My meeting with the college dean was a disillusioning experience.  I had figured that it would take about ten minutes to fill out the required paperwork to transfer from this private college to a state university, but, when I emerged a half-hour later, I realized how naive I had been about higher education.  I had only expected to go through the formalities, but the dean forced me to explain my decision in full.  I told him that my classes had been unsatisfying and the books I was studying, insignificant.  He told me I was making a mistake, that I would be lost amidst the chaos of a public university.  His manner, more than his words, shook me: He spent the whole time sighing, and by his look he seemed to think that I would soon be a college dropout.  I returned to my dorm room in tears.  I had come to realize that I would not get an education where I was, and the dean had insisted I would not find one where I was going.  Unfortunately, we were both correct, at least in part.  American colleges are not educational institutions.

I did not learn this lesson from books but from experience.  As a student who has attended three different colleges, I have learned not to put my faith in the institution of the university.  Of course, I was reared to be skeptical.  After sending me to a private school for kindergarten and first grade, my mother decided that she could teach me better at home.  I remained at home through my high-school years, attending community college for the classes that were difficult for her or simply impractical in the home environment (chemistry, for example).  After I graduated, I enrolled at a private liberal-arts college, where I stayed for one year before transferring to the large public university I now attend.  Why did I exchange an elite school for a workaday state university?  My reasoning was that, if I was going to receive the same education at both, I should choose the one that would cost my parents less.

My first class as a college student proved to be typical of my college experience.  A mandatory course for freshmen, it was intended to introduce us to a wide range of disciplines, yet the focus was on all that is non-Western and irrelevant.  The one classic work we read was Plato’s Republic; the rest of the term took up everything from the poetry of Bedouin women to Chinese philosophy.  That is what I get for going to a liberal-arts college, but, at the state university, I took an American-novels class that included Hannah Foster, Kate Chopin, and Toni Morrison but had no room for Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway.  Ultimately, the text hardly matters, since professors are content to ignore both author and historical context while constructing their own interpretations.  My American literature professor spent more time on race and homosexuality in Moby Dick than on any other aspect of the story.

Deconstructionism is only a symptom of a disease that goes deeper.  Universities have rejected their original purpose, which was to train the mind and better the soul through the study of the classics; now, the announced goal is to make the student employable.  The degree becomes the end instead of the education behind it—and who cares about literature?  This affects all students to some degree, but especially men, who, for the most part, envision themselves providing for families several years down the road.  Almost all of my male friends are business majors.

The most disturbing aspect of the university is the savage hostility of professors and administrators toward Christianity.  I have had several agnostic professors and one bitter atheist but not one who is known as a believer.  I once had to meet with a professor to discuss my use of a biblical quotation in a paper arguing the commonalities between a passage from Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground and a passage from Scripture.  Despite the fact that Dostoyevsky was a Christian and that I was using the Bible as a literary source, my professor only allowed me to use the quotation, with great displeasure, after two meetings.  My fellow students were tolerant of the Faith; many come from somewhat Christian backgrounds.  It is the professors, the very people whom students are supposed to respect and trust, who mock our beliefs and blaspheme the Truth we were brought up to believe.  It is not that academics are active atheists.  They believe in dialectical materialism, mother goddesses, Nature, etc.  As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”

Depressing as they are, universities have their uses.  While I have learned not to put my faith in the university, I do endeavor to take advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.  A university library contains more volumes on more subjects than I will ever have the time to study.  College is one of the few periods of life in which I will have such a vast quantity of information quite literally at my fingertips.  Professors can also be a resource, though, as with books, it takes some effort to separate the wheat from the chaff.  A way to use your professors’ knowledge is to watch for those classes that reflect their areas of expertise.  (One of the best courses I have taken thus far was “Restoration and 17th-Century Literature,” taught by a man who had edited a volume of Dryden.)  You will still get atheism and deconstructionism, but they will be mixed with a greater proportion of good information and teaching.

In those cases where the material is bad and the professor has an agenda, a better understanding of arguments with which you disagree may be the only thing to take from the class.  I have learned much about feminism from feminist professors.  If nothing else, you can discover what teaching methods do and do not work.  I once had an education professor who tried to be his students’ friend, and, by the end of the term, he had lost the respect of every one of us.  I did not come to school to study feminism and poor teaching techniques, but at least I took something out of those classes.

The university, properly understood, is only the springboard for personal education; it is a somewhat perverse application of the old Gospel tune “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”  Since American universities are in a deplorable state, we must learn to educate ourselves.  Perhaps that is the most valuable lesson the professoriate has to teach.  An education is not something you can buy, even on the installment plan of college loans.  It is a lifelong personal commitment.  My mother took the time to begin my education, and I hope some day to do the same for my own children.  It is the least I can do.  Consider it long-term homeschooling.