Somewhat like the character Bill Murray plays in the film Groundhog Day, college administrators rarely achieve real reform in resolving the crises in higher education because they keep on doing the same thing over and over again.
“In class, many students are ready to talk, but they want to talk about themselves or about large-scale public themes, independent of the books they are supposedly reading,” Robert Newman, Dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Utah notes in a U-Utah publication from last year. “They are happy to denounce imperialism and colonialism rather than read Heart of Darkness, Kim, and A Passage to India in which imperialism and colonialism are held up to complex judgment.”
“They are voluble in giving you their opinions on race and its injustices, but tongue-tied when it is a question of submitting to the languages of The Sound of Fury, Things Fall Apart, and A Bend in the River.” Unfortunately, Conrad, Kipling, E. M. Forster and even V. S. Naipul are not much in evidence in the University’s catalogue.
Instead, the University boasts of an Environmental Humanities Graduate Program, a Gender Studies Program, a Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy and a Peace and Conflict Studies Program.
“Eighty-four percent of professors surveyed last year felt their students were unprepared academically,” Newman observes. “Only six percent thought students were well prepared in writing and only four percent in basic math skills.”
President Bush’s Secretary of Education makes similar complaints. As you might guess, Newman suggests different remedies.
“Now, if I were the Secretary of Education, I would decree that every 25 years administrative structures and boundaries in our universities should be eliminated and faculty members be presented with descriptors of disciplines and their interest in those areas rated to develop self-defined profiles and cluster analyses,” Newman shares. “Surely this would recreate different groups.”
“Indeed, we might get one department with 1,000 faculty or 1,000 departments with one faculty member each, but clearly the methodologies associated with someone in art conservation, for example, rest now more truly in chemistry than in art history.” Newman’s Utopia sounds like something that already arrived on most campuses decades ago.
Apparently, he hasn’t noticed. “Now, despite their reputation to the contrary, universities are essentially conservative institutions,” he avers.
His evidence: “If you look at national rankings, the list of the top universities in the country essentially is identical to the same list 50 years ago.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia .