The Soul of Higher Education: Leo Madden on Teaching Human Rights, the Humanities, and the State of the University

Leo Madden is an associate professor of Theology and head of the Department of Theology at Ohio Dominican University where he teaches Sacred Scripture and assists in teaching the Core Curriculum. He received an undergraduate degree from Georgetown and graduate training from the Gregorian University and Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy.

I spoke with Dr. Madden about the origin of human rights, the difference between negative rights and positive rights, religion, the weaknesses of higher education, the state of the humanities, student life, student debt, essential readings, and the problem of being a tuition-dependent institution:

Maloney: I once saw you at a party, and we got to talking about your students. You were aghast that they didn’t know what human rights were. And I thought to myself, I don’t know either. What are human rights? How do you respond to your students?

Madden: The context here is that I was teaching a course, one I teach every year, with the title, “What is human nature?” We read different mythologies about the creation of the universe and the creation of human beings. They come from 2000 B.C., ancient Babylon, and so on. And while the stories are different, nevertheless there was this one detail that showed up repeatedly: that the creation of human beings included raw materials from the gods– whether it was part of the body of a god, or blood from a god– and then that material is mixed with clay and you get these little monsters. I happened to do a riff on that detail in class, as I often do: an impromptu questioning, pondering, and probing of student experience. I was imagining that my classroom was full of people of a generic Christian background and that they would be familiar with the Genesis story: that God created humans, etcetera. And even in a document that is not related to the Bible– that preceded the stories of Genesis by one thousand years or more– nevertheless I pointed out that there’s this detail there that human persons have divine raw materials. Certainly in Genesis that’s the root of human rights. And so I asked my students, Has anyone ever told you that you have natural rights? Inherent dignity? Divine elements within you? Silence. Zero. In fact, a few students said, Nobody has ever told us that before. So my first comment, Ryan, is by way of diagnosis: why are college students– or at least my small sample of them– not aware that they have natural rights? I suggest this answer: It’s because they’ve never been taught. Formal education doesn’t consist of reading foundational works and reflecting upon natural rights. And I don’t mean that they don’t read religious texts or political texts– in fact they don’t read much of anything. It’s simply that they don’t come across it. And even outside of formal education: for most students, what is their experience of culture? Their experience of culture is entirely materialistic; entirely guided towards immediate gratification; simple happiness. Maybe they speak about rights to one another in different terminology, but in a formal sense they’re just not educated.

Maloney: If I’m one of your students and I don’t know what natural rights are, how would you get that across?

Madden: One of the main ways to go about it is (to teach) the affirmation that I have inherited something that you cannot take away, that the government cannot take away. To use the language of our Declaration of Independence: by the very fact that I exist I possess inalienable rights that the government cannot take away from me. Perhaps one way to go about is to appeal to the experience of fundamental fairness, when I am faced with a situation that I consider fundamentally unfair. For example, I’m eighteen years of age; and I go to the polling booth; and the people at the polling booth refuse me the right to vote; I show them my identification card; I show them my birth certificate; I say, This is fundamentally unfair. And if you drill down far enough into that feeling of unfairness I think you get to a bedrock affirmation that it’s fundamentally unfair because I have inherent dignity that you cannot take away from me. And one place I’d recommend your readers to is C.S. Lewis, in his little book Mere Christianity. In that little book, which was a series of radio talks, he spells out, not with the Bible, not with Jesus, not with the formal teachings of Christianity, he says that one way to begin to discuss and then to affirm the existence of God is through the experience of fundamental unfairness. And so that’s where I would start. Now to be sure: human rights are not material, that is to say, if I were to be sliced open in a biopsy you wouldn’t discover the source of my human rights. They do have that aspect to them: that they are fundamental affirmations; and in our empirical age we ask for material evidence for them. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson affirms that we have inalienable rights. He simply affirms that they are given to us from our creator.

Maloney: That’s something I’ve struggled with: if I can’t touch human rights how do I know they exist? But when I drill into that it leads to all kinds of horrific implications. Can you talk about that?

Madden: Let me first clarify one thing: even the bedrock affirmation of fundamental natural rights that are given to me by my creator– even that needs to be taught. You can well understand, and you probably know of, a totalitarian society that would never dare to teach its people such an affirmation, that they have inalienable, pre-government rights, and rather that their very identities are given to them by the state. They do not have natural rights; they do not possess rights that are pre-government. I’m thinking right now of North Korea– if you’ve ever seen the videos of people who smuggle themselves into North Korea and interview the people– it’s like they’re on another planet. Their very identities– their sense of self– is all bound up in what the government, the family regime, gives to them.

Maloney: Given government’s role in education it would seem there might be a hidden incentive not to teach students they have those rights.

Madden: Yes, because you open yourself up to many consequences that you might not be able to control. I can imagine a high school that wouldn’t promote this idea of individual rights– good gracious you would have a building of one thousand rebels on your hand. Therefore, this notion of rights is balanced with a notion of responsibility to society. In this case you happen to be a student, and you have a responsibility to the authorities who are tasked to guide the student body. I can’t say much more than that because I don’t have a knowledge of what goes on in public high schools in relation to rights and responsibilities. But that’s the context, I think.

Maloney: Can you talk about the implications of natural rights for what government ought to look like?

Madden: That question touches upon two ways of understanding rights, whether they’re negative or positive. Negative rights are what we’ve been talking about regarding inherent qualities of the individual that the government cannot take away. According to the Constitution I have freedom of speech; according to the Declaration of Independence I have a right to life; I have a right to liberty– that is to say I have a fundamental freedom to live as I wish; and then in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights there’s freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. So those are negative rights, rights that the government can’t take away. But what’s growing– and this might be in regards to what you asked about the progressive movement– is the sense of positive rights, or rights that the government must provide. So a right to health care: as a human, or as a citizen of this country, the government must provide me with the things I need for health– free check-ups, free dental care, fill in the blank. Before Barack Obama became President he gave an interview in which he said that the founders of our nation missed a potential development in the relationship between the government and the individual because they only focused on negative rights; they didn’t include positive rights. And much of the progressive movement is an attempt to add positive rights to the demands individual citizens bring upon government. And the danger here is that if you grant positive rights you will have a non-stop civil war of person against person, because each person has a different sense of what government owes them. I can say that I am owed protection from predators around my home and therefore the government must, well, fill in the blank: must provide me with a gun; must provide me with ammunition; must provide me with 24/7 police protection. You can go to absurd lengths in your insistence that the government should satisfy all of the means that would give you happiness.

Maloney: My mind goes in two directions. First, I’m reading a book right now that makes the case that protection is government’s fundamental role, i.e. literal protection by police, property rights, or protection of human rights in general. I would make the case that progressive ideology has overstepped its bounds. What case would you make for government’s role in protecting our rights?

Madden: I will adopt some elements of progressivism. I’ve already mentioned some of them, that government should provide us with the conditions of security. I would also appeal to an element of Catholic teaching known as “the common good”. The definition of it in the Catholic tradition is a little different than the way we would use it in everyday life: The Catholic notion of “Common Good” concerns those components of society that are necessary for human flourishing. Not just barely surviving, but human flourishing. So not just protection; not just utilities– gas, water, that sort of thing– but it would also include education. So government should encourage, and if necessary provide, the fundamentals needed for education. Human flourishing means that you’re literate, you have intellectual curiosity, you are reading and conversing, you have a knowledge of what is important and what is ephemeral, what is lasting and what is fundamental. So I would define education as one of those positive rights that government should provide. I’ve had long conversations with many people about whether health care should be included as such a right. People who have lived internationally think it’s really weird that we have to pay out of our own pockets for health care. And because coming down with a horrendous illness seems to be a matter of chance, why should that ill person be penalized? But then I say, If we have government-organized health care in all fields, wouldn’t there be a cost to that? You don’t have the incentive for people to go into medicine– to be nurses, scientists, lab technicians, that sort of thing. You do want to have some kind of incentive so that you can have a health care system that will provide you with quality care.

Maloney: You teach theology at a religious institution. Here, at my university, I don’t know if our students could tell you what theology is.

Madden: Theology, by its very nature, is focusing on a particular religious tradition. I wouldn’t expect a state university in any capacity to have a course where the instructor is supposed to bend the instruction in a particular way. That would violate the First Amendment. That wouldn’t stand scrutiny in the Supreme Court for a second. But I think students should know something about the foundations of religion. With such an education, students would become much more aware of the foundation of natural rights. It’s a purely useful point of view. They should know something about the religions that are common– Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism– just to be able to converse with people. I can’t tell you the number of wonderful conversations I’ve had with my Jewish friends; and when I lived in West Africa I lived in a village where most of the people were Muslim. It should just be a matter of cultural sophistication. Universities want to produce individuals who are educated for the modern world.

Maloney: Given how many fewer people today define themselves as religious, is that good? Is that bad? Is it is what it is?

Madden: It is what it is for a while. It doesn’t surprise me at all that people in their twenties are not consciously, actively, members of a religious tradition. They don’t regularly go to Catholic mass; they don’t regularly go to services. I can understand that completely, because in a sense that’s what the twenties are supposed to be about: you break away, wander, then eventually you settle down for a variety of reasons. One piece of literature, Dante’s Inferno, starts with, “In the middle of my life I found myself in a dark wood.” And the middle of his life was his early thirties. He was in a dark wood, and thereafter begins the journey down through hell, up through purgatory, unto heaven. So it’s perfectly normal that there is a breaking away from religion in the twenties and into the thirties. But at a certain point I’d say you have to settle down. And this is the main point I would make: it is really important for an individual to be a member of a community. We don’t come into this world alone, and when we leave this world the hope is that we’d do it surrounded by loved ones. But we are always part of a community, and that is so obvious that I don’t even have to spell it out. A sense of community not only provides present benefits but it also gives you a sense of belonging to a story. I can say to you, Ryan, that my story didn’t begin on a day in 1955 when I was born; I can say that my story began with the Mayflower; I can say it started with the Irish Potato Famine; or it started with the birth of Jesus; or it started with Moses. It is a great sense of self-identity to recognize that one is part of a community and a story. In fact, people who have studied negative propaganda, they’ve studied the phenomenon of child soldiers getting kidnapped at age ten, given a gun. What happens in that process of mind-cleansing is that they’re told that they don’t belong to that community– that village, that tribe– that’s not their story. They belong to this one, the story of the rebellion. And the process of recovery for such people is to do the opposite: you don’t belong to this story of violence; you belong to this one, the story of community, of this village, of this set of ancestors. And people who work in prison ministry do the same thing: you don’t belong to this story, or this gang; you belong to this story of recovery, of honest work, of the story of Christianity or the story of Islam. One important benefit of religion is that it tells you a story into which you can insert yourself.

Maloney: What are some ways you might insert your students into the story of Catholicism?

Madden: I don’t really do that explicitly, but I would start with the story of Jesus. A long time ago, in a place far, far away, this person was born, and this is what he did. And even during his public life he formed around him a number of students, so his story continues. And even when you read the story of Jesus there are many, many hints that his story didn’t even start with his own birth. His story begins much earlier, with the people Israel, who were enslaved. After he departs, the community he founded continues into the future and even into today. I don’t do this in my classes, but if a student came to me to inquire about becoming a Christian, I would tell them the story, and then ask, Do you want to do this? Do you see this as your story now?

Maloney: Have you read Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind?

Madden: Yes. I remember reading it when it came out. It made a big splash.

Maloney: Can you talk about that book? We’re still wrestling with the same things Bloom talked about. For context, the book attacked American higher education, everything from appreciating music, to gender and sexuality, to an understanding of the human soul. That last part got to me: students don’t understand that they have a soul, and that it can be improved in some sense. What does that mean?

Madden: One of the basic weaknesses of higher education– and this has only gotten worse since the book was written in 1987– is that instruction is controlled by the faculty. And with rare exception faculty teach what interests them. So students are presented with a wide array of information and perspective on that information, and it’s as if they’re given the largest possible menu in the largest possible restaurant in the world. Ryan: maybe you’ve been to high-class restaurants that have a wine list; it’s a book, two inches tall. The curriculum is that wine list, and students are asked to choose. If they were to consult the faculty– the sommelier, if you will– What should I choose? they’d say, Oh, I don’t care. Just choose. Whether you study entomology, or philosophy, it doesn’t matter, just choose. And to drill down a little bit further: if a student asks a philosophy professor, What do you think about that? What do you think about Aristotle’s view of virtues? Is there such a thing as a virtue? Do virtues bring happiness?, the instructor would say, Not my business. I’m just here to give you the facts. If you can answer the questions you’ll do well in the course. But if the student were to ask the instructor, But can this material fundamentally change you? The student gets the answer, None of my concern. This is the approach of higher education, I would say, in ninety percent of schools. Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me that Alan Bloom said in his book that students don’t have a notion of soul, because why would they? The notion of the soul is closely tied up with Aristotle’s notion of happiness and a life of virtue, and it’s through the virtues that the human soul is activated. And so by working on these virtues the human soul can be transformed, and through that you become aware that you have a soul. You’re not aware that you have an arm unless you use it; you’re not aware that you have a soul unless you use it. But if you never use it how do you know that you have one? And I can assure you, Ryan, it’s only gotten worse since Bloom’s book was published (1987). And so for example: at my university there are sixty faculty members; of those faculty members how many believe they have a soul? Maybe they do personally believe it. It’s ironic: psychology professors– and I’m not talking about my institution, but in general– psychology faculty would protest against the idea of a soul, even though the Greek psūkhḗ means soul. And I’m using this word soul in a nonreligious sense. In fact, I use it in the form of a specific source of energy and self-identity that the individual engages to improve himself. But most institutions and most students would never engage with that. Are students aware that they can improve their souls? That’s largely a matter of an experience students would have if student life was explicitly worked at.

Maloney: Student life?

Madden: Student life. Can you imagine a student life program where every week there’s a gathering of males in a dormitory and they talk about What are the virtues we need to develop to be a good husband? Can you imagine that? And similarly for the women. That would be a real education, as opposed to what passes for student life right now. One of my intellectual mentors was Father James Schall– he passed away a year ago– who taught political philosophy at a number of places, including Georgetown. He wrote a book, a collection of his individual essays, entitled Another Sort of Learning. It has a hugely long subtitle, something like, How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else. Because the way university education is structured is that you have to take certain courses, but you never take a course in what is essential about human life– having a soul, how to develop a soul– there’s no such course. But it’s essential.

Maloney: How do you change that? Alan Bloom wrote the seminal book on this and you’re saying it’s gotten worse.

Madden: People would say that such an emphasis must be the interest of all faculty at an institution, that every instructor should touch on it. That sort of thing never works, in my experience. You need to have a curriculum that’s deliberate, and part of the curriculum has to include a couple of courses– maybe just two– that deal with essential things, and everybody has to take it. And, hire the right people– the faculty– who are able to teach it.

Maloney: What are those essential things?

Madden: They’re the things we were talking about earlier: natural rights and the sources of human nature. If I can trumpet my school, we have three such courses:  the first one is What Does it Mean to be Human?; the second one is What is Justice?; and the third one is What is the Common Good?. And we hire people who can teach them. We ask job applicants– not so much in the hard sciences, but in the other fields– Would you be comfortable teaching this kind of course? We assess candidates based on whether they’d be a good fit for that kind of teaching, because two out every eight classes they teach will be one of those. Such an education has to start with being intentional about the curriculum.

Maloney: For instance, these Great Books courses would perhaps be an example?

Madden: Yes, but they have to be careful. In a course there will necessarily have to include some guidance in the material, but the Great Books themselves are a smorgasbord of tastes: I could teach, John Locke says this; Thomas Aquinas says that.  But students could ask, What do you believe Professor Madden?; The temptation is to reply, Oh, not my call. Figure it out for yourself. Rather, I’m a big believer in forcing students to read old stuff– really old stuff– so you can think through the problem that the human race has been thinking through forever. But you have to make choices in what you have the students read. Any course like that needs to be a story that you tell, and the instructor necessarily has to tilt the course to go a certain way. One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no such thing as neutrality: if it’s not this course that tilts you, then it’s that other course; or it’s the evening news that will tilt you; if it’s not the news it’s this blog post. You’re never going to be taught in a neutral manner.

Maloney: It seems like a virtue to be neutral: I’m just reporting the news. I’m just going to give you the facts. But that’s not very soulful. Reporting doesn’t have a soul to it.

Madden: That kind of reporting doesn’t, no. You may as well be watching the weather, as if the weather is going to help you develop virtue.

Maloney: What books do you make your students read?

Madden: You have to read something of the Greek tragedies– Sophocles’s Oedipus the King, for instance– because what the Greek tragedies do is that they propose for your consideration some fundamental dilemma of human life. So in Oedipus the King: should you keep pursuing the truth, even if you know it might lead to disaster? Is there value in knowing the truth, even if you know that the truth will result in terrible consequences for you? That’s a dilemma. So I would say the Greek tragedies: there’s one, or two, or three that are essential; you can choose which one. I think the Gospel of Mark is one of the fundamental works; I think Homer’s The Iliad is about the most powerful thing I’ve ever read. One of the great values of reading those kinds of works is that they present you with the basic phenomena of life. Like Homer’s Iliad: people get angry; nations get angry; nations go to war; it’s the way the world works. And so when a fifteen- or a twenty-year-old kid experiences fierce anger they’re not surprised: Where did this anger come from? Or this question in recent world events: Why did Iraq and Iran go to war in the eighties? Reading the Iliad, for example, has the benefit that students are not surprised to learn about these basic aspects of the human nature, because they’ve read them.

Maloney: I’ve read a number of books in the last few years that are in the same spirit as Alan Bloom, authors who are harsh towards the humanities. Can you explain why that might be?

Madden: One of the great books that talks about this is Victor Davis Hansen’s Who Killed Homer? He wrote that book about twenty-five years ago. He himself is a professor of classics at the University of California, Fresno; he’s written about two dozen books. So, who killed Homer? That is to say: who’s responsible for the sad situation that classics departments have disappeared around the West like soap bubbles? Whatever happened to them? And it’s because the human beings teaching classics were more interested in their own ideology; they were interested in their own idiosyncratic interpretations of classic texts; they stopped teaching the text, but instead taught their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the text. So as a result, students often nowadays don’t read Homer to understand Homer; they read Homer to get a slant on Homer in light of contemporary ideological tendencies. As a consequence, college students maybe take a classics course and they say, Man is this boring. I’m going to stop being a classics major, or an ancient history major, and I’m going to study business. And so classics departments have just died and died and died over the past thirty or forty years, and the humanities in general suffer the same fate. And there is another influence that has resulted in the decline of majors in the so-called humanities– at my institution there are very few philosophy majors, very few theology majors, very few history majors, very few English majors. And that influence is materialism that characterizes the modern world, and the lesson that parents pass on to their college-age students, that they must learn a skill that conforms them to the modern word. We do not live in the age of faith anymore.

Maloney: What’s that, the age of faith?

Madden: That’s a short-hand version of saying the thirteenth century [laughs]. Saint Dominic; Saint Thomas Aquinas; Saint Bonaventure; the construction of the great cathedrals in Europe [shakes head]. We live in a world of hedge fund managers. 

Maloney: I can’t blame my students for wanting to be rich– with student debt, consumer debt, and debt more generally– I can’t blame them for wanting to make money. Do you think that’s a unique feature of students today?

Madden: I don’t think it’s unique, although the debt burden in the last ten years or more is significantly larger than the debt burden was when I was in college. College tuition over the last forty years has increased four or five times the rate of inflation. Just to give you an idea: right now the tuition at Georgetown is $70,000. Accounting for inflation, that number today would be $17,000. So college tuition is vastly higher today than it was in the past, and that puts tremendous pressure on our students to earn an undergraduate degree that can translate into a high salary. That’s just the way it is. It would simply confound me to see a college student do what I did: I graduate from college and I join the Peace Corps. I didn’t earn any money, really, for three years. So I can understand why college students have such a focus— and it’s not so much the students as it is the parents that have the focus on getting their children into a program that can translate into something lucrative. There’s another piece in this motivation of students to decide against the humanities, and in favor of various, explicitly salary-driven careers, and that’s the Great Recession of 08-09. Many students came from families that had negative consequences— losing a job, moving— so a lot of students absorbed the challenges that their parents had to confront, and they want to avoid that. They want to get into a career that’s recession-proof. I wonder, in your conversations with students, if the Great Recession ever comes up.

Maloney: I don’t know that it comes up explicitly, but that fear is there. There’s so much fear.

Madden: Yes. There’s a lot of fear. This is a little bit off-topic, but back in 2015-2016, in the run-up to the election, I viewed the candidacy of Donald Trump as the reverse side of the same coin as Bernie Sanders. They both presented their own confrontation with the diminishing pot– the diminishing possibility of developing a comfortable life; they both saw that this pie is reducing. So on the Trump side there was the clamor of immigration, immigration, immigration; trade agreements; NAFTA, terrible; trade agreements with China, terrible. And then Bernie Sanders: there’s still a little bit more out there, let’s demand our fair share before the diminishing pie gets too small. And I couldn’t help seeing the fear, the anxiety of college students becoming more pronounced. We don’t live in 1880 anymore, where the continent was open; where the tax burden is almost nonexistent; that sure you might only live to be forty-eight, but man you can make your way. Now we live to be eighty, but we can’t afford to live to be eighty. We have the wherewithal to enjoy a long life, but we can’t pay the bill.

Maloney: I would hope that in the next hundred, two hundred, three hundred years it’s going somewhere better, where we can have the best of both worlds. It doesn’t seem like we’re there yet.

Madden: No. But I do think it’s good for you, Ryan, to be aware that our students feel fear. I’m struck by the attraction to Joe Biden; many people are happy with him because they view him as a nice man; they say, finally we will have a nice President. But I wonder, where is that idea coming from? Because many of our Presidents were not very nice. Abraham Lincoln was not very nice. So why do we want a nice man to be our President? Maybe to ease our anxiety, to ease our fear. The President, whoever it is, should not make (that anxiety) worse. So many voters decided that we should just take away that source of anxiety.

Maloney: I was talking to a friend the other day and he was noticing that a lot of professors are reluctant to talk about the election in the classroom, probably because it’s such a hot-button topic. People have such strong feelings about it. It’s just easier to not talk about it, so our students don’t get the experience of talking to someone knowledgeable about the election. Any thoughts about the election?

Madden: I do understand completely why professors wouldn’t want to talk about the election. In fact, not only the election, but regarding all of these fraught issues: sex, gender, the economy, class. So many times over the last five years I’ve prefaced a remark by saying “I’m sorry if this offends anyone.” But then I offer some controversial opinion, sometimes one that I personally do not hold. I understand completely why faculty would want to avoid it. And here’s another aspect for the reticence of faculty: students are in charge, because students are the customers.

Maloney: Right.

Madden: So a student hears whatever you say, and a faculty member cannot risk getting a complaint about them from a student.

Maloney: I think a lot of people who aren’t faculty, or who haven’t taken on those controversial topics in public and experienced those repercussions, can’t understand that. They think that faculty are in charge, that faculty have the power.

Madden: Students very much have the power; they’re the customers. Maybe at a university with a very large endowment— the top-fifty universities with very healthy endowments— where the enrollment can be cut in half next week and the school stays alive. But at my school, and similarly at other schools that are tuition-driven, each student constitutes half a million dollars of revenue.

Maloney: Wow.

Madden: Yes. So we can’t risk losing anyone. And this partly explains the grade inflation that has characterized higher education for the past two generations. Faculty and administrators want to assuage the anxiety of the students. And a comment about the election would be irrelevant: I have a limited amount of time; it’s hard enough to get students to read what they’re supposed to read. And furthermore: any comment I make about the election would go immediately to the policies that distinguish the two candidates, and as soon as I start talking about policy I’ve lost ninety-five percent of the room, because most students are not knowledgeable about the policy issues. That’s just the way it goes.

Maloney: Last question: Let’s say I gave you a magic wand and you could remake the American university. What are some of the first things you would do?

Madden: First of all I would establish a curriculum whereby either the first year, or the first two years, would be very serious in the study of the humanities. So for the first two years you don’t do anything in a “practical” major. You don’t even take statistics for the first two years. And we would craft out that humanities curriculum seriously: you have a course in the fundamentals of English grammar. I mean, you have to condense what the ancient Greeks would do for twelve years of education into the language into twelve weeks in regards to grammar, sentence structure, paragraph structure, writing essays, the skill of reading, the skill of reciting— you would have to do all of that. You would have to do the basic liberal arts curriculum in a serious way for two years. Then, I would expand undergraduate education to five years: two years of humanities and three years of professionalized education. And fortunately, many of our STEM education is really very good. Very demanding. Math, engineering, the hard sciences, especially if you have labs; they’re done very, very well.

Maloney: You mean they’re done well everywhere.

Madden: Yes. The STEM professors at my institution, and at the institution my own children attended, are really very good. They were very energetic, and they were very dedicated to their discipline. And many of them are sort of quirky; they’re interesting personalities in their own right; and so they make biology and chemistry and engineering interesting. I think the same is probably the case in economics, in business administration, management, and so forth. That’s another thing I would do: expand university education to five years. Because somewhere along the way we have to expand out beyond the four years. Either we have courses that prepare you for college at the beginning; or you need courses that you need at the end, by way of some sort of disciplinary wrap-up. But I’ve brought up that idea of expanding education to five years in meetings at my university where apparently everything is on the table. So I propose the idea that higher education should last five years and they laugh me off the stage, because the tendency is to reduce university education because of the price— who wants to pay the tuition for five years? That’s insane. In fact, at many universities the time span is going in the other direction in the form of pre-college high school education.

Maloney: Do you think pre-college education is effective?

Madden: Those students, in my experience, are fantastic. They’ve already distinguished themselves, they’re admitted, and once they’re there the students are committed to make that happen. They may be a little naïve; they might be a year younger; they might be a little geeky than other students, who do sports for example. But they’re really, really good. And good-hearted. We’ve had a good experience with pre-college.