Photo by Salt Water New England

Friday, January 10, 2020

Question for the Community: Is a classic aesthetic supportive of or at odds with the mission of a top university?

Photo by Salt Water New England
A question for the community:
 Is a classic aesthetic supportive of or at odds with the mission of a top university?

30 comments:

  1. A classical aesthetic is entirely consistent with the mission of a top university. If you attend a top university to get a classical, well rounded liberal arts education where you study history, philosophy, English literature, political science, economics, science, art, music, and many other things, a classical aesthetic is supportive of and consistent with this type of education. A good deal of what you learn will be from centuries ago. You'll be studying the classics, it seems appropriate to do so in a classical setting. It gives you a physical sense that history is vast, great and sweeping and we are only the most recent recipients of its treasures and wisdom.

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  2. In my opinion, bricks (or stone) and mortar cannot make for a top university.

    However, again, in my opinion, a handsome, classic campus can serve as a retreat and almost reverent altar for scholarship.

    Rigorous intellectual pursuit can be accomplished in a brutal (to use the French term) poured concrete edifice(s). For me though, it would not be the same.

    I will be interested to read how other SWNE readers interpret this query and how some might explain that a classic aesthetic might be at odds with a university mission.

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  3. I did attend a classically styled college and admired the architecture of it. And before that I was at a boarding school that resembled a New England village where most buildings were white clapboarded. That school has since (fifty years later) had numerous buildings sdded that are more modern, functional, yet attractive and not out of place by comparison. The school has the appearance and facilities (and tuition!) of a small, liberal arts college with a range of offerings and opportunities that boggle the mind. It's fully devoted to and supportive of a liberal classic education.

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  4. Miesian architecture is at odds with everything that is human or natural or divine. Design reduced to a single mark, art reduced to a gray mass, literature reduced to an obscene gesture, music reduced to a monotone grunt. Less is just less. Begin there and work up.

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    1. "Less is more."

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    2. ...more or less

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    3. Miesian architecture, as in
      Mies van der Rohe, was famous for his saying "less is more."

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    4. Robert Venturi famously said "Less is a bore."

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  5. Wouldn't the staff teaching be more of importance for the end product?

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    1. It depends on what they're wearing.

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  6. None of you get the point. Forget the buildings. What is the 'mission' of Yale, Harvard and Stanford? (Princeton is not a top University). As a graduate of Yale 45 years back, I can honestly say I never heard that word once in four years and, quite frankly, I am uncertain whether the word is used today either. It would seem that there are hundreds of different missions at Yale today because the school is student-centered. Admittedly, most 18 year old freshpersons don't have a mission. With regret, I suggest that few 22 year old Seniors do either. One thing they all have in common is the desire to make money (at least in 2020) so the mission I suppose is to broadly support that common instinct. To suggest, more broadly, that Yale has a 'mission' which is cultivated and filtered to its undergraduate students is silly.

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    1. Those are fighting words re: Princeton. And yet after that monologue, Stanford is on the list? It just operates as a Silicon Valley feeder. Nothing classic or inspirational about that place.

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    2. Not all who attend Yale are there to indulge the desire to make money. For that, I'd suggest Harvard B School.

      Yale University Mission:

      "Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni."

      Aiken

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    3. Egads! THAT is Yale's mission statement? Improving the world? Did a high school sophomore write that? How about preserving the values of Western Civilization in order to use them to judge whether their efforts improve or worsen the human condition? Instead of standing on a mountain top vainly jumping at the moon, try methodically hauling more and more boulders to the top to continually elevate your vantage point.

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    4. I think the funniest part of Yale's ironic "Mission Statement" is "... the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community ..."

      Sounds great, but does this also include free speech without the fear of physical violence? I think not.

      And this "free exchange" only lasts as long as you totally agree with their delusional alternate universe of Utopian ideas. Otherwise, they will persecute you to no end, and come after your personal freedom and career with torches and pitchforks.

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    5. I read something recently -- I forget by whom -- about the shifting mission of today's universities from "thinking and reflecting" to "doing." In other words, education as a tool for the purpose of social action. It seems to me this is NOT congruent with a classical aesthetic. If one believes the purpose of a university should be exposure to "the best that has been thought and said," then yes.

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  7. True. Less is just less.

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  8. There is a connection between aesthetics and education as it reflects the values of the institution. What defines the school are the administration, faculty and students. Many Ivy League schools and other highly regarded schools advertise their heritage, but deliver a culture alien to that past heritage.

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    1. Anonymous January 11, 2020 at 10:58 AM:

      “Many Ivy League schools … deliver a culture alien to that past heritage.” How true, but one could say these almost unrecognizable schools are definitely on a mission.

      What mission?

      What’s currently being taught (inculcated) into those once open young minds is a form of intolerant Group Think, a blind orthodoxy to warped versions of right and wrong, anti-American history, and especially, a lunatic version of social “justice.” I think it would be more appropriate today for Ivy League graduates to receive their diplomas wearing all black outfits with only their foreheads and eyes visible.

      Also, like it or not, Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus did have a mission to radically change the aesthetics of the early 20th Century, and succeeded very well on their anti-Neo-Gothic/Georgian campus. Their new architecture suited their purpose. But I doubt if the Bauhaus would have been as inspiring to students in other disciplines outside of the arts. Studying Greek/Latin, biology or philosophy in buildings resembling concrete bunkers would hardly seem uplifting – if not totally incongruous.

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    2. "intolerant Group Think" and "blind orthodoxy"- you're right on the money there. I'm currently in the system- a PhD candidate and graduate instructor in interdisciplinary humanities- and I'm calling it quits at the end of the year. I can't take it any longer. I cannot understate how warped the humanities and social sciences have gotten in recent years. I don't profess any strong form of ideology in my work, and that's the problem. My ability to secure funding, advisors, faculty allies, etc. is severely diminished because my work does not focus on systemic racism or social justice (just not my speed). I walk on absolute eggshells during seminars, department meetings, and faculty meetings. A graduate student was run out of town and labelled a "white supremacist" because he challenged some of the theoretical frameworks currently in fashion.

      An excellent example, which is relevant to the blog: I was part of a conversation with faculty and other graduate students about white privilege and multigenerational wealth. The discussion steered towards places of power and privilege, including private schools. The general consensus was private schools needed to be abolished at once to eliminate the passage of these benefits between generations. I'm a product of a boarding school, and felt required to stick up for them, despite their flaws. I described how they are successful in producing thoughtful, prepared, and well rounded individuals, and are often more economically diverse than some suburban public school districts. In my experience, 60% of the student body were on full scholarship. Boarding school allowed many to break economic barriers and propel their lives in a different direction. The response? "Bourgeois pig" and "When we get the guillotines, you're first."

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    3. Universities today, if they can still be called that, focus more on indoctrination than education. The true mission of the university - the accumulation, preservation, and transmission of knowledge and the development of the character of the individual - has been replaced with political indoctrination.

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    4. You really miss the mark, big time. I recently graduated with a PHD. It was a glorious experience. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Not once did I experience an alien culture, or any aliens at all. Never saw intolerant group think or warped ideas or lunacy of any kind, except for a very conservative professor who espoused the same kind of clap-trap you seem to think is cutting-edge. He (it's always a he) was tenured, so they couldn't get rid of him, unfortunately. He was just isolated.

      Sorry to disappoint you, but your ideas of what goes on in universities is pretty delusional. More importantly, your ideas of intolerance are, indeed, intolerable. The world has changed since Father Knows Best. The Beaver left the house and closed the door a long time ago.

      Mandy

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    5. Mandy,
      (I'm the previous commenter on my own PhD experience.)
      Isn't that precisely the point, though? That they tried to force out an old crank that was nonsensically rambling about tradition and free speech and social justice and blah blah blah? I'm obviously unfamiliar with the details of the situation, but I've seen similar scenarios. That seems like exactly what we're talking. The one whacko that didn't fit the department's party line was pushed towards the door. Faculty in my department are protected through tenure, as it should be, to espouse Marxist ideology and advocate for a violent revolution. I disagree with it, but am not trying to push them out because I think it's dangerous or outdated.

      But I'm with you. Times do change, and the further democratization of academia is a good thing. More diverse voices in education produce better results, and it's great that we've departed from old white men in tweed thinking regressively. I'm glad you had a great experience, and am sure you came from a wonderful program. YMMV, though. I certainly have seen the more troubling and vicious side of it from my perspective.

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  9. Thank You Anon 8:15 AM

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  10. I think there is more freedom of expression at Brigham Young or Liberty University than at the Ivies now. How sad.

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  11. If you chose to rewrite the history you don't agree with you might as well burn the buildings down along with the books.

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