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  • The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education
  • Marty Finkelstein
The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education. Stanley Rothman, April Kelly-Woessner, & Matthew Woessner. 2011. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield. 296 pp. Hardcover: ISBN: 978-1442208063 ($39.95).

The Still Divided Academy begins where Everett Carl Ladd and Seymour Martin Lipset’s The Divided Academy (McGraw-Hill, 1975) left off. The Ladd and Lipset volume, of course, represents the authors’ seminal study of professorial politics in the wake of the student activism of the 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, Ladd and Lipset had begun a collaboration with Stanley Rothman on a projected follow-up survey of politics on campus in the 1990s—and that initiative was reflected in the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS), the basis for this volume. NAASS was a national telephone survey of students, faculty, and administrators at 140 colleges and universities designed by Ladd and Lipset and conducted by a third party. It focused not only on political party identification but also on views of broad social, economic, and political issues as well as views of the goals of higher education and higher education initiatives that support diversity. The analysis not only compared campus constituencies to each other but also to the general public. While the publication of the results of NAASS was delayed by more than a decade owing to the deaths of both Ladd and Lipset, the illness of Rothman, and the need to find new collaborators, this volume represents—at long last—the first fruits of NAASS.

The volume takes as its point of departure the basic premise that American higher education is at a particularly fragile moment (a crisis, if you will) in its relation with the American public. Historically high levels of confidence in higher education are fraying amid concerns about access, affordability, and perceived loss of purpose as institutions chase research dollars and prestige at the expense of student learning and career preparation. Truly, they argue, there is a crisis of public confidence not unlike that following the student disruptions of the 1960s, which occasioned the original Ladd and Lipset study.

How well positioned is higher education to address this crisis of public confidence? Not as well as we might hope, argue Rothman, Kelly-Woessner, and Woessner, owing to two basic political facts on the ground. The most elemental is the yawning chasm between higher education’s internal campus constituencies, on the one hand, and the general public, on the other. The gap proceeds along three dimensions:

  1. 1. perceptions of the purposes of higher education (career preparation for the general public vs. broad liberal arts education for faculty and administrators);

  2. 2. perceptions of the major challenges higher education is confronting (too inefficient and costly for the general public vs. resource-starved for internal constituencies); and [End Page 149]

  3. 3. perceptions of diversity as a value and how diversity is promoted (diversity as a critical value that should be promoted through affirmative action vs. diversity as less critical than merit and affirmative action as no better as a preferred mode to achieve that goal than busing was in the 1960s to achieve integration).

This is a difficult gap to bridge under the best of circumstances. Any such efforts are complicated, however, by the major divides within the academy—primarily between students, on the one hand, and faculty and administrators, on the other, but also by smaller gaps between faculty and administrators—that undermine and inhibit an internal capacity to act. Students, as it turns out, resemble the general public in their political attitudes and values (more conservative, less supportive of affirmative action), their views of the goals of higher education (more attuned to career preparation than to broad liberal education), and in their greater likelihood to see the major challenges higher education faces as a lack of affordability and efficiency rather than a dearth of resources. Faculty and administrators are surprisingly congruent in their politics and values (largely Democrats), their perceptions of the goals of higher education (broad liberal education), and their perceptions of the major challenges...


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