Vivat academia

I am not radically opposed to letting smart people into universities, though I think the process has got out of hand. That to the “best” universities, only the smartest should apply, is now generally accepted. The flip side of this is that self-styled “smart people” are uniquely welcome in these universities, which become, as it were, ghetti of the sciences.

Up to the beginning of the 20th century, and slightly over, universities in all parts of the world tended to be venerable, and conservative. They were in effect clubs where the aristocracy could send their male children (females usually required tutors). Occasionally a poor boy, of real promise but from a commonplace background, would be admitted on some sort of scholarship. So long as there were not too many of them, there was no harm done.

There was always a place for reprobate youth, and indeed superior quarters in which to keep them — if they came from good families. They were an important part of every university’s oeconomy.

Here in America, I associate the corruption of universities with Woodrow Wilson, a man of bottomless arrogance and a strange belief — in “progress.” He brought smart people into his government, in the perverse conviction that they were uniquely qualified to solve the problems of the world. There are, a hundred years later, still those who believe this fatuous nonsense. But finally, it is dying away.

The challenge of the university today, is to recover what has been lost to a century (and sometimes more) of “reform” movements; in the course of which the whole tone of “higher education” has been lost. Smart people have, by now, taken over, to the regret of most others.

“Smarts” is the lowest form of human intelligence. It is what is measured with SAT scores and on IQ tests. It can be predicted and detected in the newly born. It is a medical condition.

By contrast, universities are places for persons of quality to collect, and where another generation of them can be formed. This is done while their elders teach, and while the best traditions are inculcated. It is of the greatest importance that professors be underpaid, and carefully underadministered; that they should look to the students for most, if not all, of their income, with no prospect of getting vulgarly rich.

Researches (sciences) may also be pursued, and financed, within the schools and without, by enthusiasts of all kinds. And the students may also drink, and compose drinking songs.