A lot of Americans are worried about the way universities are teaching our children. During the second weekend of November 1988, equally concerned members of the National Association of Scholars gathered at the old Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

There are clearly quite a few articulate, thoughtful scholars in our colleges and universities on whom presidents and regents can call to provide the leadership that is needed to take us out of our current morass. No one who heard young historian Alan Kors (Pittsburgh) tell of his stand against campus radicals will doubt that strong leadership can help a school begin the slow, gradual return to high academic standards. No one who heard Jeane Kirkpatrick (Georgetown) tell of the suppression of free speech on campuses will doubt the need. But do presidents and regents care?

One does. The speech John Silber, president of Boston University, gave was a revelation. Silber told us clearly and forcefully why the humanities, in the broadest sense, are at the heart of any curriculum worthy of the name. He paused to explain how even a poem as simple and touching as Milton’s sonnet on his late wife was incomprehensible to someone who did not know Greek myth and Greek literature. He reminded us that a liberal education in the literature and values of our society is a debt we owe our children. An academic leader who possesses eloquence, wisdom, and passion is a rara avis. Silber can be justifiably compared to Daniel Coit Oilman, William Rainey Harper, or other men who created the great American universities.

If the squabbling in today’s universities is a free-for-all between liberals and radicals about who is going to get to propagandize our children, the ultimate victory is of little concern to the average American, not to mention the putative nonexistent academic conservative. The debate ought to be over the introduction of adequate objective standards of academic expertise for both teaching and research. I am not sure what the proper standards for the social sciences should be, but in the humanities they should include command of relevant foreign languages, publication in refereed presses and journals, and winning extramural grants. I am not surprised that parents. Poor fa once devoted a lead editorial to denouncing publication in academe. It is shocking that Lynne Cheney would repeat the baseless assertions that there is too much attention to research in today’s universities and that what little research goes on hurts teaching. The recent report from the American Council of Learned Societies, Speaking for the Humanities, reminds us (from Martin Finkelstein via Andrew Hacker) that “more than half of all professors devote fewer than five hours a week to research, while upward of a third admit to none at all.” When the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities can write, “it is important to recognize that research and learning need not always involve publication,” she is driving a stake into the heart of the only source of objective standards in academia. De facto, she is asking that our children be taught what people who have never wrestled aggressively with great literature remember from their graduate school lectures. It is important to recognize that most people who are not creative as scholars dry up as teachers.

The good news is that the leadership is there, from university presidents like John Silber to humanities scholars like Charles Moser (George Washington) in Slavic and Rufus Fears (Boston University) in classics, on to the many social scientists who are ready and willing to stand up for standards. The bad news is that the Trojan Horse—hatred of minimal standards—is inside the gates of Troy. Ulysses and Neoptolemus are exulting. Priam and Deiphobus are slain. What is Aeneas to do?