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Tracing Our Cultural Decline, Part II of III

Our decline is partly due to Orwellian confusion and lack of resolute behavior by our appointed or elected officials and trusted leaders. Within our education communities, major contributions can be made through reform and re-dedication to fundamental values.

Hey, colleagues of mine! those who remember how optimistic we were about academic life 40 to 50 years ago: You may agree with me that the erosion of academic freedom and free speech on our college campuses today, obviously spreading,  is the major threat to higher education, and perhaps to America as a whole.

In the 1960s, when young guys like me first entered into the arena, we still had the historical examples of what I consider to be the royalty of higher education, Harvard’s Charles W. Elliott, Chicago’s Robert M. Hutchins, Samuel P. Capen, University of Buffalo, and other presidents and professors who spoke with a strong sense of values, spiritual as well as intellectual.

Then the inspiration of Jacques Barzun, the premier model of a scholar and gentleman! (His book, Teacher in America, put me on solid ground in my first year of teaching, I am forever grateful.) Most of my professors seemed to be of that mold.

What happened? Why were these rocks pushed aside? In my early years, I was oblivious, but later on, as president, I began to see the decline of liberal arts tradition and objective scholarship. There was a steady rise of the “isms”– – Marxism (even in English classrooms), Feminism Freudianism, Deconstructionism – – cascading and running over the historic values of the pursuit of knowledge – – beauty, truth, the good!–it began to seem that these purposes of liberal learning now were placed  in a category of hopeless naïveté. They were also being jammed by political correctness and cultural relativism.

From what I observe today, college presidents are managers, not leaders. They strive to survive and are too subservient to the political expectations of their faculty. As a leader, the president, and other leading administrators, must lay down some basic principles and concepts that establish a values framework for the organization:

*The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are highly valued documents  on this campus (let them argue about it but do not allow compromise.)
*Ensure enforcement of the primary obligation to appoint only well-qualified  faculty and staff.

* A student is not an interruption of our work; he/she is the purpose of it.
* Don’t complicate the teaching process, back it up! Simplify and streamline procedures as much as possible.

*Expect integrity in all relationships; when reporting a mistake tell the whole truth of it; above all, don’t tolerate dishonesty or lies.
*Responsibilities should be energized by clearly laid out duties and expectations, not by exhortation or propaganda.

*Don’t rely on memos to solve problems, and don’t try to fix  blame, fix the problem.

*Be a strong advocate for a principled organization with a clear mission and honest people willing to accept accountability in carrying it out.
*The key to good staff performance is training; a well-trained staff member will claim the job as his/her own.

*Respect and appreciate dedication and competent performance.

Mistaken ideology by some college presidents and their student life administrators, that students should be worried about language that might ” hurt the feelings” of other students is a harbinger for violent censorship and a platform for continuing mob attacks. If today’s authorities continue to foster the notion that silencing opponents is what good people do, the time is coming when dissenters on college campus will be beaten and even murdered. The ideologies of moral authoritarianism and identity politics will replace our once dearly embraced ideals of liberty and justice, and even well-intentioned radicals will not understand the wreckage they have wrought, or know what has happened to their institutions.

About the author

Dr. John O. Hunter

President Emeritus, Alfred State College, SUNY
President Emeritus, College of Lake County, IL
Founding President, Penn Highlands College,PA
Phi Theta Kappa Distinquished President, WV Northern College
Dean of College, NCCC, Sanborn, NY

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