Joseph Epstein, "Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And why we should care
," The Weekly Standard
18.1 (September 17, 2012):
Some among these University of Chicago students had an impressive acquaintance with books. One morning in Elder Olson's class in modern poetry, Olson began quoting Baudelaire (mon semblable,—mon frère!) and a student next to me, named Martha Silverman, joined him, in French, and together, in unison, the two of them chanted the poem to its conclusion. This was one of those moments when I thought it perhaps a good time to look into career opportunities at Jiffy Lube.
At the University of Chicago I read many books, none of them trivial, for the school in those years did not allow the work of second- or third-rate writers into its curriculum. Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Jack Kerouac, Adrienne Rich, or their equivalents of that day, did not come close to making the cut. No textbooks were used. You didn't read "Karl Marx postulated ..."; you read Karl-bloody-Marx. The working assumption was that one's time in college is limited, and mustn't be spent on anything other than the first-rate, or on learning acquired (as with textbooks) at a second remove.
Nor did Chicago offer any "soft" majors or "lite" courses. I remember, in my final year, looking for such a course to fill out a crowded schedule, and choosing one called History of Greek Philosophy. How difficult, I thought, could this be? Learn a few concepts of the pre-Socratics (Thales believed this, Heraclitus that), acquire a few dates, and that would be that. On the first day of class, the teacher, a trim little man named Warner Arms Wick, announced that there was no substantial history of Greek philosophy, so we shall instead be spending the quarter reading Aristotle and Plato exclusively.