Jung and the Sylvan Grooves of Academe

Jung and the Sylvan Grooves of Academe


“And seek for truth in the groves of academe.”

                                                Horace, Epistles[1]


“That is a thing which is utterly lacking in our universities: the relation of master and disciple….”                                                Jung (1937)[2]


“The great trouble is that new ideas are rarely recognized by contemporaries. Most of them fight blindly all creative attempts in their special field. They thrive on things already known and therefore “safe.” Universities are the worst in this respect….”

                                                                        Jung (1953)[3]


“…I think we underrate in Europe the difficulties you have to put up with in America as soon as you try to communicate something to your audience that demands a certain humanistic education. I am afraid that your educational system produces the same technological and scientific one-sidedness … as Russia. …”

                                                                                    Jung (1954)[4]


“A scientific education does not by any means go hand in hand with higher intelligence.”

                                                                                                Jung (1958)[5]


“Holding lectures, giving instruction, pumping in knowledge, all these current university procedures are no use at all here. The only thing that really helps is self-knowledge and the change of mental and moral attitude it brings about….”

                                                                                                            Jung (1960)[6]



            Your immediate reaction to the title above is likely that you’ve spotted a typo: “groove” for “grove.” But no: I meant to pun on the quote from Horace, who urged his reader to look for truth not in the agora, or forum, in the hustle and bustle of the world of commerce and politics, but in the secluded, arboreal precincts of Plato’s academy. I am using “grooves” intentionally, echoing Jung’s attitude toward intellectuals and academics. In this essay we will consider Jung’s opinions of both professors and the institutions that hire them. Given my personal identification as a college professor, this essay has more than a dollop of personal resonance. The same was true for Jung: He taught for some years at several universities in Switzerland,[7] so he was familiar with the “sylvan grooves of academe” too.


Jung on Education

            In a previous essay, “Jung and Adult Education,”[8] I noted how Jung felt education should be literally that, e.g. a “drawing forth” [Latin: ex + ducere] of the individual talents and skills that lie within each of us.[9] Jung also stressed that this process should be individual, personal, ideally a one-on-one relationship between student and teacher.[10] Due perhaps to his own struggles with quantification and math,[11] Jung stressed a humanistic, rather than a scientific orientation to the curriculum, for both youngsters and adults. This is what Jung preferred. What he saw occurring in schools, colleges and universities was quite different.

            Jung expressed his criticisms of academia in the interval between 1933 and 1960, in letters to his wide circle of correspondents and in interviews with various journalists and visitors.[12] In such settings he wrote or spoke much more freely and casually than he did in his scholarly works. He didn’t mince words.

            Little true “education” went on in the educational systems of Jung’s time and place, and the same is true for us now, in the United States: Our schools and colleges are oriented around instruction—what Jung called “pumping in knowledge”[13]—with little regard for the individual’s personality or range of talents. This is true, as well, for the professor: Lectures are based much more on words than on personal experience,[14] even though (as Jung realized) the most profound form of teaching derives not from what one knows but from who one is. The professor’s own lived experience will provide far more cogent an educational experience for his/her students than any words could.

            Jung was critical of education for more than just serving up instruction: It was one-sided.[15] Jung understood why this was so, why it still is so: No publicly-financed educational system exists independent of its society,[16] and our Western society is very much one-sided, stressing much more practical subjects like technology and science over literature and history. In many cases the arts and humanities are regarded as little more than ancillary, even expendable (especially in times of tight budgets).[17] To Jung no system was more skewed in its stress on technology and science than the American. He felt our educational system had sunk to a terribly low level, due to the “almost complete absence of the humanities….”[18]

            While most Americans regard programs in science and engineering as “cum-busters,” with most college students looking up to their peers who go into these subjects, Jung had a very different opinion of the techies and scientists and the education they got: “A scientific education does not by any means go hand in hand with higher intelligence.”[19] He found that trying to talk to science types about his psychology was an endeavor that “one must abandon from the start…”[20] At one point in a letter to his former student James Kirsch Jung was so exasperated as he remembered his frustrations in trying to explain his system to academic psychologists that he resorted to a Latin curse: “Vae scientibus!” [“Woe to scientists!”][21]

            Finally Jung was very much opposed to a phenomenon that has been quite trendy in American education: the stress on collaboration and teamwork. Jung would have none of this. Why? Because

… you cannot hope to ‘collaborate’ in some way, for where in our time and our society would you find a person who knew how to express what your uniqueness alone can express? This is the jewel that must not get lost. But collaboration and especially ‘teamwork’ are the quickest way of losing it. You can guard it only by enduring the solitude that is its due….[22]

Working with others, Jung recognized, tends to suppress our individuality and our unique set of talents and abilities. Jung was never much for groups, which he felt operated at the level of consciousness of the least consciousness member.[23] So not only do collaborative approaches lower our level of consciousness, they hinder our efforts to individuate.

            Instruction-based, one-sided, too oriented to the sciences and technology, downplaying, even ignoring the individual in its collaborative methodologies—such an educational system held little appeal for Jung. Nor did the purveyors of the system : the professoriat.


Jung on Academics

            While Jung admitted that “You can find independent and intelligent personalities even among professors,”[24] his remarks in both his letters and interviews convey generally a negative opinion of academics. Jung found them to be too specialized, having lost a “wide horizon” in terms of their sphere of knowledge and research,[25] and trying to widen an academic’s horizons usually met with resistance, because “… they think they know everything already…”[26]

            Besides being full of themselves, many academics seemed to Jung to be prejudiced against whole areas of knowledge,[27] like extra-sensory perception and psychical research. Jung spotted this attitude in Stanley Hall, President of Clark University, whom Jung met on his first trip to American in 1909. At the same event Jung had the opportunity to meet William James, for whom Jung had great respect. At one point during his visit Jung overheard Hall make disparaging remarks about James for his dabbling in subjects like ESP.[28] Hall surely was aware of James’ support of both the Society for Psychical Research and the American Society for Psychical Research. Such activities—both then and now—do not impress university search committees, tenure committees or grants reviewers.[29] Jung, however, knew no such intellectual prejudices—he investigated psi phenomena (even writing his doctoral thesis on the subject!),[30] Ufos,[31] astrology,[32] fairy tales, myths, legends[33]—any subjects that seemed to offer insight into the workings of the human psyche.

            Academics in general aren’t interested in the workings of the human psyche. Jung even suggested that academics would prefer “… the pursuit of science without man,…”[34] In the field of psychology, this calls to mind B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists’ work with pigeons.[35] Jung was exasperated with this attitude, as it fails to realize that “… the individual psyche is the source of all science….”[36] But in academia the psyche gets short shrift, even among professors working in departments of psychology! Even those specialists one would assume would be knowledgeable about the psyche have no psychological knowledge. Jung explains why it is understandable that psych professors are deficient in psychological knowledge: “… since such knowledge cannot be acquired if one assiduously avoids knowing oneself…. Holding lectures, giving instruction, pumping in knowledge, all these current university procedures are no use at all here….”[37] I have found it very curious, and not a little frustrating, to encounter psych professors who are profoundly lacking in self-awareness.

            They, and their colleagues in other departments of the university, are also stuck in the “grooves” of academe. Jung saw this: In an interview with Gordon Young in the last year of his life, Jung spoke of academics going “round and round,”[38] getting nowhere and failing to recognize new ideas: “Most of them fight blindly all creative attempts in their special field. They thrive on things already known and therefore ‘safe’…”[39] The “safe” things will get funding, look good on the resumé, and boost one’s chances for tenure. So young instructors will teach as they were taught, impersonally, in the big lecture halls, to hundreds of students whose names they won’t know. “Trained into orthodoxy,”[40] they will carry on in the grooves well-worn by their elders, rarely if ever venturing to explore new terrain or outré subjects in their quest to succeed in the environment of the university.


Jung on Universities

            The university is another area in education for which Jung had stinging criticism. His complaints were both general and specific. Jung was critical of universities for robbing the educational experience of the personal one-to-one relationships between teacher and student that could provide “… a personal experience of the human soul.”[41]

            “Soul”?? Don’t even think of mentioning the word within the precincts of a college campus! Like Jung, I have found academics to be some of the most alienated individuals, in terms of awareness of and appreciation for spirituality and soul.

            Jung also faulted universities for operating with the assumptions that, in a given course of study, everyone needs to know the same thing, and that subjects can be taught in the same way to everyone, regardless of their personality type and individual uniqueness.[42] In my college courses on the first day of class I give each student a mini version of a type test and introduce them to Jung’s concept of type and how it relates to their learning style, the sorts of subjects they are likely to be drawn to, and the sorts of careers that would be suited to their type. For nearly every student I have had, this is a unique experience: No teacher ever helped them toward some measure of self-awareness before!

            When I taught in a big urban university I would encounter 200 students in a big lecture hall and struggled to learn each student’s name. Surprise again! Most students would tell me that very few professors ever tried to learn their names. On most campuses it is far more important to keep an eye on the budget than it is to personalize instruction. Jung decried this impersonalization[43] and the huge classes that “bean-counting” fosters.

            He also disliked the stress placed on information rather than on conveying “wisdom of life.”[44] Preparing students for careers, or further study at the graduate or professional level is clearly more important than preparing them for life, for living in touch with the wisdom that can only be conveyed in personal, one-on-one contact with another soul.

            Jung also found fault with university organization.[45] I call this the “silo mentality:” departments within schools, schools within the college, colleges within the university—and rare is the professor who ventures beyond his/her department to get into interdisciplinary activities. Even rarer is it to see genuine interdisciplinary classes or programs. The result is the one-sidedness that Jung found distasteful.[46]

            Specialization and the carving up of knowledge into departments does little to foster understanding of most of the problems of our contemporary world—problems that are complex and multi-disciplinary. Jung noted that universities are among the last organizations in society to be moved or touched by what is going on in the outer world[47] (those “sylvan grooves” insulating professors in their “ivory towers”). Of all the institutions in society, Jung felt universities were the worst in this regard. Part of this insularity might be due to the “… intellectualism and rationalism” that Jung felt were rampant on college campuses.[48] He hoped for the day when universities “were at least purged of their prejudices, so that a more favorable climate could be created for the psychological approach…”[49]

            Which brings us to the specific complaints Jung had about universities. These have to do mainly with university attitudes toward analytical psychology. Most schools had (and still mostly have) no place for what he regarded as true psychology. Psychology, to Jung, was not about cutting up rats or torturing monkeys, not about observing the behavior of pigeons and extrapolating from this a psychology of human beings. No. Jung felt that psychology was meant to foster “self-knowledge and the change of mental and moral attitude it brings about…”[50] Such a psychology could only be taught where personal connections were the norm, where “one man’s influence on another…”[51] could convey the essence of the material. Since most psychology professors are clueless about the state of their own souls they can’t give “a salutary dose of psychology”[52] to their students, nor can they “… encourage young people to acquire any psychological knowledge since the professors have none themselves…”[53] When this deficiency was pointed out to them, Jung found the professors displayed “bigotry and mistrust”[54] toward advocates of a psychology based on self-knowledge. Even now, decades after Jung’s death, there are few academic departments of psychology that are oriented to self-awareness and deepening levels of consciousness.

            Times are changing, slowly but surely. Where once Jung’s name would not even appear in the index of psychology texts, there are now textbooks that discuss depth psychology and include Jung along with Freud.[55] There are some colleges that even offer courses on Jung and analytical psychology.[56] A few schools go so far as to offer a major that focuses on Jung’s thought,[57] and there are even some psychiatric training programs that specialize in the Jungian approach.[58] But as an academic myself I am all too aware that Jung remains something of an outlier, with his wide-ranging intellectual interests, his belief in the psyche as real, and his reputation as a “mystic”—a charge the Freudians hung on him.[59] Perhaps Jung will become mainstream when the sylvan groves are no longer grooved.




Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Jung, C.G. (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1979), “General Index to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung,” Collected Works 20, compiled by Barbara Forryan & Janet Glover. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1977), C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kerr, John (1993), A Dangerous Method. New York: Vintage Books.

Oeri, Albert (1977), “Some Youthful Memories,” Jung Speaking, eds. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sharf, Richard (1996), Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling: Concepts and Cases. New York: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

Skolimowski, Henryk (1996), “The Methodology of Participation,” Revisioning Science: Essays Toward a New Knowledge Base for Our Culture, ed. S. Mehrtens. Waterbury VT: The Potlatch Press.

Young, Gordon (1977), “The Art of Living,” Jung Speaking, eds. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.




[1] Epistles, II, line 45.

[2] “Letter to Kendig Cully,” 25 September 1937; Letters, I. 237.

[3] “Letter to Carleton Smith,” 9 September 1933; Letters, II, 124-125.

[4] “Letter to John Weir Perry,” 8 February 1954; Letters, II, 150.

[5] “Letter to L. Kling,” 14 January 1958; Letters, II, 410.

[6] “Letter to J.A.F. Swoboda,” 23 January 1960; Letters, II, 533.

[7] From 1905 to 1913 Jung was an adjunct lecturer at the University of Zurich where he quickly became a popular teacher. He gave lectures in 1933 at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic and was appointed Professor there in 1935, a post he held until 1942. In 1944 he was appointed to the chiar of Medical Psychology at Basel University, but he had to resign soon after due to his serious heart attack; “Chronology,” Letters, I, xxi-xxiv.

[8] This essay is archived on this blog site.

[9] Collected Works, 7, ¶114. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[10] See footnote 2 above.

[11] Oeri (1977), 4.

[12] Twelve of Jung’s letters address the issue of education; these are all listed in the footnotes to this essay. Jung touched on the subject also in interviews with the Kulturbund of Vienna and with Gordon Young; see Jung Speaking, 44 and 445-450, respectively.

[13] See footnote 6 above.

[14] See footnote 2 above.

[15] “Letter to John D. Barrett,” 11 February 1954; Letters, II, 150-151. Cf. “Letter to H. Baynes,” 27 May 1941; Letters, I, 299-300.

[16] The whole purpose of a public school system is to prepare children to be productive members of society, i.e. to fit into the conventional system. It is only private, alternative schools, like those founded by Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, that put their focus on self-development as much as on acculturation into the mainstream.

[17] For an illustration of how the arts are regarded as expendable, see the 1995 movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” In this movie the music program is cancelled at a time of budget cutbacks, while the athletic programs remain unaffected.

[18] See footnote 15 above.

[19] See footnote 5 above.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Letter to James Kirsch,” 20 April 1958; Letters, II, 433.

[22] “Letter to Frau N.,” 26 January 1959; Letters, II, 480-481.

[23] CW 9i, ¶225.

[24] See footnote 3 above.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Interview with Gordon Young,” Jung Speaking, 444.

[27] See footnote 6 above.

[28] “Letter to Virginia Payne,” 23 July 1949; Letters, I, 531.

[29] These are the “gate keepers” that serve to enforce the intellectual orthodoxy in academia. I have found similar reactions among academics when I mention my interest in and practice of astrology. Such interests would surely sink any hopes of academic advancement for someone seeking a career in college teaching.

[30] Bair (2003), 61-64. Kudos to the faculty of the University of Zurich for allowing such a topic! An American student might encounter much more resistance in getting such a topic approved.

[31] See CW 10, ¶s589-824.

[32] See CW 8, ¶s872-915, and CW 18, ¶s1174-1192.

[33] All these run throughout Jung’s Collected Works, too frequently to cite. See the Index, CW 20, pp. 469-471 for citations to myths; pp. 262-264 for citations to fairy tales; and p. 402 for citations to legends.

[34] See footnote 6 above.

[35] Skinner developed much of his behaviorists approach to human psychology from experiments he did with pigeons; Sharf (1996), 294-295.

[36] See footnote 6 above.

[37] Ibid.

[38] See footnote 26 above.

[39] See footnote 3 above.

[40] Skolimowski  describes this process; Skolimowski (1996), 160.

[41] See footnote 2 above.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Letter to H. Baynes,” 27 May 1941; Letters, I, 299-300.

[46] Ibid.; cf. footnote 4 above.

[47] “Letter to H. Baynes,” 27 May 1941; Letters, I, 299-300.

[48] See footnote 6 above.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] E.g. Sharf (1996), 83-127.

[56] E.g. Sofia University, Fordham University, the University of Maine, Manhattan College, the University of Hawaii, New College of the University of Toronto, J.F. Kennedy University. I’m sure there are more and if readers of this essay know of others, I would appreciate being told about them.

[57] E.g. Pacifica University (M.A. & Ph.D. programs only); Saybrook University; Antioch New England Graduate School (graduate programs only). There may be others.

[58] E.g. the Langley Porter Institute in the Department of Psychiatry, University of California Medical School, San Francisco. Other university medical schools may have Jung-related programs, e.g. Johns Hopkins, the University of Washington, University of California, Los Angeles; Texas Tech University, and the Bronx Psychiatric Center. I would appreciate hearing of other such training programs.

[59] Kerr (1993), 451-3.

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