Private Colleges to Revive the Humanities
by Mark Wegierski
The liberal arts in Canada currently face a multi-pronged assault. Given the clamor for a narrowly conceived “market” and “economic” ethic, they are taught less and less, in favor of business, technology, and reductively defined law. Then there is the totalitarianism of political correctness that stifles genuine enquiry and the mind-numbing jargon and disdain for plain-speaking that pervades the liberal arts. Finally, we have the dumbing-down by the mass media and pop-culture.
Political correctness and its heavy-handed enforcement across Canada’s campuses is exacerbated by the scarcity of private colleges. Among the most prominent of these are Trinity Western University in British Columbia, and Redeemer University College in Ontario. Traditional Catholics in Ontario hope to launch a fully accredited liberal arts college, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy.
All this is in marked contrast to the United States, with its hundreds of private, usually religious-affiliated, colleges that have full accreditation and standing within the U.S. academic community. These colleges create the possibility of a more traditional approach to humanistic study, and of a community of scholars to resist both the academic establishment and government bureaucracies, with their politically correct strictures. One prominent example in the United States is Ave Maria University.
Education is a provincial responsibility under the Canadian Constitution. It would be helpful if the various provincial governments in Canada enacted a fair, legal groundwork for the establishment of private, post-secondary institutions, along the lines of the legislation brought in by Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris in Ontario. Eventually, such institutions could award doctoral degrees, and thereby change the profile of Canada’s intellectual elites.
Potential students can be put off by ill-disciplined modes of academic life. They require depth and structure in their studies. If the envisaged, private institutions get underway, they may struggle to compete with the public universities in the realms of high-technology and scientific research. But by teaching students to think about the fundamental questions that face humanity, they can offer something no less valuable.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. An earlier version of this article appeared on the Hudson Institute website