by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - July 7, 2001: BA and MA Degrees in Astrology! What Are They Smoking in Seattle?
The Irascible Professor was a bit taken aback to learn from the Chronicle of Higher Education that 20 of the 31 students who enrolled in the first year of study at Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences failed to complete the freshman year at this august institution. You might have thought that any student of astrology worth his or her salt would have been able to predict that success at Kepler was not in the cards, thus saving the $5,000 in first year tuition. But, perhaps these budding Jeanne Dixons and Carroll Righters (he was Ronald Reagan's personal astrologer in case you didn't know) just didn't measure up.
The IP finds it even more amazing that the Higher Education Coordinating Board of the State of Washington actually has authorized Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences to offer a BA degree in "Astrological Studies" and MA degrees in "Astrological Counseling" and "Astrological Studies". One might counter with the argument that a degree in "Astrological Studies" is no worse than some of the postmodernist nonsense that passes for scholarship in the academy today. However, the aim of these degrees is not to have the student engage in a serious study of the role of astrology in ancient and modern society (although Kepler's distance learning students do examine these topics under the guidance of a faculty composed entirely of "true believers"). Rather, the aim of these programs is to produce practicing astrologers. In other words, this is a school for fortune tellers!
Astrology is one of the oldest of the pseudosciences. Basically, astrologers assert that the positions of the solar planets at the time of an individual's birth are correlated with all sorts of traits that the person exhibits throughout his or her life, and that even major life events such as marriages, illnesses, and other misfortunes are determined by the alignment of the planets at the time of birth. Astrologers sometimes use information obtained from the genuine science of astronomy to help them "cast" their horoscopes. However, astrology is far from scientific. The primary problem is that for an astrologer to make predictions from a person's horoscope she must consult a table that correlates the position of the planets (the horoscope) with individual attributes. The construction of these tables is entirely arbitrary, and indeed several different tables are in general use depending on the "system" of astrology one adheres to. This means that if you consult several different astrologers to seek information about the future, you will get several different (and most likely conflicting) predictions.
Most astrologers know that their predictions are basically worthless. But, they are good at couching their predictions in terms that are sufficiently vague that they could apply to almost anyone. This keeps the public coming back for more. John Silber, the controversial president of Boston University, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Herald in which he excoriated the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board for approving the degrees. Silber focussed on the silliness of the study of astrology and the folly of placing Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences on the same footing as the distinguished University of Washington.
The IP has a somewhat different view. If the granting of degrees in astrology were simply silliness, then the actions of the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board in approving the degrees might be written off as the harmless folly of a government entity that is driven more by politics than by educational values. However, the practice of astrology is more than just silliness or folly. Every year Americans spend more than $200 million consulting astrologers who provide them with advice that is at best worthless, and at worst might convince them to make decisions that are contrary to their best interests.
The Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board has lent an aura of legitimacy to the Kepler College bachelors and masters degrees -- including the MA degree in "astrological counseling". This goes further than the simple approval of silliness. This action may induce some trusting soul who needs the help of a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or trained marriage and family counselor to instead accept the worthless advice of a quack. The results could be devastating both to the individual and those around him.
The members of the Washington HECB should be ashamed of themselves for approving these degrees.
© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.