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An Appeal from Camille Paglia By: Camille Paglia
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 28, 2002

To: David Horowitz, FrontPageMagazine.com

From: Camille Paglia, University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies, University of the Arts, Philadelphia; Author, Sexual Personae

Dear David,

I am forwarding to you a copy of a powerful letter to the editor published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 8. The writer, Michael A. Mayer, a resident of suburban Philadelphia, has given me permission to send it to Frontpagemag.com.

Mayer's eloquent indignation at the bankrupting cost of American higher education needs to be seen by a national audience. In this age of special-interest lobbies and political action groups, the rich and the poor have a voice in Washington, D.C. But members of the middle class have no such spokesmen.

It's time for middle-class parents to unite--to share information and to organize to bring publicity to their cause. For this purpose, Mr. Mayer has formed a group, Parents for Educational Reform. He can be reached at this e-mail address: ParEdReform@aol.com.

In my opinion, Frontpage Magazine is the best way to reach those committed to educational reform. The articles you have published on education in the past two years have done more to advance the national discourse on this subject than anything I have seen in the major media or in publications of the education establishment. And any fair observer must admire your personal courage as a lecturer in facing down mob fury on campuses from coast to coast.

Educational reform is a critical national issue that should transcend political affiliations. I myself am a libertarian and registered Democrat who voted for Bill Clinton (once gladly, once not) and for Ralph Nader in 2000. But I have been very discouraged by the unwillingness of my party to address the major systemic problems in primary and secondary education.

As a career educator for 31 years, I have watched with dismay as public schools have degenerated and as the humanities programs of colleges and universities have veered away from art and toward a shallow pretense of politics--a politics without authentic political science or knowledge of history. Learning and cultivation are no longer criteria for recruitment and promotion in the humanities. The end result is a lost generation of graduate students. Our best and brightest are no longer going into humanities teaching.

As a columnist for Salon.com (for six years from its inaugural issue in 1995) and now as a contributing editor of Interview magazine, I have often addressed the crisis in American education. One of my persistent themes has been the need for a revalorization of the trades. We are penning young people like prisoners in the classroom, forcing them along a pre-college track when they might have other interests and talents of a physical, socially useful, and remunerative nature. Teenaged boys in particular, with their abundant energy, are being damaged by their servitude to a one-size-fits-all style of schooling.

In "The Nursery-School Campus: The Corrupting of the Humanities in the U.S.", a 1992 article in the Times Literary Supplement (London), I argued that compulsory college education for middle-class students was a product of the decades following World War Two and that it has led to the creation of a wasteful bureaucracy of administrators--a proliferating master race of deans and assistant deans whose salaries far exceed those of the faculty and whose main concern is too often external public relations rather than educational merit.

I also asserted that economic competition has led elite American universities to remodel themselves into resorts with every amenity--a cozy, comfy extension of the upper-middle-class family room. Hence students are catered to and infantilized--one reason for the rise and dominance of diluted, feel-good, liberal pabulum on campus. With parents paying gigantic sums for tuition, students expect a "nice" experience in their college years. Hence they are fed clichés and bromides and sheltered from history's harsh realities. (The TLS article was reprinted in my second essay collection, Vamps & Tramps.)

I feel fortunate to be teaching at a pre-professional school (the University of the Arts) where students arrive with strong vocational interests and where the setting (Center City Philadelphia) is one of frank urban realism. There are no misty Arcadian fantasies here, none of the insular, self-indulgent removal so typical of America's plush residential campuses.

The education industry in this country operates without accountability. Price-gouging is so severe, particularly at the elite schools, that it constitutes a major drain on family income and morale in ways that have never been seriously studied. The students themselves are suffering in high school from the constant, destructive pressure of the college application process. At a lecture at Yale University in March, I described today's upper-middle-class students, driven by anxiety and competition, as "caged hamsters on a wheel".

One reason for my intense interest in this subject is that I had a superb education in the 1960s at Harpur College (the State University of New York at Binghamton) at minimal cost. Neither I nor my parents, as New York State residents, were saddled with crippling bills. My graduate education at Yale was also paid for by fellowship.

We need to reexamine every aspect of higher education--from its content to its financing. Since the universities have no incentive to scrutinize themselves and since most members of the media elite have shown only sycophantic collusion with their pricey alma maters, it's up to parents to mobilize and to become a force to be reckoned with on the national scene.

Best wishes,


Camille Paglia is a social critic, author and feminist, who is not afraid to challenge dominant feminist orthodoxy.

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