The rot of grade inflation and useless degrees began in the Vietnam era. The Selective Service allowed men to defer the draft if they were enrolled in college and making progress towards any degree. The theory was that educated soldiers are better soldiers and that some could be recruited as officers after their degree.
There was no limit to deferrals. If someone kept making satisfactory progress
towards a degree, undergraduate or graduate, they could defer the draft.
In theory, an engineering or mathematics PhD who was in college too long to be drafted was still valuable to supporting the war effort. The strategic purpose of the deferral was subverted by the anti-war left who used it to avoid the draft and forever eroded Academia’s standards.
Liberal anti-war faculty members wanted to keep students in college and out of the draft. In the days before grade inflation, this was easier said than done. Colleges had high standards and only about 15% of awarded grades were As. It was virtually guaranteed that some students would flunk out and be drafted.
This was an unacceptable outcome to many faculty members and they reacted by lowering their standards. Between 1963 and 1973 the percentage of As awarded approximately doubled while the number of Cs and Ds declined sharply. The faculty did not care about the personnel needs of the army, the integrity of academia, or the utility of the education.
The compromising of standards forever altered the culture of academia. It lowered expectations and devalued the utility of the degree. The expectation became that most students would pass most classes if they showed up. Anyone who at least tried deserved a B! Good grades became the expected participation trophy.
Draft deferrers didn’t care what they got a degree in so long as it was easy and kept them out of the war. They flocked to easier degrees in the humanities. Universities filled classrooms for ideological reasons and became hooked on the tuition money from hollowed out degrees. Even after the war, the focus on academic expectations and degree utility never returned. Instead, colleges began upselling participation trophy degrees as a golden ticket to the middle class.
Perhaps the greatest achievement left wing anti-war faculty was the permanent politicizing of academia. The precedent was set when academic standards were lowered for political reasons. It signaled the accepted political views and attracted like minded students who would go on to become the next generation of their fields.
When everyone agreed, ideas were not challenged and intellectual development was stunted. Why go to great lengths debating when everyone knows the right answer? The result was a generation of poorly trained humanities graduates without the interest or ability to engage with other ideas. The world’s problems were the West’s fault.
As the colleges replaced retiring faculty and expanded, they began hiring the draft deferrers and their peers into the humanities. The deferrers wasted no time in making the right opinions known and stifling meaningful debate. They did nothing for the utility of the degree or to increase the academic standards since that would cut off their own income. The deferrers had become the academic establishment and lived on the tuition money of new students.
The events set in motion by academia’s abuse of college deferment caused catastrophic rot. By lowering standards to keep men out of the draft, academia started a downhill slide in rigor and made academic policy explicitly political.
The deferrers lack of interest in the degree as anything more than a status and participation trophy lead to a hollowing out of the humanities. This was compounded when deferrers themselves became professors and further politicized the humanities.
Academia’s decision to put politics ahead of integrity has caused immense damage and is a major contributor to today’s college bubble.
The Deplorable Doctoral Candidate is an engineer, climate skeptic, entrepreneur, critic of academia, and occasional blogger. You can follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DepPhDcandidate