If college professors taught students that a well-rounded liberal arts education means little in the rough and tough world of 9 to 5 jobs, they'd be putting themselves out of business. But somewhere along the line of establishing this time- and money-obsessed nation of ours, education got the shaft. In his book, A Sanctuary of Their Own, Raphi Sassower analyzes the complexities leading to a general underappreciation for higher education in America. He argues for the return of respect and reverence to professors and others who have devoted themselves to the cultivation of their minds and the minds of students. Here are a few of Sassower's thoughts on being an intellectual in America:
Can you briefly describe the role of the university within American society? American society in this past 200 years has had a strain of anti-intellectualism which is uncommon to both European and even Latin American cultures in the sense that the university professor is not revered and his or her sage advice is not really taken into account the way it is in Europe.
Where does this American anti-intellectualism come from? I think it's the sense of rugged individualism. I think it's the land of pragmatism ... it's the land of 'let's do it, let's get it done.' American ingenuity is underscored ... by an effective means to get things done.
You talk a lot about the management of institutions and the confusion of administrators. Is there something that has changed in the past years which has created a problem in this realm? Yes. Part of it is funding. State and federal funding has decreased relative to the increase in the student population, so even if the dollars stay constant we have more students to serve, and therefore we have less money per student. The financial pressure has put administrators in a precarious position of not knowing what to do. On the one hand, they have to be as economical and as efficient and as prudent with state and federal funds as possible. On the other hand, they are supposed to provide the best education possible.
What does this mean for the future of economic privilege-based education and the general accessibility of higher education in this country? Those who are economically privileged will be able to get the education they want under the conditions they dictate. My concern is with those who are not as financially fortunate but who have both the desire and the ability to pursue their intellectual skills. For those, I call it establishing the Third Welfare System. We have the social welfare system; we have a second welfare system which is the military. ... Right now the educational system is not even considered a welfare system in the sense of the welfare or the well-being of the population.
The problem with education is you teach people for 12 years and another four years of higher education and you don't know what the effects are until five, 10, 20 years. And it's so intangible. That's [contradictory] to the American mentality: 'What am I going to get for my buck?'
Many people believe there stands a wall between the "sanctuary of the academy," as you put it, and the "real world." How do you propose we break down that wall and allow the sanctuary to truly benefit the "real world"? I'm not so sure that I want to break down the walls. Part of the plea here is to maintain a sanctuary of sorts. I don't think that sanctuary is limited to universities. If anything, the university can be a model of a sanctuary of sorts; it can allow people a critical distance from society with some kind of a sense that they also must return something to society, contribute to society.