Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It

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9780805087345: Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It

What's gone wrong at our colleges and universities―and how to get American higher education back on track

A quarter of a million dollars. It's the going tab for four years at most top-tier universities. Why does it cost so much and is it worth it?

Renowned sociologist Andrew Hacker and New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus make an incisive case that the American way of higher education, now a $420 billion-per-year business, has lost sight of its primary mission: the education of young adults. Going behind the myths and mantras, they probe the true performance of the Ivy League, the baleful influence of tenure, an unhealthy reliance on part-time teachers, and the supersized bureaucracies which now have a life of their own.

As Hacker and Dreifus call for a thorough overhaul of a self-indulgent system, they take readers on a road trip from Princeton to Evergreen State to Florida Gulf Coast University, revealing those faculties and institutions that are getting it right and proving that teaching and learning can be achieved―and at a much more reasonable price.

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About the Author:

Andrew Hacker is the author of the bestselling book Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, and writes regularly for the New York Review of Books and other publications. He is a professor at Queens College. Claudia Dreifus writes for the "Science Times" section of the New York Times and teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. They live in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Higher Education?
PART 1WHAT WENT WRONG?* 1 *THE WORLD OF THE PROFESSORIATEA few years back, the political science department of Queens College, part of the City University of New York, put out a call for an assistant professor to teach basic classes in American government. In a tight job market, this was an unusually good opportunity. The position was "tenure track," which meant that in six years' time it could lead to a lifetime appointment. The pay was above average. Moreover, this was a rare opening in geographically desirable New York City. Most beginning professors are forced to start out in towns like Ames, Iowa, or San Marcos, Texas.As it happened, a young political scientist just finishing his dissertation at a top research university made it to the short list. His research--An Algorithm for Statutory Reconciliation in Bicameral Legislatures--had a trendy feel to it. His mentors had sent glowing recommendations, casting him as a rising academic star.Yet, on campus at Queens College, Golden Boy's presentation, meant to showcase his intellectual breadth and teaching style, failed to impress. At an interview with the departmental chair, hemade no inquiries about the school or its students. Nor did he ask the one question that every career coach claims is essential in a job interview: "What can I do for you?"Instead, his first question was: "What's the teaching load here?" "Three and three," the chair answered politely, meaning that her staff taught three courses each semester."That won't work," he quickly returned. "I have my research to continue with and, as you heard, it's important. Where I did my doctorate, it was two and two. By the way, how do your sabbaticals work?" He was told one came every seventh year, after six of teaching.The candidate winced. "I couldn't consider that. At other schools, it's a year off after three. If I were to come here, we'd have to make some special arrangement."This young man never got a callback, which we suspect must have puzzled him. True, this episode occurred several years ago, when young stars felt they could write their own tickets. Today, hiring freezes are the rule, and there can be several hundred applicants for any open position. Current candidates accept the templates of the job, no questions asked. So here's our reason for recalling this interview. Despite the downturn in the economy, the academic culture that produced this young man hasn't changed. He was only emulating the ways of his mentors--in this case, to negotiate for as little teaching as possible, with ample time for research and the support it would need. In the entitled world where he'd been nurtured, a place so different from the rest of society, there was nothing odd about going to an interview and, in effect, asking, "How little do I have to do?" Moreover, if he happens to get one of the now-scarce openings, and in time achieves the protection of tenure, we doubt if we'll see him volunteering to teach first semester freshmen in Political Science 101.Ah, the professoriate! It's an alternate universe. While the rest of working Americans endure foremen and supervisors, professors often get to select their colleagues, vote on raises and promotions,and even in some instances vote out their bosses. The schools almost function for them, for their aspirations and interests. Students come and go every four years, administrators will move on, but the tenured stay on in Bloomington, College Park, and Chapel Hill, accumulating power, controlling resources, reshaping the university according to their needs. Lost on the Professorial Campus is the presence of students and, for reasons that sometimes seem mystifying, an appreciation of an activity as joyful and useful as teaching.Think of the American colleges and universities as bound by a caste system, with different status grades assigned to the approximately 900,000 men and women the Department of Labor counts as full-time faculty. (Part-timers come and go, often teaching a single course, sometimes on several campuses, so it's impossible to pinpoint their exact numbers.)The top caste consists of some 320,000 associate and full professors, most of whom have tenure or will soon receive that award. The candidate we mentioned was already envisioning himself at that rank, which partly explains his entitled demeanor. Below them, there are about 170,000 assistant professors, most of them on the "tenure track" that we alluded to earlier. Usually, those already on that track ultimately receive that promotion since they were carefully vetted and the people who hired them don't want it felt that their department made a mistake.Most of the other full-time faculty, the third tier in the caste system, are instructors and lecturers who aren't in line for promotion and who handle introductory sections at modest salaries and some benefits. (A number are faculty spouses unable to find other employment.) This tier also contains visiting instructors, who usually come for a year to replace professors on sabbaticals. The fourth and fifth castes are made up of part-time adjuncts and graduate assistants. They are the contingent people of the campus--exploitable, disposable, impoverished by low wages. They do the bulk of the undergraduate teaching at many universities.So this chapter will focus on upward of half a million men and women holding the three professor ranks (assistant, associate, and full) and who make up about 57 percent of full-time faculty personnel. This professorial class controls what happens on many a campus and, too often, self-interested management is the result.In theory, education is supposed to be a public service: like health care, firefighting, national parks. And by and large that describes the motivations of teachers from kindergarten through high school. But as we ascend to colleges and universities--the preserve of professors--self-interest, strengthened by a narrow sense of self-definition, begins to set in.It starts with how professors identify with their disciplines. Imagine that we were to say that the employees in an enterprise all brought a central part of their personal history with them to work, and insisted that it govern how they did their jobs. Thus Methodists would contend that they had to adhere to their liturgy, with Baptists and Catholics and Jews making similar claims. All would argue that their creeds are crucial to their identities. Nor is it just how they've been raised; it is who they are.As the social psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, formerly of the University of Chicago and now the director of one of the branches of Berlin's Max Planck Institute, told us, "I believe it's one of the worst things that's happened, that people identify with a discipline or a sub-discipline in a way like members of a political movement identify with their party."But this is exactly how college faculties operate. Under the venerable headings we see in college catalogs: physics, history, mathematics, drama, sociology, literature. The rigidity of these disciplines atomizes campuses, transforming departments into fiefdoms and actually hindering the transmission of knowledge. PhD programs, where fledgling professors are trained, are much like seminaries: elders impart the lore and litany of a liturgy.Were anything like this to occur at the Boeing company, few Dreamliners would ever get aloft.During those postgraduate years, a candidate in anthropology becomes an anthropologist. So the discipline that a candidate chooses--its mores, its mentality, its methods--comes to express not only their profession but also an academic's identity. They begin to see and understand the world through the lens of anthropology. "Whenever I watch people interacting in a stadium, a subway, a supermarket checkout," a young scholar told us, "I find myself seeing tribal rites or kinship networks."Despite much lip service to interdisciplinary studies, on most campuses anthropologists have only passing contact with their colleagues in sociology, although an outsider might think they have much to share. Even sociology and social psychology have different vocabularies, methods, and explanatory models. Once upon a time, Harvard established a Department of Social Relations, in hope of integrating teaching and research in supposedly kindred fields. The joint department had a short life span. The professors were ill at ease outside their home territories. Probably the only area where interdisciplinary work has had any palpable impact is in the hard sciences, where physics, chemistry, biology, and computation have combined to uncover new knowledge about our macro and micro universes. A job shortage in the world of physics has made interdisciplinary studies, particularly in biology, attractive to young physicists--science has a growing number of people who now dub themselves "biophysicists."But in the social sciences and the humanities, doubtless because those disciplines are less secure about what they actually do, the borders remain rigidly guarded. Scott Page, who holds a joint position in economics and political science at the University of Michigan, told us that his colleagues "spend years keeping up with one discipline and want to continue on that path; it's like a zoo where each species is in a separate cage." Once, he took a biologistwhose paper he'd found "amazing" to lunch and she told him that this was the first time in all her years on campus that she'd heard from someone in a different field.At a reinvented Arizona State University, Michael Crow, its president, has tried to break down some of the disciplinary walls. He has abolished whole departments, using senior appointments skillfully and creating new interdisciplinary institutes. His professoriate, or at least some parts of it, has been outraged. This suggests to us he is doing something right.Professor...

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