Who Needs College Anyway?

Guest List

Liz McMillen, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Joseph Moore, president of Lesley University

Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor at the University of Virginia and cultural historian

Thomas Frank, founding editor of The Baffler.

On the way to commencement season, what’s college really good for, if the cost is out of sight, and your degree doesn’t point you to a job; if there’s too much drinking, cheating and grade inflation; if it’s not safe enough for women. What if the whole bloated model is outdated in a digital age? Who’s got a better idea? Schools are almost out; will they still be there in September?

Reading List

• Liz McMillen’s talk, “What is College For, Anyway?” tells you the signal changes in the college experience over a generation;

• In a New York Times blog, Suzanne Mettler argues that college is not leveling the playing field, it’s doing the opposite;

• Thomas Frank’s essay from The Baffler, “Academy Fight Song;”

• Siva’s blog post, “Going Public the UVa Way;”

…We must stop using business language to describe universities. It’s not only misguided and inaccurate, but it also sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a wealthy and stable institution, a collection of public services, a space for thought and research, a living museum, a public forum, a stage for athletics competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s certainly not a “brand.”

…and the case he makes in Bookforum for “academic calling in a neoliberal age”;

• Clay Shirky on the coming money crunch in higher ed;

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

• We’re also reading two public worries about the university from two different sides of the conversation. The first is Noam Chomsky’s recent talk, “The Death of American Universities,” published at Jacobin. Chomsky sees universities caught in a corporate drift; he wants us to double back in search of the old Enlightenment idea of  learning. Education’s not filling a vessel, but

…laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure… But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education.

• David Brooks wrote about Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova meeting in Berlin in his column “Love Story.” Two thinkers meet, turn over the canons in their heads and recognize each other. The story ends with Berlin collapsing, lovestruck, on his bed back at home.

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

Does this sound nostalgic, or are minds meeting in this way on American campuses? What do you think? Leave a comment or send us a message.

Guest List
Liz McMillen
editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her talk,  "What is College For, Anyway?" tells you the signal changes in the college experience over a generation.  
Joseph Moore
president of Lesley University  
Siva Vaidhyanathan
professor at the University of Virginia and cultural historian.Read from his blog post, "Going Public the UVa Way;"
...We must stop using business language to describe universities. It’s not only misguided and inaccurate, but it also sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a wealthy and stable institution, a collection of public services, a space for thought and research, a living museum, a public forum, a stage for athletics competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s certainly not a “brand.”
...and the case he makes in Bookforum for "academic calling in a neoliberal age"
Thomas Frank
founding editor of The Baffler.  Read his essay from The Baffler, "Academy Fight Song"  
Reading List
College, the Great Unleveler
Suzanne Mettler
In a New York Times blog, Suzanne Mettler argues that college is not leveling the playing field, it's doing the opposite  
The End of Higher Education's Golden Age
Clay Shirky
Clay Shirky comments on the coming money crunch in higher ed
The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.
The Death of American Universities
Noam Chomsky
Chomsky sees universities caught in a corporate drift; he wants us to double back in search of the old Enlightenment idea of  learning. Education's not filling a vessel, but
...laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure... But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education.
Love Story
David Brooks
David Brooks wrote about Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova meeting in Berlin in his column "Love Story." Two thinkers meet, turn over the canons in their heads and recognize each other. The story ends with Berlin collapsing, lovestruck, on his bed back at home.

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

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