Bob Herbert writes to lament the decline of the US on the world stage of higher education. The decline is just a part of a larger anti-intellectualism in the US.
If there is no good example of learning and inquiry in the halls of power and prestige (on Wall Street, in Washington, in the idolized entertainment fields), is it any surprise that the US is in freefall on higher education?
The US has a government and a news-media system that actively opposes open-mindedness, healthy criticism and skepticism, inquiry — all while publicly endorsing all of these, especially while annihilating whole countries "for their own good." Look at the widespread condemnation of Wikileaks, which found a niche precisely because the US news media has not been doing what it claims.
Obama — supposed champion of change — appoints only Harvard and Yale grads, hardly institutions worthy of admiration after twenty years of deplorable economic analysis, criminal graduates fomenting wars, etc. Obama is more conservative than Bush on whistleblowers. He was dragged kicking and screaming into releasing documents that he had previously promised to make public.
Where is the diversity of intellectual analysis, inquiry, challenge? It is utterly utterly absent from the American public arena. Progressives are systematically excluded from the mainstream media with only a tiny and fairly tame representation at MSNBC and a couple of others. PBS killed NOW and has offered no replacement for Bill Moyers, who was absolutely the most incisive of regular analysts of current events and any major media outlet.
A college degree is valuable in the US only for purposes of getting a job. On any other count, Americans — beginning at the *top* — oppose the values higher education is supposed to foster.