Go to top

THE BLOG

Essential Reading: Richard Shweder on the End of the Modern Academy

This post is the first in our “Essential Reading” series. These posts make it possible for readers to get the basic idea of a major work quickly. Here is the first such essay: Richard A. Shweder (2017). The End of the Modern Academy: At the University of Chicago, for Example.
Shweder describes the “modern” (as opposed to pre- or post-modern) conception of a university that was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s when he began teaching at the University of Chicago—an “ivory tower” conception in which the purpose of the university is “improving the stock of ordered knowledge and rational judgment.” He structures his essay around three ideals of the modernist university, and three threats that are now undermining those ideals. The three threats are: 1) the increasing pursuit of profit from research after 1980; 2) the rise of bureaucratic constraints on research, such as the creation of Internal Review Boards (IRBs) to govern all research; and 3) the rise of a post-modern form of expressive identity politics. This third point is the most important for our mission at Heterodox Academy, for this form of activism, when done by scholars, is sometimes in conflict with the cultivation of viewpoint diversity and the search for truth. When Shweder speaks of the “end” of the academy, it is a double-entendre. He refers to “end” as purpose or goal, but as he describes the three threats, it becomes clear that these threats may bring about the end (termination) of the modernist truth-oriented conception of a university.