical and hermeneutical methods favored by Old Testament scholars differs from those favored by New Testament scholars. The methods favored by church historians differ from both. Students had to learn three types of historiography and three types of hermeneutics!
The circularity between method and subject matter is clear in the humanities as well as in the natural sciences. Each method highlights some features of the text and ignores others. There can be no one method of research that treats the text as a whole in all its dimensions.
The tendency of the disciplinary organization of research has been fragmentation into more and more disciplines. Since each discipline applies one or more methods to a subject matter that lends itself to fruitful research with those methods, new methods generate new subject matters. Also, as there is recognition that some aspects of the phenomena are neglected by existing disciplines, there is room for new ones to be born.
This approach has been brilliantly successful. It has generated vast quantities of information, much of it highly reliable, dwarfing all that had previously existed. Since, regardless of its intention, much of this information has proved to have practical applications, it has also transformed the world. No doubt, such methods would have been developed even if universities had not been organized to support and promote them. Prior to the nineteenth century, scientific research took place largely independent of universities. But there can be little doubt that the organization of universities around research vastly increased the scientific output.
The German research university was greatly admired in the United States. Ambitious American students went to Germany to study and returned fully aware of the inferiority of American colleges in terms of the disciplinary standards they had learned. They began to transplant the academic disciplines or to reproduce them in the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Johns Hopkins was the first American university to be established fully on the Berlin model. The University of Chicago also advanced this program.
By the twentieth century academic prestige was increasingly connected with research. After World War II, even liberal arts colleges were deeply affected. They hired the graduates of research universities, who had been socialized into particular disciplines and wanted to introduce their students into these. Basic courses were increasingly taught as introductions to the several academic disciplines. The colleges gained prestige if their faculties published their own research. Thus the adoption of the Berlin model in prestigious universities changed the nature of college education as well.
The University of Phoenix represents both an evolution from, and a reversal of, the Berlin model. Since this evolution and reversal have occurred most dramatically in the United States, I will talk about the changes there that have led to this new understanding of what higher education is about. I understand that somewhat similar educational institutions have emerged in Thailand as well.
The Enlightenment is the term we give for the secularization of the European world. It overthrew the dominance of the church through shifting power and personal commitment to the nation state. It overthrew the dominance of theology by its appeal to a different kind of reasoning from that which informed the University of Paris.
Inspired by the success of physics, eighteenth-century thinkers became convinced that the mysteries of nature could be fully grasped through careful research. To follow careful protocols and deal honestly with the results constituted the heart of reason. Metaphysics, theology, and any other speculative or authoritarian types of thinking were repudiated in the name of reason. We have seen how the University of Berlin was based on these convictions, just as the University of Halle expressed the nationalism that was the other pole of the Enlightenment.
During the first half of the twentieth century, nationalism and rationalism appeared to be triumphant. However, nationalism took truly extreme forms. The most extreme, probably, was Nazism, which came into power in the homeland of the greatest universities. These universities, many modeled on Berlin, gave little or no resistance to the Nazi takeover of the whole society. In a profound way, this brought to an end the sense of self-evidence about the Enlightenment ordering of society and education. It was obvious that there were problems with both nationalism and rationalism.
At the end of World War II, Europeans understood that they could not rebuild Europe around the absolute sovereignty of nation states. In the previous lecture I noted how this led to giving primacy to the economic order. This shift from the primacy of the political to the primacy of the economic has taken place all over the world. It was accelerated in the 1980s. Today we take economic globalization for granted, and we wonder just what role the nation state still has to play.
The effects of this shift on education have been played out more dramatically in the United States than in Europe. For land grant colleges and universities to shift from a primary focus on the service of the state to a focus on service of the market was an easy transition. After all they were founded to strengthen the economy of the state. Nevertheless, the change in rhetoric and in its implications for the way education is carried out is considerable.
In this new, economistic order, the function of education is to improve the stock of human capital in the nation. Although one can see how this evolves from Halle, one must recognize the difference as well. Here are the words of a pair of commentators, John Sperling and Robert Tucker.
"The American standard of living, the productivity of the American economy and America’s ability to compete in the global economy no longer rest exclusively, or even primarily, on natural resources, capital plants, access to financial capital, or population. These assets are now secondary to the quality of human capital. . . . This quality is largely determined by education." (For Profit Higher Education: Developing a World-Class Workforce. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1997, p. 93)
The shift to a market-orientation occurred through much of the state university systems. The change resulted in large part from the expansion of higher education in the United States after World War II. This expressed its democratization and certainly should be celebrated.
Prior to the war, most Americans did not go beyond a high school education. Higher education could be characterized as elitist. After the war, the American ideal was the availability of higher education to all. Veterans were given funds to return to college. The states developed community colleges for post-high school study and also vastly expanded their university systems.
Although liberal arts did not disappear, it soon became apparent that most students came to college with hopes of improving their employment prospects. More and more, colleges and universities competed with one another to offer programs geared to this desire. Much of the argument in the state legislatures for funding these expanded systems of higher education was also couched in economic terms. Quite rapidly the public understanding of the purpose of higher education changed.
Before World War II, college was an expected rite of passage for persons of certain classes, such as professionals. A liberal education was a mark of culture. One needed that culture to play one’s role as a leader in society. After completing a liberal education, one might study for a profession or one might enter the world of business, usually without further formal education. Bankers would be expected to be college graduates, but they normally learned the business of banking by experience in banks rather than by special courses in an institution of higher education. A university was a liberal arts college plus a graduate school and professional schools. The graduate school was likely to embody the influence of Berlin. If one was really serious about graduate studies one might well go to Europe to complete them. In short, outside of the land grant colleges and teachers colleges, that is, in the more prestigious forms of higher education, the primary models continued to be Paris and Berlin.
After World War II, the natural question to ask a student soon came to be: "What are you studying?" The question now means, "For what job are you preparing?" Sometimes students move immediately into their job-related studies. I understand this is common in Thailand. In the United States most colleges require that students be exposed to a spread of courses, introducing them to a range of academic disciplines, but students are soon able to order most of their work to their anticipated jobs. In some cases, the program of preparation may be completed within the college curriculum or even within the first two years. In other cases, college studies may be pre-professional, especially pre-law and pre-medicine. Programs for business are sometimes even more integrated between college work and graduate-professional studies.
None of this is usually thought of in terms of service of the state. Young people are encouraged by parents and society to aim as high as possible in terms of the opportunities offered by the market. Students who study this and that according to their personal interests are viewed with some suspicion even within the university. To acquire a college degree that has not prepared one for a job or for further work leading to a job is regarded as eccentric and wasteful. That higher education is now pursued primarily for its contribution to personal wealth is confirmed by a 2001 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. 200,000 students were asked which of twenty goals motivated their decision to go to college. Three our of five chose "being very well off financially." (Anne Marie Cox, "Phoenix Ascending", In These Times, May 13, 2002, p. 10)
Given this basic attitude toward higher education, it is understandable that institutions develop that are unambiguous in their efforts to meet the need for job training. Neither traditional liberal arts nor most of the new academic disciplines turn out to be very useful for this purpose. John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix told one interviewer, "Coming here is not a rite of passage. We are not trying to develop their value systems or go in for that ‘expand their minds" bullshit. (Ibid.)
In earlier models, decisions about the curriculum were made for the students. At Paris and at Berlin, the faculty made the decisions; at Halle, the government. This pattern was retained in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, a major shift is occurring.
Higher education is now largely market-driven. Colleges and universities ask what young people want in order to get ahead in their competition for good jobs. They then undertake to provide what is wanted. Insofar as they take the initiative to provide what in their judgment is needed, they decide this in consultation, not with public officials, but with business leaders.
In Claremont, California, where I live, there is a cluster of excellent liberal arts colleges. They work together under the rubric, the Claremont Colleges. They have a number of common facilities, and students can take courses in colleges other than the one in which they enroll. They have certainly made adjustments to the new situation in which students come to prepare for jobs, but to a remarkable degree they maintain the liberal arts tradition. Whatever their limitations, there is no doubt in my mind that they expose students to important features of what is going on in our world and offer them new ways of understanding their larger context. In other words, the faculty’s judgment of what the students need to study to be effective leaders in society still plays a role in the curriculum.
The Claremont Graduate University is also part of the Claremont Colleges. In the past, this consisted of graduate programs primarily in the humanities and social sciences. However, it has long had a graduate program in education and others in business and management. Today these, especially those oriented to the business world, dominate the school.
After retirement, the former president of one of these colleges discovered a need in the bio-chemical industry. This industry required, in a number of positions, persons with scientific knowledge, but these positions did not require the specialized knowledge of PhDs in biology and chemistry. A master’s level knowledge of certain aspects of both would suffice. Yet no existing program prepared people in just this way. The response was to propose a new institution to be funded largely by the Keck Foundation to respond to just this need. The trustees will be chiefly representatives of major bio-chemical industries.
The plan is to have instructors who will come directly from the bio-chemical companies involved, teach for a few years, and then return to the companies. This will insure that they do not get out of touch with what is really going on in the industry. The research done by students during their graduate studies will also be intimately related to the needs of the corporations. The school will be able virtually to guarantee well-paying employment on completion of the program.
The presidents of the colleges voted to welcome the Keck Institute into the Claremont Colleges. There has, however, been resistance from the college faculties. This new institution is obviously market-driven in the way that liberal arts colleges have resisted. In response to this objection, it is pointed out that the graduate schools of business and management are already oriented to meeting the felt needs of the business community. Why should a program designed to meet the needs of the bio-chemical industry not have equal justification? Although objections persist, the Keck Institute is almost certain to become a part of the Claremont Colleges.
I recite this history to indicate how powerful are the forces operating in American society to tie higher education to the market. In most university contexts, the Keck Institute would have been welcomed without resistance. This kind of higher education has increased rapidly over recent years. It is a new form, reflecting the market society that has been shaped globally in the past few decades.
The Keck Institute will make some concessions to its environment in the Claremont Colleges. For example, it is committed to requiring course on business ethics of all students. This is unusual. Institutes and programs in higher education that directly serve business and industry are not typically expected to make such concessions to the traditions stemming from Paris. For this neglect of ethics, Berlin, with its value neutral approach, has already paved the way.
Nevertheless, this kind of educational program is as offensive to the followers of Berlin as to those who continue the tradition of Paris. The reasons are different. For Berlin, to shape teaching and results to practical ends is always to fall short of the ideal of pure research. The way in which the entire program is avowedly geared to specific practical needs of particular corporations flouts the ideals of Berlin publicly and unapologetically.
However, over a long period of time, the academic disciplines and their research projects have been increasingly influenced by financial considerations. Much research in universities has long been supported by grants from industry and shaped to its needs. Truly "pure" research, not oriented to practical results of some kind, has already become quite rare. Thus the transition from Berlin to the new market-oriented model has largely already taken place. Resistance from the academic disciplines is sporadic and ineffective.
The breakdown of the Berlin model has another dimension. I noted that the German universities gave little resistance to Hitler. Their commitment to academic disciplines and pure research gave rise to no values and convictions from which a collective opposition to Hitler could arise. Indeed, Nazism could shape research to its own ends.
This raised questions about the Enlightenment idea that the sort of reason embodied in academic disciplines could liberate human beings from error and provide the basis of social life. People, even researchers, cannot live by information alone. Furthermore, what they put forward as information, especially in the social sciences and humanities, is not as objective as they claim. One could easily detect the anti-Jewish bias of much of the most prestigious German scholarship even before the Nazi takeover. Later, feminists pointed out the patriarchal bias that had shaped the whole history of scholarship. From today’s more global perspective, the Eurocentrism of Western scholarship is painfully apparent.
From such recognitions of the inescapable importance of points of view, one can move in two directions. One is to carry further the relativization of all values. Berlin had already relativized most. There remained only the commitment to objectivity and honesty in the quest for knowledge. Now it was recognized that many of those who had been most admired for their embodiment of such norms had failed. These ideals, too, should be abandoned. What was left was self-interest, which is embodied and rationalized in the market. It is in the interest of researchers to serve the market, since this will pay well for their research. That this biases research is no problem, once we recognize that all research is biased and that there are no objective values by which to judge one bias better than another.
The second response is to emphasize how crucial for the future of the world are the values and purposes that guide research and teaching. Such an emphasis would lead us in an entirely different direction. We will explore this in the next lecture.
In any case, we can see that none of the previous models in fact has offered strong footing for resistance to the new model of market-driven education. To complete the transformation, only one more step is needed. The market-driven institutions I have described thus far have all been funded by the state or private money. As long as education is subsidized, the subsidizing institutions have some power to shape the content and form of education they offer.
The full market ideal is that educational institutions compete with one another to offer what customers want in such a way that these customers will pay to get it. This makes the institutions fully responsive to their "customers", who now replace "students" in both the rhetoric and reality of the for-profit institutions. The University of Phoenix has taken this further step and thus illustrates what market-driven education in its fullest expression has become.
The University of Phoenix is ultimately responsible to its investors. That means that it will offer only programs for which there is a good market. Since the customers are expecting to profit from their expenditures, these programs will be in areas for which the market has a demand. The university offers no degrees in the humanities or even the sciences. It offers twelve undergraduate degrees, all but one of which are in the field of business. The remaining one is in nursing. Of the eight masters degrees six are in business, one in nursing, and one in education. Its one doctoral degree is in organizational leadership. Through all of these programs it expects to improve the human capital of the nation. But the immediate task is to satisfy the customer who pays to attend the classes. If its programs do not significantly improve the earning power of these customers, market forces will undoubtedly bring about changes.
The university not only offers its programs to individuals, it also serves businesses directly. It is prepared to offer courses directly in the workplace. In this case, the corporation is the customer, hoping to improve its profitability through the improvement of its human capital. Again, unless the university can persuade corporations that their investments pay off in a quite direct way, the university will not survive.
From the business point of view, this radical dependence of universities on market forces should insure the best product for the least cost. From the point of view of society, there is a gain in that the cost of training for jobs is no longer borne by the public purse. But from the point of view of the ideals that have shaped higher education in the past, this is a disaster.
Prior to the current epoch, everyone agreed that education in general should transmit values achieved in the past. Indeed, education does this whatever its goal may be. But the values transmitted by Phoenix are only those of the market place. The university becomes part of the market society and serves to strengthen it and to exclude consideration of any other values than those associated with personal or corporate gain.
It is interesting to note that the closest analogy to the University of Phoenix in the past is to be found in some of the early Medieval universities. The University of Paris was controlled by its faculty, but some of the older universities were student-controlled. The students hired teachers to instruct them and did not pay them if they were not satisfied. Thus, the determination of curriculum by the "customers" was as thoroughgoing as in the case of Phoenix. Nevertheless, the situation differed from Phoenix in many ways, especially because the students were seeking help in preparing for life in one of the professions rather than in business, and there was no question of stockholders expecting profits from the operation.
I need hardly say that, from the point of view of any of the great religious traditions, the single-minded pursuit of wealth controlling the University of Phoenix is profoundly wrong-headed. It will not yield the happiness at which it supposes that it aims. It will weaken and ultimately destroy the social fabric. It will dehumanize the individual.
Perhaps the vividness and purity with which Phoenix embodies the university in the service of the market will provide the occasion for other universities, still holding to some features of the ideals of Paris and Berlin, to reflect freshly about the values and commitments that have been eroding already in their institutions. For others, such as Marcus Ford and myself, it prods consideration of the need for a new kind of college or university. In the concluding lecture, I will share my hopes and dreams.