Higher Education’s Enemy Within
An army of nonfaculty staff push for action and social justice at the expense of free inquiry.
By José A. Cabranes
Wall Street Journal
Nov. 8, 2019 5:25 pm ET

[T]he faculty plays almost no role in the admissions process at most universities. Instead, that process has been handed to specialized “admissions departments.” Faculty members who want to be involved in admissions are relegated to toothless advisory committees, where they are lucky to be invited to glimpse the making of the sausage. Admissions “professionals” are less interested in traditional academic criteria, such as scholastic talent and intellectual openness, than they are in flashier virtues such as “activism,” “leadership” or “overcoming adversity.” Students now arrive on campus having been instructed to promote themselves as “social entrepreneurs” or “change makers.” It has become common for applicants to claim to have “founded,” at 17, some shiny-sounding nonprofit devoted to beneficent acts.

The contemporary admissions process thus reflects and advances a transformation of the university from a place of thought to an instrument of social action. Is it any wonder that students go searching for windmills at which to tilt?

As the new species of bureaucrats and student activists have come to dominate the university, they have reshaped it in their image. Wherever possible, they have sought to muddle the distinction between intellectual deliberation and political action—thus making certain thoughts, like certain deeds, into crimes.


Judge Cabranes serves on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was Yale’s first general counsel, and later served as a trustee of Yale, Columbia and Colgate universities.