Two viruses—one biological, the other ideological—have delivered a mortal blow to American higher education.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of colleges and universities will soon be wiped out by an unprecedented combination of financial exigency and revolutionary ideology. Professors at collapsing institutions are desperate to leave, and slews of senior faculty, including some very distinguished ones, have taken early retirement.
Empty campuses will flood the market, amid extreme softening in the commercial real estate sector more generally. Eager buyers might consider the leafy 60-acre campus of MacMurray College, an Illinois liberal arts school that closed its doors in May after 174 years in business. The campuses of Oregon’s Concordia University-Portland and Ohio’s Urbana University also became available this spring.
Shrewd investors buy when there’s blood in the streets. For academia, that time is now.
Many Americans cherish liberal education because it has immeasurably enriched their lives, and because it disposes citizens against every sort of tyranny. Some of these people have the means to help found a new university—one dedicated to free and open inquiry into all areas of human experience, in whole and part, and to sheltering the guttering flames of memory, tradition, and language from the blustering winds of justice, equality, and job training.
But would such an endeavor be financially viable? Could any school of liberal learning that does not already have strong roots hope to survive in the wasteland of higher education? Could it hope to seed new growths that might help to reclaim liberal education for future generations of Americans?
I believe the answer to all these questions is yes, and I’m not alone in this view. In his book The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, the distinguished historian Warren Treadgold presents a practical plan for how to get a new institution up and running. A thought experiment may help to make the case.