Grafton on the Academy

How about this for a stinging indictment of academic life:

Worse, we train our graduate students to do the same, even though they will never find tenure-track jobs. By doing so we condemn them to a hopeless, grinding life, which they will spend trying to pursue their pedantry while flying down the freeway from one part-time position to another. We don’t teach undergraduates at all, even though we shamelessly charge them hundreds of dollars for an hour of our time. Mostly we leave them to the graduate students and adjuncts. Yet that may not be such a bad thing. For on the rare occasions when we do enter a classroom, we don’t offer students close encounters with powerful forms of knowledge, new or old. Rather, we make them master our “theories”—systems of interpretation as complicated and mechanical as sausage machines. However rich and varied the ingredients that go in the hopper, what comes out looks and tastes the same: philosophy and poetry, history and oratory, each is deconstructed and revealed to be Eurocentric, logocentric and all the other centrics an academic mind might concoct. So long as professors do not forswear their foolish ways, the university is doomed to fail the students and parents whose hard-earned money and hardly borne postgraduation debt support it. It is a Hogarthian picture: plushy professors, drunk on self-satisfaction, sprawl on satin couches, stomachs poked upward, while their half-naked students stagger out the back door to a lifetime of rag picking. 

This is how Anthony Grafton begins his review of two new books on higher education:  Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus’s Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kinds–And What We Can Do About It and Mark Taylor’s Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities.   Both of these books make the same indictments about higher education that Grafton makes in the paragraph above, but despite Grafton’s agreement with the authors on the sorry state of the university, he does not think these authors have the best solutions for how to reform it.

HT: Ralph Luker

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