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23 June 2012


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Babak Makkinejad

below a certain IQ level, rote memorization is all that a person is capable of doing.

Analysis and synthesis is beyond their reach.

College is wasted on them in spite of all their effort to garner a degree.

Which they need to avgoid poverty.

Yet schools admit such students.



I have a BA in English and an MA in ME Studies so I am obviously biased in all this. I always managed to earn a living. pl


Louis, the Duke of Broglie, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, originally graduated from college as a history major. He got interested in physics later in life, in part because of his experience as a wireless communications officer in the French Army. So, the idea that, somehow, humanities majors are somehow inherently less capable is silly.

What does come out of STEM, I suppose, is that their less capable graduates wind up picking up technical skills on the side, even if they don't quite become real "scientists" and "mathematicians." A lot of lesser physics majors, for example, can become computer programmers because they learned programming while (allegedly) studying physics. But a lot of lesser humanities majors don't wind up picking up useful skills--not even good writing skills in many cases because teaching people to write is highly labor intensive and a lot of universities don't have the money to offer such courses to too many students (teaching programming skills can be and often is subsidized by corporations, but nobody subsidizes writing programs, at least not to that degree).

This does reinforce Babak's point: even in STEM, it's pointless to go through the pretense that these less capable "physics majors" really are physics students. They are really computer programmers in training who are going through the motions of physics coursework while just picking up "job skills" in a somewhat inefficient fashion (because it's done on a pretense). Time and money are better spent teaching them efficiently to be what they really are.


Whose "IQ" tests? Who does the scoring? Further, I am dubious there IS an objective definition of the terms "analysis" and "synthesis". I believe a ton of cultural assumptions make up terms like this.

This is very tricky business to be offering Fatwa-like assertions on.

Neil Richardson


72 percent of US veterans of VN used the GI Bill. 43 percent of Korean War veterans as well as 51 percent of WWII veterans did so as well. Clearly all those people were among the 4 percent of the general population (i.e., those with "high" IQ) who were deserving of university education. All they did was to drag down the American economy since 1945. I hope this attitude that only a chosen few deserve higher education persists all over the world. That'll make things easier for our future generations as they try to compete.

Neil Richardson

Dear Col. Lang:

Columbia College has a core curriculum which started at the turn of the 20th century. It's a "great books" program that all students are required to take. These were strictly regulated common courses that tenured faculty were required to teach. (Robert Maynard Hutchins later took it to UChicago). In contrast to other variations of core curricula I've seen over the years, the biggest difference was that they were colloquia which facilitated fierce debates that often spilled outside the classroom. (Of course things were different back then as I recall more than a few classmates throwing Fanon and Mao at everyone in response to Locke.)

Despite what others have said, I still believe that the ability to analyze and sharpen one's viewpoint is a learned trait. I'm not that worried about the "trade schoolization" of the academia yet. It's always been cyclical (the rise of professional schools generated just as much rancor in the academe) and as I recall the airborne mafia had mostly attended business schools in the 1950s. However, what I do worry is whether a freshman is challenged to hone his craft in some of the survey courses that are optional in fulfilling his requirement. It seems there are plenty of "punt courses" according to some of the student course guides I've perused.


Allow me to offer what I see as some home-truths about the place of higher education in American society - and, perhaps, thereby help orient this discussion/debate.

1. There are several genuine issues about the University that deserve serious consideration: the financial near abandonment of higher education by society over the past 30 years at the top of the list.
2. At a public university like UT, over half the students work - many close to full-time, to make ends meet. Already in debt, this is an expedient to keep their personal debt under control. When I was at Berkeley in the 1960s, my semester cost was $62 - a fee to maintain the student union. The state of California and the United States at the time was less than half as wealthy as it is today - nominally anyway.
3. Yes, professors could teach another course a year without impairing the researh activities. They also deserve to be paid a reasonable salary which most in the Liberal arts do not receive. (This is apart from the indentured labor of adjuncts).
4. The campaign to turn the University into an instrument of the business world, guided by business management principles, has nothing to do with the above. It is simply one among several prongs of a comprehensive strategy to return America to the glory days of the 1890s. The rhetoric of 'reform' is used cynicaly to advance this goal. Supporters of the Liberal Arts are unwitting accomplices by allowing real issues to be confused with the reactionary agenda.
5. The ease with which the hedge fund mentality has taken over boards of regents owes in part to the abdication by senior administrators who take as given all these adverse trends, and pursue their career goals within the resulting constraints.

What is happening at the University is a microcosm of what is happening in the country generally - including the personal behavior, the self selection of those offering to 'serve' and the absence of any serious public duscussion.


I'm sure that Alfred Binet would be proud that his concept of IQ has reached the 21st Century. I'm equally sure, however, that he would violently disagree with viewing intelligence as susceptible to cut-off scores below which certain intellectual skills would not be found.

With the exception of the intellectually impaired, that is, folks whose cognitive limitations make it impossible for them to read or write, graduation from college with all that entails regarding analysis and synthesis is not beyond the reach of the person with an average Binet style IQ (90-110). I've known a few.

Babak Makkinejad

"Fatwa like"; very funny!

There is a thing called an IQ test that correlates with cognitive abilities.

Your denial will not cause those that are less gifted with intellect to become endowed with more.

Babak Makkinejad

Before expansion of US higher education after World War II, 14 % of high school graduates went to college.

That percentage has remained the same.

The rest go to colleges that were upgraded; Normal Universities, Cow Colleges etc. that have now become endowed with the name "University".

And even among those 14%, only 4% still is the only people who genuinely will benefit from a Liberal Arts education.

What relevance is there in Liberal Arts for some who is going to be studying Medicine, Pharmcy, Dentistry, Veterniary Medicine or Business?

What relevance is there to study Gibbon if what you are going to do is to fill a perscription later in life?

Why waste precious years of your youth in dusty halls of schools?

Babak Makkinejad

Look, I have no objection to the availability of higher education; like Europe where anyone can attend a university or technical college.

But even there you have the guy who graduates with a worthless law degree from a university, joins the government service, and spends the next 20 years cunningly plotting to advance his career in that bureaucracy.

Are all these degrees and diplomas necessary for being - essentially - clerks?

I think not.

This is just another racket and leave to the businessmen to recognize one when they see it.


A couple of additional thoughts.

If you are a student working 30 hours a week or incurring debt to get through school, you become acutely aware of the advantages of your fellows whose families are rich enough to support them. This affects career choces.

The latest craze at universities is to raise graduation rates. Get students through faster and supposedly you save money even if it's unclear how. Here, a university taks force produced a long report on the subject. Attention paid the money issue? a couple of tangential paragraphs and no solid recommendations. But all incoming students were chided by the president to get themselves in gear. Further encouragement was provided through the distribution of bags emblazoned "2016" that were with T- shirts and other junk items similarly decorated.

Any resemblance with national affairs surely is not purely coincidental.

Neil Richardson

"What relevance is there in Liberal Arts for some who is going to be studying Medicine, Pharmcy, Dentistry, Veterniary Medicine or Business?"

None if the areas of professionalization are all that a person thinks about for the rest of his life. However, I've known and taught quite a few who regretted choosing the dedicated track undergraduate education(including some who had graduated from Brown bio-med). In fact, the alternative you advocate has been in place in Japan as well as in ROK for over a century. Nothing I've seen in those countries can convince me that their way is superior. In fact many graduates of SNU and Tokyo's most competitive programs would say the same.

"Why waste precious years of your youth in dusty halls of schools?"

What is so precious about two years at apprentice salary? Seriously do you really think it makes or breaks a kid's life if he's asked to think about texts and learn how to think for himself?

Neil Richardson

"Before expansion of US higher education after World War II, 14 % of high school graduates went to college.

That percentage has remained the same."

Where is the evidence for this? According to the numbers I just looked up that doesn't hold up. In 1937, 15 to 18 percent of male students at age 18-20 attended college. In 1940 the enrollment was about 1.5mil. In 1950 it was about 2.7mil.

"The rest go to colleges that were upgraded; Normal Universities, Cow Colleges etc. that have now become endowed with the name "University".

I see. You know if you ask a Princetonian (preferably one who was a member of the Ivy Club), he might tell you that Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown (or fill in the blank) are all "Cow Colleges." I seem to recall one obnoxious chant shouted by silly kids at my alma mater that went something like, "That's alright. That's ok. You'll all work for us someday" during a football game when a visiting team was trouncing our pathetic squad.



Have you spent much time with businessmen? Today's business culture of sharp dealing sees in education not another 'racket' but another opportunity to 1)eliminate an obstacle to their unconstrained rule; and 2)another venue for making a quick buck via charter schools, for-profit universities, squeezing money out of students via loans on onerous terms, and the inevitable consulting contracts.

I have dealt with businessmen even before the era of institutionalized larcenoy. Whatever virtue those people may have had, it did not extend to appreciation of liberal learning. They were smart enough to realize, though, that a broadly educated populace was an economic advantage, in California and elsewhere - unlike today's predators.

You may find it instructive to look at the status of the Liberal arts such unlikely places as China, Singapore and the Gulf states. Of course, it is possible that the Chinese Mandarins, Singaporean technocrats and Gulf sheiks are also dupes who need a Jamie Dimon to straigthen them out - a Jamie Dimon who was hired out of Harvard Business School by Sandy Weill on the recommendation of Dimon's father and Weill's partner at American Express. The two teamed up to take over a loan sharking business on Long Island. The rest is history.


I can assure you, from the depths of my soul, that I am not seeking to be "funny" with the term "fatwa like". I mean it.

The cultural of this site, and the nature and history of the unwritten code that governs this site prevents me from responding in the manner worthy of your comments.

Neil Richardson

"What relevance is there to study Gibbon if what you are going to do is to fill a perscription later in life?"

I'm not going to quibble over what books ought to be included in a curriculum. However, the first time I'd read the Qur'an was in the fall of 1970. I had absolutely no desire to "waste" my time then as the course load was too heavy and I had better things to do (such as commuting to attend mil sci courses). However, I had to read it just as I had to read the Hebrew Bible. What a liberal education can do is to force a person to reexamine his most deeply held assumptions. I could not imagine a better time for that than at impressionable ages of 18 or 19.

Babak Makkinejad

The students should have learnt how to think for themselves by the end of their high school - where yiu actually have them captive and try to expose them to the Liberal Arts.

All fine and well if students choose to spend 2 more years and tens of thousands of dollars to explore this or that field.

But do not force them to do so because you think
it will benefit them.

It should be their choice.

Babak Makkinejad

And according to you then Oxford University and East XYZ State University are on the same par?

You best wake up and smell the coffee.

Babak Makkinejad

You wrote:

"Force a person to re-examine his most...".

What is liberal in this?

Coercing people, in effect.

You cannot mean this earenestly.

People have a right to be wrong and have a right as well to remain in intellectual (or political) slumber.

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your comments.

Yes, I deal with businessmen (i.e. people with profit and loss responsibility) all the time.

Not all of them are the way you describe them.

And I agree with you that liberal arts taught among Arabs, Chinese and others are frauds. But the Arabs, Chinese etc. are uninterested in learning; they want a degree with a cache - from a prestigeous "White-man" University.

If Chinese, Arabs, Turks, Indians and others were genuinely interested in Liberal Arts, they would have setup their own programs and among other things would have studied Christianity, US and European History, Western Philosophy etc.

But they do not.

But sharp businessmen are giving these people what they want - a Diploma with a right seal stamped on it.

The Medieval Muslim universities did not issue a certificate or diploma.

They had the right idea.

Neil Richardson

You've claimed that 14% remained the figure for matriculation before and after WWII. (I still would like to see the source) You then claimed that there was an expansion of higher education. The number of college students went up from 1.5mil to 2.7mil in ten years (from 1940 to 1950). Now unless you're claiming that universities...excuse me cow colleges suddenly emerged out of thin air, these men attended existing ones. Unless you're willing to lump many state universities, Little Ivies, and other fine smaller colleges all around the US with "cow colleges" or Podunk U's, I think you have no clue what higher education in this country had been in the 1950s or for that matter anywhere in East Asia.

Perspective matters and I was merely illustrating how ludicrous your position was. I'm certainly not the first one to point out the positive economic impact of the GI Bill. There is practically an archive of research on this at a tiny diploma mill called MIT.

Neil Richardson

Universities "coerce" people all the time. Graduation requirements, rules on free speech, etc, etc. I don't see why this should present a challenge to you in trying to understand. I am a Lutheran whose faith was challenged at the time, and remain grateful for the experience. People always have a choice to opt out. They can drop out or transfer as there are other choices among many cow colleges. However, I wouldn't want my alma mater to change the core substantially.

Neil Richardson

It is their choice. They can choose not to apply to such colleges and universities. As for learning how to think for themselves in high school, unfortunately most of us aren't as precocious as you apparently. I graduated from Stuyvesant and had no idea how poorly prepared I'd been for a liberal education. And that's one of the oldest specialized science high schools in the US. Obviously there are exceptions like Exeter with The Harkness Method, but you are dreaming if that's easily done in today's secondary systems across the country or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

If you expect students in secondary schools to "finish" liberal arts education, what you'll get is a replication of ROK and Japan. Rote memorization.


I did not say that Liberal Arts in those places are frauds. I said that their value is recognized - which is why they indeed have set up their own programs to study them. Into every polemisit's life some data must fall.

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