New York Review of Books contributor and former university professor Hacker (Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men, 2003, etc.) and New York Times columnist Dreifus (Interview, 2003, etc.) present their combined “vision for higher education.”
The authors believe that many colleges are sacrificing purpose and priority in favor of “self-interested management,” misguided professors and a disrespect (by instructors themselves) for the precious art of teaching. They cite the tenure process as one of the reasons professors appear lackadaisical and disillusioned about their craft, along with slumping salaries (“higher education knows that low-cost labor is there”) and becoming engulfed by the “multiversity” (educational “behemoths” with a much wider, unrestrained focus). Fiscally influenced collegiate leadership is partially at fault for this, the authors write, along with a tiered, hierarchy class system of instructors, a problem that Dreifus, an adjunct journalism professor at Columbia University, experienced firsthand when her prized office space was indifferently eliminated. The authors note that, compared to a generation ago, tuitions at both public and private schools have “more than doubled.” They question whether the education offered is, therefore, twice as good, especially at more esteemed Ivy League universities. At colleges around the country, Hacker and Dreifus expose poorly assessed teaching skills, a general deficiency in personal attentiveness to students and the changing landscape of degree majors and student demographics, and they offer damning commentary on the machinations of intercollegiate athletics. If their dense, comprehensive analysis has a weakness, it’s the overwhelming amount of factual information wedged into the narrative. Around these facts and figures, however, a valid argument takes shape about the problematic causes behind increasingly unaffordable college tuitions. Hacker and Dreifus effectively, and wittily, present their contemporary dilemma, and closing chapters focus on their choices for best colleges (MIT, Notre Dame, “Ole Miss” et al) alongside intelligent, practical solutions to the college conundrum.
Plenty to ponder in this forceful, solid report on the shifting climate of American higher education.