Two grumpy professors wring their hands over the current state of higher education. Willimon, dean of the Chapel at Duke Univ., and Naylor, an emeritus professor of economics at Duke, disturbed by what they perceived to be the moral deterioration of contemporary undergraduate life, decided to team-teach a freshman seminar in 1991. The course, called ``The Search for Meaning,'' serves as the basis for this book. In it, the authors bemoan the genuine problems of our current generation of undergraduates: more alcohol abuse than ever, a destructive attitude toward sex, too little appreciation of the intellectual life. But they get a bit hysterical: ``Too many teachers teach too little, and students take too few courses. The prevailing values on college campuses are individualism, hedonism, and anti-intellectualism.'' Universities that are too large, too impersonal, and overly focused on research have undone the bond of friendship between teacher and student, say Willimon and Naylor. Professors have lost sight of their true mission, which is to instill in undergraduate students a sense of moral orientation in the world. How are we to recover our bearings? Unexpectedly, the answer comes from GM and IBM: radical downsizing, first of all. But we must also abolish fraternities, sororities, and tenure, andso we must assumeteach more courses like theirs. ``The Search for Meaning'' is an omnium-gatherum of readings from ``philosophy, religion, psychotherapy, literature, and fine arts.'' It is the sort of class that undergraduates usually refer to as ``gut,'' i.e., sure to produce a good grade if you regularly show up with a serious expression on your face. They advocate teaching on Saturdays and early in the morning as a way of keeping the lid on hedonistic student cavorting in barroom and bedroom. An unconvincing de profundis.
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