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What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?: Classroom Politics and "Bias" in Higher Education Hardcover – September 11, 2006

3.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bérubé, a Penn State literature and cultural studies professor, doesn't deny that college campuses are "teeming with liberal faculty" in this circuitous retort to what he sees as an intensification over the last five years of conservative complaints about liberal "bias" in academe. Rather, the self-described progressive postmodernist (editor of The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies) vies with cultural conservatives for the position of "lonely voice in the wilderness": while conservatives feel embattled in the university setting, academics, Bérubé says, are beleaguered in the country at large, where the right wing dominates all three branches of government and much of mainstream media. Universities are necessarily liberal, Bérubé asserts, as independent intellectual inquiry is fundamental to democracy. Moreover, the authoritarian right's outraged objections to "anti-American" campuses are a testament to their "disbelief that liberalism still survives." Bérubé's points about the ascendance of the right will be well taken by progressives, but the level of meandering detail he devotes to his teaching experience and his own literature curriculum may feel less relevant to nonacademic readers
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From Booklist

Berube, a literature professor who admits to being a liberal progressive but maintains that he is politically noncommittal in the classroom, explores the charges by the Right that America's universities are biased toward liberalism. Drawing on 20 years of teaching and recent troubling developments in academe, Berube answers conservative critics and, more fascinating, explores the dilemma of liberal teachers in encouraging open debate but opposing racism, sexism, and homophobia. Debunking stories of professors failing students who don't toe the liberal party line, Berube maintains that the real threat to open debate is conservatives seeking to squelch liberal ideas in the name of "fairness" to more conservative perspectives. He cites academic bills of rights in some states that are aimed at discouraging challenges to conservative ideas on creationism and other topics. Threats of lawsuits by students claiming that their views have been ridiculed are having a chilling effect on classroom dialogue. Berube offers a passionate appeal for preserving the best notions of the liberal-arts education, a discipline that promotes critical thinking and independent inquiry. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; First edition. edition (September 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060379
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,283,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In her Amazon review of this book below, Ms. Malter chooses to dismiss its entire contents based on her own personally negative view of the Middle East Studies Department at Columbia U (which see portrays in so monolithic a manner as to defy reason). This reductive approach to what is ultimately an impressively sane and balanced consideration of the type of liberalism prevalent in most American humanities departments (as a member of one of them, I have to say that the descriptions are dead-on), seeks simply to shut down the extraordinarily useful and humane conversation that Berube is seeking to begin here. It therefore demonstrates precisely the sort of anti-intellectualism that Berube argues is threatening both the American university and democracy more generally. In a sense, Ms. Malter has proven Berube's point. I can't speak positively enough about this book, and I hope especially that it will be engaged by leftist and rightist extremists and not only the classic-liberal readers that Berube has tended to attract.
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Format: Hardcover
In "What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?", Michael Berube, a literature professor at Illinois and Penn, throws punches at conservative critics of higher education (guys like David Horowitz), paints a picture of the modern state college campus in the Midwest, and summarizes two of the courses he teaches.

The first portion of the book is mostly a summary of the conservative arguments against state sponsored higher education and his responses to them. Mostly his target is Horowitz, a verbal critic of higher education and the "liberal" bias. I found Berube's responses to be very well constructed and rational. His arguments (rightly) make Horowitz look like your standard Bill O'Reilly-style foolish conservative. He moves on and paints a fairly general overview of the standard political environment among college students (although, I found him somewhat unfair to Ayn Rand).

From there, Berube goes into extreme detail of the two courses which he teaches - a general literature course and an advanced postmodernism course. I found this part of the book painful and tough to work through, particularly for someone with a limited background in Postmodernism (67 pages on his postmodernism class alone). The function of these chapters, I gleaned, was to credit his students for being capable of digesting philosophical complexities and applying them to the modern world. In turn, crediting the liberal higher education system for it's success even in the face of students with often conservative views (such as a student, Stan, who wrote a paper in disagreement with Berube, but still received an A). These chapters also establish Berube as an antifoundationalist and humanist.
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Format: Paperback
The first eighty or so pages of this book are well-worth reading. The author takes on many of the specific claims about the "liberal bias" in education and refutes a few of the attempts to paint colleges as dangerous places for students to "come out" as a conservative.

Then the author moves into a discussion of some of the books he teaches, but the literary criticism is only tangentially related to the topic of classroom politics or bias, or, for that matter, liberalism.

The material on postmodernism is interesting and has a political element, but would be better placed in a primer on pomo.

Finally, the last chapter is a ringing endorsement of the sort of liberalism that has been out of fashion since the Kennedy era but that is nonetheless safe. Thus pages applauding Social Security (the folks down at the local book club will nod and smile) but no comments about affirmative action, US military adventures, gay marriage or other more current issues. Their absence is conspicuous. The far left is dismissed as either a collection of lunatics or Bush fans in disguise (voting for Nader being equivalent to voting for Bush). And, of course, none of this has a thing to do with the liberal arts or charges of bias.
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Format: Paperback
The book is at times well-focused and cogent. In other places, it is chatty, diffuse, and self-indulgent. This book would be twice as good if it were one third shorter.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a strange book, a hodgepodge of topics, a little bit of autobiography, a little bit

of worry that the secret police will come to take away his son, some philosophical debating,

assorted academic anecdotes, and even some words about the apparent topic of the book.

The author is also strange. I have never before noticed an author post replies to reviews.

This is not necessarily bad, but it is unusual. Perhaps this review will draw a comment, also.

Perhaps it will stop the comments, by pointing them out.

The title is "What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?" and the question mark is part of the title.

The subtitle is "Classroom Politics and 'Bias' in Higher Education" and the inner quotes are

part of the subtitle. I've seen lots of attacks on liberal educators, some of which seemed

justified and some of which turned out to be false. The quoted "bias" seemed to indicate a

debunking or counterattack, so I was immediately interested.

Chapter one is personal. The author had an outspoken conservative student in a class. He is shown

as disruptive. The author treated him fairly. In chapter two, the author debunks three claims

of liberal academic misbehavior. So far he has me convinced there is at least one fair liberal

professor and no more than 99.44% of the conservative complaints are justified. Well, it's a

start. Maybe there will be more.

The author is a skilled writer and rhetorician. Here and through most of the book he lines up

a few facts or beliefs as if the next line was going to be "therefore <conservative person/idea

is <wrong/bad/evil/whatever" but he does not write that.
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