Wendell Berry has responded to questions about his decision to withdraw his papers from the University of Kentucky here.  In a short space he points out the absurdities of the now universal pursuit of every university to be a “top-20” research institution, which requires every university to conform to identical standards imposed by the demands for measurable “outcomes.”  Every institution, whatever its location, culture, or historical inheritance, must abandon its local connection to conform to these homogeneous standards.  Berry thus points out that in this pursuit, institutions like University of Kentucky simultaneously ignore the original grounds for their land-grant status, while also making themselves susceptible to a close and cozy connection with industry (such as the Big Coal).  Above all, this pursuit demotes the status of the liberal arts in a growing number of institutions.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is the mastery of technique without the corresponding study of human sciences that teach limits to mastery.

What amazes me, frankly, is how little this phenomenon is noticed, much less criticized, either by so-called Leftists or so-called Conservatives on our campuses today.  Leftists are entirely comfortable with the language of STEM, progress, globalization and “identity” that has deracinated our campuses, and “conservatives” are happy with any arrangement that helps the corporate bottom line.  While Berry attracts a considerable and growing following among discontents and independent-minded people beyond the typical political spectrum, denizens of our universities – supposedly devoted to “critical thinking” – march in lockstep in support of the “multiversity,” the handmaiden of the military-government-industrial complex.  Wendell Berry’s principled stance throws into bold relief the shame of the modern university.

Hat tip: Adam Keiper


  1. Hi Patrick

    While there is much truth to what you write, in my experience as a pedestrian/bicycle/transit/sustainability advocate in the Madison, Wisconsin area, the people most inclined to have doubts about STEM are self-described liberals and progressives. When Wendell Berry spoke here last fall, the Overture Center was filled to overflowing with progressives – I doubt many Unitarians missed it.

    It is the progressive types I know whose use of the word “community” most closely matches Berry’s definition of it. Meanwhile the notion that “community” requires respect for – and a return to – our better traditions seems to be sinking in among them (I would like to think I am assisting in this process.)

    Thank you as always for your work!

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