Taylor (Religion/Columbia Univ.; Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living, 2009, etc.) reaffirms his call—first sounded in his controversial New York Times op-ed piece of April 27, 2009—for a drastic reform of higher education.
With this book, the author will make few friends in academia, at least among the aging and tenured professors whom he attacks. Taylor calls both for the elimination of tenure and for mandatory retirement at age 70, and he characterizes American higher education as expensive, wasteful, archaic and monolithic. He traces the current university organization to a late-18th-century treatise by Kant and argues that the system has changed little since then. Entrenched faculty, fragmented curricula, incompetent teachers, strained financial resources, outmoded teaching strategies—all combine to produce an edifice that Taylor believes is imploding. His alternatives include more flexible, adaptable and thematic interdisciplinary curricula delivered both in classrooms and via other media (principally, the Internet); faculty members who collaborate across traditional disciplines; a diminishing emphasis on research and publishing; an increasing emphasis on high-tech pedagogy; the elimination of duplicate programs at colleges and universities who share pools of potential students; and the creation of partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and other organizations. Taylor reiterates his firm belief that students must still master traditional skills of writing and reading—he required his own children to write a weekly three-page essay—but disdains those old warhorses Term Paper and Dissertation. The author’s tone is neither whimsical nor utopian. Nearing the age of mandatory retirement himself, he writes with urgency and conviction, and even fear. The resistance to change, he argues, is destructive.
Highly provocative and certain to stimulate a spate of indignant op-ed pieces and blistering bloggery.