The research university the way it ought to be.
Cornell president emeritus Rhodes offers a sanguine yet tough-minded analysis of the complex problems facing today's major research universities. Their current state has inspired a torrent of jeremiads: students are failing to learn, professors are failing to teach, administrators are failing to lead, etc. Taking aim at this onslaught of academic nay-saying, Rhodes muses over an impressive array of academe’s problems with a critical eye and an optimistic outlook. He begins with a slapdash summary of the creation of five major institutions that profoundly influenced the development of the American research university, aiming to give the reader a historical perspective before proceeding to his considerations of the ills currently bedeviling the system. The heart of Rhodes’s message is that the university, warts and all, plays an essential role in the creation and maintenance of today’s society; it provides an invaluable resource to the American people, he argues, even when those benefits are not readily apparent. After a lifetime in the academy, Rhodes’s perspective is unflinchingly biased, but he deploys his partisanship effectively by taking tough stands on critical issues. He may make no friends at professorial cocktail parties with his belief that tenure should be granted rarely, but this ability to see beyond the constructs of the university to its core provides the true merit of the book. Deep in the academic woodlands, Rhodes can still see the forest. His calls for involved students, committed professors, affordable education, and a socially-minded community of scholars should resonate both with the most jaded of professors counting down the days to retirement and with the most lackluster of freshmen barely caring to get out of bed for class. In sum, Rhodes gives the research university a B+, while he himself earns a solid A.
Essential reading for university presidents and all those who hope to influence them.