The true method of higher education

I recently saw an American report on the “success” of higher education in this country. The criterion used the average salary of graduates from the different disciplines. This criterion was used to indicate the better and the worst “majors” in a college curriculum, at least for making money. But if this financial standard is to be used as the norm for judging the nature or importance of “higher” education, for advising students as to what to study, then we might as well close the shop and turn everything into a training school. Let the mind go somewhere else where it is free to pursue the truth. . . .

Pope Benedict XVI touches on this very issue when he gave a brief, but incisive, analysis of the mission and nature of a Catholic university in the context of what a university is to the rector, administrators, faculty, students, and alumni of the famous “La Cattolica” university in Milan, meeting with him in Rome.

“The humanities culture seems to be affected by a progressive decline,” he said, “while the so-called ‘productive’ disciplines, such as technological and economic studies, are emphasized.” The question arises: How are we to compare the worth of humanistic studies with those that result in production or the increase of wealth? Catholicism is not hostile to the notion that mankind should be able to produce and distribute a sufficiency, even abundance, of goods and services for ourselves and others. This end surely is one of the purposes of human civil life. But the Aristotelian question remains: Are there things that transcend politics and economics even for the politician and economist?

“There is a tendency to reduce the human horizon to a measurable level and, to eliminate the fundamental question of meaning from systematic and critical knowledge,” the pope remarks. Not only are the humanities downplayed but religion itself is simply not considered to be worthy of serious study. “There does not seem to be much room for the reasons to believe; therefore the religious dimension is exiled to the realm of opinion and personal choice.” The implication is that no truth can be found in religion. Truth is defined to be what we can learn by measurement and scientific method which itself dubiously presupposes that only what is measurable in quantity is scientific or true.