Edited by David W. Breneman and Paul J. Yakoboski
Chapter 14: Cold Comforts: Questioning the Habits of Higher Education
14. Cold comforts: questioning the habits of higher education Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Any two people who look back with a long perspective on American academia and then attempt to look forward as far as possible will tell you they see the same things though their perspectives or perhaps their interpretations will vary subtly. Ask a hundred people, the answers will be the same. Few people familiar with the workings of the Academy have anything new to say about the flaws in the machinery despite a great deal of novelty in course offerings, living arrangements, and student culture. This is not to say that the problems are obscure or that academics lack imagination: given the artfulness of their publications and grant proposals, their vision and creativity are beyond argument. But when academics – instructors and administrators alike – are confronted with the structural problems of university operations and governance and then asked what to do about them, they can see few if any new solutions, and what new things they may see are not lovable. Our universities trace their roots to medieval Bologna and Paris, but the contemporary academic resistance to change is not, as Frederic Maitland put it, “aimless medievalism.” The medieval remains are matters of superficial culture and ritual – the architecture of a few old and rich institutions, the robes and silly hats we wear at graduations, the Latin diplomas some of us still hand out, and a few administrative titles. If no longer a product of the middle ages, our...
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