The end of the Second World War set into place the homogenization of America, the rootlessness and emptiness of the postwar days when the men came back from WWII and moved to California, took new jobs, had new makeovers and joined new churches, bought new cars and bungalows, scrubbed off the curse of regional identity and became a generation of self-made men, who screamed their nightmares in the middle of the night about the battles they saw, and drank like veterans. The roots of later social problems began to manifest then in their children and some disaffected veterans. Motorcycle gangs. Alienation. The disintegration of the family. Divorce. All of those topics came to the forefront after the war. They are still discussed as though they have some sort of current meaning – but they are as pointless and forgotten as the Wobblies and the Know-Nothings and the Commie Threat.
The immense promise of this new crushing of the roots of community was that of immense profit. National homogeneity meant national branding, and national money players. Local industries fell away to national conglomerates. The automobile industry had raced in that direction, and consolidated after the war into Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and American Motors, national names with nationally-offered models.
Cars were the epitome of the modern manufacturing world. Everyone knew the hierarchy – Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac were the four manifestations of upward mobility that General Motors sold.
As the cars, too, the colleges. The sleepy regional elites discovered that they had a Brand Name. Even during my high-school years in Boston, there was Harvard, and the many other colleges in the Boston area. One of my classmates went to some school in California named Stanford – that seemed intriguing and novel. It was said to be good. A fellow I knew went to Princeton to play football there – they offered a full scholarship to him. It was supposed to be a really good school, too. Yale was of course the bête noire of football fame, but little else was known about it.
With the realization of the national market, there came the pricing that comes with national markets. There was a shift in the expectation of the alumni – the driving force that controls every college. Kingman Brewster had started his tinkering with Jeffersonianism at Yale – let all the best students in America come to Yale! The alumni were swept up in the movement against the comfortable but somewhat stale parochialism of the New Haven Club and the New York chapter.
Harvard had been integrated, in the genteel racism that pervaded the regionalism of eastern New England. Blacks, of course, had already been welcomed to Harvard – but there were so few of them! And the Widener Library had long had its ‘pigeons.’ During sunny days, day commuters – mostly Jews – could be seen sunning themselves on the steps of the Widener, and eating ghastlies out of paper bags and boxes. Radcliffe girls, too. But again, all were locals – one could hardly entirely hate a fellow Red Sox fan.
As the inevitable Weberian expansion continued in the administrative levels of colleges, the administrators latched upon the realization that they must pay their way. When I went to college, the dream of earning enough by summer employment to pay for private college had long since vanished, perhaps five years before. One might have to borrow to pay for one’s education.
The brands went national. The Ivies, of course, still found sports to be encouraged but questionable as a principal element of the school’s identity. Other places, lacking the reputation of the Ivies, sought the benefit of sports and found a gold mine.
Kentucky, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan – all colleges with perhaps some minor academic fame, but truly national brands. The alumni were thrilled, and so were the bureaucrats. The school could purchase the best players in the country, and have them play for free, in exchange for advertising exposure. The academic problem was deftly solved. Should an employee student become injured on the job, well, that’s the price one pays for competition.
If the university cannot fulfill its original compact of broadly educating youth while keeping within bounds of American laws and protocols, then it will either have to change or slowly become irrelevant.
The market is already sensing a void – and thus opportunity. Online degree programs proliferate. Private vocational and trade schools sprout up around college campuses. Even Ivy League degrees have become mostly empty brand names, like Gucci or Versace, that convey status and open doors but hardly guarantee that graduates are knowledgeable or inductive thinkers.
Victor D. Hanson, “The Regrettable Decline of Higher Learning.”
I note with surprise the concern that the university will have to change, or “slowly become irrelevant.” That’s a bit like saying the Challenger had a “event-filled launch.” Nobody, even the monied classes, sees the University as having any mission beyond its own existence, and that of the settled class structure. Any assertion that one learns something substantive at the University is met with pitying ridicule.
Competition was always an unchallenged maxim in America. It now became a way to manipulate the student body into docility. Pre-medical students were always docile and immoral – whatever it takes to get into medical school, and even during the tumultuous days, they were not seen on the ramparts of the revolution.
Tuitions exploded, to match demand. Ivies always fill their classes, no matter what outrageous sums they demand. Alumni vote their approval by unleashing millions upon the school, sending their legacies to the college and paying cash. The sports market became a laughably successful enterprise. When, say, Nebraska has a home football game, the stadium becomes, I believe, one of the five largest communities in Nebraska, holding 100,000 people, many of whom have no educational tie to the institution. Gouging high-school graduates to pay thousands for the price of supporting a college – now, there’s a brilliant idea!
And the colleges still groused about the horrible expenses that it took to educate students, began to stuff low-pay, low-ranking AssPro’s (assistant professors without tenure) down into the unpleasant duties of dealing with the customers. [By now, it has become commoditized labor, visiting/adjunct toilers that are hired to babysit – the actual education takes place far from the “real” faculty, to their relief.]
As the old basis began to crumble, there was one vital change which was still coming, that brought on the New Revolution.