The newly elected president of Cornell argues that we need to look at higher education through a new lens. She then extols the virtues of a liberal arts education, which focuses on citizenship for the common good, as well as the critical role that research universities play in the development of knowledge. This is not a new lens. It is distinct, however, from the new lens that has gained credibility in recent years. Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, and a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, has made large cuts in the state budget for higher education, and he claims that the mission of the state university system is to provide the skills required by the business community. In other words, the state university system is simply the last step in a vocational education system. It does not exist to promote active citizenship and the common good.
Scott Walker is only one of many conservative governors who look at higher education through a similar lens. They leap on the bandwagon when one of the state universities excel in popular sport but they have been cutting university budgets and they are doing what they can to limit academic freedom. The President of Cornell University should not have to defend the university system by proposing a new lens. It is the new lens that should worry us.