Saving the Humanities from the Universities

“The unmet demand for a traditional humanities education in elite universities is increasingly being supplied by offshore institutions that set up shop near universities but are not officially part of them,” James Hankins informs us — Offshore Core. More:

    Indeed, the last decade has seen an extraordinary blossoming of private humanities institutes that offer what progressive academe no longer offers: a space to escape the suffocating taboos of contemporary university life, a place to explore the deep questions of human existence and form friendships in the pursuit of meaningful lives and (dare one say it) truth.

    There are now many such foundations across the country, including the Morningside Institute near Columbia, the Elm Institute at Yale, the Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard, the Berkeley Institute at UC Berkeley, and the Zephryr Institute at Stanford. These institutes present themselves as non-political and non-religious but welcome students with religious convictions or unorthodox political views. The Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education currently provides support for 21 entities of this type. Others offshore institutes, like the Collegium Institute at the University of Pennsylvania or Lumen Christi at Chicago, were set up to foster the Catholic intellectual tradition but have become places that support the liberal tradition of humane studies generally. Many of their events are oriented to students with no religious commitments but who value the chance to discuss the great landmarks of the Western intellectual tradition in an atmosphere that treats those works with the respect they deserve.

    The new offshore institutes exist to serve students who feel isolated by their beliefs or who are bewildered by the fragmentation and specialization of intellectual life in today’s corporate university. They typically organize reading groups or study sessions on authors that students want to read. They publish guides to the university’s courses that help students locate the classes and professors best able to nurture their minds. Or they sponsor lunches, teas, and dinners with professors, distinguished professionals, and prominent businessmen, speaking on questions of deep human concern. A common goal is to build intellectual friendships among students and help orient them morally and spiritually to the world of work that awaits them after graduation.

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