From The Arnoldian Project: ‘Architecture, Campus, And Learning To Become’

Full post here.

Our author defends the campus experience:

‘By occupying physical spaces with other people, networks are possible. Long-lasting, meaningful friendships can be forged. Mentoring that passes down a tradition of wisdom is available. Education can be, at its best, deeply and broadly imagined. Students can be encouraged to become in a way that distance-learning simply cannot replicate.

Or I suppose that efficient, cost-effective, and icy cubicles will work just as well.’

Well, that last part is a false choice.

As I’ve said, I don’t think that a solid majority of colleges and universities are going anywhere, they’ll simply have to adapt to new technology and more challenging economic circumstances.  Change is coming.  It won’t all be in the form of distance learning either, nor students in efficient, icy cubicles, isolated from one another while staring into a tablet of some kind.   It will be full of trial and error, and experimentation.

Now some people, of course, will want to focus on the “customer experience,” maximizing efficiency and profit, and managing the university like a business, or worse, a bureaucracy.  Others will want to depersonalize the educational experience and create an online database of information alone.  Others still will want it to serve ideals of diversity, meritocracy and too often serve as safe harbor for all sorts of their own preferred ideological and personal interests. I think all of these approaches can get in the way.

The argument above is that education should speak to the higher things:  The soul, the use and expansion of the imagination, the pursuit of truth and knowledge in deep meditations and conservations with the past.  These higher things are fostered by not only the culture and traditions on campus, but by necessary interactions with the environment:  the gothic spires, the dorms, the library, and the manicured lawns.

One problem is that we’re at the end of what I consider to be the “greatness” model.  We cannot expect ever more groups of people to be included into higher education under the current economic model.  We can’t and shouldn’t keep pumping student loan money in and burdening individuals with the consequences.  There’s a large psychological buy-in that attending college is the only way to get ahead.

Maintaining the higher things also takes much care and concern in the daily, “lower” things.   Behind the gothic spires and manicured lawns are budgets, boards, politics, fundraising, marketing, student loans and taxpayer money amidst fierce competition.  Behind the admissions process is a strange mixture of art and science, meritocratic and diversity requirements, money, legacy considerations, and some political pressure.


For the sake of the argument, maybe we could see private and public universities as public goods, even if such broad definitions of public goods don’t properly account for human nature nor ultimately economic sustainability.  Colleges are too important to fail.  Losing sight of the higher things may have consequences for all of us, and nearly everyone sees some worth in having great institutions of higher learning.

We could even compare college campus buildings to courtrooms, Houses of Congress, and the marble of many a municipal building.  There is something hallowed about the architecture of such places and the interactions going on within them, beyond considerations of utility, economic efficiency, and faceless information exchanges on the web.

If you accept this argument, then it’s all the more reason to re-examine the core educational mission, accepting and taking advantage of the changes necessary to sustain it economically due to the bubble, and technologically due to the revolution we seem to be undergoing.  This will likely best protect and carry forward the higher things and the campus experience, however they may be defined.

Related On This Site: Repost: Mark Cuban From His Blog: ‘The Coming Meltdown in College Education & Why The Economy Won’t Get Better Any Time Soon’…From The New Criterion: ‘Higher Ed: An Obituary’,,,Ron Unz At The American Conservative: ‘The Myth Of American Meritocracy’

 Should you get a college degree?  Yes, you probably should, but understand there are many entrenched interests who don’t always have your interests in mind:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism

The libertarian angle, getting smart, ambitious people off of the degree treadmill:  From The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama Interviews Peter Thiel-’A Conversation With Peter Thiel’ I think it’s going too far, trying to apply libertarian economics onto education, but Milton Friedman on Education is thought-provoking.

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Allan Bloom had in mind the idea of a true liberal arts education: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

5 thoughts on “From The Arnoldian Project: ‘Architecture, Campus, And Learning To Become’

  1. Great post and I agree with absolutely everything you’ve stated here, particularly about my false choice! It was a rhetorical gesture meant to mimic the narrow mindedness of the “education as economic efficiency” crowd. Thanks for calling me on it.

    Your point about what you call the “greatness model” is a good one. The economics don’t really support it and at some point we have to, as a culture, value people who contribute to society without the credentials that a college degree supposedly provides. I also wholeheartedly agree that in certain circumstances, distance learning is the best choice. I’m just wary of broadening its implementation too much. It’s a question of degree, not kind.

    My fear is that an increasing number of people see the failure of the “extension” of the college ideal as a failure of the college ideal itself. This mindset is the one driving us towards a mechanical, inhuman education “system” that doesn’t just supplement the great old institution, it seeks to replace it entirely.

    As an old Arnoldian, I feel it’s my duty to stand in the face of progress and remind people about the what might be lost in the forgoing of tradition.

    • Funnily enough that is a very conservative thought Danny, yet one I would agree with. Liberalism at its best tends to embrace change for the immense benefits and progress it potentially might bring, while conservatism at its best tends to value the best of the past and to caution against change that happens too fast, before its consequences can be fully known. I suspect that in this case the change is going to happen faster than anyone really wants, for mainly economic reasons. It is vitally important that we do not forget the best of the past, Arnold’s “best which has been thought and said.” I woudl not wish for our children and grandchildren, and theirs, to have to discover it once again on their own.

  2. Danny, sorry I couldn’t comment on your site. I don’t think there was enough room.

    There are always good reasons to stand up and yell stop, because progress isn’t always what it’s supposed to be. We seem to live in interesting times.

    I definitely support a college ideal that’s worth standing up for, but even better is what you probably do in the classroom. Sometimes, that’s what you can do.

  3. Once again Chris, I agree. I think I’m fortunate to work at an institution that permits me to invent my own teaching environment. I feel free to import these very old ideas into a modern classroom and adapt them for contemporary students. It’s an ongoing experiment, but one I love conducting! Thanks for participating in the conversation.

  4. Danny, thanks for starting it. It sounds like you take that freedom seriously and are interested in getting your students to expand their imaginations and think for themselves.

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