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The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For Hardcover – June 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


In The Faculty Lounges, Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former member of the Journal's editorial-page staff, takes up the question of academic tenure—what it was intended to be, what abuses it now invites and whether it is a good idea at all. Along the way she addresses vital questions about higher education in America and its future—indeed, about the very idea of a university....The Faculty Lounges ends up being a provocative and even profound book, one that recommends itself to anyone who cares about higher education, especially anyone who is about to make a personal investment in it by signing a tuition check.

(The Wall Street Journal)

There's a debate going on in higher education over tenure ― the traditional practice of granting lifelong job security to professors after seven or so years of work. Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer, has written a book on the subject. In it, she explores the consequences of tenure, concluding: 'Even in ares of study where one might not expect it, tenure is preventing institutions from living up to their highest potential. It is stifling the most innovative professors and preventing students from getting the education they deserve.' (The Miami Herald)

Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal turns in a lively, unsparing, and challenging look at many of the problems plaguing colleges and universities. You may not want to read it if you just wrote a big check for tuition. But if you want to learn more about higher education's problems — such as tenure, adjunct teaching, academic publishing, and lousy incentives — as well as future trends like increasing unionization, then this is the book to read. Few people will agree with all of it, but higher education leaders must respond to the challenges the author lays out because The Faculty Lounges is the long-form version of conversations a lot of parents are having.

(Time Magazine)

While this book should be read widely on campus - especially by students - it also deserves to be read by others with an interest in the state of higher education. In particular, parents contemplating the college choices of their children, and trustees charged with governance will find that Riley has served up much food for thought.

(The Washington Times)

It will surprise no one familiar with her work that Naomi Schaefer Riley is not a fan of tenure. In recent years, the former writer and deputy Taste editor of the Wall Street Journal and author of the book God on the Quad has emphasized themes, both in writing and on panels, of what she sees as the damage that tenure can wreak. In her new book, The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For (Ivan R. Dee), Riley fleshes out this argument, mostly through choice anecdotes, to buttress her view that tenure has become too costly to the enterprise and harmful to the quality of higher education (faculty unions come in for criticism, too, but that's mostly confined to one chapter). In prose that is vigorous and readable...Riley maps out several facets of her critique.

(Inside Higher Ed)

For Riley (God on the Quad), the problem with our university system lies with the concept of tenured faculty. Although allowing that 'tenure is not the reason why college costs so much,' Riley’s energies are largely devoted to arguing that 'tenure... is eroding American education from the inside out.' As a safeguard for academic freedom, Riley argues that there are areas of study where academic freedom is 'an almost irrelevant concept.' The path to tenure encourages 'trivial research and publication,' and once achieved, tenure means that professors 'can simply neglect their students with little or no consequence.' While 'not the primary cause of the financial problems' facing higher education, it is 'one reason colleges will have such a difficult time digging themselves out.' Tied with this harangue about tenure, Riley considers the ambiguous role of 'industry-sponsored research,' the problems faced by adjunct faculty, and the threat posed by unions. That 'military schools and religious institutions are places where tenure is least prevalent' is not an reassuring argument. In any event, according to Riley, 'faculty off the tenure track make up about 70 percent of the total and [teach] more than half the undergraduate classes,' which makes much of Riley’s quarrel tangential.

(Publishers Weekly)

Riley (God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America) from the outset takes issue with the 'lifetime job security' enjoyed by tenured faculty and suggests that faculty who focus on getting tenure often ignore the institutional mission. She quibbles with the argument that tenure protects academic freedom and questions whether professors who teach 'vocational subjects' need those protections. Riley admits that the dire financial situation faced by many colleges has not been caused by tenure but argues that 'tenured faculty are among the least concerned with an institution's bottom line.' The afterword provides a compelling snapshot of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering near Boston, where the 'culture of innovation' precludes tenure of faculty members, the curriculum is overhauled every seven years, and present and past students are asked for feedback about the quality of their educational experiences. VERDICT This thought-provoking book will appeal to higher education administrators and change agents. Recommended. (Library Journal)

In 2008, the yearly tab for a four-year private college averaged some $27,000, up from $10,000 in 1980. An Ivy League education will break the bank further, at $38,000 a year- excluding bed and board. Where does all the money go? Some is easy to spot. There are the lavish sports facilities, gourmet cafeterias, posh dorms, and ever-sprouting new faculty buildings that have become commonplace on today's campuses. But in her engaging new book, The Faculty Lounges, Naomi Schaefer Riley directs our attention, and her most discerning criticism, to higher education's less visible expenditures: tenured professors….The Faculty Lounges is peppered with interesting facts, from a description of how colleges compete on university rankings, which privilege inputs (spending) over outputs (learning), to the outrageous cost to taxpayers of scholarly "work" ($50,000 per academic journal article, estimates a former statistical chief at the U.S. Department of Education). (Politics and Ideas)

Engaging new book….The Faculty Lounges is peppered with interesting facts….Long before the end of The Faculty Lounges, one is left with little doubt that tenure is a worthy target for Riley's unsparing exposition. (COMMENTARY)

In her book, Riley deconstructs the cause of such faculty longevity, taking on one of the most cherished perks of high education, tenure. She asks whether the awarding of jobs for life, often as a result of a professor’s research and publication in rarefied journals, leads to some faculty staying too long at schools and doing too little of what ought to matter most — teaching.

(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

It's possible that Congress suspected what Naomi Schaefer Riley has tried to prove: that tenured professors have it much too good. That is the contention of The Faculty Lounges. (The Weekly Standard 2011-08-01)

Tenure isn't the only reason that American higher education is losing quality, productivity and intellectual freedom. (Think unionization, price inflation, political correctness, academic faddism, bureaucratization, lengthening weekends, shortening semesters, nonexistent counseling, low completion rates.) But our universities and their students would be better off without it—and in this valuable and timely book Naomi Schaefer Riley does a brilliant job of explaining why. (Chester E. Finn, senior fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute)

The issue of tenure lies at the heart of many the critical challenges facing higher education. Significant change cannot occur without the abolition of tenure. Naomi Schaefer Riley's timely book addresses this contentious problem directly and insightfully and will provoke much-needed debate. (Mark C. Taylor, author of Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities)

Why do we have colleges? If your answer is educating young people, The Faculty Lounges has a wakeup call for you: they now exist to sustain the privileges of their permanent professors. Naomi Schaefer Riley deftly explodes the myths and mantras―academic freedom, faculty governance, the necessity of research―which protect this self-obsessed caste. (Andrew Hacker, Queens College; coauthor of Higher Education?)

A lively, no-holds-barred critique of tenure that even skeptical readers should take seriously. Riley makes a comprehensive case that a reexamination of faculty work roles in U.S. universities is inevitable - and desirable. (Ben Wildavsky, senior fellow, Kauffman Foundation and former editor, US News & World Report College Guides)

The conventional liberal/conservative positions are scrambled and recast in this bold investigation of the effects of tenure on the modern university. Naomi Schaefer Riley admirably lays the groundwork for a national discussion whose time has come. (Ruth Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish and Comparative Literature, Harvard University)

Naomi Schaefer Riley incisively and lucidly hits the nail on the head, showing us why academic tenure is a costly, inefficient, and unnecessary anachronism. This is a must read. (Richard Vedder)

Naomi Schaefer Riley nimbly picks her way through the tangled politics of tenure, arguing convincingly that the issue is heavily implicated in some of the most serious problems afflicting higher education. The Faculty Lounges is a shrewd and well-written book, sure to change the course of the tenure debate. (John Leo, Manhattan Institute)

Filling the critics’ brief is The Faculty Lounges, largely an attack on the US professoriate. Riley, a former Wall Street Journal editor, questions whether modern political scientists should be counted on to improve US government, compared, say, to the authors of the Federalist Papers that promoted the US Constitution. One might answer yes, as politics has changed in two centuries. In her eyes, the answer is a clear no. (Nature)

In a book published last month, "The Faculty Lounges...And other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For," I argue that our system of higher education is focused too much on research and not enough on teaching. In fact, on 2005 study in the Journal of Higher Education suggests an inverse relationship between the amount of time spent in the classroom and a professor's salary. It would seem that professors who spend their time writing are the ones most valued by our universities (The Wall Street Journal 2011-07-20)

What Riley shows is that vocation-oriented teaching, teaching beholden to corporations and politically inflected teaching do not square with the picture of academic labor assumed by the institutions of tenure and academic freedom. She says that, given the direction colleges and universities are going in, faculty members have little claim to the protection of doctrines that were fashioned for an academy that holds itself aloof from real world issues, either political or mercantile. I say, and have been saying for years, that colleges and universities should stop moving in those directions — toward relevance, bottom-line contributions and social justice — and go back to a future in which academic inquiry is its own justification. (The New York Times 2011-06-01)

There is much that is useful in Riley's book, including a discussion of how widespread use of adjuncts enables rather than contradicts the commitment to tenure, the suggestion that tenure is not appropriate in wholly technical fields, and especially the account of how unionization is beckoning on the campus scene. (Claremont Review of Books)

Riley's study is very approachable for the causal reader. (Higher Education Review)

With tuition rising at four times the rate of inflation, colleges and universities have focused on ever more superficial measures of quality—from expertly manicured lawns to organic food offerings in the cafeteria. Riley cuts through the piles of glossy college catalogs and popular rankings such as U.S. News and World Report to bring families the real story behind the higher education industry.

About the Author

Naomi Schaefer Riley was, until recently, the deputy Taste editor of the Wall Street Journal, where she covered higher education for the editorial page. She is the winner of the 2006 American Academy of Religion's Newswriting Contest for Opinion Writing. Ms. Riley graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. She lives in the suburbs of New York with her husband Jason and two children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (June 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566638860
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566638869
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,065,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an odd book. It argues that many of higher education's problems would be solved if we would abolish tenure. At the same time it counters this assertion by acknowledging the points that tenure's defenders would make:

a) The percentage of faculty with tenure has been drastically reduced (with the
growth of contingent faculty), but the quality of American higher education
has not increased as a result;

b) Tenure is a form of compensation; without it salaries would rise;

c) The rise in the cost of higher education is attributable to a host of other factors:
luxury facilities, subsidized athletics, information technology, non-teaching
staff who hold students' hands, and so on;

d) The problems of curricular incoherence or the erosion of core curricula would
be exacerbated without a core of tenured faculty;

e) No schools without tenure have achieved the distinction of those that offer it;

f) Many of the `problems' of higher education are due to the state of the humanities
and social sciences, not the physical and biological sciences;

and so on.

In other words, the author has a richer understanding of the plight of higher education than her thesis would suggest. The result is a book that feels at odds with itself. Some of the points she makes are excellent. For example, she decries the fact (leaning on Stanley Fish here) that institutions attempt to be all things to all people, when they are ultimately incapable of delivering on their promises. Few, in fact, have specific missions (and, she adds, some of the schools that have specific missions do not offer tenure). This is a good point, but the point does not really concern tenure; it concerns mission.
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The Faculty Lounges is a book about a subject that is highly controversial in the academic world. That subject is tenure, and it is one of several benefits that attract individuals to the college profession. Tenure awards certain professors with a guaranteed job for life so long as the professor doesn't engage in some type of act that is strictly forbidden by the educational institution. Tenure is something to which all aspiring professors strive and it ranks as one of the more appealing aspects of a university career.

Most professors, not surprisingly, support the tenure system in general and feel that it is essential to those working in this career. But many find fault with the tenure system and there are many valid concerns voiced by the opposition. Should anyone, in any profession, have a job guaranteed for life? Other professions do not have this advantage, so why should college professors be any different? Does a guaranteed job for life tend to make individuals less motivated? And what about academic freedom? Is tenure necessary to make sure professors can teach the truth without fear of retaliation? These and other questions are handled in the pages of the Faculty Lounges, with author Naomi Schaefer Riley taking a decidedly anti- tenure stance, albeit in a professional and respectful way.

As a part- time professor, I have spent many hours in these faculty lounges so I can certainly relate to the main topic of this book.
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As a third-career academic, I found this book hits the nail on the head regarding problems in higher education in the U.S.

I disagree with other comments that the book is confusing -- even though the author argues against tenure and academic freedom for many in academia, she does not advocate for more of it later -- she just argues that there should be more full-time faculty accountable for their teaching and not just for research. She also argues that the increasingly widespread use of part-timers is hurting our systems --teachers and students alike.

Most academics will not like the book because it shows the warts in the system but offers some common sense solutions to them. However, others will get a lot out of the book. Hopefully, this book will help spark a revolution in our universities.

I particularly enjoyed the third chapter that highlighted three academics for their excellence in teaching.
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The price of a college education has doubled as measured in constant dollars over the last 20 years, according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Has the value of that education increased comparably?

Naomi Schaeffer Riley says "No," and she provides a wealth of information to back up her contention. "Some evidence suggests,"she writes," that the current alignment of interests between buyers and sellers is starting to fall apart. Findings have shown for a long time that it doesn't matter what college a student attends. One study revealed that students who got into Ivy League schools but decided to go to less prestigious colleges did just as well financially as their peers from the Ivy League. ... [P]arents may begin to question seriously the value of higher education."

A recent Money magazine report notes: "After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. ... Normal supply and demand can't begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude." The Washington Examiner reports, "Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already."

The book's author notes that Harvard now has a $5 billion debt, and that Dartmouth has lost its triple-A bond rating. In just one year, the cost for a California resident to attend the University of California jumped by a third in 2010, from $7,788 to $10,302. Although tenured faculty are not responsible for the cost being so high (the author notes other budgetary components that have increased college costs), there are factors related to tenure that have decreased the quality of higher education.
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