When Milton wrote that the desire for fame is the “last infirmity of noble mind,” he was recognizing selfish pride as a sin so basic to humanity that it is generally the subtlest stronghold of the lower nature. Teachers of all types—grade school, Sunday school, high school, college, and preachers too—are often very public-spirited people, eager to help others and eager to share their insights; but this very eagerness contains the seed of pride that will bloom into intellectual tyranny and unnecessary authoritarianism unless it is very manfully and repeatedly put under. Teaching a class or preaching to a congregation confers power, and power corrupts. One cannot be too careful about the insidious presence of selfishness; and I believe that the decade into which we have recently entered will present special challenges because of the kind of students we will confront.
In Stress and Campus Response: Current Issues in Higher Education 1968, Richard Axen of San Francisco State maintains that if you scratch the surface of the collective faculty in American colleges “you reach a substratum of authoritarianism only slightly disguised in moments of noncrises by a thin patina of liberalism and intellectualism.” Today’s outspoken students are of course continually challenging “cherished faculty prerogatives,” and in response, “authoritarian tendencies are blooming.” Axen urges that we expend our energies in correcting the conditions that have fostered legitimate student grievances rather than in squelching dissent. “A reformed higher education,” he rightly points out, “will require a radically changed faculty role—a role more open, less status-bound, ...1
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