The editors of n+1 come out against the “credentialism” of the American intellectual and professional elite, equating investors at Goldman Sachs with members of the American Medical Association, and claiming that both—as representatives of their respective wider classes—are deserving of “populist hostility.” However, their concerns about the very real problems facing liberal education in its current form are subverted by the hyperbole of their solution.
These critics pose hard questions that (let’s be frank) have a large measure of justice: What is education good for? Do academics debate anything that matters? Do graduates leave universities prepared for employment and life in an increasingly dynamic world? And they have a hard solution: they wonder whether “a master’s degree…burns brighter than a draft card” and imply that by taking an extreme stance against the University, they will have greater ability to change a society chronically stratified. But change it into what? The trenchancy and subtlety of their own analysis suggests that populist instinct alone does not produce analytic tools. Just nudge their passionate thinking a few degrees closer to plumb and it would suggest how we might take higher education more seriously than it often takes itself.