Continuing with our reading of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable (2015) (publisher; Amazon): this week we’re discussing chapter 11, “Ivory Towers.”
The topic here is academic freedom, or rather the ability of faculty and institutions to create spaces for safe, isolated inquiry. It begins with the foundation of the University of Bologna (1088) and the tragic career of Peter Abelard (d. 1142). DeMillo leaps forward to what I think is the center of this chapter, the famous anti-MOOC letter from a group of San Jose State University philosophy faculty (2013) (4585ff).
Academic freedom isn’t what it was designed to be a century ago, argues DeMillo. While the founding of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1913-1915 celebrated the disengaged scholar pursuing truth for its own sake, WWII and Clark Kerr’s “multiversity” showed academics to be deeply involved with the world, and organized along modern, hierarchical management lines (4657).
It is as if a dividing line had been drawn between traditional universities that were, on the one hand, “… isolated, inwardly focused, and overly concerned with the affairs of their faculty,” and on the other hand, a new generation of universities, filled with socially and economically engaged scholars who climbed down from their ivory towers to work with university technology transfer offices or provide advice to business executives. (4709)
The rest of the chapter shifts ground slightly, opposing tenure and the AAUP to non-tenure-based campus organization through examplhes including Stanley Fish’s career at Duke to various institutions that don’t use tenure. DeMillo sees tenure as increasingly rare, and ultimately does not argue for its extension.
The AAUP comes in for special critique, while hierarchical management comes across as pretty decent.
So as we near the end of Revolution, what themes does this chapter sound? DeMillo returns to his admiration for smart leadership above faculty governance. There’s a hint that he sees tenure as the province of the elite (always Elite, capitalized, in the book).
- Ouch: “Faculty governance is a contradiction – a blend of shared responsibility and entitlement that drenches many academic conversations.” (4848)
- This comes across as a bit cynical: “the AAUP believed it could always arrange for an existential conflict that would test whether the Ivory Tower could withstand assault from outside.” (4650)
Overall, a challenging chapter, calling for university faculty to shed tenure and work with proactive leaders without so much emphasis on faculty governance.
What do you make of it?
Next week, starting January 18th, is chapter 12: “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires.
Would you like to follow along? Simply snag a copy of the book from your library or MIT Press or the local bookshop or Amazon (etc.
), and get reading. I’ll post about each chapter at the start of each week, so you can add comments there. I’ve set up a tag for all posts: demillorevolution. Twitter’s also a fine place to chat (I’m @BryanAlexander). If you’re into Goodreads, let us know so we can catch up (here’s me).