A humorous, insightful novel about the sad state of postsecondary education.
In this farcical novel, Wittner (Emeritus, History/SUNY Albany, Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual, 2012, etc.) shows what can happen when school administrators begin invoking business models. The author constructs a nightmarish scenario involving a fictional Indiana university, UAardvark, where students have become passive, spoon-fed consumers and instructors have become mere service providers. The university’s corporatization has completely permeated the campus, and the author’s naming of schools, departments, buildings and classrooms (“Joey’s Grill Department of English”; “Acme Liquor Store Department of Sociology”) may be worth the price of admission alone. UAardvark also has a seemingly limitless supply of vice presidents in charge of such critical areas as bulletin boards, vending machines or computer games. In the middle of this corporate glad handing wobbles Jake Holland, an alcoholic, 50-year-old English professor who’s grown weary of fighting the good fight. He’s barely even able to go through the motions of teaching and represents the festering malaise prevalent among the burned-out faculty members. At his departmental meeting, for example, the first item on the agenda involves “the allocation of space in the department refrigerator”—despite other critical issues at stake, including grave threats to academic integrity. However, when Jake and his array of like-minded compatriots discover the nefarious plans for the New Technology Center, they’re finally inspired to come up with a multifaceted plan of action. The novel’s only real drawback is its occasionally stilted dialogue, which often reminds speakers, listeners and readers of information they already know. Overall, however, readers will likely find it sobering to think about how Wittner’s vividly depicted dystopia could easily become a reality.
A well-paced university novel, certain to provide academics with many knowing chuckles.