Colleges as "Self-Service Cafeterias"

Parents straining to put their sons and daughters through college might be appalled to learn that students can obtain a bachelor's degree from 72 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities without ever having studied American history

or literature. That's not all. According to an eight-month-long study of the National Endowment for the Humanities, issued in December, 7 percent of today's college students can graduate without having studied European history, and 86 percent can receive degrees without ever having had contact with the civilizations of classical Greece and Rome. Also, says the report, "fewer than half of all colleges and universities now require foreign language study for the bachelor's degree, down from 90 percent in 1966." The result, according to the study's panel of 31 leading educators and intellectuals, is that students to into the world without a proper sense of our civilization and common culture, much less their ideals, aspirations and heritage. The Endowment's study represents a stinging indictment of the teaching profession for having "caved in" to the pressure of students and others to de-emphasize the liberal arts and humanities in favor of high-tech vocational subjects.

Thomas Litzenburg, Jr., president of Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C., suggests that "What is needed to sustain people, a nation, and culture is more than technical training can ever provide.... A society dominated by technology alone is ill-equipped to comprehend much less meet the threats it seems to pose to all that we care about the most." Higher education, he believes, should be measured by a student's ability to "read with comprehension, write with grace and style, calculate correctly, experiment with precision, weigh evidence thoughtfully, draw inferences properly, make informed judgments, compose with imagination and perform with poise...." A tall order, indeed. But isn't that why it's called "higher education?"