THE PRICE OF EXCELLENCE: Universities in Conflict During the Cold War Era by Jacob & Noam M.M. Neusner Neusner

THE PRICE OF EXCELLENCE: Universities in Conflict During the Cold War Era

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A curious hybrid: part history of the American university during the Cold War years, part memoir of the elder (Jacob) Neusner's five decades as perhaps America's leading Judaica scholar. Neither part works. Neusner Sr. is the hyperprolific author of hundreds of works on the nature and evolution of talmudic Judaism; son Noam is a reporter for the Tampa Tribune; together, they provide a brief and rather superficial history of the post--WW II American university that is informed by a distinctly neoconservative bias: Recently, faculties supposedly have become radicalized; teachers pander to student wishes, curricula are standardless and rigidly politically correct; students are pampered and left intellectually unchallenged. At times, their tone deteriorates into Rush Limbaugh--like rhetoric, such as a reference to academic ""fascist feminism."" Meanwhile, in describing a supposedly pre-'60s ""golden age"" of academia, the Neusners somehow forget to mention the influence of McCarthyism or the CIA's efforts to infiltrate campus faculty. The memoir sections are no better. While Jacob Neusner has some interesting things to say about his own pedagogic ideals, particularly the desirability and necessity of balancing good teaching with good scholarship, his tone often is grandiose, as if he were the only one doing important work in Jewish studies. He writes about numerous colleagues with transparent contempt (about named and unnamed ""scholars of Judaism"" at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he claims, ""They confused their opinions with facts, cultivated obscurity, and practiced obfuscation""). At the end of his career, isolated after almost three decades at Brown University (he is now at the Univ. of South Florida) in part because of his abrasive personal and rhetorical style, Neusner sounds kvetchy, self-pitying, and bitter; one of his chapter subheadings reads ""A Career Concludes, The Ostracism Continues."" Poor Jacob Neusner, poor reader--this is dreary stuff from an admirably productive, often insightful scholar.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Continuum