Regaining public trust in higher education

Insidehighered has a report on a recent symposium:

SAN FRANCISCO — Public trust in colleges and universities is eroding at a time when liberal education is crucial — and institutions must respond aggressively. That was the current running through several panels here Thursday at the annual meeting at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“A liberal arts education is situated as reserved for those within the ivory tower, reflecting a willful disconnect from the practical matters of everyday life,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the AAC&U, during a plenary address called “Always on the Fringe: Closed Futures and the Promise of Liberal Education.” It’s a trend that’s been “exacerbated by the recent political jockeying and appeals to people’s fears and prejudices, in which rational inquiry built on evidence has all but been abandoned.”

In order to restore trust and “destabilize the attitudes at the basis of proposals that devalue education,” Pasquerella said, “we need to demonstrate in a more compelling way to those outside of the academy, Democrats and Republicans alike, the extent to which we are teaching students 21st-century skills, the ability to solve the world’s most pressing problems — local, national and global issues — within the context of the work force, not apart from it.”

Beyond that, she said, “championing liberal education must reaffirm the role that it plays in discerning the truth.” …

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9 Responses to Regaining public trust in higher education

  1. Conservative Duck says:

    Ditching “safe spaces” would go a long way towards this. There are no safe spaces in the real world, after college.

    • Dog says:

      I love academics:

      :… in which rational inquiry built on evidence has all but been abandoned”

      yeah, name a historical time where this was ever done
      no a scale that mattered …

    • just different says:

      I propose a moratorium on ever mentioning “safe spaces,” because any sentence witn that phrase uttered by anyone on any side of this issue is invariably moronic.

  2. Thedude says:

    Well half of the public is very politically conservative and they feel like they can’t send their children to public universities without their kids being corrupted. Are we ever going to value diversity of thought?

    • just different says:

      Half the public is not “very politically conservative,” especially among college-educated people age 50 and younger, which is the college-age parent demographic.
      Citation please about half the public feeling that public universities will corrupt their children.

      • Thedude says:

        Isn’t that the exact problem? Many people who should send their children to college for economics reasons but dont because of the social institution we’ve built public universities to be.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Dude — most people are not “very conservative” or very ideological at all. And I don’t think that half the public yet is shunning higher education because of the corruptive effect on their children.

      However, I think you have a good general point. People are losing faith in the value of higher education. There are polls that back this up. A lot of it has to do with loss of confidence in either the necessity or sufficiency of college education for career success. But some of it also has to do with the fear of the “corruptive” that you mention. A lot of people perceive the university as a far left enclave of leftwing indoctrination. Certainly, I’ve talked to a good many students at UO over the years who see it that way, to varying degrees.

      There is also a widespread feeling that the humanities and social sciences have become trivialized and/or oppressive. I think that is part of the reason that they are seen as being of less utility both intellectually and for career purposes. Again, don’t take my word for it; just look at enrollments, which are manifestly causing a huge amount of alarm across the country.

      Lest one think it is confined to the humanities and social sciences, parts of the natural sciences are coming in for a lot of skepticism or hostility too. I think of skepticism toward climate science, and also hostility toward biological evolution. This is not the place to delve into the merits of the arguments at these science-society interfaces, except to say that in my opinion, natural science is doing a certain amount of unnecessary damage to itself.

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