George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief is an excellent book to get a grasp of the history of the American university system and ideals. Its discussions range from seventeenth-century Harvard to the role of religion in American higher education, and of course, the direction and trajectory of the American university. Particularly intriguing is the chapter titled “Searching for a Soul”:

In the interwar years American cultural leaders faced a new crisis of faith, not simply concerning Christianity but concerning liberal Western culture itself. This intellectual crisis, which emerged in the 1920s and heightened during the 1930s and the war years, undercut the ideological rationale for the universities as servants of democratic civilization. The universities were unreservedly committed on two things: science and the highest ideals of Western culture. Now a distressing realization began to dawn, although only a few prophets were willing to face its full implications, that these two ideals might be incompatible.

The distressing realities resulted as universities embodied the problems of the nation and the worldwide crises, instead of mirroring the ideals, which they championed within its walls. Money came from corporate America, and whence the money originated, so came the power to control. Are naturalistic science and high ideals compatible or at odds? Is modern thinking able to compensate the “dark clouds of fascism” and bring back the first principles of higher education?

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