The course I am teaching is part of the university’s core curriculum. Core comes from the Latin word for “heart,” I told my students. The same Latin root, cor, gives us the word, courage, I added. Why might the courses at the heart of the university’s curriculum require courage? I inquired. It’s up to us to decide if we have the courage to accept what is challenging, they wrote.
Fran Liebowitz suggests that “a book isn’t supposed to be a mirror, it’s supposed to be a door.” Universities are the same. They are not meant to simply reflect the times and trends. They are intended to open doors to existing knowledge and doors to a reimagined future.
As our society considers higher education in the twenty-first century, the best way to decide what universities should be is not to gaze into the future, but to study the past for what universities have been and what they have been able to do. Marsden’s thoughtful and thorough historical narrative in The Soul of the American University Revisited raises a helpful signpost for our society.
Feeney’s book is a helpful antidote to the “go to college at any cost” mindset. But more importantly, it examines how this mindset can corrupt the forms of association that allow our communities to thrive and the humans within those communities to flourish.
An empathetic approach to the kind of lofty goals named by Princeton’s aspiration to serve “humanity” might empower talented young people to serve their communities rather than selling out for personal financial success. You have to be very smart and very powerful to save the world, but serving your community begins with empathy, which is a trait we can all cultivate.
Students may return to universities that post a philosophy statement but have no philosophy department. Yet as we look at our country, divided over history and by economics, home to scientific innovation and scientific ignorance, education is both more needed and more endangered than ever.
Perhaps we ought to hope that things won’t quite go back to what’s normal: rootless young folk siphoned away by elite universities and groomed to lead the managerial bureaucracies and mass popular culture that dominate our national life. The students who remain in their hometowns have the potential to restore declining local institutions and community associations.
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