Selections: The University Guild vs. Glenn Beck, By Amity Shlaes
[O]ur system of higher education is a throwback to medieval economics: a guild. As in the classic guild, members require a lengthy period of training, with formal stages. To be in any way authoritative, a writer must have a Ph.D., a guild seal. Members of this guild have enormous discretion when it comes to the conferring of the seal - also typical. In the humanities and social sciences, Ph.D.s. and, it goes without saying, tenure-track posts -- are usually awarded to those not hostile to the master professors' views. For many decades top universities have been especially rigorous in this practice, with the result that it is difficult to find non-progressives with top credentials in the humanities. The guild demands much from its apprentices, graduate students, including dull work in obscure texts. Indeed it is proud of that obscurity, for it distinguishes academic work from, say, the easy popular histories on bookstore shelves or tv.
In the field of history, the guild also maintains a monopoly on education by generating curricula, syllabi, and, of course, a canon, a set list of texts for each period of the past. Of course the academic guild, generally on the progressive side, has made many concessions to conservatives or classical liberals. Professors have assigned the odd conservative book; they mentioned the opponents' arguments. But such offerings have generally been presented as an afterthought, secondary, less authoritative. Looking back at their education many adults saw through this pretense of fairness. They resented the guild monolith. Something was missing.