Utopia U.

Foreign Affairs

The American Conservative Logo

Become a Member
Utopia U.
A brief outline of the university as it might be, and has been at times before.

George Liebmann
Jul 15, 2022,TheAmericanConservativeOnline
1:00 PM
The university is an elitist institution, intended to be the capstone of the public education system in its region, in accordance with Thomas Jefferson’s design for a public education system in Virginia. Its buildings should partake of architectural distinction, and the front hall of the principal building should feature a full-length replica of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Jefferson, together with a duplicate of the Nashville version of the statue of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom that once adorned the Parthenon.

Admission to the university is entirely on the basis of achievement, particularly test scores in three subjects chosen by the applicant. Persons with criminal records may be eliminated. The tests shall be annually formulated by university departments to test applicants’ mastery of a list of books in each subject, of scientific and mathematical principles, and the history, techniques, and principles of music and art. A booklet containing these syllabi shall be sent to each high school parent and teacher in the region at the start of each school year. Books in the syllabi shall be generously available in public libraries, and efforts shall be made to publish and distribute inexpensive versions of them.

In general, “presentism” shall be avoided, in favor of books published at least 25 years earlier. Political bias shall also be avoided. For ease in administration, the examinations may be multiple choice in nature. No preferences in grading shall be given on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, alumni ancestry, or athletic prowess; a 10 percent bonus may be given to applicants from the university’s catchment area. No weight shall be given to high-school grades, letters of recommendation, or interviews; the admissions staff shall be rigorously limited, but shall conduct outreach to potential mature students, including members of the military and public services, returning housewives, and retirees.

In keeping with its limited enrollment, tuition shall be free. Graduates shall be encouraged but not required to tithe with the university, both as to income and estate planning. No donations for buildings or naming rights shall be accepted unless accompanied by an endowment, the income from which is sufficient to discharge heating, cooling, and repair costs. Opportunities for term-time employment as research assistants, in health and library services and in other vocationally relevant work, shall be freely offered and subsidized.

Residential halls shall be single-sex, shall include refectories, basic libraries, and computer facilities. They shall ordinarily be resided in continuously throughout the college course with the expectation that students will find most of their friends in hall, obviating the need for fraternities and sororities. There shall thus be no freshman dormitories. Students may take their noon meals, and exceptional evening meals, outside their own residence hall, including residence halls allocated to the opposite sex.

There shall be specialized dormitories, with limited capacity, for physically disabled students, recovering students with addiction problems, and mature female undergraduates with children. There shall be no affinity houses based on race or ethnicity; specialized houses may be made available to those studying for the ministry.

Each student, on entry, shall be supplied with a card bearing the name, address, and telephone number of the policewoman processing sexual-assault complaints at the nearest police station. The university shall not employ any victim advocates or sexual-assault officers. Its medical services shall be provided on the same basis as ordinary hospitals and physicians’ office resorted to be non-university persons, and shall not function as adjuncts to law enforcement.

The so-called Chicago Principles derived from the Kalven Report of the University of Chicago shall be distributed to all applicants, students, and their parents, and shall apply to visiting speakers and disruptions of class discussion. Immediate suspension for the balance of the term without credit shall be the ordinary penalty for documented disruption. The university shall film and record events featuring visiting speakers and others at which disruptions may be threatened.

Students who vomit upon or vandalize university property or are found unconscious due to alcohol or drug misuse shall be immediately suspended for the balance of the university term, or permanently for a second offense.

Faculty shall be recruited by each department on the basis of demonstrated achievement. Classroom performance of junior faculty shall be evaluated by faculty, not by students, to emphasize what students need rather than what they like. An effort shall be made to avoid “bonus babies” chosen purely on the basis of academic performance. There may be lateral entry for senior positions and efforts to recruit persons performing important work at lesser universities.

A limited number of appointments, perhaps 15 percent, can be extended to persons not having academic doctorates who have distinguished themselves in business or the professions. Persons presenting academic doctorates should ordinarily be proficient in at least one foreign language. While mandatory retirement is legally proscribed, efforts shall be made to create faculty vacancies by appointing senior members to administrative positions as bursars, admissions officers, and the like, and to avoid the appointment of professional college administrators. Political bias should be forsworn.

There should be a foundational curriculum for all students similar to those at Columbia and the University of Chicago centered on intellectual history. The freshman year should begin with at least a week of instruction in study skills, including the importance of group study. Outside the sciences, emphasis should be placed on independent learning and final or comprehensive examinations, if possible, set and graded by examiners from outside the university.

Each student should be required to study a single foreign language throughout his course of studies, and no credits should be given for foreign-language courses unless the entire sequence is completed. Courses outside the sciences should include at least one required term paper. Students should be required to submit their first draft, together with a reduced version omitting none of its ideas but consuming less than half of the original word count as an inducement to brevity, style, and incisiveness.

Placement efforts for graduates should not be dependent on a placement office arranging interviews from employers requesting its services, but should be undertaken by the entire faculty, including those recruited from occupations outside academia. Each student should be requested to select a placement advisor from among the faculty.

The university should instinctively resist regulatory impositions other than those relevant to public safety, as in the sciences. A plaque should be erected at its driveway entrance displaying the four essential freedoms of the university as set out at the entrance of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa to protest the apartheid regime, and as replicated in Justice Frankfurter’s concurring opinion in Sweezy v. New Hampshire.

Government questionnaires should be responded to with voluminous computer printouts; onerous demands by the government or private accrediting agents should be defied, publicly opposed, or litigated against.

Lest the description above seem unduly unrealistic or utopian, it roughly describes the position of the leading British universities prior to the great and careless expansion of British higher education during the Thatcher and Major governments.

George Liebmann
George Liebmann is the president of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar and the author of America’s Political Inventors (Bloomsbury) and other works on law and history. He has been a Simon Industrial and Professional Fellow at the University of Manchester and a visiting fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. His recent articles are collected in Vox Clamanis In Deserto: An Iconoclast Looks at Four Failed Administrations.

Posted in: Culture Wars, Education, Philanthropy, Regulation, Welfare and Other Social

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,