On Troubles in Public Education

Between posts, I thought I’d throw up this outstanding video which is getting spread all over the internet, or at least a really nerdy part of the internet.  Professor von Dossow teaches here at the University of Minnesota in the Classical and Near Eastern Studies department…my department.  It is in reference to the way that the U of M is spending money.  It is indicative of how many public universities are acting these days.  More proof that you don’t screw with Classicists.



  1. What’s the old saying: “If you’re not (annoyed), then you’re not paying attention”?

    Apparently she has only three minutes to speak. That’s not enough time to build trust and rapport with the Robber Barons of the university. I can handle three minutes of self-righteousness and annoyance as long as it speaks the truth publicly.


  2. I don’t see what’s annoying or self-righteous about this. There’s nothing wrong with righteous anger when you’re in the right.


  3. The video didn’t play pass the first 58 seconds so I missed most of what she said.

    In regards to VP I’m sure she hit the mark. In regards to coaches perhaps for non-revenue sports. However most division I sports like basketball, baseball and football either break even or generate revenue for the university.

    Does the Classical and Near Eastern Studies department generate enough students in its field to offset cost?

    If it doesn’t then it needs to get cut.

    Sadly we are in a very difficult transition economically around the globe. There is way too much capacity and not enough buyers. Deflation is the order of the day and a college degree outside of engineer isn’t worth very much anymore, because we are basically a service economy and there isn’t any need for college degrees for over 85% of the economy.

    Its great to receive an education simply to improve yourself. The days where a degree translates into a job are by and large gone IMO.


  4. Quickbeam,

    I must admit that I disagree. It may be true that “we are basically a service economy,” but it is precisely because that is so that I feel we must preserve those intellectual practices and virtues which can keep us from progressively devolving into a transcendenceless-materialist culture. Public universities were never only about training people to make money; they were about the pursuit of truth as a legitimate good in itself…a legitimate public good which we all should invest in for that public’s health. I fear that we are reducing education to a private utilitarianism and functionalism.

    I don’t know if CNES generates revenue but I know it is one of the best CNES departments in the entire country’s public university system.

    Strangely I feel like you, a Catholic, are thinking in very individualist terms about this.


  5. “I fear that we are reducing education to a private utilitarianism and functionalism.”
    This is my fear also. Not all that explicitly in my little liberal arts university, but still so. I’d like to take this in a bit of a different direction though, if I might. In regards to Christian institutions (such as Canadian Mennonite University) or even Christian faculties in “secular” institutions, what kinds of decisions do you think ought to be made concerning funding? Should Christian universities or faculties accept government funding? If they should or if they do, to what degree should they be bound to secular laws, limits, and agendas and to what degree to, say, the church, for example. I don’t know how universities are generally funded in the US but perhaps you could shed some light in terms of your own University and share some thoughts on the above questions.


    1. Those are questions I’ve been thinking about indirectly since I’ve been contemplating and dreading Minnesota’s upcoming race for governor. How to act (or not act) politically and maintain loyalty to Christ?

      It seems to me that public “secular” and private “Christian” institutions perform similar tasks but with different yet overlapping teloi. A public institution aims to contribute to the total health of its society. So it will train people for business, education and science to that end. A Christian institution aims to not merely educate but to train disciples of Christ and contribute to the needs of the Church. Yet because of the fact of a State and a society, Christian institutions (and Christians in genreal) contribute to a larger social structure and likewise receive contributions from ‘non-christians.’ So for instance I’m studying Greek and Latin at a public University but I will be taking those skills and giving them primarily to the Church. Yet that means conversely that the Church receives from the state and this forms a reciprocal relationship.

      So there seems to be no a priori reason not to take money from the State since a Christian institution is contributing to the health of that State. But it is, as you indicated, how that institution takes money from the State that needs to be discerned. This might entail a certain degree of ‘compromise.’ I’m not sure I can judge without context where such discernment ought to lead. Ultimately it depends on what the State requires of the money. Would they require in a religious studies program, classes on other religions? That seems doable. Would they require a certain ‘perspective’ on those religions or on how Christ is related to them? That may need to be refused.

      The situation seems to me, oddly, to require more of a Christian in a ‘secular’ institution, where there is far more control over the content and perspective of a class, than a Christian institution which might be able to maintain its own distinctives.

      The problem lies in attempting to procure ones own purity. My taxes pay for the American war machine as well as paying for roads and schools and health care for the poor. Ought I not pay taxes? Maybe. But by increasingly tight seclusion I still never rid myself of the compromises birthed from the reality of my relationship to others. I am dependent on other people and other institutions and they on me. It is a matter of prayer and what I’ve been calling ‘discernment’ to judge what kinds of demands I must ultimately refuse and which I can be more lenient on for the sake of other people on whom I am irreversibly dependent.

      Is that any clearer or do I sound like I’m evading the issue?


  6. …and I forgot to add another thing: Problems of discipleship at Christian institutions seem more often than not to spring from a failure to tell the truth about itself as the Church, how it relies on Christ and goes back through Israel etc…, than from the explicit demands of money from the State.

    I could be wrong, I know very little of the strings attached to money from the State.


  7. “it is precisely because that is so that I feel we must preserve those intellectual practices and virtues which can keep us from progressively devolving into a transcendenceless-materialist culture.”

    Well like I said I see formal education as a general good for the individual and that benefits society as well. Especially in those fields that would support that objective. However that is not the thrust of most of those receiving an undergrad degree. Education costs are not in line with that of inflation or private industry for the past 40 years and it doesn’t appear to have been addressed. With the reduction in the number of children born in this country universities will be faced with to many classrooms and not enough students in the next 20 years.

    And from having interviewed individuals coming out of second and third trier colleges over the past 10 years it seems that they completed their high school education during their first year of college and the resulting product is not worth the investment to them or me as the employer.

    The Land of Lakes agreement killed the catholic universities in this country. Granted I’m biased in this regard, but I would not send any of my children to ANY catholic university unless I desired them to lose their faith in Christ. There are IMO less then 5 Catholic universities left in the USA.

    The rest explicitly or implicitly reject much of the church’s teaching in a desire to become top of the line secular universities.


    1. Quickbeam,

      Let me concede that there will need to be ‘cuts’ in order to be realistic about long-term feasibility in public education. I look at it in terms of a public ‘askesis,’ a reform of the institutions and a reduction in both wages and expectations. But there isn’t really a financial ‘crisis,’ at least not at the U of M; numbers are what they were around 2006, but money keeps getting put into more and more ‘administrative’ roles while raising tuition, cutting professors and classes and putting more money into ‘profitable’ programs. In other words, capitalism has taken hold of the values and practices in many of these institutions. So it’s not really that programs need to be sliced off completely, rather priorities need to reflect ‘objectively good’ academic values.

      I mean, our current president makes something near $700,000 a year and they are thinking about raising that for the next president for whom they are now searching. That needs to be cut by at least $500,000 in my opinion. I doubt tenure tracks would need to be so drastically reduced if professors took across the board pay cuts… like from $125,000 to $90,000 or whatever.


      Re: Catholic Universities – Do you think it is that bad? Aren’t there at least a fair handful of theology programs at least which are trustworthy? I realize that natural science has been severed from theology and economics from ethics, and that is reprehensible (but also in part a direct result of certain rationalist late-Thomist tendencies in Roman Catholicism), but are there that few? I’m at least curious as to which schools you feel positive about.

      Do you feel it is at all connected to the loss of Catholic identity in America?


  8. Do you recall early last year when Boston College chose to place Crucifixes in all its classrooms what an issue it was?

    The sad part was the justification was to “promote Christian art”. Now while a Crucifix is iconography the reason it should be there is simply that it’s a Catholic university. Diana Hayes, professor of systematic theology at Georgetown University speaker for Call to Action. The president of Notre Dame on the handling of the Notre Dame 88 – http://freethend88.org/

    I don’t have a problem with CINO universities moving to full secularization, but I have issues with them claiming that individuals going to those institutions receive a Catholic education because it isn’t.

    On the public university side I don’t think there is creeping capitalism it sounds more like its move towards gov’t bureaucracy. But I’ll defer to you on that one. Capitalism wouldn’t allow the vertical structure to become an inverted pyramid with nothing but administrative staff.

    ON your last question I think all religions are going through a strong sifting process which is causing those less committed to their beliefs to leave. Human secularism is growing to the point were they reach almost 20% and I would say many of those are former Christians. As economic times get harder I imagine that those numbers will increase. The positive affect of that I see is that those who remain will be committed to make change both within and without. Specifically to Catholic’s I think I’ve mentioned that the “spirit of Vatican II” crowd is still entrenched in most staff position in both the vicariate and universities. Those coming up behind them do not as far as I can tell share those aspiration so we are moving more towards a Catholic identity then we had in the past 50 years.


    1. Capitalism doesn’t care if there are vertical structures so long as money is being made. The University seems to be prioritizing the institution for the institutions sake and not for the virtues and practices that it is or ought to be engendering. It might be considered “gov’t bureaucracy’ but for the fact that it is behaving like businesses, investing in high yield programs, rather than for the benign if ineffectual motivations of most welfare gov’t programs.


  9. Yes I agree especially with the institution for the institutions sake – it is a public university so that makes sense in a way doesn’t it?

    Well first I think there is a glut of universities and colleges in this country. And the economic benefit of a degree for the individual has been distorted.

    I wish there was a measure for the overall benefits of a college degree to society and the individual excluding the economic one. Frankly a liberal arts degree is IMO more valuable then a Business degree.

    On the side comment of welfare programs I don’t think they are benign. I think they are better run privately especially in non-profit church organizations then in the public sector. We haven’t lowered poverty in this country since the Great Society started and the war on poverty began in the 60’s and here we are trillions of dollars later and if anything increasing poverty. Sorry I’m sure you meant that one as a side bar.


  10. Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been traveling. Your comment way above doesn’t sound like a cop-out. I basically see it the same way and it’s just something that often comes up and is something I continue to negotiate. Your comments were helpful.


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