- The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education by Warren Treadgold
As the reader knows, American higher education faces a myriad of crises. For example, a tenure-track post is almost an anachronism, and if there is such an opening, the search committee is overwhelmed with a heap of applications due to the surfeit of new PhDs. In addition, faculty has taken a back seat to administration, which runs academia. The problems are undeniable and all of us have opinions on them. The University We Need is useful because Warren Treadgold goes beyond opinions—though he does have his share—and offers specific proposals for reform. Regardless of whether one ultimately agrees with the author's solutions, his ideas are worthy of being considered for the sake of students and professors alike.
Treadgold, who teaches Byzantine History at Saint Louis University, makes many valid points regarding the current state of academia, namely the rampant ineptitude of administration at most colleges and universities. The author elucidates how the bloated, irresponsible budgets of administrators have come at the expense of instructors (part-time and full-time), students, and most importantly, learning. Similar to Benjamin Ginsberg's acclaimed The Fall of the Faculty (2011), Treadgold ably demonstrates how in the past twenty years or so there has been an enormous transfer of power from the faculty to the administration, and it is only getting worse. He reminds the reader how convenient it has been for academic administrators simply to replace former tenure-track positions with adjuncts, limited-term lecturers, and online instructors. Moreover, Treadgold claims that the abolition of tenure—a desire of many in the administrative state—would only embolden administrative profligacy, and would impinge on the academic freedom of all, especially conservative and moderate professors.
So how does Treadgold propose to mitigate an overabundance of doctorates, administrative extravagance, and the lack of ideological diversity on campus? His solutions are bold and perhaps quixotic, but original nonetheless. To address the problem of thousands of mediocre doctorates hurriedly granted each year, he proposes using federal legislation to create a "National Dissertation Review Board." [End Page 234] The board would be managed by specialized referees (mostly retired professors from the respective fields) who would assign a rating for each dissertation. The author argues that such a standardized assessment tool would ensure quality dissertations, and would also level the playing field for those students who attend less selective institutions. Quite convincingly, Treadgold states: "If the United States government can inspect and grade food and drugs and examine the competence of elementary and secondary teachers and students, why should it not examine and evaluate doctoral dissertations and academic publications?" (110). As many of us in academia deal with the increasing role of assessment in our academic instruction, such a proposal should not be immediately disregarded, and could end up protecting doctoral students, academic departments, and search committees. However, at the same time, some would cringe at the idea of the federal government being the ultimate adjudicator of academic merit. (Similarly, he also proposes the establishment of a "National Academic Honesty Board" to find plagiarism in academic work.)
In addition, Treadgold recommends a percentage cap on administrative costs in order for a university to maintain its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit institution. While the author does not offer an exact percentage, he suggests administrative costs not exceeding 20 percent of the total university budget. Although the statistics used are a bit outdated (2007), they are still instructive: he shows how Wake Forest spent 53.7 percent of their budget on administration, with Stanford at 17.5 percent, and the University of Michigan at 8.4 percent. Such disparate figures give credence to the author's insistence on capping administrative costs, as it seems some institutions have spent with impunity, while others have been more prudent with their budgets.
Finally, given that Treadgold contends there is hostility towards conservative professors and students, he advocates the creation of a new "leading" university, commenced by a private donation of $1 billion. After such an initial contribution, the author...