Are my academic studies a mistake?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Question:

I was wondering what are your thoughts on why modern Universities tend  to support “progressive ideals” and go left. As a conservative on a University completing a postgraduate degree , it seems that  this left leaning culture seems to be increasingly and overtly celebrated on campus. 

Secondly, what is your opinion on the role of a University professor/Academic as a vocation  and how it fits in with the idea that we ought to be obsessively pre-occupied with serving God’s fellow creation? The reason for asking is that the science field I am involved in is largely knowledge/theoretical based rather than service based.

Ken

Answer: 

Dear Ken,

Many excellent books and articles have been written explaining why campuses overwhelmingly tilt Left. They make fascinating reading and we do suggest that if your life is heavily campus-based, you delve into this subject.

In brief, however, as I often explain on my podcast ( https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) there are basically only two lenses to reality. One is God-centric and humble while the other is arrogant and secular-materialistic. The former says we’re on this lonely planet because God put us here while the latter takes the position that we’re here by a random accident that makes us nothing more than super-sophisticated chimpanzees.

Though universities both in America and Europe started off as bastions of Christianity, firmly embracing the first lens, round about the middle of the 20th century they commenced a revolutionary transformation to radical secularism that is still ongoing.

Progressive is merely a polite word for a Marxist worldview believing that some people, such as university faculty and often students as well, have a right to live in comfort off the sweat of other people’s brows.  Today, universities, are, with few exceptions, temples of secularism willing to offer almost any heretic as a sacrifice to their gods.

Certainly, we do feel that anyone who is considering sending a child to a college campus should do serious research and due diligence before doing so.

As to your personal question, we’d like to suggest some questions to ask yourself. Knowledge can be greatly valuable. We can think of many people who contributed to humanity by theoretical scientific exploration, among them Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Galileo.

You might ask yourself what is the purpose of your studies? Is what you are researching an arcane obsession or can you see the ultimate potential for a practical application eventually? Would time teaching be an escape from having to deal with the real world or an opportunity to positively inspire young people and improve their lives?

Most importantly, is what you are teaching true to the best of your knowledge?  If you are in the science department or the mathematics department, that is probably the case.  However, if the name of your field includes the word “Studies” as in “Jewish Studies,” “Environmental Studies” etc, it is a good clue that the curriculum might contain more of an agenda rather than truth.

Also ask yourself whether you are delivering to your students material of value that will help them understand how the world REALLY works.

Should you continue on your path and find yourself isolated, whether in a laboratory or on a campus, we would encourage you to actively seek opportunities to get out of your cocoon. Make sure that some time each week is physically spent outside both campus and college towns and interacting with people who have nothing to do with organized academia.

Asking the questions we have raised and others you will come up with suggests that you have reservations about your path. That is a brave and honest thing to do and whatever your decision, you are better off for facing your doubts as early as possible.

Wishing you success,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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14 comments

Zev bar-Lev says:

Gut gezogt! (You might have mentioned the scale of lenses between the two poles thst you identify.)

rdlapin says:

Dear Zev-
Thanks for commenting. (For those unfamiliar with the pretty much obsolete language of ‘yiddish’ Zev wrote “Well said”. I call yiddish pretty much obsolete since almost nothing is being written in yiddish today and it is being spoken mostly by older folks and some Hasidic groups. Even their younger people are switching away. If find the language culturally and ethnically interesting but to me, it has very little religious significance.)
Regarding the scale between the lenses, it undoubtedly exists as I explain on the podcast that will post this weekend here https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show.
I find that if I can identify the poles or opposite ends of any spectrum, the middle positions are easy to identify. For instance, too frugal makes me miserly while overly generous can deplete me. Identifying those poles helps me identify the correct place in the middle that I should occupy.
As to why I disparage “Jewish Studies” at universities and colleges, well, there’s usually little Jewish about those curriculums which in most cases were instituted to placate vocal Jewish advocates. Of course this opens up the debate about what is Jewish. I acknowledge that some of my co-religionists view all Woody Allen’s movies as “Jewish culture” because Allen is Jewish by ancestry. I disagree. I accept that others consider the history of socialism as part of Jewish studies but I don’t. What do I think of as Jewish studies? For people who know as little about the world as undergraduate university students, I’d say, “Why not start out with the Tanach–the Hebrew Bible?” I think that might be a good place to start if you’re interested in “Jewish studies”
A long answer to a short and concise comment you made, Zev, but to use the term currently popular in places where Environmental Studies are popular, you ‘triggered’ me!
Thanks again for reading our work and for taking the time to write. Warmest wishes
Cordially
RDL

Seeing “Jewish Studies” written there was a kick in my kishkas as I begin my last semester in Jewish Studies at The University of Buffalo on January 30th. But, unfortunately you are right again. I am in my 50’s and went in with my eyes open so the liberalism and Marxism did not surprise me, my goal was to learn Hebrew and understand more of Judaism and modern secular Jewish thought. I often am the only one with a conservative point of view, but have received some great support from young students believing the same way. My professors range from observant to cuckoo-cuckoo but I love them all dearly. Occasionally I reference you and rarely receive an argument.

Ruth Dyck says:

Our daughter is finishing her Master’s degree in Viola Performance. She is a committed Christian and would like to develop a home studio, teaching children. As a parent, I am trying not to worry that she will be able to make a living in this difficult business of teaching music. After hearing some of your podcasts, and reading some of your material, I am uncertain that we should have encouraged her in this direction. We live in a small town, so it will not be possible for her to live here and develop a studio (saving money by living at home until she would get established). She is thinking of staying in the large city where she is studying, due to the greater number of potential students, although the cost of living is very high. I would appreciate any thoughts you may have as to whether we did the right thing or not, especially regarding music and the other fine arts. Thanks.

Susan Lapin says:

Hi Ruth – we love receiving feedback and your question is a good one. We would like to ask you to submit it to Ask the Rabbi(http://rabbidaniellapin.com/category/ask-the-rabbi/) column so that others can benefit from the question as well. The answer is also too long to fit in the ‘comment’ location.

Shannon, she who loves maths says:

Oh Ken, science is very much a Godly pursuit. Hard science, applied mathematics, theoretical physics in my opinion is the language of the good Lord above.
No matter where you go in the universe 1+1=2. Its the same answer in english, swahili, klingon, binary, base 13, hexadecimal…even in the event horizon of a black hole. It is the prose of God, and the very thing that binds us together.

rdlapin says:

Dear Shannon-Who-Loves-Maths
Thanks for writing. I couldn’t have put it more elegantly myself. Real science is nothing more than our attempt to get closer to God by getting closer to His work. This resembles those deeply committed fans of an artist who just can’t get enough of that artist’s work. Of course the word ‘science’ has been coopted in areas such as “social science” which is anything but science–more like propaganda
I notice you identify as someone who loves “maths” rather than “math”. On the other side of the Atlantic it is always referred to as “maths”. On this side of the Atlantic we typically abbreviate mathematics as “math”. I am not sure about Canada. It took me years to replace maths with math in my speech. I wonder if you are perhaps also from far away.
Cordially
RDL

Ken Margo says:

Dear Shannon-Who-Loves-Maths,

Thank you for input much obliged the comments here and Rabbi Lapin replies are definitely one of those iron sharpening iron moments for me . Very profound idea about the sciences and mathematics being a Godly pursuit. Previously I’ve never thought of it that way until today!

Many thanks and every blessing,
Ken

Shannon, she who loves maths says:

Hi Ken & Rabbi Lapin!
Thank you both for your kind words. Algebra and Geometry sunk me in high school- 3 years of summer school before it finally clicked. The final tumbler to fall came from my Algebra 2 teacher- a large burly bear of a man who was the spitting image of Jerry Garcia. He was the one who opened my eyes to the beauty of advanced mathematics. He would have us visualize the formula in our heads. It was poetic…not anything like the common drumbeat of “math is hard, boring and for boys.”
I’m just a regular Jersey Girl, born and raised here. I use ‘maths’ instead of ‘math’ because the singular just never quite captures the many facets and all welcoming comfort of the plural.
It really is what brings us all together, here, there or on Kronos.

Susan Lapin says:

My husband originally used the word ‘maths’ in the British way. I changed it to American usage, but he agrees with you.

bob aronson says:

Teacher thank you for a great lesson….in my opinion you can easily substitute “reform movement and/or progressive judaism” for “college campus”.

B. Weis says:

Bravo, Lapin! And to illustrate the concept of getting out of one’s cocoon, I suggest a viewing of “Shadowlands” the story of C.S. Lewis. In it, he engages so strongly with his colleagues you’ll see the example of uncocooning. Alas, the best version, with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, is very hard to find.

Karen Boswell says:

Perhaps I am being too simplistic …There is no God but Jehovah – The God of Israel – The GREAT I AM?

Ken Margo says:

Dear Rabbi Daniel Lapin,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question it has definitely help me re – calibrate my mind by re focusing on God via asking myself those question. This in turn has granted a new perspective on what I am doing /delivering on campus and what I need to be doing to continually offer quality and value in the teaching, research and writing in the field of Pharmaceutics.

Many thanks and every blessing,
Ken

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