January 24, 2010


Cole, Jonathan R., The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must be Protected (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009) ("Whether the sources of their troubles originated from inside or outside the academy, the devaluation of the humanities was extremely an unfortunate result of the conflicts [i.e., the cultural wars on university campuses beginning in the 1960s]. Increasingly, universities were judged by their utilitarian value--their contributions to the education of professionals and to useful knowledge. There is nothing wrong with training professionals and discovering useful knowledge--both should be supported and celebrated--but at the same time, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the critical role that the humanities and the social sciences play at the universities and in the large society." "Harder to quantify, but no less essential, the humanities are inextricable linked to the web of knowledge of a university. That is why any attempt by an emerging power nation, such as China, to build great universities without paying attention to the humanities is likely to fall short." Id. at 155. "The size of he health sciences relative to other disciplines has changed so much since the 1950s that many leaders of universities today wonder whether the tails (the medical centers) are now wagging the dogs (the universities themselves). Two features of medical schools in particular altered the landscape: the growth in the number of doctors affiliated with the medical schools who operated their research and clinical practices through the schools, and the close corporate or quasi-independent relationships between the medical schools, the larger universities, and affiliated hospitals." Id. at 158. "The structural balance of research universities became heavily weighted toward the medical centers and other health-related department and programs. These programs accounted for an increasingly large portion of the revenues and expenditures of the universities between 1960 and the turn of the twenty-first century. The Columbia University Medical Center, for example, which consists of the schools of medicine, public health, nursing, and dentistry, accounted for 13 percent of Columbia's total expenditures of $19 million in 1949-1950 and only 11 percent of $67 million by 1960-1961. By 1972-1973, the medical center accounted for over 37 percent of the total budget. Its share of the budget leveled off at around 40 percent until 1989-1990 and then took off again. By 1995-1996, the Columbia University Medical Center expenditures represented almost half of the $1.2 billion budget, and it would grow still further after that, so that in 2005-2006 it accounted for 54 percent of Columbia's $2.4 billion annual budget. Meanwhile, there was almost no external federal funding for the humanities, and little for the social sciences. That kind of quantitative difference translates into a major qualitative shift in the character of the university." Id. at 160-161 (citations omitted). "Americans have always been fascinated with inventions and scientific discovery, and we pride ourselves on our ability to find solutions to formidable problems. Yet most people do not know the origin of the most important discoveries of our time. Is it any wonder, given that the bestselling twentieth-century American history high-school textbooks devote more space to Madonna than to Watson and Crick, that our top university professors and researchers typically miss out on even their fifteen minutes of fame Nevertheless, we use products derived from ideas generated at our great research universities countless times a day--whether we realize it or not." Id. at 193. I do not know how a serious university administrator or faculty could not read this book. One would hope the general public would read it as well, but university faculty and administrators must read this book.).

Menand, Louis, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (New York: Norton, 2010) (Menand is primarily concerned with higher education in the liberal arts. Two of my criticisms of legal education, as followers of the Cosmopolitan Lawyer are aware, concern it devolving from professional school to trade school and it becoming increasingly anti-intellectual. Much of that is caused by poorly conceived and shortsighted market demands from the legal bar and law firms, who wants their new hires to be ready-made, billable lawyers on day one. However, another source is the decline of liberal arts education: it is difficult to built upon, or draw upon, a liberal arts education in law school when students do not come to law school with a liberal arts undergraduate education. So, though Menand is not concerned with legal education here, the book is a worthwhile read for those interested in legal education. "This book is an attempt to answer four questions about American higher education today. Why is it so hard to institute a general education curriculum? Why did the humanities undergo a crisis of legitimation? Why has 'interdisciplinary' become a magic word? And why do professors all tend to have the same politics" Id. at 16. "Almost any liberal arts field can be made non-liberal by turning it in the direction of some practical skill with which it is already associated. English departments can become writing programs, even publishing programs; pure mathematics can become applied mathematics, even engineering; sociology shades into social work; biology shades into medicine; political science and social theory leads to law and political administration; and so on. But conversely, and more importantly, any practical field can be made liberal simply by teaching it historically or theoretically. Many economics departments refuse to offer courses in accounting, despite student demand for them. It is felt that accounting is not a liberal art. Maybe not, but one must always remember the immortal dictum: Garbage is garbage, but the history of garbage is scholarship. Accounting is a trade, but the history of accounting is a subject of disinterested inquiry--a liberal art. And the accountant who knows something about the history of accounting will be a better account. That knowledge pays off in the marketplace. Similarly, future lawyers benefit from learning about the philosophical aspects of the law, just as literature majors learns about poetry by writing poems. Id. at 55-56. "The divorce between liberalism and professionalism as educational missions rests on a superstition: that the practical is the enemy of the true. This is nonsense. Disinterestedness is perfectly consistent with practical ambition, and practical ambitions are perfectly consistent with disinterestedness." Id. at 57).