SALISBURY, Conn. — Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said the academy is in part to blame for failing to make the case for liberal education’s value to the larger society.
She spoke to an audience at Salisbury School on Friday, Sept. 23, in a talk sponsored by the Salisbury Forum.
Pasquerella said politicians, from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to President Barack Obama, who call into question the value of higher education in general and liberal education in particular, are going wide of the mark.
By emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) courses, advocates create a “false dichotomy.”
Employers, she said later in the program, seek graduates with critical thinking skills as well as technical ones.
At the same time, she said American colleges have adopted a “boutique mentality” and are too aware of their place in the college ranking systems published by U.S. News and World Report, among others.
She said university presidents are “navigating a perilous course” between the concerns of increasingly activist students and board members and alumni groups who see institutions “capitulating” to the student demands “at the expense of academic rigor and preparation.”
What the academy needs to do, she argued, is to re-establish in the public’s mind the notion of higher education as a public good, rather than a private concern.
She cited the land grant colleges of the 19th century, the G.I. Bill of the post-World War II period and the Pell Grants of the 1970s as examples.
And she said that universities need to help today’s students connect their activism with their education.
Asked why college is so expensive, she said part of the problem is the cost of complying with federal regulations. She advised cutting back on amenities like climbing walls, ignoring the college ranking mentality and creating more tenure-track teaching positions instead of “contingent” faculty.