A worldly inspection of academe's ivory tower from the top floor of tenured professors and the Ivy League to the basement of...


WHAT'S COLLEGE FOR?: The Struggle to Define American Higher Education

A worldly inspection of academe's ivory tower from the top floor of tenured professors and the Ivy League to the basement of adjunct teachers and community colleges. When President Clinton in his 1997 state of the union speech proposed making two years of college as universal as a high school diploma, he was barely on the crest of a wave that, Karabell shows, has been building up in the calm waters of higher education. With college degrees becoming requirements for most jobs and the quality of high school instruction increasingly criticized, Karabell argues that higher education has become more a valuable, marketable commodity than a scholarly goal. Despite an influx of new students and need for more instructors, the profession, in Karabell's terms, is still structured like a closed medieval guild--one particularly resistant to change--with a minority of tenured professors at the top, trained primarily to do research and not to teach, and at bottom a drove of postgraduate teaching assistants and new Ph.D.s as short-term adjunct faculty. It's no wonder that while the culture wars over curricula and the political correctness debate wracked colleges and universities, there have been equally bitter labor disputes, such as the Yale graduate students' attempt to unionize and the University of Minnesota faculty's protest against tenure reform. Karabell, himself a Ph.D. but now working in journalism, takes professors to task for their isolation from mainstream America and students' real-life needs, but also sympathizes with the value of scholarly ideals. Unlike most books on university crises, What Is College For? balances its intellectual arguments with animated classroom reporting and faculty interviews, drawn mainly from the diverse university systems of California, New York, and Texas. Only in its conclusion for pluralistic reform of higher education do Karabell's arguments go somewhat soft. Reconnoitering a new front on the culture wars, Karabell takes some well-timed and well-aimed shots at the received notions of teaching's functions and professors' careers.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 1998


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998