Mark C. Henrie, the Director of Academic Affairs and Senior Editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, considers the telos of the university:
Here is a peculiarity of American life today: The young man or woman in high school invests enormous time and energy in the process of choosing and applying to the best colleges and universities within reach. Guidebooks are consulted, campus visits made, prep courses for the SAT or ACT taken with genuine zeal. Essays are honed and polished beyond anything ever written for a class assignment. Applications are placed in the mail, and students then fret day and night about the status of their case. In time, various envelopes arrive by return mail, some large and some small. Students rejoice over the large ones, and the business of leaving home commences with a round of summer purchases of appropriate clothing and other accoutrements of college life. Finally, our young Americans find themselves participating in a matriculation ceremony in the richly-paneled hall of some ivy-covered building. They have arrived at last at college. The only question they’ve never really asked themselves is this: Why am I going to college in the first place?
You must confess it’s an obvious question, and one obviously unasked by most of us. We may conclude from the fact that it regularly remains unasked that a college education is believed, according to the unexamined conventions of our society, to be a self-evident, incontestable good. Few parents would prefer their child not to go to college. This, despite the qualms of a certain Saul of Tarsus, known to us as St. Paul, who wrote to the Greek Christians at Corinth, “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” and who affirmed that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” This, despite also the poet Thomas Gray, who exclaimed with great feeling that “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Powerful voices in the Western tradition raise cogent warnings about the value of acquiring higher education, with its attendant worldly wisdom and savoir faire. But such voices clearly represent a minority opinion in our society.