- The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities by Frank Donoghue, and: Liberal Arts at the Brink by Victor E. Ferrall, Jr, and: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand, and: The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University by Ellen Schrecker
Frank Donoghue. 2008. New York: Fordham University Press. 172 pp.
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0823228591 ($80.00).
Paperback ISBN: 978-0823228607 ($30.00).
2011. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 304 pp.
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0674049727 ($27.50).
Louis Menand. 2010. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 176 pp.
Hardcover ISBN 978-0393062755 ($24.95).
Paperback ISBN: 978-0393339161 ($16.95).
Ellen Schrecker . 2010. New York: New Press. 304 pp.
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1595584007 ($27.95).
Will the Liberal Arts Survive the Bronze Age of American Academe?
Between about 1950 and 1975 American higher education enjoyed what many have called a “Golden Age” when the revenue and enrollments of colleges and universities grew enormously (Freeland, 1992; Menand, pp. 63–73). During the subsequent silver age of academe, ending in the Great Recession of 2008–9, liberal arts education, particularly in the humanities, rapidly lost favor, according to many observers. Now, in the terms of Hesiod and Ovid, we have entered an academic bronze age, in which colleges and universities increasingly pursue their financial self-interest at the expense of academic values.
These four important books share the purpose of analyzing and reversing the decline of liberal arts education by shoring up its supporting pillars. Those include the academic profession, academic freedom, academic tenure, faculty governance, general education, and liberal arts colleges. Situated in different kinds of colleges and universities, these authors naturally emphasize the central pillars in their respective institutions.
A graduate of Oberlin College and president emeritus of Beloit College, Victor Ferrall came to the presidency after a career in an elite Washington law [End Page 156] firm, and he argues passionately that most liberal arts colleges are nearing the “brink” of corruption or destruction, save for the fifty or so in the top tier that are well endowed. An associate professor of English at Ohio State University, Frank Donoghue insightfully analyzes, predicts, and laments the inevitable extinction of the faculty of the humanities—especially literature—at flagship state universities (pp. xii, 129–35). These faculty are the “last professors,” cast in the traditional mold, at these burgeoning and most “corporate” of universities, he maintains (pp. xii–xiii; see also pp. 129–35). Ellen Schrecker, a distinguished historian of the twentieth-century United States, has been active in the American Association of University Professors, first as the editor of its magazine, Academe, and more recently as a member of its national council. She gives particular attention to “corporatization” in the “second- and third-tier state schools” (pp. 7, 115; see also pp. ix, 163, 188–9).
Ferrall (p. 23–7), Donoghue (p. 84), and Schrecker (pp. 115, 220) all exclude from their consideration the fifty or so best endowed colleges and universities whose faculty and students are well nourished and largely insulated from the drought and pestilence that plague other sectors of academe, except during cataclysmic events like the recent recession. The fourth author inhabits those Elysian fields. Occupying a professorial chair in English at Harvard University, Louis Menand has contributed some of the most lucid commentary on higher education, and he maintains this high standard in The Marketplace of Ideas. Paradoxically, this title is not ironic, as one would expect amid the recent avalanche of publications attacking the encroachment of what critics have come to call “neo-liberal” values in higher education. By “marketplace of ideas,” Menand means exactly that, deliberately excluding “money” from his discussion (p. 16). Thus, he implicitly confirms the view of Ferrall, Donoghue, and Schrecker that faculty...