From Publishers Weekly
Hacker, author of Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, and Dreifus, who teaches in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, scathingly discuss the current state of American colleges and universities and argue that tenure and sabbaticals are outdated institutions that cost too much and serve poorly. The authors also claim that the cost of some schools and programs (medicine; sports) far outweighs the gain; teaching is a low priority, they say, blaming administration, committees, and amenities for the spiraling costs of Bachelor's degrees. Though they fail to mention how employment trends might affects students' choices, they do provide some suggestions for cost-cutting: reduce sports and travel of teams, kill tenure and reduce sabbaticals and research, and make medical schools and research centers independent institutions. While some good ideas can be pulled from the polemic, readers will be left waiting for a cool-headed, logical examination of our major institutions of learning. (Aug.)
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No question the cost of college education is enormous. What is questionable is whether or not the education is worth the cost, according to sociologist Hacker and New York Times columnist Dreifus. Too many colleges have strayed from the mission to produce thinking adults and are instead focusing more on vocational education, they lament. After visiting colleges across the nation, prestigious and little known, the authors offer a thoughtful assessment. They criticize the “caste system” at many colleges and the power of the “professioriate,” which is used to make life easier for tenured professors, often by reducing their contact with and obligation to students. One result: while parents pay exorbitant tuition, many tenured professors are taking yearlong sabbaticals at full pay, leaving teaching assistants and visiting professors to do the actual teaching. Among other questionable practices: student-to-faculty ratios bloated by inclusion of administrative staff and diverting money from academics for the “amenities arms race.” The authors also identify schools that manage to put the solid ideals of liberal arts education first and give students and parents their money’s worth. --Vanessa Bush