I attempted in an earlier commentary (http://www.bullsullivan.com/2015/03/05/sweet-briar-college-to-close-quit-cowards/) to put a human, personal face to the “scourge” of being different, of being artistic, of being intellectual, but obviously I failed to inspire an understanding of those who need, and I stress need, the experience of a liberal arts education.
I respect the opinions of those who selflessly and earnestly toil in the eternal struggle between the needs of the mind, and the needs of the masses. Intelligence is a gift, we are fated by our parent’s genes and by the circumstances of our early lives to fall on one side or the other of a permanent barrier, a line which streaks across cultures and times and a line which can not be crossed by study, effort or emulation. Unlike any other impediment we may face, absent the miracle drugs of the Twenty Third Century, we are unable to increase the number of neurons or re-lay the webs of connection that may up our intellect, which is the sum of our sensory experiences, our emotion responses, our spiritual perception.
The very accidents of existence, the incidents of adaptive evolution fate us from birth to our place in the scales of human intelligence. Where you are born is where you will, with very little variation, remain for the span of your years. The liberal arts exist because there exists a small sample of humans who live not to survive, but to exist. These few, whose names are etched in clay tablets, or scratched on various papers, or printed in books, or sealed by magnetic media, these few give rise to all human aspirations which exceed mere survival, which embellish daily life, which inspire aspiration and achievement. In our culture there appears a widening gulf between an appreciation of the Arts and the sufficiency of daily need. That is to say, between existence and survival. It is not so, that widening gulf, or perhaps it is better said that it has always been so.
The “either-or” notion of higher education has perpetuated a fraud, a specious idea so much a fabric of post secondary education, that it is regarded as a truism, as a fact, not a thesis to be challenged, but a theorem which governs academic policy and procedure. It is as great a myth as is the notion of intellectual equality among all people.
There is no parity intellectually between Academia and Commerce, between the Liberal Arts and Business, or the Liberal Arts and Science, neither the practitioners of business business nor the researchers of science could exist as they now do without language and communication, the forte of liberal arts. Arts and Sciences do not compete, only the smaller minds of those relegated to the banality of business and the conformity of laboratory think of competition. For poets, novelists, painters, print-makers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors, for designers and architects, for artist and artisan alike, ignorance of what is common is the sole rule of creation.
I have found in my lifetime it easy to make money and easy to spend it, but hard to write a line and harder to let go of it. It is not the nature of the attended institution, nor the curriculum undertaken, that creates art, but the perception in the artist’s mind of the minute variations noticed in sight, sound and touch of the artist’s environment, and the depth of the need to explore those sensations, and express the experience of them, often solely to themselves, and far less frequently to others who share some small part of the artist’s experience.
The nature of higher education has rightfully returned to what our democratic vision of it must be, training citizens to do tasks which protect and enrich the commonweal. The very notion of “Land Grant Universities,” of state sponsored and tax supported Teacher’s and Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges was to provide an educated work force to sustain and increase economic growth. The emphasis of state supported higher education before the Second World War was on English Grammar and Composition, and rote Arithmetic and Analytical Mathematics, and so then as now, Private Liberal Arts Universities and Colleges were the proper home of those gifted by fate and genes to not only appreciate, but more importantly, to create art.
The survival of Sweet Briar College, or rather its demise, reflects not an aesthetic judgment, but a reasoned “business” decision, made, of course, by men talented in creating wealth, not art. The pity is, there is no quantitative value assigned by our culture to those who create art, who enliven our lives, who ennoble our souls. For the truth is , we are made in the image and likeness of God, the very attributes of Art, and He, monetized as His religion has become, He is no capitalist!
How are nascent artists to learn, to develop, to be nurtured and tempered? Where will they find a place to quicken their hearts and souls and satisfy their longing for the company of fellow pilgrims?
My experience at the University of Georgia, fifty years ago, is exactly the same experience that tens of thousands of young men and women continue to experience today. Where do we fit in? Who listens to our voice? Why is it that money, employment, status, the material world is so important to others, but seems so irritating, so vapid to us.
I read the comments of Elizabeth, Andy, Jim and Bill, and in each I sensed the soul of a poet, a bibliophile, a scholar, and artist, and yet in each I heard the shame of compromise, and the frustration of defeatism. As I related in my severe criticism of the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, it is apparent that many in Academia have given up on the notion of providing a superior residential Liberal Arts experience, and frankly have surrendered to their lower selves, to the fear of failure, to the threat of community ridicule. Even the commentators cited seem uncertain of the future of such institutions as they now exist, and others, read the broad press of higher learning institutions, deny such schools can survive and doubt they will even be missed.
How did they possibly read Don Quixote, how did they take Cervantes’ message to heart and now fear windmills? For the belief that liberal arts education is, in the vernacular, a non-starter, is the very soul of defeatism, and is, in point of fact, a reflection of the weakness of their character. These men are the “Cliff’s Notes” version of intellectuals, they have, like most middle class intellectuals, spent their life worrying far more about paying bills than if bills should exist at all.
So many of you, patrons of the arts, supporters of liberal education, do so not as incarnate philosophers, embodied so through reading the words of the great books. Nor are many compelled by their passion to know the true nature of humanity, or to know one’s self through the wisdom of others, but rather do so as members of a befuddled bourgeoisie, a legion of “Maurice Allington’s,” seeking to join their decaying middle aged flesh with incorporeal phantasms, the “Green Men” (or women) of the world as Kingsley Amis so well wrote. Somewhere, once, there must have been a better part within each of these souls needing bringing to life, but they just couldn’t control the demons within themselves, yet alone demons from others realms.
Is nothing obvious? Did they not, as I did, spend past decades reading articles and research papers, daily reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, dutifully reading as often as published the Harvard Business Review, the Journal of Higher Education, even Education Week, and so many other publications, journals and papers and magazines, and did they not over and over mouth the words, “That’s so obvious?” “That’s so ridiculous!”
The death of small, private Liberal Arts Institutions is an obituary written long over the past 70 years, and given eulogy’s of praise and the passing of an age through-out several “ages” and yet, they live, they live! If such suffer now, it is not for want of need of them, but for the failure to passionately promote them, to venerate not aerate them, to codify and ossify them, frankly to quit on the idea of them.
“Being in a rural environment is a huge turn off for most 18-22 year olds today, and I think that was the major reason why Sweet Briar decided to close-“
Really? How many of the approximately 40 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 do you know? How many of the young women, about half of all are women, do you know? Is yours an anecdotal view? Where are the polls, the surveys, the focus groups that support your thesis? (http://www.censusscope.org/us/chart_age.html)
“- in addition to not having the resources to go co-ed.”
This is a contemptible comment, venal not venial, it is a proclamation of the worst “reverse” feminism; must woman always solicit the “comfort” and presence of men, even to be educated? Does it all hinge on pheromones, and not poetically crafted phonemes? Would not it be better, at least for a brief period of a few years, to be joined to the mind of great men, not co-joined to the hips of average men?
“…it’s not the only school closing and it won’t be the last. The numbers for a lot of law schools show declining applications. None of this is a surprise if you have been reading Professor Glen Reynolds at Instapundit.com. He outlined this scenario years ago. Search his site for “higher education bubble update” The most recent being The End of Tennessee Temple University.”
A red herring if ‘ere there was. TTU closed because… well, it was God’s will. And its administration made every major branding and marketing mistake possible, it is as if they hired Lucifer as an educational marketing consultant, and Nike as the University’s AD, fully one half of the University’s now minuscule enrollment was on athletic scholarships.
But a point well made, in that there seems enormous pressure to downsize, even close some struggling campuses, most often out of fear of financial concerns, but often out of greed as well, as certain institution’s property can be worth a fortune. And then we are informed, there is coming a revolution in higher education, just ask experts like Ken Carey:
“In his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, Carey envisions a future in which “the idea of ‘admission’ to college will become an anachronism, because the University of Everywhere will be open to everyone” and “educational resources that have been scarce and expensive for centuries will be abundant and free.” ( NPR, Fresh Air, 3/3/15)
Imagine tweeting comments about Romeo and Juliet while attending a virtual lecture with classmates, supine and reclined in bed, others erect at their cash registers and wait stations, others still bucket-seated in cars traveling roads miles from a professor’s podium… actually the professor will be in a Key West bar, or perhaps in Somerville Mass’s first and only authentic Southern Bar-b-Que Restaurant, Redbones! (As an aside, bless their little ‘ole heart, but I must mention the place, its the only “good” thing about being anywhere near Harvard.)
“Turn-key” education, will the Liberal Arts survive it? Will poets still write verse, will our hearts be stirred by Longfellow? Will our sentimental tears inform a transcendent mind with Miss Dickinson, will we read of Flanders’s Field’s, of Chicago’s Stockyards, of Path’s not Taken in the Woods? Will we read of Seven lakes… and wild geese swooping to the sandbar; of Lowell’s Dolphin, or Plath’s worms?
I think not, for what schools demand the study of prose and poetry each semester, or for that matter, what school even maintains semesters when quarters so improve revenue and faculty retention. Mercifully I must soon end, as my study of moral philosophy demands my mien before Athena’s bar, but…
Hear now my fellow commentators, a Liberal Arts Education begins with the soul and the body of a willing submissive, one willing to drown in the wisdom of other wiser souls, and willing to emerge remade and open to receive all the senses with which we feed on our world. If Liberal Arts are to survive and thrive, no new policy is necessary, no revolution, evolution or devolution, no deconstruction is required. Sweet Briar College did not need to re-invent itself; it needed only to have faith in the one single intellectual contribution of America to the world in the twentieth century, the mastery of sales and marketing, the manipulation of the masses!
There are mountains rising around the Sweet Briar Campus, and trees lush green in Spring and splashed with crimson orange colors in the Autumn. There are quiet nooks in among the stacks, and outside ancient bricks to lay against, and all around are heard the voices of sisters present and past, their quiet sobs and exuberant laughter, and over all this, in the darkened night sky, thirteen times a year, hangs the full moon.
And what young woman, peering out from a dorm room below, would not want to lie awake at night, gazing out her window up at that silvery orb, and not think of romance and love here below? Or better still, imagine the day she, a sister to the women of the world, will with her booted foot trespass upon that powdery grey face, and turn earthward Boudica’s maternal glare!
There are young girls who have such dreams, I know I have meet a few, my daughter among them, and all those cowardly men at Sweet Briar had to do was identify, target and acquire them; no easy task, but nothing beyond modern marketing science, and what we once called the art of consumer manipulation, or in brief, Advertising on Madison Avenue. Such benign cynicism seems to have worked well, along with a blended curriculum and student body, for Oglethorpe University. Why not Sweet Briar, why not a woman’s college, why not the Great Books, why not Liberal Arts there?
Those who close the Sweet Briar campus, those educators and administrators are quitters; those who would make all earlier student’s diplomas paper pariahs; those misogynist progressive revisionists, those fops and fairies, are all unworthy of calling themselves Homeric men. But then, I think, why are men’s the only voices heard? Therein may lie, like a corpse, the suffocating truth. The ultimate domination of one people over another is to eradicate the differences, why not the same for gender? Even among the vast herds of males, even among we equals, there are always “Alphas.” When all of earth’s races and genders are the same, are equal, we will be food for the next predators, be they clever men, or wayward martians.