Back to Index

Higher Education

     U.S. NEWS & World Report has just issue (4/10/00) its annual guide to "America's Best Graduate Schools". These "Exclusive Rankings" are often criticized, but we should recognize the painstaking effort which goes into these surveys. This one covers Business, Law, Medicine, Engineering and Education. Business comes first, perhaps because America's business is business. Notice that the title says "graduate schools", not "professional schools". Despite this, the Humanities are omitted, indicating the disappearance of the old ideal of a liberal education, or the fact that lack of jobs in that field leads to lack of interest in its graduate programs. The Social Sciences are also excluded, presumably because majors in those fields tend to do graduate work in business or law.
     The Business section is headed "E-Commerce is the hot new specialty." It shows a young man and a woman who plan to go into the dog business, happily playing with a couple of dogs. The caption reads "These e-commerce students plan to bring in $1.5 million the first year." Clearly, American higher education is going to the dogs.
     The Law Section continues the -e theme. The heading reads "Grads with a cyberlaw background have a decided edge in the market". One looks in vain for the key words of traditional law, such as justice, impartiality and jury, but sure enough litigation is there.
     Medicine is the noblest and most humane of the professions, but the section on Medicine is headlined "Your medical school may be suffering from ill health," and it goes on to lament "the sad state of the instructional facilities." Training in medicine is the most exacting, and I know excellent students who drop out because of the physical and nervous demands. There is something wrong in a society which harasses its young physicians. The Stanford Medical School seems to be the most unhappy on campus.
     The section on Engineering has a headline about "a new breed of engineer--one with management savvy. Back to business. However, in the old days engineers were proud of the fact that they were roughnecks. This article is illustrated with a picture of seven Stanford students showing reverse discrimination: Two women in front, the first an oriental with a Home Depot pouch on her belt, the other with a QML pouch (never heard of that company). The men, one or two of them colored, are further back, still smiling but less toothily. The caption warms the heart. "Stanford engineering students join forces to build low-cost housing on a Habitat for Humanity site in Redwood City." Our goal is to show them their talents can be used in community service." The two girls are carrying a plank; the men appear to be goofing off. The women seem to have more joie de vivre. Another encouraging note is the stress on engineering in the service of medicine. Alumni are coming back to help in these projects. The article ends with a remark by Professor Boyd Paulson :"This will do more to alter the public's view of engineers than any changes in the university classrooms:" The whole survey could have included a study of the public perception of the professions.
     The final section, on Education, illustrates this. When I first came to the United States, Schools of Education were despised by the rest of the faculty (just as later the "soft sciences" were by the "hard" scientists), This was a stupid article, since the future of the nation depends on its children, thus on its educational system. Whether the widespread criticisms of the education unions are justified I do not know, but non-university teachers in general are poorly paid and are now subjected to intolerable harassment from pupils. Nevertheless the profession still attracts people. The heading reads "The ranks of teachers are swelling with former pilots, lobbyists, and lawyers."
     WAISers will be struck by the absence in this survey of references to the outside world and to international affairs. Nor is there are survey of Earth Sciences, which tend to have international interests. Nor is there a section on agriculture schools, presumably because the big bucks there are animals, not greenbacks. Finally, America has a remarkable collection of divinity schools, broadly humanistic rather than sectarian. Not a trace of them in this survey. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Alan Greenspan could have said this, but he didn't. Despite all this, we should be grateful for this professional survey.

Ronald Hilton - 4/9/00