The Floating University

Video Quiz

Take this quiz to test your knowledge of Lawrence Summers' education lecture. Find the answer key at the bottom, as well as an additional quiz on the assigned reading!

(1.) Which of the following statements about the university would Summers most likely agree with?

  • (A.) A university gathers together the best resources and the sharpest minds to investigate problems and analyze phenomena, but it should not make any claims to truth value, as truth is a relative concept that changes over time.
  • (B.) A university applies the best thinking and the most varied approaches to analysis in order to better understand the perspectives of other people, groups, and cultures.
  • (C.) A university chooses a single approach to problem solving and orients all of its analysis and investigation around that idea, in the hopes that it has found the correct path to the truth.
  • (D.) A university applies the best thinking and the most varied approaches to analysis possible in order to come to the soundest conclusions about our world and its problems.

(2.) Which of the following people would be most likely to be remembered historically according to Summers?

  • (A.) An inventor who discovers a process that cuts the cost of producing flat screen televisions in half.
  • (B.) A politician who wins a landslide presidential contest amid promises to cut down on government spending.
  • (C.) A celebrity with the highest amount of Twitter followers and Facebook fans in her era.
  • (D.) A writer who publishes a little-read book that sparks an enduring religious movement.

(3.) All of the following are examples of ideas that have changed the world EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Children have different rights and emotional make-ups than adults, and should be treated differently under the law.
  • (B.) Appeasing dictators should be avoided at all costs, even if it requires preemptive military action to contain them.
  • (C.) Human beings, through collective action, can have a negative effect on the total world ecosystem.
  • (D.) Television should provide an entertainment outlet for most citizens who do not have meaningful community lives outside of the workplace.

(4.) Which of the following statements best describes human progress between 800 BCE and 1800 ACE?

  • (A.) The standard of living might have doubled or tripled during the time period, but annualized over 2000+ years, the average growth rate was negligible.
  • (B.) The standard of living rose by 50% every hundred years or so, but because the base standard of living was so incredibly low on average in 800 BCE, the absolute standard of living in 1800 was still far lower than it is today.
  • (C.) The increase in standard of living has correlated almost exactly to population growth; dips in the population during wars and plagues correspond to lower standards of living, and the population explosion in the last 200 years corresponds to exploding living standards.
  • (D.) The average standard of living in 800 BCE was much higher in 1800 because the population was much smaller, allowing individuals a greater share of abundant natural resources.

(5.) According to Summers, the Industrial Revolution benefited from competition in all of the following ways EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Public debate and open competition shaped innovation and encouraged progress in an unprecedented fashion.
  • (B.) People were encouraged to incorporate the best ideas they saw implemented in the production process and improve them, leading to constant and rapid progress.
  • (C.) People were incentivized at every level of production to improve efficiency and undercut competitors.
  • (D.) New technology greatly increased the pool of unemployed artisans who were unnecessary in increasingly mechanized manufacturing processes, creating a new class of artists.

(6.) According to Summers, why might China and India be experiencing such rapid growth?

  • (A.) Population explosions in both India and China have created brute force growth, as the exponentially expanding labor pool aggregates the low-productivity labor of billions of people.
  • (B.) Both China and India are simply catching up with large economies in the west, which have either plateaued or stagnated, creating a natural vacuum.
  • (C.) Both China and India have installed new governments in the 20th century that have applied innovative, top-down planning that has produced the fastest growth the world has ever seen.
  • (D.) Both China and India have opened up to allow for the emulation of good ideas from the west, while allowing individual citizens to benefit from their creativity and productivity.

(7.) Which of the following statements best characterizes the improvement in the biological sciences in the last century?

  • (A.) Past cultures have made an enormous amount of breakthroughs in treating disease and understanding how the body works, but in the last 100 years biological science has come to understand why these remedies work on a molecular level.
  • (B.) In the past, medical breakthroughs happened largely by chance and rote trial and error, but in the last 100 years we’ve come to understand the basic building blocks of life in a systematic fashion.
  • (C.) Societies in bygone eras have by and large focused biological studies on improving crop yields and staving off plagues, but with those problems conquered scientists are free to investigate the building blocks of life itself.
  • (D.) Based on historical evidence, Greek and Roman societies had access to an enormous body of knowledge about biology and medicine that was lost during the Dark Ages, and we have now managed to regain all of their progress through systematic scientific inquiry.

(8.) Which of the following statements best describes a leap-frog technology along the lines of cellular telephones?

  • (A.) A health clinic opens on a small Indonesian island, offering the native population immunization against common diseases for the first time
  • (B.) A community in sub-Saharan Africa gets is granted its first educational initiative, where lessons are taught to students via a satellite internet connection.
  • (C.). A remote South American village acquires its first car, which runs on an electric engine.
  • (D.) A poor village in rural China receives its first computer, which is a powerful, lightweight laptop.

(9.) Which of the following statements would Summers most likely agree with?

  • (A.) There has been enormous progress in the past several hundred years in recognizing the equality of all human beings and extending rights and opportunities to previously marginal groups, but there are likely many things our society does today that will be condemned as immoral by later generations.
  • (B.) Every culture in the history of the human race has had a unique set of values, taking some things for granted while not even imagining many of the rights we enjoy today, and vice versa. Our current society is different from previous cultures in quality but not degree in terms of ethical achievement.
  • (C.) While we like to believe that we have reached an egalitarian apex of civilization, in fact many of the empathetic positions our society enjoys are the result of improvements of technology that make many immoral behaviors and structures unnecessary.
  • (D.) We have reached an apex of civilization in the west, where we have balanced the necessity of granting the maximal amount of human rights with the necessity of making a mass society run smoothly.

(10.) According to Summers’ examination of the questionability of ideas, which of the following arguments would he likely find to be illegitimate?

  • (A.) At a conference of economists, a professor takes a colleague from a rival university to task for making assumptions that benefit a Keynesian model of the business cycle.
  • (B.) A student in a biology course engages in a debate with the professor about the validity of the theory of evolution.
  • (C.) During a sociology seminar, a student questions the methodology of a study that has influenced the field for decades.
  • (D.) At an open forum between the administration of a college and the student body, a representative from a conservative group challenges the president to defend the practice of affirmative action.

Answer Key: (1.) D, (2.) A, (3.) B, (4.) A, (5.) C, (6.) D, (7.) B, (8.) C, (9.) D, (10.) B

Reading Quiz

This quiz is based on:

Course Pack: Anthony Kronman, Education’s End. (pp. 37–90)

(1.) The author of Education’s End cites all of the following as reasons for the decline of “life teaching” EXCEPT:

  • (A.) General cultural attitudes have shifted toward professors feeling like they lack the authority to provide existential guidance, while students have reciprocally stopped expecting such guidance from professors.
  • (B.) The organizational and economic pre-eminence of research laboratories and the focus on publication in the humanities have used up much of the oxygen that used to be devoted to investigating the purpose of life.
  • (C.) The cultural of political correctness that has emerged in the humanities in the last forty years has made it politically dicey to ascribe value judgments to lifestyle choices.
  • (D.) Questions about the meaning of life have been rendered moot by the progress of philosophy in the 20th century toward post-structural assertions of the arbitrariness of moral codes.

(2.) Which of the following statements best characterizes antebellum American colleges?

  • (A.) Professors were made up mostly of members of the clergy, and thus commanded strict spiritual authority over the lives of their students, who were encouraged to find their own paths to a righteous life via an individual study.
  • (B.) Professors were deemed unquestionable moral guides who guided students through a uniform curriculum, lived with them to ensure moral behavior, and operated the administration of the college themselves.
  • (C.) As with the old models of European universities, early American colleges were based mostly on the medieval scholastic model of learning, where texts were memorized, science taught through an Aristotelian lens, and matriculation was only available to a small handful of wealthy gentry given the tiny amount of institutions.
  • (D.) Community leaders in early America took it upon themselves to set up a new system of education in America, in which schools would tutor students on how to be good moral citizens, and as such administrators were created, who supervised the university curriculum without actually teaching courses.

(3.) The European university research ideal that spread to America following the Civil War affected US higher education in all of the following ways EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Professors began to think of their responsibility as that of contributing to an ever-accreting body of knowledge rather than simply passing on the same classical canon to new generations of students.
  • (B.) Rather than simply prepare students for a moral and productive life, newly opened American universities sought to teach vocational skills as well, in order to improve industry through academic research.
  • (C.) Theology and morality became decoupled from the natural and social sciences, leaving humanities as the only field of academics that actively dealt with subjective issues of value.
  • (D.) The focus on rigorous scientific research into any variety of questions led to the creation of labs in which a new class of professor was employed who conducted experiments full time and had little to do with actually guiding students.

(4.) According to the author of Education’s End, all of the following are assumptions of the philosophy of secular humanism EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Learning only the classic curriculum favored by antebellum American colleges does not provide all of the tools necessary to have a sufficient grasp on the modern world; instead, a student must seek an intellectual specialization in order to make a unique, positive impact on humanity.
  • (B.) There is a basic satisfaction in how life is lived that is sought by all people, but their methods take a plurality of forms, and a warrior’s life lived according to principle is no less fulfilling than a poet’s or a politician’s.
  • (C.) A meaningful life need not orient itself inside of a religious framework, but neither can it exist in a vacuum; a productive citizen places himself within a larger structural framework of living justly, created by many men over time.
  • (D.) Human beings share a basic condition, in that we all know that we will die, seek love in relationships, take pleasure in knowledge, and communicate with language, setting us apart from all other animals.

(5.) Which of the following factors did not contribute to the loss of authority of the humanities to explore the meaning of life in the latter half of the 20th century?

  • (A.) The political turmoil of the 1960s polarized American colleges and universities, and made long-standing assertions about the meaning of life in academic discourse untenable. Instead, the humanities embraced political ideas and political correctness to join the new cultural discourse.

  • (B.) The academy came increasingly to believe that secular humanism was just as faith-based as the old theology in asserting structural value, and that in actuality the Western tradition of arts and letters was biased, arbitrary, and exclusionary of many world traditions.
  • (C.) The humanities embraced the increasing prestige of the research ideal in the natural and social sciences, and as such gradually divested themselves of moral and value judgments so as to appear more objective and academic.
  • (D.) After the university revolution of the late 19th century, the humanities were the last protectors of the classical academic canon, and managed to maintain their importance in higher education until midway through the 20th century, when departments succumbed to the pressure to teach modern works of philosophy and literature.

Answer Key: (1.) C, (2.) B, (3.) A, (4.) D, (5.) C