The Lost Soul of Higher Education

Friday, December 17, 2010

Historian Ellen Schrecker discusses the current battles over higher education, the challenges to academic freedom, and the rapidly changing structure of American Universities. Her book The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University looks at the effects of ideological assaults on academic freedom and decades of eroding higher education budgets.


Ellen Schrecker

Comments [20]

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Dec. 21 2010 11:00 PM
David from New York, NY

As a graduate of Bennington College, I feel Ms. Schrecker should have had the grace to comment no further on that particular institution after regurgitating what she knows of the infamous Symposium. Granted, my ideas about Bennington come from an education there in literature, but I don’t expect students in other concentrations would argue all that much with what I have to say. I attended the college after the Symposium and cannot, in abstraction, condone its application but simultaneously cannot condemn what it achieved. The exodus of—forced upon or chosen by, no matter—beloved faculty members is a difficult pill to swallow, and the clunky politicking of President Elizabeth Coleman (who implemented the Symposium and is still President of the college today) is not the tonic that washes it down easily. Nevertheless, a decade after the Symposium, when I began my freshman year at Bennington, I was met with a faculty of the most brilliant, giving, and hard-working artists I will ever have the pleasure of encountering in my life. At an institution like Bennington, where the annual student body ranges between 500 and 700 undergraduates and a focus of evolving creativity and innovation is expected by that body, the “practicing faculty” model is essential to their education. Bennington, more than anything, is a creative community; it is place where the professor joins the conversation in a more vital capacity than just educator. Certainly he is there to guide the discussion of the subject at hand with his expertise, but he is also there to consider the ideas of his students and to work with the class toward a shared understanding of the material. At Bennington, your professor is your accomplice in education. I do not think this unique and wholly invaluable relationship would be possible if Bennington professors were not required to be practicing in the discipline they teach. I’m happy to say that, many times, some of most important things I learned from my mentors there were learned in their offices, during candid, informal conversations—not because their knowledge was being handed down to me for the sake of teaching, but rather for the sake of truly educating. Frankly, I cannot go into more detail than that without transforming this comment into a full-length paper defending a Bennington education. But what I am trying to communicate is that Ms. Schrecker, seemingly, does not know Bennington past the headline-making Symposium. It is an institution filled with world-class educators unlike any in the academic landscape of this country, and a “bad job” at Bennington is, honestly, too good for a professor (adjunct, tenured, or otherwise) who is so preoccupied with status and stability. I understand Ms. Schrecker’s need to save face by having an answer to a question posed to her, but she struck out here and should have had the decency to keep her mouth shut on the issue.

Dec. 20 2010 01:26 AM
ron from flushing

some students spend years in higher education and don't like the world they inherited when they leave school.

Dec. 19 2010 02:16 PM
Susan Lee Schwartz from NYC

Of course tenure protects teachers from the politicization of educational institutions.

Now that tenure is broken in the primary and secondary schools they are going after the colleges and universities. We primary teachers have no one to protect us, because the unions have looked the other way as the grievance procedures were eroded. While the public believes that 'bad teachers' and "dead wood" are protected by the unions, the opposite is true. The most experienced practitioners who knew what learning looked like, who facilitated learning are gone, their higher (but pitiful) salaries eliminated. Their voices effectively eliminated from the debate on what works, so that test-prep replaced curricula that promoted critical thought. The proof is right before our eyes, but the media is silent on the real reasons the schools now fail.
Public education is in shambles because the PRACTITIONERS OF PEDAGOGY, the academics who teach young children were so disrespected by the public ,and so maligned by the media that the political beasts and corporate entities who profit from an ignorant public and failing schools, could send the top tier of teachers packing. Now, unreported by WNYC or NPR, or any news media, young novice teacher practitioners are routinely attacked just as they reach tenure year. In five years they are GONE... adirty little secret!
Who would want to teach if it was known that principals and superintendents across the country are unaccountable for their behavior, and as human nature predicts, do anything they please,(short of murder) to teachers who they want to send out the door. Go to and weep.

Yes, what is happening in the universities has already happened in the lower schools. Soon, only those with the "right" connections and 'point of view' will be able to find a position in our universities

Dec. 17 2010 01:18 PM
dboy from nyc

I am close to an "adjunct" at Columbia University, in the graduate program. They are a regular "part-time" professor - a graduate seminar every semester (20-30hrs a week). They have held this position for 5 years. Columbia University refuses to offer any university benefits, insurance etc. This is a seminar that is in high demand due this person's fame and popularity amongst peers and student body. Despite this, and a $7 BILLION endowment, Columbia University cannot "afford" to provide ANY basic benefits.

Dec. 17 2010 12:57 PM

My husband is a PhD candidate who has been adjuncting for several years. The guest is right - because of the low wages (~$2K per courses at many colleages in NJ) and job insecurity, he feels pressured to give students better grades or to change a grade if a student complains. He is keenly aware that if students don't provide positive evaluations, he risks not getting courses the following semester.

Dec. 17 2010 12:42 PM
John Tinston from Ridgewood, NJ

Will state universities give preferential treatment to out-of-state applicants whose parents are employed, i.e., better able to pay full tuition?

Dec. 17 2010 12:35 PM
susie from brooklyn

The guest was exactly correct in her assessment of the current situation at universities and specifically for adjunct instructors [such as myself]. check out the recent article on the subject:

Dec. 17 2010 12:34 PM
Lynne Harriton from NYC

Could you ask Ms. Schreiker why these people would rather live on food stamps than teach in a public inner city high school?

Dec. 17 2010 12:32 PM
CCNYadjunct from City College of New York

One of the issues at City College, where I teach, tuition does not cover the actual cost of a student's education, so while there is an increase in enrollment, because of budget cuts there is a built in shortfall. Ultimately it's the students that suffer, since there are limited resources to meet everyone's needs.

Dec. 17 2010 12:27 PM
Josh from New Jersey

It's tough out there. If you cannot make a living teaching then you have to try another profession. I could not believe I had an accounting professor who never worked as an accountant.

Dec. 17 2010 12:25 PM

NYU adjuncts get paid less than 1400

great folks but turnover WAY to high to get the value of a seasoned teacher you expect -- or, from the professor's perspective, the support and experience you expect and, to some extent, do it for.

and this is in an advanced, professional program

also buildings some good some bad

Dec. 17 2010 12:24 PM
john from office

The key failure of liberalism, is evident in this guest arguement. Any holocaust denier is not fit to teach, it is indicative of a mind set. The urge to protect him, or the Islamic person who is out to kill you, leads to your own death.

Wake up, if they hate they hate all you represent, dont invite them to your home.

Dec. 17 2010 12:24 PM
jane from Va

University of Virginia School of Law is ALREADY private!!

Dec. 17 2010 12:22 PM

Please discuss the elimination of tenure at Bennington College in the 1994. This set the precedent for the elimination of tenure. They fired many good professors and steered the college hard to the right.

The "symposium" run by the college president demanded that all faculty be "working faculty" meaning they must be working or publishing in their fields outside their teaching jobs.

There was a large outcry against this which failed.

Thank you.

Dec. 17 2010 12:17 PM
Terri from Brooklyn

I'm an adjunct, and am paid per course hour, plus one hour a week advising. As such, I am unwilling to take part in any unpaid college service.

I take my teaching seriously, and don't think the quality of my classroom experience suffers as a result of my adjunct status, but I am very clear that I am a hired hand, and thus behave toward the college accordingly.

(I do have to state that I have no particular complaints against either my college or department, and generally enjoy teaching at my school. I'm simply very clear on the formal contractual nature of my relationship to the school.)

Dec. 17 2010 12:15 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

Tenure for university faculty is very different than that for public school teachers. We often deal with highly controversial topics and do research that some administrators may not like. We make our own syllabus and do not follow a curriculum made by a state agency. Faculty at a college make academic policy for their own school- who would speak out against administrators if we could be fired for an unpopular position? Thus, academic freedom is a real issue. At universities, tenure is not granted for time served- it is applied for and professors undergo a considerable amount of review by peers and admin.

Dec. 17 2010 12:14 PM

What about losing a job because you don't bring in enough money for your dept?

Dec. 17 2010 12:12 PM
Ed from Larchmont

For Catholic colleges, the challenge is to return to teaching Catholic morality and theology, which some now do. (ex corde ecclesiae.)

Dec. 17 2010 07:59 AM
ellenb from Manhattan

Could you ask Ms schrecker if she's aware Whether or not cutting of budgets and academic freedom is also happening in Europe, etc, If not why, and if so, how are people there reacting? Thanks

Dec. 17 2010 12:17 AM

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