- Contemporary Philosophical Proposals for the University: Toward a Philosophy of Higher Education ed. by Aaron Stoller and Eli Kramer
In The Emergence of the American University (University of Chicago Press, 1965), Laurence Veysey argued that by the end of the nineteenth century, four rival conceptions about the purpose of higher education were already in contention: (1) it should develop moral and mental discipline, (2) it should prepare students for employment and participation in a democratic culture, [End Page 184] (3) it should be a place for research, and (4) it should support liberal culture. Veysey went on to note that the focus on moral discipline was already waning in the early years of the twentieth century. Yet varieties of all four conceptions persist in the ongoing contestation about the purpose and value of higher education, and each makes an appearance in one or more of the essays collected in Contemporary Philosophical Proposals for the University, edited by Aaron Stoller and Eli Kramer. A careful reading of the collection reveals that new understandings are afoot, making it a refreshing antidote to the aggressive assaults upon higher education and, in turn, the defensive postures found in the popular discourse.
The editors highlight two intentions for the book. They seek to revive the legacy of Dewey in understanding philosophy as a general theory of education, and at the same time they hope to "catalyze a growing critical discourse" in higher education studies (viii). The posed challenge is to both philosophy and education, and the assembled authors come from both disciplines. In their own essay, the editors draw our attention back to the debate between Robert Maynard Hutchins and John Dewey in the 1930s about the liberal arts curriculum (and the role of philosophy within that curriculum). Hutchins had defended a traditional view of universities as places of contemplation where students are initiated into a heritage of great ideas founded upon the "refinement of first principles (metaphysics)" (8). Dewey's dispute with Hutchins was not just about "the rationalistic and hierarchical view of the project of knowledge embedded in Hutchins's view" but, as most readers of this journal know well, about disciplines as cultures of practice in the service of real-world problems (8). The substance of the Dewey-Hutchins debate continues in higher education today, forcing "an unfortunate and unnecessary binary between two visions," the editors argue (9). They seek to suggest something new that goes beyond the old constraints, "a reconstructive philosophy of higher education that grounds itself in the real situation of colleges and universities, and then builds robust alternatives (imaginaries) that can harness their productive heterogeneities, and be reorganized and refined as new problems and needs emerge" (10).
While Dewey is the explicit hero in many of these essays, it is Whitehead who gets the final word. Randy Auxier's concluding essay about the "coming revolution" in higher education is full of wild, wonderful prognostication. In Auxier's hands, Whitehead helps us gain a cosmic perspective so that we can be both prepared for the future and "bemused" by what is currently taking place. I highly recommend jumping from Stoller and Kramer's first essay to the last one and then turning to selected readings from the rest of the collected essays. While the organizational structure does not seem to be teleological, the [End Page 185] manifesto quality of the editors' essay, followed by the fireworks of Auxier's, enlivens the ideas that come in between.
Other essays that are likely to be of interest to readers of this journal include Crispin Sartwell's provocative "Postmodern Worldmaking and the Unanimous Academy," Dwayne Tunstall's essay about diversity, and George Allan's defense of the university as a place for conversation and playful exploration. Sartwell's timely essay diagnoses the problem of ideological uniformity within university culture as stemming from the "linguistic constructivism" of his teacher, Richard Rorty (and then traces a trajectory that includes Gadamer, Ricoeur, and MacIntyre and even the rise of "comm studies...