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  • Higher Education and Society ed. by Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso
  • Andrew J. Ryder
Higher Education and Society
Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso (Editors)
New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2016, 310 pages, $40.95 (softcover, e-book)

In Higher Education and Society, editors DeVitis and Sasso ask "What are the influences of higher education on society—and what are the influences of society on higher education?" (p. 1). They acknowledge the difficulty in parsing such a question, yet they do so to impose what results in a fairly fluid organizational framework for the 14 chapters comprising the book.

Like their previously coedited volume (Sasso & DeVitis, 2015), DeVitis and Sasso ground this work in the increasingly commodified context of contemporary higher education, though several chapters advance other important themes and ideas. Assembled authors include longtime and emergent scholars and leaders representing various institutional types, professional roles, and topical expertise. Such breadth is a notable strength of the volume. The quality of writing and concise analysis supported by data and contemporary examples found in many chapters are also strengths. Other chapters summarize current scholarship as an introduction to illustrative cases, but the length of the examples attenuates the chapters' effectiveness.

Part 1 examines higher education's influence on society at the local, state, and national levels. In chapter 1, "On Purpose: Liberal Education and the Question of Value," Cornwell asserts liberal education as essential to contemporary society, arguing that the combination of higher education's instrumental value (i.e., graduates' wage premiums and substantially lower unemployment rates) and political value (i.e., enhanced abilities for informed deliberations of policy and social justice issues), helps maintain social order. Because graduates may learn to reconcile other cultures and beliefs with their own, liberal education also promises much-needed cultural value to our divided society. In chapter 2, "Higher Education, the Professions, and the Place of Expertise," DeNicola explains how the "asymmetry of the authority" (p. 37) possessed by increasingly specialized professions (e.g., medicine, business, law) contributes to public perceptions that such professionals prioritize their own personal and institutional interests over those of clients and society. Effects may be witnessed in the increased reliance upon consumer reviews for complicated services and widespread cynicism with which previously well-respected social institutions (e.g., the media, higher education) are now regarded. To rebuild trust, DeNicola urges devoted effort toward infusing reflexivity and social ethics into professional curricula and guarding liberal education components of preprofessional studies from encroaching competency-based approaches.

Elmore's chapter, "Academic Freedom and Public Higher Education in the Neoliberal Age," offers a clear and concise explanation of how 40 years of neoliberal policies increasingly [End Page 964] commodified and privatized public higher education. Elmore explains how persistent rounds of state budget cuts and new accountability metrics compelled institutions to emphasize more easily measured job skills, thus undermining faculty leadership of the curriculum. Under the guise of ensuring economic outcomes, he notes broad-access institutions experience the effects of these changes more acutely as they increasingly focus on "polishing human commodities" for the workforce (p. 82) and reproduce social stratification. Part 1 concludes by examining the commodification of intercollegiate athletics in "College Sports and Society." Authors Vincent and Williams describe relative harmony between the purpose of athletics and the personal and intellectual development goals of college among institutional members of NCAA Division II, III, or NAIA. In contrast, they detail how commercialization of sports and commodification of athletes within NCAA Division I, especially football and men's basketball, often subvert the purpose of higher education. As evidence, the authors cite the escalating race to finance and build increasingly posh athletics facilities, institutions' efforts to profit from athletes' likenesses, and Hawkins's (2010) "new plantation" idea where revenue generated from sports played mostly by African American athletes subsidizes Olympic sports played mostly by White athletes. Also included in part 1 are Covaleskie's analysis of higher education as both a public and private good, Guarasci's argument for renewed relevance of civic engagement in higher education, and Hatcher and Childress's discussion of the need to cultivate town and gown relationships that transcend economic development.

Part 2 probes...


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pp. 964-966
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