Failing the Future, by Kolodny, Annette
- ISBN: 9780822324706 | 0822324709
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 1/1/2000
|A Personal Preface: Reflections on Five Years in a Dean's Office||1||(32)|
Facing the Future: An Introduction
"The care of the public must oversway all private respects."
-- John Winthrop, "A Modell of Christian Charity," 1630.
This is a book about higher education, written for those who want to be part of its future. Most of my observations and recommendations will apply to public and private research universities, as well as to comprehensive (or nonresearch intensive) universities, because these are the institutions I have come to know best both as a student and as a professional educator. To a lesser degree, this book also reflects the current realities of four-year liberal arts colleges, public and private. But of the approximately 125 research universities in the United States--of which about forty are private and eighty-five are public--my major focus is on the public research university. These institutions are the focus of my concern because they are responsible for training most of the nation's Ph.D.s and other professionals, at the same time remaining accessible to large segments of the undergraduate population, providing superior education at relatively affordable tuition rates. Even so, despite their importance in undergraduate and professional education and their central place in the nation's research agenda, public research universities are now imperiled by budget cuts, by assaults on tenure, and by a general misunderstanding of what they do and how they do it.
That said, whether I am discussing colleges or universities--or even both at once--my remarks are informed by two carefully considered beliefs. To begin with, if we want our educational system to serve us as well in the future as it has in the past--or perhaps serve us even better--then it will require greater, and not reduced, investments of human and financial resources. An additional three million students are expected to enroll in the nation's colleges and universities between 1997 and 2015, a 20 percent increase over current enrollment levels. These students will need more professors, more classrooms, more computers, more foreign language instruction, and better equipped science laboratories if they are to receive a quality education and fulfill the employment needs of the coming century. After all, in the next decade alone, in addition to the existing jobs that already require a college degree, approximately one-third of all new jobs created will require at least that.
Who these students are is also changing. At the moment, more than one-third of students in primary and secondary schools are minorities; and in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia more than half of the students are members of a racial minority. Those numbers continue to grow as the twentieth century's minorities become the twenty-first century's majority. As college and university enrollments increasingly draw upon this changing population, institutions of higher education will have to accommodate the fact that, disproportionately, these students will come from poor families and even poorer school districts. This means added costs in scholarship money and loans, counseling and academic tutoring facilities, and remedial programs for basic subjects like math and English.
But it is not only the investment in improved educational quality and updated facilities for growing numbers of students or even the costs of enrolling talented students with inadequate preparation that will account for the need for increased resources. It is also the fact that institutions of higher education will be called upon to play a variety of unprecedented roles in a transnational information age. The ease with which individuals will be able to access vast quantities of information whenever they want will be matched by a commensurate demand to learn how to analyze that information, recognize recurrent patterns or connections, and extract what is truly important. In effect, the new information technologies will make higher education both more necessary and ongoing, if only because learning to make connections and to reason rigorously across and between the disciplines is a lifelong process requiring sensitive tutelage. The twenty-first century, in other words, will be a century in which people are constantly "going back to school" in one form or another.
The second belief behind these chapters is that accelerating technological innovation will transform all aspects of teaching and learning in ways that cannot yet be predicted. What is certain, however, even from the current successes with self-paced computer learning programs and video transmission to off-campus learning sites, is that there is no substitute for the inspiration, rigor, and focus of direct human contact between a teacher and her students. Emily Weiner, a 1995 graduate of New York's Empire State College--a college that exists in cyberspace, providing instruction online and through e-mail--made that clear when she assessed her own experience in a New York Times editorial. Despite her "excitement about new electronic educational opportunities" and the convenience of "on-line degrees," Weiner nonetheless came to depend on the professor at the other end for emotional and intellectual nurture (Weiner 42). In her view, the success of distance learning arrangements depends on "a person at the other end of the line who is watching to see that students are stretching themselves, choosing appropriate courses, struggling with new ideas, overcoming personal obstacles, getting smarter" (Weiner 42). But even when those ideal circumstances obtain, Weiner complained, "the fuller relationships that develop between students and teachers on a college campus will be missing" (Weiner 42). Clearly, then, the teacher as coach, as guide, and as immediately responsive presence--even beyond the teacher's disciplinary expertise--contributes to the learning process in a way that no computer program and no video, however well designed, can ever replicate.
Of course, the understandable fear of many in the professoriate today is that universities will continue trimming their costs by replacing live teachers with computer programs or with videotapes of lectures that can be replayed semester after semester--what I call "the professor in a can." We learned, however, from the innovations introduced to basic language instruction in the College of Humanities' language learning laboratory at the University of Arizona that even the most sophisticated and creative computer programs proved successful only when combined with the give-and-take of the traditional classroom. Nothing substituted for spontaneous conversation between teachers and students in the targeted language.
The videotaped lecture series by "great professors" currently being marketed to schools and to the general public suffer from another significant liability. Because the knowledge base in any field of study is never static but, rather, dynamic and changing, these videos become obsolete almost as soon as they are canned. Although the lectures may be wonderful as performances, they will never replace professors who impart the very latest discoveries in their fields and make their students partners in the discovery process. Unlike the professor in the classroom or the laboratory, a video won't engage a student in dialogue about cutting-edge research or controversial new concepts.
The challenge facing the professoriate of the next century, therefore, is to become knowledgeable about the new technologies and their possibilities in order to adapt them both for enhanced on-campus instruction and for increased outreach to students not currently on campus. The challenge to our educational institutions is to provide incentives and continuous support to faculty willing to push the technology envelope. The challenge for policy-makers and the general public is to resist the impulse to force colleges and universities into substituting the kind of rote training that technology can cheaply supply for the more expensive education that teaches thinking and analytic skills, values and an understanding of complex relationships, which the learned professor in the classroom can facilitate. An exclusively cost-driven dependence on computers and telecourses may instruct students in a subject; but only the professor with passion and disciplinary expertise can help students understand why a subject is important to think about and how to think about it.
Having identified this as a book about higher education, I must add that it is consequently also a book about social responsibility. Despite all the trendy importations of corporate models into academe (like many others, my own campus embraced "total quality management"), the chapters that follow reject the notion that colleges and universities are merely training vendors, that students are end products or interim consumers, that the professoriate is a quantifiable human resource, or that prospective employers represent higher education's ultimate customers and most important constituency. In an open society, creative production and the making of new knowledge can never be reducible merely to commodities for market exchange. Markets may be excellent devices for increasing profits and personal wealth, but they are notoriously unreliable as protectors of the common good. Yet striving to define and enact the common good, since Plato, has been one of the major goals of advanced education. During my years as dean, when local business and community leaders asked whether universities should be training students to work effectively in an increasingly competitive international economy; or whether we needed to train more socially responsible participants for national and global citizenship; or whether we should concentrate on graduating individuals equipped for success in our own nation's complexly multicultural workplace, my answer was always the same: we need to be doing all three at once; we dare not separate or compartmentalize those missions; and we need to pursue each of them through high-quality curricular innovations.
What I now want to add to that answer is my profound belief that the quality of education reflects the quality of community that supports it. But at the end of the current millennium, any sense of community in this country is in short supply. Vicious corporate downsizing for the sake of short-term profits, a fraying social safety net, and widening inequalities in income distribution have turned the nation sour and cynical. Crime, violence, domestic terrorism, and smoldering racial tensions are regular features of the evening news. And, in a desperate act of scapegoating, too many citizens and politicians seem content to punish the poor as though, amid a myriad of better opportunities, the poor had stubbornly chosen their plight. It is a sad note on which to end the century.
If we have any hope of social harmony, it is a note we dare not carry over into the next century. My narrow focus on education in these pages, therefore, must be understood as grounded in the argument that the best educational system in the world is no substitute for--nor can it survive without--reinvestment in troubled communities, job creation, income redistribution, the reinstitution of a truly progressive tax system for individuals and corporations alike, and far more inclusive political and civic participation than is currently the norm. Unless we develop social programs to mitigate the economic displacements that impoverish entire neighborhoods, disrupt families, produce violence, and stunt young people's growth, educational reform will not stand proof against civil disorder.
Americans will have to get out of the habituated ruts of late-twentieth-century thinking. Social justice is not the enemy of economic growth, but rather its engine. Tax structures that continue to concentrate wealth among the few actually slow an economy's expansion by widening the income gap, depressing consumption, and depriving the dwindling middle and working classes of the opportunity to save and thereby spur investment. In fact, a truly progressive tax system is simultaneously a social good. Moreover, as the post-World War II pattern in East Asia demonstrates, "the most successful ... economies are also the most egalitarian," and there is a direct correlation between equitable "income distribution and a strong economy" (Passell 5).
What this teaches us for the next century is that full employment at decent wages must be valued as a far greater social benefit than the lowest prices for consumers or the highest dividends for stockholders. And because the dignity and stability that well-paid employment brings to an individual translate into civic participation and political enfranchisement (not to mention social order), there need to be significant disincentives in place for employers who, as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman phrases it, massacre their workers (Friedman 15). By any measure, after all, American workers "work longer and harder than workers in other industrialized nations, . . . with less job security" (Meier 82), and they rank among the most productive in the world. The fact that stunning technological advances have allowed machines to replace hands and minds should mean shorter workweeks rather than fewer employees who put in overtime (as do most American workers today); and it should mean that those same hands and minds are now available to be educated to perform the tasks that technology, as yet, cannot.
A twenty-first century education can certainly make such transitions possible. But only if politicians and the general public first squarely face the consequences of current policies that protect profits before people.
I contemplate the profession that I am passing on to my graduate students with trepidation. Beyond the immediate question of whether there will be employment for these talented newcomers in a cost-cutting and downsizing academy is the larger question of how they will make a place for themselves within institutions that are already, in their view, obsolete. Often far more sophisticated than their teachers about the possibilities of technology for teaching and learning, they share with undergraduates the sense that the new technologies have the capacity to transform learning into play. Even more important, the students to whom I currently teach American literature and American studies see the university as a barrier rather than a bridge to the barrio, the reservation, and the `hood. And they are determined to utilize the new technologies and to use their knowledge as a means of breaking down the barriers.
Perhaps as a consequence, today's Ph.D. candidates ask disturbing questions about how our society has organized itself, and they seem deeply committed to applying their studies to help solve problems like global poverty and environmental degradation. Because their intellectual ambitions have so wide a reach, these students chafe at disciplinary boundaries, pursuing dissertation topics that require professorial oversight committees made up of humanists, social scientists, and scientists in combinations that were unimaginable when I was going through my own Ph.D. training just thirty years ago. In terms of the way we have segmented disciplines and compartmentalized knowledge fields, these students are telling us, the organization of the American university in the late twentieth century cannot survive into the twenty-first century.
This is just one of many cues that major changes are upon us. As Donald Kennedy, the former president of Stanford University, wryly phrased it, "Another century's end, another revolution for higher education" (Kennedy 8). Kennedy's wearied humor notwithstanding, most colleges and universities are now expending considerable resources on strategic planning, the latest talisman for ensuring institutional survival into the next century. The trouble is that on most campuses strategic planning has been skewed into a search for strategies to deal with current fiscal problems while its potential to embolden creative thinking about the long-term future has been severely curtailed. As a result, the most important conversations about higher education in the twenty-first century have yet to begin in earnest. We have not generated paradigms for true interdisciplinarity; we have not planned for education's role in a society where the forty-hour week and a single career path have ceased to be the defining activities of adulthood; and we have not prepared for the internationalization of higher education.
Temperamentally suspicious of those who claim to offer blueprints, I take nonetheless seriously the fact that nearly everyone--whatever their motives or political views--seems to agree that the future demands significant changes in the ways educational institutions fulfill their multiple missions. Mindful as I am that the future is always unpredictable and that even the best-laid plans will be beset by unintended consequences, I offer the following key topics as potential entry points into the next phase of the conversation:
1. Interdisciplinarity. The world that today's college and university graduates will enter is a world in which the once recognizable political alignments of the Cold War have been replaced by ethnic rivalries and unstable realignments around religion and nationalism; a world in which the economic competition between a communist east and a capitalist west has been superseded by transnational conglomerates that threaten once cherished notions of sovereignty and national autonomy; a world in which resource development can also mean cascading species extinction and global environmental disaster; and a world in which the shrinking availability of potable water, clean air, and uncontaminated soil daily widens the gap between "haves" and "have nots." Trained in specific majors or programs--history, economics, environmental studies--with few formal connections across the disciplines, today's graduates can barely describe that world. Nor do they fully grasp the fact that a world interconnected by commerce and its by products (pollution, resource depletion, political alliances, and information) will require international perspectives for identifying problems and sensitive local understandings for solving those problems.
In order to face the complexly interwoven challenges that confront us--from racial and ethnic hatreds to quickening destruction of biological habitats--the students we educate in the twenty-first century must be taught to comprehend systems, patterns, and interconnections. For example, they must be readily able to grasp that the fact of male sperm counts worldwide having fallen by 50 percent since 1938 and the fact that in some areas human breast milk contains more toxic substances than is permissible in commercial cow's milk are not random or unrelated phenomena. But this kind of comprehensive pattern-seeking analysis is precisely what our current fragmentation of knowledge into disciplines and departments works against. David W. Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, describes the situation perfectly: ". . . we have organized both curriculum and research by fragments called disciplines, sub-disciplines, and departments, each of which deals only with small pieces of the total picture. This is fine until we need to understand patterns and whole systems, which is the business of no single discipline, department, or specialized field. As a result, larger trends and patterns tend to be ignored within a discipline-centric context." One of Orr's proposed solutions, predictably, is "to create a genuinely interdisciplinary curriculum" (Orr 44, 46).
Traditionally, higher education in the United States has claimed to value creativity, initiative, and independence of thought in students, even if curricula and classroom practices have more often stressed mastery of core subjects and the performance of specific skills. But if we take seriously our professed traditional values, then--instead of alienating students from the adventure of large and searching questions--the curricula of the next century can evolve into permutations that are flexible, supportive of collaborative learning and research, genuinely interdisciplinary, and inventive of new disciplines when needed. Organizational structures on campus--the old departments and programs--will similarly evolve into collaborative and flexible units. Having thus moved away from departmentally controlled emphases on segmented bodies of knowledge, higher education in the twenty-first century can instead concentrate on teaching students how to continue learning long after graduation and how to assess what they need to know in order to tackle any problem, however complex.
2. Education in and for a leisured society. The crude fact of the matter is that our increasingly sophisticated technological advances displace more blue, pink, and white collar jobs than they create, and the jobs that remain are mostly low-skilled, low-pay, and part time. Such a prospect is ominous, of course, with the growing numbers of the underemployed and the unemployed experiencing themselves as both economically and politically disenfranchised. As I suggested earlier, these newly marginalized citizens withdraw from political and social engagements--ceasing to vote or to volunteer for the local little league--and some inevitably turn to crime, violence, and various forms of sabotage.
But if we develop the kinds of policies that I recommended in the first section of this chapter, we can get past the brutal economic dislocations of the current moment. With policies that encourage a more equitable distribution of wealth, full employment with substantial reductions in paid working hours, flexible work schedules, job-sharing, guaranteed income safety nets, and universal health care, the United States can transform itself into a stable, post-labor-intensive society. In other words, the nation will enjoy full employment because full-time work at livable wages will no longer be predicated on a forty-hour work week but, over time, on fewer and fewer work-week hours. And, because of continued technological advances, an individual worker's productivity will still remain high. In that case, there exists the breathtaking possibility that continuing self-education will become one of the major pleasures of those who manage their own time and who have ample discretionary time to manage. Those individuals in the next century will be able to turn to higher education not only as a means toward some vocational or professional end but, also, as an avocation, as a means toward lifelong personal growth.
How the university will reconfigure itself as a resource for this new constituency of learners and what kinds of educational services will be required are questions we have yet to pose. But we might begin by considering higher education's growing responsiveness to today's able, healthy, and energetic retirees. The challenge is not just to keep them occupied. The challenge, instead, is to provide rigorous and stimulating programs that contribute to both the betterment of society and the continuing development of the individual.
3. The internationalization of higher education. Progress toward a politically and economically unified Europe, together with rapid advances in the technologies for interactive distance learning, point inevitably toward an eventual internationalization of the entire educational enterprise and most especially toward the internationalization of higher education. As Europe moves toward a common currency, it is also exploring ways to standardize university training so that students can transfer course credits and program hours across national borders, from one school to another. In terms of higher education and professional preparation, European nations seek the kind of exchange and reciprocity that now obtains between most accredited U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities. Increasingly, that North American reciprocity has been extended to include institutions in Mexico and South America. African and Asian countries may be slower to take up these initiatives, but finally they too will want to participate in an integrated and reciprocal system of internationalized higher education.
The benefits are obvious. Despite national boundaries, students will move freely from one institution to another, depending on their research needs and interests. With easy international cross-institutional collaborations, individual schools will rely on far-flung partners to provide courses, degree programs, and faculty expertise in subject areas complementary to their own. And they can engage in multidisciplinary research ventures beyond the capacity of one campus or one country by itself. Faculty and students in the next century will thus enjoy a far richer, because more diverse, intellectual community.
Driving the process is the growing affordability of interactive learning, teaching, and research technologies. By utilizing satellite transmission, it is already feasible for a master healer in Beijing to observe and receive instruction in western surgical techniques while simultaneously advising the surgical team on postoperative herbal preparations for a patient at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. In the not too distant future, faculty and students excavating an archeological site in Greece will go online with specialists from all over the world, collaboratively analyzing their discoveries even as they make them; and, at the same time, they can connect to classrooms across the world as instructors. As today's professoriate trains its successors, therefore, we will need to encourage enhanced foreign language skills, formalized instruction in responsiveness to and respect for diverse cultural cues and customs, and a playful exploration of technological possibilities. Above all, however, while retaining those cultural and intellectual traditions that make them unique, individual institutions will also have to reconceive themselves as vital participants in an integrated global enterprise.
Ideally, the kinds of changes that I am envisioning here would lead to the following: outdated notions of lone researchers and isolated communities of scholars will be transformed into the reality of international communities of socially engaged learners, locating themselves not only as members of a global human family but, equally important, as responsible partners in a healthy and sustainable habitat.
This book offers no blueprint for achieving these ends but, instead, chapters on a variety of subjects related to these ends. The chapters contain personal observations from my years in an academic dean's office, anecdotes supplied by colleagues and students, hard data, and practical strategies for dealing with at least some aspects of the immediate transition from one century to another--but all in terms of the future directions that I have here projected. My purpose is to suggest ways of surviving the presently bumpy road in such a manner as to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the complicated issues of tenure and academic freedom in the modern university. Chapter 2 identifies the call to abolish tenure as one facet of the organized right wing's resistance to the changing racial and gender make-up of the faculty. Chapter 3 reviews how we went about rethinking standards and procedures for promotion and tenure in the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona, and it offers a practical approach to maintaining high standards for tenure while simultaneously ensuring a level playing field for the increasing numbers of women and minorities now entering the professoriate. In its examination of the harassment to which women and feminist scholars are still subjected, Chapter 4 reinforces the argument for a level playing field and, as well, advances practical measures for curtailing threats to the academic freedom of feminist teachers and scholars. This chapter also acknowledges the unique vulnerability of women and minority faculty, because until quite recently they were unable to participate in constituting and conceptualizing what academic freedom might entail. Chapter 5 examines the changing nature of the American family and offers a variety of campus-based family-friendly policy initiatives, including revised benefits packages, innovative approaches for funding both child care and elder care, and the use of distance learning technologies for those whose family responsibilities keep them from campus. Chapter 6 asks how we can most effectively teach the many different communities of learners now entering higher education; by recognizing cognitive diversity--in addition to cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity--we can teach to a student's individual intellectual strengths while helping him develop additional learning capacities. Chapter 7 surveys how during my years as dean we succeeded in beginning to set a twenty-first-century agenda for ourselves in the College of Humanities. Although much still remained to be done, the college nonetheless managed to tackle everything from curricular renewal and affirmative action hiring to expanding our international focus and changing the culture of decision-making, all within the relatively brief span of five years. The bulk of chapter 7, however, looks beyond my own experiences as dean and concentrates on future issues as wide-ranging as new forms of academic leadership and the positive potential of unionization. In the closing chapter, chapter 8, I turn to the intimate partnership between higher education and the public primary and secondary schools. The picture I draw there is a bleak one because the nation appears to be abandoning its children, allowing too many K-12 public schools to deteriorate and ignoring the need for accessible child care and preschool. It is a suicidal course, I insist. And, as in previous chapters, I put forward a program of urgent responses to urgent problems.
I would have liked the final chapter of this book to end on a more optimistic note, but present circumstances do not allow it. Instead of facing up to the challenges and possibilities of the coming millennium, we are already failing to meet the needs of future generations. The nation appears paralyzed by the very real economic anxieties of the moment and wholly forgetful of why we once so enthusiastically invested in our educational institutions. Not only did public education in primary and secondary school and beyond contribute significantly to the gross national product, enhance the income as well as the quality of life for the vast majority of citizens, and help socialize--or "Americanize"--one wave of immigrants after another, but it also came to be associated with the more abstract ideals of personal growth and societal transformation. In Popular Education and Its Discontents, Lawrence A. Cremin expands on John Dewey and reminds us that "the aim of education is not merely to make parents, or citizens, or workers, or indeed to surpass the Russians or the Japanese, but ultimately to make human beings ... who will participate actively with their fellow human beings in the building of a good society" (Cremin 125). What chapter 8 demonstrates, sadly, is that we seem to have lost any shared sense of what a "good society" might look like.
Public discussions of higher education at the end of the 1990s have come to be dominated by two propositions. The first proposition asserts that the rising costs of college and university tuition must point to inflated faculty salaries and to wastefulness and poor management on the part of higher education administrators. The second proposition asserts that traditional core subjects, especially in the humanities, have been displaced by radical new curricula that undermine students' regard for the accomplishments of Western civilization and that call into question all standards and values. Although both propositions are gross distortions, it is not difficult to understand why the press and the general public have accepted them so easily. The financial argument has been fueled by the fact that "tuition at private colleges has increased by 90 percent since 1980, and at public institutions by 100 percent. Over the same period," by contrast, "the median family income has grown by only 5 percent" (Burd et. al. AII). The result has been what the General Accounting Office in 1996 called an "affordability gap" in most parents' ability to pay for their children's college education (Guernsey A59).
The curricular argument gained credence from the fact that, as in the sciences, the last thirty years have seen an explosion of research and new knowledge in the humanities disciplines. This new knowledge and some of the advanced methodologies of research and interpretation--again, as in the sciences--challenge long-established ways of thinking. And while most Americans have come to accept--even expect--periodic revolutions in scientific paradigms, few people have paid enough attention to history textbooks or American literature anthologies to notice that they, too, have changed over time. Certainly very few people were prepared for the acceleration of these changes in the last three decades. As a result, whether the demonized catchword was feminism, multiculturalism, postmodernism, deconstruction, or political correctness, those writing with the support of wealthy right-wing think tanks were able to persuade their readers that all standards of valuation were being displaced by a shoddy relativism, disabling students from distinguishing between bad literature, good literature, and truly great literature. And they told parents that, by introducing texts attentive to the seamier side of the nation's past--slavery, the genocide of native peoples, discrimination against women--humanities professors were unduly politicizing the classroom.
In a variety of different ways, the chapters that follow attempt to unravel these distortions and get at the truth beneath. As I suggest in chapter 2, the rising costs of higher education derive not from waste or poor management, and certainly not from inflated faculty salaries, but from the many demands we have placed on higher education and the consequences of recent diminished public funding. Let us remember that ever since the end of World War II--when federal investments in higher education began to increase substantially--ultraconservative and right-wing fringe elements in the Republican party tried to stem every aspect of the expanding federal government, including its role in education. But programs like the GI Bill and, after the Russians successfully launched Sputnik in 1957, the National Defense Education Act (which provided scholarship and loan money to those qualified for college entrance) were enormously popular. Because education was generally understood to be a social good and federal support a prudent investment in the nation's future, attacks on federal education spending went nowhere.
But by the end of the 1970s, emboldened by economic recession, those who had once been fringe elements in the Republican party took center stage by attacking high taxes and the allegedly wasteful spending habits of everyone who supposedly fed at the public dole, including politicians, government bureaucrats, and school administrators. The upshot was the property tax revolts of the late 1970s (California's Proposition 13 among the earliest) and the election victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Supported by this increasingly vocal element in the Republican party, President Reagan enacted large cuts in income tax rates in 1981, favoring the wealthy by lowering the top brackets from 70 percent to 28 percent in seven years. At the same time, he lowered corporate taxes and later poured enormous sums into military spending, particularly the ill-conceived Star Wars missile defense system. The deficit soared, and most federal programs--including those pertaining to education--were soon starved of funds.
From the vantage point of parents trying to send their kids to college, however, little of this mattered--if it was even understood. The fact that colleges and universities were forced to raise tuition in order to compensate for the loss of federal and state support simply meant higher bills and larger debt for families whose incomes were barely keeping pace with inflation. And when radical right-wing elements began to attack what was supposedly being taught to undergraduates, the public's anxieties about college costs attached themselves to new anxieties about the value and quality of higher education. In a manner carefully manipulated toward that end, the public's confidence in higher education was compromised.
In point of fact, humanities courses have become more rigorous, and the curricular changes are hardly as radical as critics imply. As an example, like most such activities across the country, curricular renewal in the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona, to which I draw attention in chapter 7, has been relatively slow and deliberate. To begin with, traditional authors and texts remain. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and their heirs are still staples of the English department curriculum, and the writers of Spain's Golden Age still figure prominently in courses offered by the Spanish and Portuguese department. Indeed, as several surveys conducted by the Modern Language Association have demonstrated, the frequency with which established "major authors" are taught in required undergraduate literature courses has remained remarkably stable over the past twenty years.
What has changed is that some professors are teaching these authors within far denser historical and literary contexts. Thus, surveys of seventeenth-century English literature now examine the influence of Lady Mary Wroth's prose proto-novel Urania (1621) and expand the canon that had previously been characterized as exclusively male. Henry James is taught in dynamic relationship to the popular female novelists of his era, whom he publicly scorned, but from whom--we now know--he derived many of his plots and characters. Thanks to the wealth of recent scholarship, American literature courses today incorporate significant narrative traditions from Native American peoples and three hundred years of texts by African Americans. And American literature and English renaissance specialists alike can point to the ways in which Europe's anxious encounters with the so-called New World and its peoples found expression in Shakespeare's The Tempest as well as John Milton's Paradise Lost.
What students learn from all this is that literature is not some unapproachable storehouse of universal beauty and timeless verity. Instead, students encounter literature as human expression deeply embedded in and responsive to the contingencies of its particular circumstances and historical moment. Milton's retelling of the Adam and Eve story was given new urgency by the claim that yet another unspoiled paradise had been discovered in the Americas. Henry James was not above but, rather, part of the popular literary culture of his day. Similarly, students' encounter with the oldest preserved songs and stories, as well as contemporary writings, by Native Americans teaches them that the narrative traditions of native peoples derive from a host of different cultures, in each of which narrative serves different and unique cultural functions (admonitory tales for children or scenarios for religious celebrations, to give only two examples). And in grappling with story structures and symbolic patterns that are unfamiliar to them, students from non-Indian backgrounds come to understand that these cultural forms were constructed according to aesthetic norms quite different from those of the European novel or the nineteenth-century short story.
By introducing this kind of material into the literature classroom, we are neither trashing Western civilization nor robbing our students of the capacity to make value judgments. To the contrary, we are expanding our students' repertoire of reading and interpretive strategies, teaching them to comprehend and appreciate the aesthetic rules and cultural practices governing the Zuni story of emergence as well as those governing the composition of a Shakespeare play. As a result, they become readers of a greater variety of texts. And, as our students are quick to declare to anyone who will listen, they now possess far more complicated tools for arriving at the value judgments that they inevitably make and remake.
Finally, the right wing's portrait of some former apolitical golden age in which humanities instruction was untouched by the burdens of history and detached from the concerns of the present moment is delusory. Such a creature never existed. The ever-changing contents of course syllabi and textbooks make clear how complicated are the decisions, at any given moment, about what to teach and how. Given the ethnic diversity of the students who take my courses here at the University of Arizona, for example, were I to teach American frontier literature without the riveting stories and powerful writing to be found in Native American, Chicano/a, African American, and Asian American texts--limiting the readings to James Fenimore Cooper, Bret Harte, Owen Wister, Willa Cather, etc.--that would be a decidedly political gesture. The old, unproblematic story of a frontier that began at Plymouth Rock and progressed steadily westward to the Pacific is not only historically inaccurate; it is also a highly politically invested set of choices about where we recognize aesthetic value, who is to be valorized, and what shall be remembered. What makes the right wing nervous about today's newly revised curriculum is precisely its expansion of the frame of memory.
Having thus briefly responded to some of the right wing's distorted assertions about higher education, I should warn readers that this book is not constructed as a dialogue with the right. A variety of thoughtful scholars have already engaged that dialogue, Stanley Fish and Lawrence W. Levine prominent among them. I do not need to repeat their arguments here. That said, because it deals with the radical right's assault on tenure, chapter 2 does counter right-wing views; and, because it attends to conservative attacks on feminist scholarship, so too does chapter 4, at least in part. My aim, however, has been to avoid tailoring my pages to the constraints of a right-wing discourse that is already antiquated and, instead, to focus readers' attention on the demands of the coming century.
When all is said and done, I hope this book encourages women and others from previously underrepresented groups in academia to take on administrative challenges, at least for some period in their careers. I say that even though--despite many accomplishments during my years as dean--my own experience has taught me the agonizing difficulty of acting ethically in ambiguous situations and amid profoundly divided claims on one's time, attention, and budgetary resources. The problem is compounded by the fact that, at most institutions of higher education, academic administration remains structurally male, constructed around a public role and a public sphere that subordinate or even elide the personal and the private. But the personal and the private intrude themselves nonetheless. For someone with progressive and feminist ideals, it is extremely difficult to take on a leadership role in such a context.
Still, I do not want readers to come away discouraged. If we adopt the family-friendly policies that I recommend in chapter 5, then private responsibilities need no longer conflict repeatedly with public commitments. The shape and design of campus life can acknowledge that--for students as for staff, faculty, and administrators--public and private intimately intertwine, each giving strength and support to the other. And if we change the culture of decision-making, as I recommend both in my personal preface and in chapter 7, then deans and vice presidents need no longer be confronted, at every turn, with ambiguous policy decisions and conflicting demands.
But all of this assumes that we need new models of leadership for the coming century and new models of shared governance. We need to reinvent consensus decision-making so that its inherent limitations--the tendency to suppress dissent and to level all contradictions--can be minimized. And we need to understand that the kind of leadership that can effect truly collaborative decision-making--involving faculty, staff, administrators, and governing boards--requires skills in which few academics have yet been trained. Certainly, I was not.
If we pursue this last goal, then I predict that successful administrative leaders in the next century will finally mobilize legislators and governing boards, as well as those on campus, to face, rather than avoid, deeply ingrained philosophical conflicts and long-standing institutional contradictions. This does not mean that we will thereby do away with conflicts and contradictions. It means, rather, that we will better understand their origins and motivations, thus helping us to resolve them where we can; and, in place of destroying our colleges and universities with factionalisms left over from the present century, we will learn to live with those conflicts and contradictions when resolution seems impossible at the moment. In that happy event, the campus of the twenty-first century might come to model one small facet of a "good society."
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