by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Allen Mendenhall writes for the Martin Center about the late Russell Kirk’s assessment of higher education.
Russell Kirk isn’t known as a policy wonk. The Great Books, not the mathematical or statistical models of economic technicians, were his organon of choice. He devoted essays to broad, perennial themes like “the moral imagination,” “liberal learning,” and “the permanent things.”
Read his numerous columns about higher education, however, and you might come away with a different impression, one of Kirk as a political strategist with a strong grasp of educational policy.
Kirk wrote on a wide variety of issues involving higher education: accreditation, academic freedom, tenure, curriculum, vocational training, community colleges, adult education, college presidents, textbooks, fraternities and Greek life, enrollment, seminaries, tuition, teachers’ unions, collective bargaining, student activism, British universities, urban versus rural schools, boards of trustees, university governance, the hard sciences, grade inflation, lowering academic standards, libraries, private versus public schooling, civics education, sex education, school vouchers, university presses, and more.
One of his go-to subjects implicates several of those issues: federal subsidies. He believed that federal money threatened the mission and integrity of universities in numerous areas.
For starters, he believed that federal subsidies—and, it must be added, foundation grants—created perverse incentives for researchers, who might conform to the benefactor’s “preferences” and “value judgments.”