It’s an incredible story. A forthright undertaking by some of its most distinguished facultyÂ to bring a great books program to the University of Texas was deliberately mischaracterized, then undermined, then hijacked, and finallyÂ emasculated byÂ a self-satisfiedÂ faculty and a weasellyÂ dean earlier this year.Â A considered reflection by its key protaganist, Dr. Robert Koons, is here. Legislators, trustees, and donors should pay close attention.
Having put two Allisonettes through college, with a third a year away, I can tell you that even the nation’s best universities have succumbed to the professorate’s demand to teach ever-more-specialized courses. TheÂ tinier the subject, the more passionate the professor whose subject it Â is. (Perhaps we should start by teaching our children to beware people with small passions.) The great texts and grand themes are either considered too mundane or, quite frankly, are beyond our professorate’sÂ own limited educationÂ to be able toÂ teach.
So I’ve spent yearsÂ repeating a mantra toÂ daughters at course-selection time: ignore those people, learn the basics. “Feminist Thought in Post-Revolutionary Connecticut” is not much good if the sophomore who signs up for it doesn’t know what the Revolution was, why it was fought, where the ideas came from that stimulated it, how those ideas were refined by theÂ menÂ who fought it, and what led them to shed some of those ideas while they built upon others after they won it.
Koons calls what UT has fallen into the Uncurriculum. He goes further. He calls it a fraud on students,Â parents , and taxpayers who are paying the bills. He’s right. Larry Summers caused aÂ sensation at Harvard when he challenged a self-involved and self-interested professorate to return to the college’s original mission. He succeeded, but at the eventual cost of his jobÂ (this piece, ironically, is by John Silber, who was himself dean of arts and sciences at UT). Who at UT has the gumption and the clear vision to take up the gauntlet?