Synopses & Reviews
Making Reform Work
is a practical narrative of ideas that begins by describing who is saying what about American higher educationand#249;who's angry, who's disappointed, and why. Most of the pleas for changing American colleges and universities that originate outside the academy are lamentations on a small number of too often repeated themes. The critique from within the academy focuses on issues principally involving money and the power of the market to change colleges and universities. Sandwiched between these perspectives is a public that still has faith in an enterprise that it really doesn't understand.
Robert Zemsky, one of a select group of scholars who participated in Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's 2005 Commission on the Future of Higher Education, signed off on the commission's report with reluctance. In Making Reform Work he presents the ideas he believes should have come from that group to forge a practical agenda for change. Zemsky argues that improving higher education will require enlisting faculty leadership, on the one hand, and, on the other, a strategy for changing the higher education system writ large.
Directing his attention from what can't be done to what can be done, Zemsky provides numerous suggestions. These include a renewed effort to help students' performance in high schools and a stronger focus on the science of active learning, not just teaching methods. He concludes by suggesting a series of dislodging eventsand#249;for example, making a three-year baccalaureate the standard undergraduate degree, congressional rethinking of student aid in the wake of the loan scandal, and a change in the rules governing endowmentsand#249;that could break the gridlock that today holds higher education reform captive.
Making Reform Work offers three rules for successful college and university transformation: don't vilify, don't play games, and come to the table with a well-thought-out strategy rather than a sharply worded lamentation.
"In this important and timely book, Samuels makes a powerful case for fundamental reforms in higher education that are critical not only for the future of the American university but also for the future of our nation and the world at large."
"Bracing and incisive, Samuels offers that rare call to arms that speaks simultaneously to faculty, students, parents, and administrators."
"Samuels's argument is a persuasive and informative introduction to the higher education industry."
"Adding his voice to a growing chorus of critiques of the state of higher education, Samuels, a prolific blogger on the subject of higher education, seeks to convince his readers of the disconnect between the cost of tuition and the quality of instruction and, furthermore, that a high-quality combination of research and instruction could be maintained without the need for tuition at all. He explains how a large portion of tuition dollars go toward administration costs, research, noneducational programs (e.g., athletics, recreational extras, etc., and technology.) Samuels also points out that many universities are making risky investments and borrowing large sums to fund construction of new facilities that do not necessarily enhance learning and to increase compensation to already highly paid faculty and administrators. He argues that if current government funding to higher education were used more effectively, public institutions could be tuition free. Samuels presents a thought-provoking case for reform, and his book will appeal to anyone concerned with the current and/or future state of higher education in the United States."
"The important message of Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free is that the solutions to current problems of higher education cannot be achieved...until institutional priorities change."
"In Zemsky's blunt and accessible new book, he delivers a refreshing vision and outline for reforming American higher education that is neither starry-eyed nor hopeless, and thankfully free of neo-inspirational screed, flowery rhetoric, or a call-to-arms ending. His diagnosis of and solutions to escalating costs, improving scholarship, and raising completion rates are thought-provoking, and he cites many real-life innovations."
"This book is a call to arms—a compelling and challenging synthesis of the experiences, analysis, and wisdom of a leader in higher education policy."
"This book is a breakthrough contribution. Zemsky tells us to stop making the same old, unproductive arguments yet again, and to take a set of actions which, in combination, will help us create a new, effective, and sustainable future for higher education."
andldquo;This book is an important companion and corrective to recent work. The cases made in these valuable essays are varied, subtle, and provocative, and affirm that nothing could be more important than to invest our public dollars in the humanities crucible of effective citizenry and global awareness.andrdquo;
Robert Samuels explains why universities cost so much and offers solutions as to how they can reduce their expenses by concentrating on their core mission of instruction and research. Not only can tuition be reduced, but public universities and colleges can be made free by allocating existing resources to provide quality undergraduate education and diminishing the amount of money spent in the areas of athletics, administration, and public research.
Universities tend to be judged by the test scores of their incoming students and not on what students actually learn once they attend these institutions. While shared tests and surveys have been developed, most schools refuse to publish the results. Instead, they allow such publications as U.S. News & World Report
to define educational quality. In order to raise their status in these rankings, institutions pour money into new facilities and extracurricular activities while underfunding their educational programs.
In Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free, Robert Samuels argues that many institutions of higher education squander funds and mislead the public about such things as average class size, faculty-to-student ratios, number of faculty with PhDs, and other indicators of educational quality. Parents and students seem to have little knowledge of how colleges and universities have been restructured over the past thirty years.
Samuels shows how research universities have begun to function as giant investment banks or hedge funds that spend money on athletics and administration while increasing tuition costs and actually lowering the quality of undergraduate education. In order to fight higher costs and lower quality, Samuels suggests, universities must reallocate these misused funds and concentrate on their core mission of instruction and related research.
Throughout the book, Samuels argues that the future of our economy and democracy rests on our ability to train students to be thoughtful participants in the production and analysis of knowledge. If leading universities serve only to grant credentials and prestige, our society will suffer irrevocable harm. Presenting the problem of how universities make and spend money, Samuels provides solutions to make these important institutions less expensive and more vital. By using current resources in a more effective manner, we could even, he contends, make all public higher education free.
Checklist for Change diagnoses the problems in American higher education today and describes principal reforms that must occur in combination in order for it to remain a vital enterprise: a fundamental recasting of federal financial aid; new mechanisms for better channeling the competition among colleges and universities; recasting the undergraduate curriculum; and a stronger, more collective faculty voice in governance that defines not why, but how the enterprise must change.
Almost every day American higher education is making news with a list of problems that includes the incoherent nature of the curriculum, the resistance of the faculty to change, and the influential role of the federal government both through major investments in student aid and intrusive policies. Checklist for Change
not only diagnoses these problems, but also provides constructive recommendations for practical change.
Robert Zemsky details the complications that have impeded every credible reform intended to change American higher education. He demythologizes such initiatives as the Morrill Act, the GI Bill, and the Higher Education Act of 1972, shedding new light on their origins and the ways they have shaped higher education in unanticipated and not commonly understood ways. Next, he addresses overly simplistic arguments about the causes of the problems we face and builds a convincing argument that well-intentioned actions have combined to create the current mess for which everyone is to blame.
Using provocative case studies, Zemsky describes the reforms being implemented at a few institutions with the hope that these might serve as harbingers of the kinds of change needed: the University of Minnesota at Rochester’s compact curriculum in the health sciences only, Whittier College’s emphasis on learning outcomes, and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s coherent overall curriculum.
In conclusion, Zemsky describes the principal changes that must occur not singly but in combination. These include a fundamental recasting of federal financial aid; new mechanisms for better channeling the competition among colleges and universities; recasting the undergraduate curriculum; and a stronger, more collective faculty voice in governance that defines not why, but how the enterprise must change.
A New Deal for the Humanities
brings together twelve prominent scholars who shed light on the many concerns swirling around the humanities todayandmdash;exploring the history of the liberal arts in America, their present state, and their future direction. The volume focuses on public
higher education, for it is in our state schools that the liberal arts are taught to the greatest numbers, where the decline of those fields would be most damaging, and where their strength is most threatened.
Many in higher education fear that the humanities are facing a crisis. But even if the rhetoric about andldquo;crisisandrdquo; is overblown, humanities departments do face increasing pressure from administrators, politicians, parents, and students. In A New Deal for the Humanities,
Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed bring together twelve prominent scholars who address the history, the present state, and the future direction of the humanities. These scholars keep the focus on public
higher education, for it is in our state schools that the liberal arts are taught to the greatest numbers and where their neglect would be most damaging for the nation.
The contributors offer spirited and thought-provoking debates on a diverse range of topics. For instance, they deplore the push by administrations to narrow learning into quantifiable outcomes as well as the demands of state governments for more practical, usable training. Indeed, for those who suggest that a college education should be andldquo;practicalandrdquo;andmdash;that it should lean toward the sciences and engineering, where the high-paying jobs areandmdash;this book points out that while a few nations produce as many technicians as the United States does, America is still renowned worldwide for its innovation and creativity, skills taught most effectively in the humanities. Most importantly, the essays in this collection examine ways to make the humanities even more effective, such as offering a broader array of options than the traditional major/minor scheme, options that combine a studentandrsquo;s professional and intellectual interests, like the new medical humanities programs.
A democracy can only be as energetic as the minds of its citizens, and the questions fundamental to the humanities are also fundamental to a thoughtful life. A New Deal for the Humanities takes an intrepid step in making the humanitiesandmdash;and our citizensandmdash;even stronger in the future.
At one time, universities educated new generations and were a source of social change. Today colleges and universities are less places of public purpose, than agencies of personal advantage. Remaking the American University provides a penetrating analysis of the ways market forces have shaped and distorted the behaviors, purposes, and ultimately the missions of universities and colleges over the past half-century.
The authors describe how a competitive preoccupation with rankings and markets published by the media spawned an admissions arms race that drains institutional resources and energies. Equally revealing are the depictions of the ways faculty distance themselves from their universities with the resulting increase in the number of administrators, which contributes substantially to institutional costs. Other chapters focus on the impact of intercollegiate athletics on educational mission, even among selective institutions; on the unforeseen result of higher education's "outsourcing" a substantial share of the scholarly publication function to for-profit interests; and on the potentially dire consequences of today's zealous investments in e-learning.
A central question extends through this series of explorations: Can universities and colleges today still choose to be places of public purpose? In the answers they provide, both sobering and enlightening, the authors underscore a consistent and powerful lesson-academic institutions cannot ignore the workings of the markets. The challenge ahead is to learn how to better use those markets to achieve public purposes.
About the Author
GORDON HUTNER is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of several books, including What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920andndash;1960.
FEISAL G. MOHAMED is a professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. A past president of the Milton Society of America, his latest book is Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism.