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Academic discipline: MIA at America’s failing colleges and universities

Written By | Jun 17, 2019
academic discipline

Bored student lacking any sense of academic discipline. Image via, CC 0.0 (public domain) license.

WASHINGTON. From Oberlin to Evergreen, from large state universities, to big time Ivy League institutions to small private colleges and everything in between: The American university establishment today is rotten to the core. Colleges and universities across the country have turned themselves into costly indoctrination camps more interested in developing mind-numbed socialist robots rather than encouraging creative and independent intellects. Fundamental change is what these institutions need today. That means a return to an emphasis on academic discipline and excellence.

Today’s institutions of higher learning don’t need the kind of left-wing “fundamental transformation” preached by Barack Obama. The kind they’ve indoctrinated college students with for a generation. They need to teach the functions of reason and logic, a suite of useful skills, a spirit of inquisitiveness, and above all the art and science of academic discipline.

Fundamental change, Obama-style? Or a new age of intellectual excellence?

American institutions of higher learning simply must be required to return to their educational roots. That means teaching only useful disciplines, Western culture and jurisdprudence, and science, math and engineering. It means abandoning the various flavors of open admissions policies which require the intake of far too many students that lack the capacity to successfully complete any degree program.

It also means eliminating layer upon layer of useless bureaucratic positions and dumping entire fake academic “departments” and “disciplines” created to indoctrinate a cadre of radicals whose subsequent lack of employment possibilities will radicalize them further. Traditionally passive university boards-of-directors need to step up to the plate, clean house no matter what kind of mass demonstration stunts radical professors and students will mount against them. At stake is the leading edge intellectual and creative power that once made our higher education system the envy of the world. And the engine for American success.

But what today’s colleges and universities generally lack is any sense of the value of academic discipline and a flexible intellect. As a result, their graduates lack these intellectual skills as well.

Dumbing education down by cheapening the value of a college degree

Open admissions, useless bureaucracies, disciplines, faculties and degree programs are major factors behind today’s routine and ruinous inflation in the cost of a college degree. This in an era when the US Federal Reserve is actually struggling to increase inflation because, statistically, there is none. Except in healthcare and university education.

Currently, it’s all but impossible NOT to get admitted to at least some college or university. For a great many US colleges and universities, a more or less “open” admissions policy has been in force since at least the 1970s. Universities created such policies, at least initially, to answer a perceived opportunity gap. These policies allowed poor kids to enroll in college degree programs even if

  1. They couldn’t afford it; or
  2. They were disadvantaged by a lousy grade school / high school system that robbed them of the academic skills required for admission. Which skills, presumably, would somehow get remedied if they could go to college.

Getting into the details of Item 2 is the topic for another column. But what “open admissions” essentially came to mean is that nearly anyone could gain admission to an open admissions school just as long as there were enough remaining empty seats to fill.

A party, not an education

Ultimately, though, what a far easier admissions policy meant for “open admissions” schools meant that for quite a lot of students, getting admitted to college was, and is, a great chance to escape from the antiquated moral dictates of their parental units. As such, they enjoyed an extended (unless they flunked out early), all-expenses paid (sort of) booze, drugs and sex vacation. And it’s hard to flunk out of schools that lack academic discipline. As such, they become little more than expensive high schools where the worst students can shuffle through curricula and still achieve social promotions via the good old “gentleman’s C.” At today’s prices, such a fake education looks and feels obscene.

Whatever happened to America’s excellent trade school opportunities?

Whatever happened to those highly useful urban high schools once known as “trade schools”? A great many marginal high school students today would have done a lot betting by shifting to a trade school some time in their high school years to learn a trade and find a decent-paying job. Fortunately, community colleges have at least partially filled this critical educational gap.

Attending a course of hands-on study at a community college instead of pursuing a useless academic degree could enable a substantial number of young people  to do a lot better by learning a trade on the cheap. Many can pursue this goal right now by spending a couple of semesters at their local community college. Then, they can start earning real money earlier in life. In fact, they can earn considerably larger salaries than the party-mad students who graduate with a C-average and a degree in some outrage-centric “specialty” whose name often ends in “Studies.” Unsurprisingly, you’ll more likely to find real academic discipline today at the lowliest community college than you are in the hallowed halls of Harvard and Yale.

At an allegedly more prestigious university, a C-average “Studies” graduate gets stuck with zero real-world skills and a large post-graduate Student Loan balance to pay off. The National Bank of Mom and Dad is usually on the hook as well for the remaining balance of that wasted expenditure. They paid for their share by taking out a second mortgage. One that they’ll be paying off for at least a decade with money that should have gone into their 401(k)s.

The great college degree scam: Useless degrees in “Studies”

What makes this great academic party charade significantly worse is this: A great many colleges and academic majors today are phenomenal rip-offs, leading marginal college students down a primrose path to economic disaster and personal depression. Students enrolled in ripoff “Studies” programs, most likely never belonged in an academic degree program to begin with. After graduation they confront useless degrees and massive piles of debt: a real American tragedy. And it’s perpetuated by the myth that you absolutely NEED a college education to get by in the world. You don’t. Particularly if your fake degree program is entirely lacking in academic discipline. Which “Studies” departments usually are.

Sorry to be so negative. But academia these days, save for some of the sciences, is largely a charade. Colleges and universities are way too top- heavy with hordes of expensive and unnecessary deans and bureaucrats. These barnacles and drones add to the already too high cost of a college degree quite considerably.

But a large chunk of the average university’s faculty is also to blame. Too many professors today – way too many – are more dedicated to promoting socialism rather than teaching a valid discipline. And far too many of these weakened or fake “Studies” disciplines prove to be a horrible investment for their students. Degrees in these areas lead to the same kind of jobs a student could get right out of high school. And without wasting the time and money it takes to get that useless degree.

Cut fake disciplines, reduce the demand for seats, and restore economic balance to the cost of higher education

If universities reduced admissions by half, most of the fake professors in fake disciplines would get the sack. Useless administrators – often heading up offices dedicated to promoted divisiveness and radicalism – would get pink-slipped.

University budgets would gradually become more reasonable. And so would the costs of attending college. Admissions standards would tighten. Getting into the majority of schools would be more competitive. This would likely cause universities to revert to their once time-honored purpose. Namely, to admit a greater number of students  dedicated to entering a profession that requires a reputable degree.

This, in turn, would likely mean that, according to the law of supply and demand, those suddenly scarcer college degrees would become more prestigious again, leading to increased competition for seats and increased social pressure.

Cutting down the admission pool would force colleges to go on a massive diet. They could their massive bureaucracies down to size. Next, they could eliminate dead-end “degree” programs.  In addition, they could terminate marginal professors, thus reducing cost inflation. This could, in turn, lead to a perceived increase in value and prestige for today’s useful college degree programs.

Lousy, expensive but useless degrees involve lots of debt and zero prestige. A trade is a better choice for many

A great many students currently in college would actually gain a greater benefit by quitting their 4-year college. Then they could learn a trade quickly and inexpensively at a local community college. Then getting a decent job in a trade at a surprisingly high salary or hourly rate. And, above all, by not incurring years of crippling debt that will sap their spirits for many years to come. Not to mention their largely nonexistent bank accounts.

The whole college racket needs to be cleaned up. It’s turned into a massive rip-off of students and parents alike. Even worse, students and parents are incurring massive amounts of debt for an increasingly devalued academic degree, given that the prime directive of America’s universities today is to turn out good socialists first and useful citizens not at all.

Emphasize knowledge, skills and professionalism. Forget about nurturing mind-numbed socialists

Restoring a rational college admissions policy and eliminating a slew of utterly useless degree programs may help restore some balance to a bloated higher education system whose costs continue to inflate at a far higher rate than today’s outrageous medical costs.

The result: Students pursuing tough academic disciplines geared toward high-paying professions will seek the right college match. Students who don’t really see the relevance of such time and expense but still want to earn a decent living will learn an honest trade.

That’s a fundamental change that would make a college degree once again worth the time, expense and discipline.

— Headline image:



Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17