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The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0823228607
ISBN-10: 0823228606
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

How is it that the number of students attending American universities has surged in recent decades, but the number of professors—especially humanities professors—has dwindled? The perplexing institutional dynamics of the modern university come in for penetrating scrutiny here. Donoghue, an Ohio State English professor, sees a troubling new conception of higher education emerging among administrators whose thinking reflects the bottom-line calculations of business executives, not the intellectual ideals of liberal-arts scholars. Inclined to view traditional professors as a costly anachronism, such administrators have been hiring low-pay adjunct instructors to replace them—and restricting their educational task to that of teaching employment skills. Even in the elite Ivy League, the humanities professors now must justify their work as a way of enhancing a school’s marketable prestige. Beleaguered professors face a dire situation in burgeoning state universities, where institutional accountants assess their research using simplistic ranking systems akin to those applied to football teams. A sobering analysis, sure to attract serious readers on and off campus. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


. . . focuses on the daunting challenges facing new humanities Ph.D.s in an increasingly corporatized academy.-D.R. Koukal

Donoghue says that in our time the corporate university will end professors as we have come to know them.-Leonard R. N. Ashley

. . . Donoghue writes that tenure-track and tenured professors now make up only 35 percent of college facutly, and that number is steadily falling.-Valerie Saturen

"Donoghue does what few other critics of higher education have been able to do - present a balanced look at a complex issue within the university and college system."-Teaching Theology and Religion

"Donoghue's well written, thoroughly documented and convincingly reported book is a must read. . ." -The Ukrainian Quarterly

"As Frank Donoghue points out in The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, what we are seeing is no crisis at all but 'an ongoing set of problems' that, at least for men and women who entered graduate school since the 1970s, has become business as usual." -Academe

"[Donoghue] presents his thesis in five well-researched and documented chapters ... his personal perspective helps him make a convincing argument that what is happening to the humanities and academics in these disciplines has a long history, has barely survived several twists in its story, and is in need of reinvention to stay alive." -Canadian Association of University Teachers

"The historical analysis of The Last Professors is a significant contribution in that it presents a coherent story of long-term structural developments. This well-written and provocative book is based on data and relevant literature." -H-Net

"... Donoghue claims that to be ready for the future, professors must "become not only sociologists but also institutional historians of their own profession." -Contexts

"An associate professor of English at Ohio State University, Frank Donoghue, insightfully analyzes, predicts, and laments the inevitable extinction of the faculty of the humanities- especially literature- at flagship state universities." -The Journal of Higher Education


Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823228606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823228607
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.6 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Valerie J. Saturen VINE VOICE on December 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Higher education commentators have pointed to budget cuts, waning student interest, and dwindling tenure-track positions as evidence of a crisis in the liberal arts and humanities. Donoghue argues that the situation is worse than a crisis. His hard-hitting book examines how a decades-long economic squeeze and the growing influence of corporate culture have adversely affected higher education, threatening to drive the traditional professor extinct.

Donoghue traces the current dilemma to the late 19th century, when the corporate values of efficiency and "usefulness" (in the most narrowly practical sense of the word) gained considerable influence in education. A corporate disdain for the humanities is exemplified by quotes from Andrew Carnegie and Richard Teller Crane. Carnegie advised colleges to imitate "a good manufacturer," and Crane famously asserted that no man who has "a taste for literature has the right to be happy" because "the only men entitled to happiness in this world are those who are useful." Beginning in the 1970s, the resurgence of a profit-and-efficiency driven ideology has lent new popularity to these sentiments.

One of the key threats to the professoriate is the replacement of the full-time tenured professor with the easily exploitable and economically expedient part-time adjunct. Currently, fewer than 30 percent of college and university faculty are tenured or on tenure tracks, and the number is decreasing. Adjuncts often commute between institutions while facing meager pay and no job security. Taking into account her commute, one adjunct converted her salary into an hourly wage of $2.12, without benefits.

This is just one piece of a larger puzzle in which higher education is increasingly focused on efficiency and the bottom line.
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Format: Paperback
Since the book came out, way back in late 2008, our financial system has crumbled, GM has gone bankrupt, one out of five Americans is out of work, retailers and restaurants have closed, millions of homes have gone into foreclosure, and half the class of '09 is still unemployed. Having lived through that, you probably can handle bad news from the tenure front without your hair standing on end.

Nonetheless, if you're really concerned about the Crisis in Higher Education, Donoghue puts that worry right to bed. A crisis, he explains, is a sudden event that calls for a dramatic, immediate response, whereas the American academic collapse began over 100 years ago. There can be no quick fix now, and the author has no hope the humanities can survive in the new corporate university.

Anyone looking at this review probably isn't fooled by what's going on at the graduate-level in liberal arts departments, but if you're still considering Ivory Tower employment, it's a good idea to read this book, digest the facts and numbers, and see them assembled by someone who knows first-hand what he's talking about. No surprise that lots of humanities doctoral candidates drop out before taking a Ph.D. No surprise either that the dropouts are often the smartest, have the best undergraduate records and the highest GRE scores.

The industrialization of education has been brutal, and Donoghue is surely right in predicting it's only going to get worse. As far back as forever, the functionally illiterate have held book-learning to be detrimental to making a living, and the succinct humanist reply remains always unintelligible to chuckleheads.

As Donoghue points out, for the humanities to survive at a scholarly level there needs to be a steady supply of Ph.D.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Too many books about the plight of academia seem compelled, as Donoghue explains, both to describe the situation today as a "crisis" and then to offer nostrums to return our universities to health. "The Last Professors," as its title indicates, is having none of that sunny optimism. Essentially he sees universities as not so much in "crisis," as suffering from a long, and likely irreversible decline at the end of which the utilitarian values of the corporation will emerge triumphant. Perhaps only a handful of wealthy elite institutions -- the Harvards and Amhersts -- will remain as places where fields like Classics and Philosophy, once cornerstones of a liberal arts eduction, are studied and supported.

Donoghue's well researched argument is compelling. He traces the history of the modern university, the rise of for-profit post-secondary education, the pressure that online education exerts toward mass production of degrees, the effect of public funding on higher education (especially in a recessionary environment), and the commodification of prestige through the US News rankings and similar services. All of these factors have created a breach between the university and the business corporation that have allowed the values of the latter to flood the higher education scene. With increasing force and speed, the values of the corporation are swamping the traditional values of academe, and many schools that previously taught a traditional liberal arts curriculum, heavy on the humanities, are replacing that curriculum with one focused on the bottom line and preparation for vocations.

Simultaneously, the working conditions for professors in those traditional fields are falling to pieces. For a lucky few, life goes on as usual, with academic freedom protected by tenure.
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