The case of Bowdoin College

A new report paints a devastating portrait of the current state of college education.

The fate of higher education has been a central concern of The New Criterion since our first issue rolled off the press in September 1982. As we noted at the time, what had happened to our colleges and universities did not take place in a vacuum. The revolution in academia was part of a much larger cultural deformation. That deformation was a multifaceted, conceptually slippery phenomenon, or set of phenomena, difficult of definition. But it has long since answered to a familiar epithet: “The Sixties.”

The point is that “The Sixties,” a marker that is as much existential as it is chronological, didn’t happen just in the Sixties. It is still with us. The process of institutionalization, through which the jagged novelties of that malevolently giddy decade were domesticated, drained the element of shock but not the toxicity from its astonishing innovations. Habituation is not the same as inoculation. The passage of time has deposited its reassuring glaze of nostalgia. But the spiritual detonations of that period have fatefully altered many basic assumptions about who we are and how we ought to conduct ourselves in our shared lives together. Which is to say that, whatever complacencies the passage of time have nurtured, “The Sixties” pertains to our present situation, circa 2013, just as much as it did to the bell-bottomed, acid-dropping, free-love-touting agitators of the Woodstock generation. Those formative years may have supplied the crucible in which the habits and values of “The Sixties” took shape. It is a shape that has deeply impressed itself on the character of our culture, not least our academic culture.


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