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humanities 97 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Humanities Paul Axelrod. Values in Conflict: The University, the Marketplace, and the Trials of Liberal Education McGill-Queen=s University Press. xii, 204. $65.00, $24.95 This is a useful book that argues sensibly in support of the values of liberal education in the current Canadian context B and describes the threats to those values. Paul Axelrod=s central thesis is that >[t]he cultivation of intellect, long a central objective of university life, is threatened by political and economic pressures that are redefining and reshaping the functions of higher learning.= The most crucial role of universities, according to Axelrod, is that of nourishing intellectual life, and yet >a variety of forces has conspired to shrink the space that the university provides for fostering the life of the mind. More than ever, higher education is expected to cater directly, quickly, and continually to the demands of the marketplace.= Axelrod argues that the qualities of mind traditionally associated with liberal education are valuable in themselves as goals of postsecondary education and also appropriate for many of the market-driven needs (employability) seen as essential by government and parents alike. The accepted values associated with an inquiring mind are, so his argument goes, ideally suited for both democratic citizenship at large and the performing of market-related tasks. There is nothing new to this argument, but Axelrod=s strength is the lucidity with which he establishes the context both for the emergence, over the centuries, of a belief in liberal education and for the current demand by government and public alike for skills-related postsecondary education aimed at employment and the acquisition of measurable economic advantage. Values in Conflict is not an impassioned work, and one does not get that sense of excitement and insight one gets in reading Martha Nussbaum=s Cultivating Humanity, for instance. But one seldom disagrees with Axelrod except, perhaps, for his dispassionate, low-key approach. His analysis of the current vogue by government (both external to the university and B in some cases B internal to it) for indicators and measurement of success makes sensible points and provides useful data, but his very lack of indignation (contempt?) for the absurdity of the widespread use of often irrelevant >indicators= gives a kind of blandness to what is a well-argued analysis of both the prevalence of a belief in performance indicators and the limitations of such a practice. In his opening chapter Axelrod sets out to describe the history of belief in education, arguing that what was meant in the past by education was often what we now mean by the term >liberal education,= and goes on to place those values and practices in the contemporary Canadian context in which 98 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 >in the eyes of many, economic performance, not intellectual enlightenment, is the university=s preeminent raison d=ĂȘtre.= He then explains the extensive current emphasis on educating students for employability and on sponsoring university research that targets economic issues. Again, he is dispassionate in this analysis, although programs such as the Ontario Access to Opportunities Program (ATOP) that offered universities an economic stimulus for increasing enrolment in engineering and computer-science programs deserve a more spirited treatment B at least in the opinion of this reviewer. The program was intended to alleviate the allegedly insatiable demand (by high-tech firms in their heyday) for trained employees, and was instituted just before the hightech meltdown and subsequent laying off of thousands of trained workers. Axelrod comments sagely: >The boom and bust experience of high-tech companies on the stock market beginning in the latter half of 2000 was but one indication of the field=s endemic volatility. The reduction of its workforce by some 50,000 employees (half the workforce) by the Canadian high-tech giant, Nortel, throughout 2001 was another.= ATOP is still in existence. The very absence of passion that I have pointed to does give Values in Conflict a seriousness and integrity. As a guide both to what is happening to the way Canadians regard university...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 97-98
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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