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William Deresiewicz’s Weird Anti-Ivy Elitism

“What,” William Deresiewicz asks in an essay in The New Republic, “is college for?” “College,” he writes, “is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years.” Deresiewicz argues that elite colleges, and especially the Ivy League, have duped students into thinking that what they offer is a “life of the mind,” when in fact they offer careerism and the temptations of money. Elite colleges, he argues, don’t do much but measure and perpetuate status and wealth. He urges p…

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Sending Our Kids to the Ivies

For those of us who teach, work, and study in universities–especially those who, unlike me, find themselves within Ivy League institutions—no topic has aroused more passion recently than William Deresiewicz’s New Republic article, “Don’t Send Your Kids To the Ivy League.” If one can look past the article’s click-bait headline, one discovers that the substance of the piece deals with a number of weighty issues in American life: the dramatic increase in income inequality; the slow and painful de…

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The New Glass Ceiling in Academe

In honor of International Women’s Day, the university where I am currently a postdoctoral fellow held a conference on “glass ceilings in academia.” The midcareer professor who organized the conference invited me and a couple of other female postdocs to speak about our experiences as young women in the profession. But is the “glass ceiling” a relevant concept for describing the challenges we face at this stage in our careers? As postdocs, adjuncts, lecturers, and visiting assistant prof…

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Get Politics Out of the Common Core

There can be no significant reform of higher education without a major overhaul of primary education and extensive changes in secondary education. One of the reasons students are graduating without being prepared to compete in today’s workplace is that far too many arrive at college without the knowledge and background to do college-level work. They have to spend their time catching up rather than taking the courses they need for their degree programs.

That poses significant challenges and creat…

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Equal Rights vs. Religious Principles

Operating in a pluralistic society, America’s institutions of liberal learning have always faced a fundamental choice: to create cloistered sanctuaries from social difference, or to embrace difference as central to our teaching missions.

That choice may seem especially fraught for religiously based colleges, balanced between the demands of civil law and their desire to adhere to the principles of their religious faith. The choice played out most recently this week in the decision by the federal …

How to Reach the Underserved Third

The U.S. Department of Education recently forced Corinthian Colleges into a government-monitored wind-down of its operations and sale of viable campuses. The sale will include Heald College, the 150-year-old institution that we led for just under one year.

Unaddressed by the department action and overlooked in subsequent commentary are two fundamental and related points. First, as a society, we fail to prepare approximately one-third of our citizens—the “underserved third”—for either col…

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War-College Woes

America’s war colleges are in the news with accusations that Sen. John E. Walsh of Montana plagiarized passages in his master’s thesis at the U.S. Army War College. But the problems of such institutions go deeper, often with their own distinctive wrinkle on ailments common to academe.

Even before Benjamin Ginsberg’s 2011 book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, the problematic growth of academic administrators was a perennial hot topic in a…

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Academe’s Firing Squads

A quick Google search shows the wild popularity of a new genre of academic writing: the graduate-student blog about the evils of graduate school. With names like “100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate Schools,” these posts are populated by a cast of Dickensian caricatures of innocence and wickedness. Advisers are narcissistic thugs, and students are helpless, poverty-stricken orphans. Doctoral study, especially in the humanities, is a merciless fraternity sustained by cruel hazing rituals—arbi…

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What ‘Ivory Tower’ Gets Wrong

The documentary film Ivory Tower takes on national debates about higher education and renders them as compelling dramas, stories, and scenes. Andrew Rossi, the film’s talented director, previously used similar techniques to raise probing questions about the future of print journalism in an age of digitalization in his film Page One. Now Rossi asks whether “college is worth the cost,” and uses that question to tap into disturbing and pervasive concerns about whether higher education has lost …

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Why We Need an Open Curriculum

A few weeks ago, a student came to say goodbye. She brought along a younger friend, recently offered admission to my university, who was trying to decide whether to come to Brown or go to Duke. Given all that Duke could offer, the friend wondered, “Why come to Brown?”

We didn’t talk much about majors, or alumni networks, or the social atmospherics of the campus. Instead, we talked about curricula.

Duke’s general-education requirement “encourages breadth and depth, and balances structure with…