Thursday, November 18, 2004

# Posted 3:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOR IVY LEAGUERS ONLY: David Brooks is at again. Every few months, Brooks feels compelled to denounce the moral decay that has set in at America's great (but excessively liberal) universities.

Brooks may be my favorite columnist at the Times, but every time he writes about this subject his description of reality clashes strongly with my own experiences as an undergraduate. Brooks writes that
Highly educated young people are tutored, taught and monitored in all aspects of their lives, except the most important, which is character building. When it comes to this, most universities leave them alone. And they find themselves in a world of unprecedented ambiguity, where it's not clear if you're going out with the person you're having sex with, where it's not clear if anything can be said to be absolutely true.

In other words, we have constructed this great apparatus to fill their minds - with thousands of Ph.D.'s ready to serve. But when it comes to courage, which is the pre-eminent virtue since without it nothing else lasts, we often leave them with the gnawing sense that they really should develop it, though God knows how.
It's hard to define character or courage. But I can say without reservation that during my time at Yale, the faculty and administration strongly encouraged us to believe that each of us had a personal obligation to make our community, our country and our world a better place.

Contra Brooks, Yale students had no problem figuring out whether the person they were sleeping with was also their significant other (although it usually was). Even though our professors never gave us lectures about chastity and romance, there was a firm set of ethics that pervaded campus life.

One might call it libertarianism. We were taught to respect the decisions and opinions of others. We were taught that imposing our values on others is unacceptable. More often than not, living up to that ideal requires both character and courage.

UPDATE: An anonymous readers suggests that my description of Brooks' column is somewhat misleading because I chose not to linclude the following paragraph from it:
I don't agree with all of Wolfe's depiction of campus life. He overestimates the lingering self-confidence and prestige of the prep school elite. He undervalues the independence of collegiate women, and underplays the great yearning to do good that surges out of most college students. Life on campus isn't really as nasty as Wolfe describes it. Most students are responsible and prudential and thus not as ribald as Wolfe makes them out to be.
This definitely cuts against the grain of the passage that I quoted. But take note: there is no mitigation here of Brooks' criticism of the American university, only a suggestion that the students themselves are not the problem.
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