December 10, 2011


Mary Clearman Blew, This Is Not the Ivy League: A Memoir (Lincoln & London: U. of Nebraska Press, 2011) ("What can be accomplished in this place, wonders the young woman, whose idea of a college is the University of Missouri at Columbia. What can be imagined here, what will the future hold?" "The future: she will often feel as though she though she has exchanged the myth of Ariadne and the labyrinth for the myth of Sisyphus. As teacher education program shrink and vocational programs flourish and the job market continues to worsen, she and other liberal arts faculty will find themselves in a No Exit bastion of curriculum quarrels, campus politics, budget cuts, crises of all kinds. But no! They'll insist they're not rolling a rock uphill. They're fighting for their programs, for the liberal arts, in the face of ridicule from the other side of campus: What do some people thing this college is all about! Where do they get the idea that college is about ideas, when everybody knows it's about jobs skills?" One of her colleagues--the students call his Spiderman, for his strange lunging gait down the corridors of Cowan Hall--has a habit of beginning his sentences with, 'At Yale, we used to . . .' to cries of derision. This is not the Ivy League!" Id. at 14. As a legal academic I cannot help wondering, fearing really, what legal education and law students are going to look like in the future when there is no longer even a modest effort to expose undergraduate students (including prelaw students) to ideas, and, instead, to only provide them with job skills? College as skills school, or college as job faire. Then again, this is not some distant future. Legal education, certainly once one gets pass the elite 10 to 20 law schools, is less interested in ideas and more interested in how-to skills, no longer interested in ideas and skills, just interested in a narrow set of skills which they claim will render their students 'practice ready.' Law schools are devolving into trade schools--and law devolves from a learned profession to a mere trade--; and 'practice ready' is the marching tune sung by those who leading the demise of legal education. That said, the book is not primarily about the state of education. Rather, it is a memoir of one woman's education, one women's life. From the bookjacket: ""Mary Clearman Blew's education began at home, on a remote cattle ranch in Montana. She graduated to a one-room rural school, then escaped, via scholarship, to the University of Montana, where, still in her teens, she met and married her first husband. This Is Not the Ivy League is her account of what it was to be that girl, and then that woman--pressured by husband and parents to be the conventional wife of the 1950s, persisting in her pursuit of an education, trailed by a reluctant husband and small children through graduate school, and finally entering the job market with a PhD in English only to find a whole new set of pressures and prejudices." "This memoir is Blew's behind-the-scenes account of pursuing a career at a time when a woman's place in the world was supposed to have limits. It is a story of both the narrowing perspective of the social norm and the ever-expanding possibilities of a woman who refuses to be told what she can and cannot be.").