William Deresiewicz provides the best review of literature and issues concerning the crisis in American higher education that I have ever read. His article includes an analysis of the economics of higher education, which he argues is mirroring the broader American economy with a shrinking middle class and increasingly wealthy upper class. He discusses the importance of tenure and academic freedom, the unmaking of public universities, and how narrow self-interest is causing an oversupply of new PhD’s while undermining the university’s mission to serve the country and produce thoughtful citizens.
Anyone who writes on American higher education, or even in Europe, realizes there is a crisis. However, most solutions boil down to the increased efficiency through the developments of new technology, or the market as the solution. Deresiewicz, however, poses that online courses and distancing learning might undermine the higher education we are trying to improve, and that selling a university education on a free market means universities would cater to the self-identified needs of high school seniors.
I appreciate the more thoughtful approach that this article takes. Also, the shoutout to Notre Dame’s Fr. Ted Hesburgh:
Once, there were academic leaders who put themselves forward as champions of social progress: people like Woodrow Wilson at Princeton in the 1900s; James Conant at Harvard in the 1940s; and Kingman Brewster at Yale, Clark Kerr at the University of California and Theodore Hesburgh at Notre Dame in the 1960s. What a statement it would make if the Ivy League presidents got together and announced that they were going to take an immediate 75 percent pay cut. What a way to restore academia’s moral prestige and demonstrate some leadership again.