Universities aren’t what they used to be
Originally published May 10, 2023 as an op-ed at The Washington Times
It’s college decision-making time. Many students have received acceptance letters. Now it’s time to choose. Students and parents are having critical conversations. This is one of the biggest investments of time, money and effort they will ever make. What should they look for in a college or university?
Forget reputation and prestige. Many schools are abandoning the traditional rankings. Size, public vs. private, location, sports programs, cheap tuition, cafeteria, dorms — these, at best, should be secondary considerations. It was your mother’s or father’s alma mater? Take my word for it: Their university is not what it used to be.
For this reason, I suggest that graduating high schoolers employ a radically different checklist:
1. Pick a school that believes in and values the pursuit of truth. This was the traditional purpose of university education. If school officials and faculty are known to be triggered by the very idea of truth and are relativists regarding goodness, beauty and truth, stay away.
2. Pick a school with a robust core curriculum. Check out the yearly rankings by ACTA, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which ranks over 1,000 universities. In a mobile marketplace where the average student will have 12 jobs in a lifetime, these students will need a foundation in the basics: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government, economics, mathematics, and natural science.
3. Pick a school that teaches appreciatively about our own civilization and nation. Of course, this is not to the exclusion of other civilizations and nations, but go where you can study the Greek, Roman and Judeo-Christian foundations of Western civilization, including an understanding of the American founding and the Constitution, so that students become well-informed citizens ready to take their place in our republic and preserve it.
4. Pick a school that promotes character, virtue, and talk about the meaning of life, not just activism and critical thinking. You are who you hang out with. Go where you can find a student community where “they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
5. Pick a school that values debate and encourages people to think, as opposed to obsessive coddling and worrying about safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions, cancel culture and “safetyism.” Sadly, debate is dying on college campuses. So look for a place that instead teaches students to listen respectfully and discuss great ideas.
6. Pick a school where the humanities are not corrupted by critical theory, that instead of politicizing it, deconstructing it, and turning it into a study of victims and oppressors, uses the humanities to teach students about human nature and expose them to human greatness so that they become better, wiser people.
7. Pick a school that is military-friendly, one that values national strength and leadership. Does it have an ROTC program? Does it honor our military’s service and sacrifice?
8. Pick a school that knows how to define what a woman is — or a man, for that matter. That affirms masculinity and femininity and respects privacy in dorms and bathrooms, and that does not undermine women’s athletics.
9. Pick a school that is not a spiritual wasteland, but instead upholds and respects traditional religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian tradition. Look for a school that acknowledges that “the fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom and that values our civilization’s and nation’s most important book — the Bible.
10. Finally, pick a school with a low teacher-student ratio that values teacher quality. How does the college measure teacher quality? Are faculty hired primarily on their expertise and character? Does the school rely more on graduate students or adjuncts to teach the main courses?
11. Oh, and one more: Pick a school that still believes in the concept of excellence and merit and is known for excellence in the area of your interest. Many schools are now embracing “ungrading” and dropping standards by which to measure achievement and success.
I can hear the howls already. And for those who detest this kind of list, you have many opportunities to go to a “‘PC University.” If you really value educational diversity, schools like this should not bother you. But for those who are looking for colleges worth your while and your dollar — what I call islands of educational sanity — when deciding on a college these days, you will need an alternative checklist. I offer mine.
You are making an investment in your future. The college years are a critical time of growth and development laying a foundation for life. Choose carefully how you will invest.