Today was graduation day for the students of California State University, Chico, a fact we were forced to acknowledge on the way to Mass this afternoon as we observed young people walking their neighborhood streets in caps and gowns, past front yards littered with hundreds of red plastic cups from the parties the night before. I remarked to the children, "This is the best I have ever seen the students dress", to which one replied "And it's still not very good", noticing the black gowns draped over jeans and ultra-casual shoes or sandals. Chico State has never fully recovered from its sordid reputation as the nation's premier "party school" due to an unfortunate 1987 designation by Playboy magazine. When I say "sordid", I mean it, and could tell you stories that would (or should) raise the hair on the backs of your necks. The overall atmosphere of the university is morally, spiritually, and intellectually toxic, due to both faculty and student influences, despite some bright lights here and there (some of whom we are blessed to know). It has undeniably brought some cultural "goods" to the community, and we gladly participate in these, but on balance the university has been a Faustian bargain and Chico would be better off if the place were razed to the ground.
All of this is by means of introduction to a deficiency in my own education which I hope soon to remedy, having never read John Henry Newman's "The Idea of a University". Whatever is going on in the CSU system, it isn't education, it isn't liberal in the sense of producing men set free by knowledge, and it certainly isn't worth the money coughed up by parents and taxpayers alike. Dr. Craig Bernthal is somehow permitted to teach English at CSU Fresno, and his article at The Imaginative Conservative titled "Newman’s ‘Idea’ and the Crisis of the Secular University" gets to the heart of the problem. He writes:
Newman’s first point is that truth is one and coherent, and by definition, a university must teach all disciplines for truth to be comprehensible. Therefore theology had to be included. By this Newman did not mean religious studies: anthropologic treatments of religion as a human phenomenon and its role in human history or the Bible as literature. He meant the study of God. If God existed as a fact, no institution claiming to teach all fields of knowledge could leave out the study of God without putting the coherence of all knowledge in danger.
Indeed, no institution leaving out the study of God can teach anything else with coherence and conviction. As the CSU system - like most universities in America today which educate the elite 27% of adults - has not only left off theology but in fact positioned itself against theology, its graduates have become a devastating social liability, a rabble motivated by little more than thoughtless impulses and ignorant class prejudices (not that there's anything wrong with class prejudices if they are grounded in reality). There are notable survivors here and there, and it must be granted that some fields of study are more vulnerable than others, but in general the accusation is solid. As Dr. Bernthal explains:
In contrast to the methodical and strenuous approach of Newman, General Education, which constitutes the liberal arts portion of education in California and makes the community college system interlock with the CSU and UC systems, offers a Home Town Buffet of individual consumer experiences. In its “critical thinking” component, Fresno State serves up twelve courses, among them: “Critical Thinking: Gender Issues,” “Critical Thinking in Chicano and Latin American Studies,” “Critical Thinking about Race,” and “Critical Thinking in Anthropology.” Students are required to take one of the twelve. You don’t have to be a good halfback to do a broken field run through our GE program to evade education; it is harder to go through it and get one.
For me, most of the learning that took place at CSU Sacramento occurred in the library, where I was introduced to "The University Bookman", "Modern Age", and the works of many great thinkers who were inexplicably banished from the classroom. My CSU English professors were not sane and rational creatures like Dr. Bernthal, but fanatics ranging from atheists whose overriding goal was to rescue English masterpieces from their association with Christianity, to sexual perverts whose interpretations turned everything, quite predictably, into literary pornography.