The Politics of Education and the Metaphysics of Emptiness

The president of a prominent liberal arts college recently conveyed to its philosophy department (and to other constituencies) that regulations may soon be in place which would influence, if not altogether control, the conferring of bachelor's degrees. Mandated by the federal government, these "guidelines" would have a strongly utilitarian bias. However supportive this might be to the sciences and the social sciences (chemistry and economics, for example) it is likely to harm the humanities. These (as of late, curiously self-destructive) disciplines are likely to contract, perhaps even shrink, both in size and in influence.

This should not surprise us. Sputnik alarmed the country about its global military competitiveness, rather irrationally sweeping the humanities along with the hard sciences into what was quantitatively an educational boom. A rising tide is said to lift all boats, and the educational bull market of the post-Sputnik era made advanced degrees in any and every field common and plentiful commodities, compromising excellence in the process and, rather tragically, breaking many an aspiring academic job applicant's heart. Especially in the humanities, supply rather quickly and devastatingly outstripped demand, and this when it had already long been unclear what needs the supply was meant to meet. Were these needs merely institutional, or were they in some deeper sense educational, or even metaphysical?


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