All posts by Jonathan Imber

Jonathan B. Imber is Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College.

Recording What Goes on in Class

A freshman in a sociology class at the University of Wisconsin (Whitewater) recorded “a guest lecturer denouncing many Republicans as racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, and dishonest.” To his surprise, he–rather than the Republican-bashing lecturer–became the issue. Since the 1970s, the university has required permission to record and distribute classroom discussion, and now seems bent on reaffirming that policy. The student said: “People should have been upset that he came into the classroom and said that. but instead they were upset that I recorded it and made it public.”

But snippets of speech from close-door meetings are routine these days, and one wonders about double standards. Would the student have been in trouble for recording an equally baleful, generic attack on Democrats? How many questioned the surreptitious recording of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” outburst?

Instead, the sociology class described by the Chronicle appears to have had ambitions that have been called “political” on the mild side to “indoctrinating” on the not-so-mild side. What a video exposé accomplishes is a moment when those not in the classroom can determine where the line might be drawn between the mild and less mild. Calling someone a racist is hardly the same as examining the social realities of racism.

The modern university classroom is no longer a sanctuary of thoughtful engagement with ideas and the pursuit of the truth. The problem with a good deal of sociology taught to undergraduates today is not its touching upon controversial and morally complex matters, it is how those matters are reduced to simplistic, often stupid, assertions about right and wrong. Textbooks and introductory courses in sociology are filled more and more with judgments rather than analyses, that is, it seems perfectly consistent to invite Republican-bashers into such a classroom without asking students to analyze those judgments. That is not what sociology is for.

Will MOOCS Wear Out Their Welcome?

What is valuable, one-of-a-kind and can’t be copied while retaining its original worth?  The high-end art market. It contains thousands of works of art whose value is determined by what any individual or group is willing to pay.  As the prices for such works of art escalate, something almost magical happens: the value pushes most of the works by particular artists beyond the market itself, rendering them, in effect, priceless, thus apparently entombed forever in museums and circulated no longer in the marketplace but among safe and secure institutions of display. 

Now consider by analogy the modern university and its relationship to the public.  What is a professor?  Joseph Epstein once quipped that “a professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”  What better definition of professor could there be for the coming era of the MOOC celebrity?  Pajamas media adds the classroom to its list of new venues in which one can go to school, not exactly homeschooling, but the new approximation of no-guilt hooky.  Imagine a world in which “going to school” is transformed into “having school”.  “I am having school at the moment (I could put it on hold, but I don’t want to lose my concentration), can I call you back?”

The “instructor” for those having school provides inspired lectures with many new bells and whistles (literally) that have been developed by the best psychological engineers of our time, just the right cadence and tone to stimulate even those who prefer to have school horizontally, or while eating and drinking.  The new professor no longer teaches in a concerted way, rather the concert, as it were, is pre-recorded, available on demand, and can be endlessly played back.  This new figure of teaching authority has nothing to learn from students through real-time interaction.  The teacher’s identity is two-dimensional, not simply distant, but fictional in the same way that characters in a novel are “real” in our imagination.  There is something to commend in this respect.  Every act of creation invites some notice.  The life of the novel and the life of the two-dimensional teacher are to one another as Guttenberg and the printing press are to Edison and the phonograph.  That the genius of one is about to replace the genius of the other as the mainstream of creative notice is being lamented by humanists nearly across the board.  But the real problem is not the disappearing of one and the hegemony of the other.

The real problem is that eventually the new creations (MOOCS) will wear out their welcome.   We see little public enthusiasm or handwringing about the possibilities of MOOCs for kindergarten or even up the chain to high school.  After all, those kids already watch and experience the world too much in two-dimensions.  This seems exclusively a deal to wring out greater efficiencies in the costs of higher education, as one ostensible rationale.  That the private institutions are taking the lead is even more interesting.  With their substantial endowments, their flirtations with technology have become full-fledged romances with guiding their teaching corps toward greater and greater performance conformity.  What memory remains of the wholly idiosyncratic curmudgeon whose classroom was a floating board of coherence in a sea of incoherence is distant and evermore foreign to the experience of learning in the most elite institutions.  Such earlier figures are gradually recalled more as monsters (e.g., sexists in particular) than as great teachers.  The transition is more than a matter of diversity.  We are already selecting out personalities that offend the abiding conformity that MOOCs promise to deliver.

The implications of changes in where the leadership in higher education is taking us are not only about the unintended consequences of elite infatuations with technology.  The long arc of influence that began with multiculturalism and its reduction of identity and identification to simplistic and over-determined demographic categories of race, class, and gender has finally begun to bear fruit in the guise of globalization.  Someday, I predict, Yale University will be primarily based in China and New Haven will be but a burnt-out remnant of a city whose crown jewel will have survived in three dimensions elsewhere.  The vast majority of human beings want to know where they stand in the status hierarchies that will never be leveled by such two-dimensional tricks as MOOCs or by a romance with transnationalism that imagines by bringing American institutions to their knees, such institutions will not arise precisely in the places regarded so much now as havens of opportunity.

Amherst’s Rejection of MOOCs

Last week Amherst College rejected an offer from online education company edX to develop MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) featuring its faculty. Though we do not know the full details of Amherst’s deliberations, it is clear that its faculty recognized several important implications of this new technology.

Some faculty members expressed concern that middle-tier and lower-tier colleges might lose tuition as a result of online education. If elite institutions can recruit their “star” faculty to teach with this software, these middle- and lower-schools might reason that these faculty can provide a superior instruction at a distance than their own teachers can in the flesh. In turn, such institutions could in the longer term rely less and less on faculty altogether.

Amherst’s rejection of MOOCs, moreover, represents an interesting convergence of liberal/progressive and conservative sentiments. The anti-MOOC coalition on the left is against corporatization, that is, non-governmental centralization created by the search for greater efficiencies in the marketplace. On the right, the objections are simply about the sacrifice of what makes many liberal arts colleges “special”, that is, their faculty commitment to time-on-task work with students. Long ago, the elite universities were much more like the liberal arts colleges, but this changed dramatically in the past half century or more with the influx of large amounts of financial support from the government and foundations. Robert Nisbet’s The Degradation of the Academic Dogma in the early 1970s anticipated much of what has been wrought in the meantime.

Finally, it is true that some of our colleagues in the special precinct of higher education have attained something of the quality of being celebrities. Those who would be MOOC stars are a new breed of celebrity, as they are safely tenured and increasing their earning potential while teaching before the camera. But the camera is a spotlight that creates one kind of way of knowing and being known. Having such knowledge only by way of video assures less and less emphasis on the personal transmission of knowledge across the generations. It may prove to be the dumbest dumbing down ever created by our dominant technocrats.

Let’s Abolish Student Evaluations

From the National Association of Scholars’ 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education 


Many colleges and universities today use student evaluation questionnaires to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The origin of this seemingly benign tool has much to do with its abuse as a weapon of conformity. The student protesters of the 1960s demanded greater “participation” in the life of the university. Administrators saw an opportunity at appeasement that also translated into a mechanism for oversight, which in the long growth of university administration means the production of ever more information about everyone and everything. Students could be part of the process of “democratically” supporting or opposing such decisions as tenure and promotion.

The result has been granting permission to students to offer anonymously any kind of opinion they want to express, however inane or cruel. Of course, teachers ought to be able to take it, but consider how profoundly the reversal of fortune now is: it was once expected that students ought to be able to “take it,” that is, to respond to tough standards, to hard lessons, to failure, to anything that might contribute to the building of character. Now, the students must be treated carefully, and the teacher has been put into the dock. To improve teaching, abolish student evaluations of teachers.


Jonathan Imber is the Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and the Editor-in-Chief of Society      

Three Cheers for Ira Stoll

On “Future of Capitalism,” Ira Stoll has excoriated two anonymous Harvard Kennedy School professors for their allegedly candid assessments of Paula Broadwell, who is at the center of one of those recurring sex and government scandals. Stoll’s account takes the anonymous professors to task for violating a trust, he insists, that is supposed to be implicit in the student-teacher relationship. He calls these professors hypocritical for condemning in Broadwell what they and others routinely do to promote themselves to the larger public. What Stoll does not observe is that by remaining anonymous, they do the sociological dirty work of institutional distancing, which can only be accomplished by holding the individual responsible for everything, despite the institution’s relentless efforts to take credit for anything that the individual did that positively accrued to the institution.

As simple as this may sound or appear, another layer beneath the surface of institutional embarrassment is also operating, and in full force. President Obama decided to define the consequences of adultery as a family matter, which it certainly is. The press has mostly focused on these consequences as a matter of concern for national security. Neither perspective captures the full force of the consequences of what is at stake in the kind of trust abrogated in what is still mostly recognized as adultery. Within the family, or more precisely, within a marriage, any manner of arrangements pertaining to judgments about sex may exist by consent, and this is why the President could conveniently avoid being “judgmental” except to infer without any concrete knowledge that pain had been caused in this “private” matter. Let’s assume that is true: why would inquiring minds want to know about the pain? On the other hand, the issue of national security is obviously about an entirely different scale of trust, but also about how when one is at the top, one is the institution, not simply its representative. General Petraeus’s position was the merging of individual and institution, what sociologists used to call “role models,” a term that had invested in it a moral meaning about obligations, responsibilities and integrity. All these terms have been effaced in the intense lights that shine on “roles” these days.

What does any of this have to do with higher education? Ira Stoll was incredulous about professors hiding behind their anonymity to trash a former student. But the real sin is the silence about what now is quaintly referred to as sex out of wedlock. To be opposed to sex out of wedlock means coming to terms with what also used to be called “premarital sex” and is now reduced to “hooking up”. The new so-called freedoms are heralded every day, even as real life and its personal and professional disasters play out for a public uncertain about what to make of its own incomprehension of what, if anything, is wrong with this picture.


Jonathan B. Imber is Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and Editor-in-Chief of Society.

Misunderstanding Intellectual Diversity


critics of higher education complain about a lack of “intellectual diversity,”
mostly what they deplore is the shortage of conservative professors. But there
is much more at stake than that.

climate change:  As I write this, parts
of the nation have endured sweltering heat, serious drought, and treacherous
storms, at one point leaving millions of people without electricity for
days.  The invocation of “climate change”
as the “cause” of more violent and extreme weather, worse forest fires and
flooding, indeed, of a host of calamities, has been used to assign culpability
to the whole human race, mimicking what irritates defenders of evolution about
the claimants of creation science, that debunking evolutionary theory is an
underhanded way of insinuating religious belief and its claims about the fallen
state of humanity.

turns out the wholesale secular embrace of science insinuates its own range of
pious beliefs.  Climate theory pretends
both to the throne of reason and to public policies dictated as if they were
royal decrees.  To question a royal
decree in this case is construed as treason again reason.  But how did reason come to rely more on a
consensus of belief than skepticism about such grand causal claims?  Unlike creation science, the advocates of
social engineering who believe that science is equivalent to policy intimidate
all doubters.  The absence of intellectual
diversity is detrimental to public policy debate, not to mention how the
stranglehold of environmentalism in colleges and universities also steers any
debate toward predetermined conclusions. 
Here the challenge becomes disentangling the science of climate change
from the policies that should follow from that science.

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Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

David McCullough and Fareed Zakaria.jpgThe Boston Globe recently reported that the journalist Fareed Zakaria delivered very similar if not identical addresses this commencement season at Harvard and at Duke. Zakaria was perfectly within his rights to imitate himself on the podiums of higher learning. He did nothing wrong. The article reporting his “sin” was intended, however opaquely, to rap him across the knuckles for lack of consideration that even if his speech was not unique for each occasion, his audience was. And there is the rub. In his defense, Zakaria noted that “These are students from two very similar institutions graduating within two weeks of each other. I don’t see how I could have come up with two completely different speeches without giving one group a second-rate talk. I’d rather come up with the same important message I think they need to hear.”

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Affirmative Action, the Bishops and Women’s Colleges

Affirmative Action, the Bishops and Women's Colleges.jpgHere’s something to think about when debating the position of the Catholic bishops on religious liberty and contraception: all-women colleges are allowed under Federal law to discriminate against men in admissions, at least on the undergraduate level. Because they are private, these colleges are free under the law to design their mission (the education of women) and their undergraduate admissions system (no men) their own way.

Until the 1970s, Wellesley College, where I teach, had several graduate programs in the sciences (and in other fields before that).Then federal law dictated that graduate programs in both private and public institutions could not discriminate on the basis of sex. Rather than admit men into those formal degree programs, Wellesley dropped its graduate program. This may be a special case, but it suggests one of the most precious freedoms in a democratic and pluralistic society, namely, the right of private educational institutions to preserve a space for their own design about how to educate their central mission.

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The Journalistic Encounter with Academia

One of the finest virtues of, in addition to its willingness to permit me to speak my mind on many matters, is its mix of insiders and outsiders who comment about this crazy quilt called academia. The word itself is interesting – Merriam-Webster online reports its first use in 1946, which leaves over two thousand years for the now less-used academe with the quaint reminder in the OED: “The best academe, a mother’s knee.” Indeed, the best academe has been a subject of intense debate for as long as something like it has existed, though, I reckon that mothers know best that sometimes you have to step back and take a deep breath.

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When Adolescent Culture Goes to College

Paterno protests.jpg

College students have been protesting lately in many different settings, from Occupy Wall Street to classroom walkouts, to the riots at Penn State.  Each incident recommends its own separate analysis and explanation, but it is important to recognize what they share in common as well.  Philip C. Altbach and Patti Peterson reminded us that student protest is as old as the Republic, though it received national attention and serious analysis only in the 1960s: “In 1823, half the Harvard senior class was expelled shortly before graduation for participating in disruptive activity, and students were involved in anti-conscription campaigns during the Civil War. Student activism before 1960, however, had no major impact on national policy, and prior to 1900, no organized student activist groups emerged.  Yet there is a tradition of student involvement in politics in the United States, and many of the concerns of the activists of the sixties are reflected in the past.”  (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1971.)

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Who Wants to Be Evaluated by Students?

Student Evaluations.jpgMany in the academy, whether on the left or right, will agree that in the late 1960s, a fundamental change took place in the balance between student demands and faculty authority.  At about the same moment when many schools began eliminating comprehensive examinations to assess the competence of students in their major subjects, these same schools introduced what has become known as teaching evaluations. These evaluations have become the staple of administrations everywhere.  They are used to decide tenure and promotion decisions, and in some cases they are mandatory (e.g., a student cannot know her final grade for a course until she fills out an evaluation, provided conveniently online).  Such enforced democratic participation is pursued with the kind of determination once attributed to the enforcement practices of grade-school teachers.

It seems nearly impossible to imagine that once-upon-a-time, such institutions as Columbia University struggled over whether to promote to tenure someone whose politics were considered “radical”. The origins of the American Association of University Professors, founded in 1915, devoted itself for forty years to the protection of dissent and academic freedom. Students played no more than a whispering role in such disputes.

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Religion on Campus, Then and Now

                           By Jonathan B. Imberreligion.bmp

Until 1969, on the campus where I teach, all students were required to take two semester s of Bible, which made the Department of Religion a central force in the life of the institution.  When I arrived twelve years later, with no Bible requirement any longer in place, the only remnant of a mutually reinforcing dynamic of religion and religiosity was the continuing office of the college chaplain.  In fact, my first committee assignment was to the Chaplaincy Policy Committee.  The chaplain sought the faculty’s counsel about how to integrate the role of the chaplaincy into the life of the College.  Alas, in my early years, the Chaplaincy Policy Committee was eliminated, representing more than a lack of purpose.  The truth was that the office of chaplain needed to be reinvented.

The Long Escape

Before describing that reinvention, let me look back at one of the grand traditions of American Protestantism, which, after all, was the central force in the creation of most of the small, liberal arts colleges across America.  In New England, until well into the nineteenth century, a large number of the men who attended these private colleges went on to become ministers.  The public universities were already well ahead in providing opportunities for other occupations, but it was not until the end of the nineteenth century, with the founding of such universities as Johns Hopkins, that the shape and mission of most elite schools took on their modern and quite similar character. 

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A Minor Cut at Harvard Is an Amputation at UNLV

In 2008, when all the writing was on the wall but the wall was still believed to be surmountable, the various strategies to rescue the nation were largely about putting more money into the economy.  Now, up against the wall, the strategy is about taking it out.  That counter-movement has begun to reveal a few things that strike us all as very unpleasant, regardless of which political side we may take.  Because public and private universities are beholden to very different kinds of constituencies, it is particularly painful to watch, for example, as Harvard recovers from its losses with cuts that are more akin to losing a little weight than losing a limb, while at the same time such public universities as the University of Las Vegas at Nevada struggle with whether to retain some departments in the liberal arts, including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and women’s studies.

It is easy to see how a triumphal politics on the left or the right can weigh in on all this.  In Harvard’s case, it has been more publicly embarrassing than fiscally consequential that some of its more ambitious programs have had to be scaled back or delayed, including a large development project in the sciences in nearby Allston.   But Lawrence Summers, who has returned to Harvard after his stint in the Obama administration, is now feted in the pages of The Boston Globe as a popular and inspiring teacher. This follows his earlier departure as President of Harvard for making remarks confirming that no university administrator should ever risk high position for the sake of personal integrity and candor.

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What Else Do Professors Do? They Teach.

Teaching periodically reaches the public’s attention, as in a recent statement by a group of scientists about the failure of research universities to train their students to be good teachers. The New York Times ran a report on a study published in Science that led its lead researcher to contend: “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.” This undoubtedly prompts teachers to feel more pressed to teach “to the brain.” Is learning finally “all about retrieving”? And the veiled acknowledgment that students might fare better by being tested more regularly, a staple of language learning, for example, can now be imagined as one more panacea for our cultural ADD. I do not think Professor Karpicke and his associates are off-base, I think they are tinkerers at the base of a vast cultural inheritance of teaching and learning that deserves its own acknowledgment.
When my graduate advisor, Philip Rieff wrote Fellow Teachers, which began as a lecture/conversation he conducted at Skidmore College in the early 1970s, few were prepared to read about the vocation of teaching—not about how to teach. The latter has become the ball and chain wrapped around the ankles of so many teachers. No reputable institution of higher education today is without a teaching and learning center. (Curiously at my own institution, it is called the Learning and Teaching Center, suggesting that many carts (i.e. students) are entitled to go before the horse in keeping with a consumer-driven logic that drives up the cost of everything.) Fellow Teachers marked an important point of departure in the culture wars that spread throughout many institutions, first in the American university. It had been preceded a year or so by Robert Nisbet’s equally important The Degradation of the Academic Dogma. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind upped the ante considerably, by then, already fifteen years later, but also by then, the arguments had assumed a life of their own far beyond the university as they do today.
I do not mean to disparage the craft of teaching. The Socratic Method, for example, is intended to engage students effectively in a public setting, insisting that they learn how to think on their feet. A film illustration of this made Orson Welles’s early collaborator, John Houseman, the cultural icon of teaching as Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. The film celebrated the autocratic, distant figure in authority who could drill and humiliate while teaching the law. The film’s final scene marked, however inadvertently, the end of that kind of figure. Kingsfield’s best student folds his final grade report into a paper airplane and sends it into the sea without opening it. For him the encounter with such an inspiring teacher counted more than the final grade. What more needs to be said today about how much has changed?

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On Teaching Conservatism

hanks.bmpOne consistent challenge in teaching is remembering how little students really know and how much they think they know. This is not a putdown of students. On the contrary, it is a celebration of optimism in the best sense of the word, the same optimism that was supposed to have inspired Winston Churchill to observe: “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” Apparently Churchill may have never said this, the original formulation about youth and optimism, and age and realism, being attributed to one of Alexis de Tocqueville’s mentors, the historian and political intellectual, Francois Guizot (1787-1874) who concluded that “Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.” French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), is said to have restated Guizot’s aphorism: “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.”
I cannot verify any of these aphorisms attributed to these important figures, but in one way it does not matter because all three speak to a common wisdom about youth and maturity with which most are familiar both in theory and in practice. One of the first lessons of conservatism is to observe how so much of what is familiar to us is not learned in school but rather in growing up in the worlds we live in day to day. Teaching students about the great intellectual tradition of conservatism in a liberal arts college in the northeast has been a personal and pedagogic mission for me for the past decade. If you ask me whether I am “a conservative” or whether I am “conservative” I will insist on at least an hour to explain myself. I ask students whether or not it matters that I profess a conviction about being conservative or being a conservative in order to understand conservatism. By professing to be conservative, does it mean that you automatically assume to know my opinions on everything from abortion to welfare policy, if I even have such opinions? Does it mean my teaching of the subject must inevitably be “biased,” a term that has been wielded by both left and right against each other?
Or does it mean that I have a fiduciary responsibility, as a teacher, to present as best I can what those who profess to be conservative understand by that idea? Does it mean that you may learn something less about me than through me about what conservatism professes and how conservatives think? The first day of class I explain that I am a registered Republican (which remains an astonishing confession to more than a few of my colleagues), and I emphasize that my political opinions have been deeply informed by what I read. I tell the students that they have arrived in my classroom not to be turned into conservatives but to understand the relationship between their already developing convictions and what they read. If those convictions are “conservative” or “liberal” my aim is to strengthen both. Whether or not I believe conservatism is superior to liberalism or liberalism to conservatism, the second lesson to remember in my classroom is that disagreement is a good thing, especially when it is founded on principles and facts, neither of which points us always in the same direction in any sure way.

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The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology


I hesitate to criticize sociology or sociologists. After all I am now at nearly a lifetime in the discipline, which I have taught for more than thirty years. But I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that throughout that time I have been a dissident in the field, a role, protected by tenure, which has challenged a complacency that some–mistakenly–now put at the doorstep of tenure. The problem for sociology was never complacency, but rather irrelevance, a misguided regard for political conviction rarely overcome by facts.

Consider divorce in America: it has taken sociologists forty years to conclude that divorce, in a strictly statistical sense, is not good for children. Many sociologists of my generation were at the forefront of arguing for more liberal divorce laws in the 1960s, and they devoted their careers to studying carefully the consequences of the social changes wrought. The news was not surprising, really. Kids adapt, no question about that, but adaptation is not the only lesson or goal in life. Divorced families are financially poorer; the children of divorced families do more poorly in school, and they suffer more from depression; and the list of collateral damages goes on.

The liberal sentiments of the 1960s did what J.S. Mill’s critic, James Fitzjames Stephen, said Mill did in his time: “Strenuously preach and rigorously practice the doctrine that our neighbor’s private character is nothing to us, and the number of unfavorable judgments formed, and therefore the number of inconveniences inflicted by them, can be reduced as much as we please, and the province of liberty can be enlarged in a corresponding ratio. Does any reasonable man wish for this?” Sociologists, once responsible for understanding the nature of moral and social life, grew silent in their regard for moral judgment, except as political judgment. Sociology as a field and through its professional association simply became a mouthpiece for progressive politics, sounding evermore peculiar to all but the most elite Americans still enmeshed in the daily problems and struggles of moral and social existence.

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Degrading The Academic Vocation

By Jonathan B. Imber
It is now nearly forty years since the sociologist Robert A. Nisbet published The Degradation of the Academic Dogma, followed two years later by Philip Rieff’s Fellow Teachers. Then in the late 1980s, Allan Bloom’s best-selling bombshell, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students took pride of place in the sublime critiques of the university. Taken together, these three books stood against a tide that could not be contained, leaving in its wake an even more emboldened organization determined to survive regardless of what it might discard as no longer relevant to its mission.
Nisbet’s principal concern was about the emergence of what Clark Kerr called the “multiversity.” He objected to the separation of research from teaching, and of teaching from research and anticipated that research might become so specialized that its teaching would crowd out the kinds of courses (and research) that could reach (and benefit) a larger number of students. He also recognized that for all the noses turned up at the professional schools (e.g., law and medicine), they succeeded for a time to bring teachers and students closely together: “Rare indeed during the two decades following the war was the law school that took to itself the kind of institute or project, the batteries of technicians and assistants, that one found in rising intensity coming out of allegedly liberal arts departments. To the present moment I dare say one is far more likely to come upon individual teaching (complete with reading of student examinations and frequent hours of consultation) and individual research in, say, the Harvard Law School than in the Harvard departments of sociology, English, and biology – much less physics and chemistry.”
The transformative seeds were already planted in post-war enthusiasms for an academic culture in which gaining grants would eventually be matched by how many “public intellectuals” a school can boast. New opportunities to escape the timeless responsibilities of teaching abound. A controversy has ensued over what is being called the “outsourcing” of grading, taken out of the hands of the instructor (and/or teaching assistants) and given to companies who employ graders in Singapore, India and Malaysia. Along with accounts of the growth of adjunct faculty hired to teach a lot for very little, students and their families, it is argued, are hardly getting their money’s worth. Editorialists at the Harvard Crimson complained that outsourcing evaluation “brings up concerns about the quality of contact that students are receiving in large classes.” Outsourcing is the wrong description for giving over this particular responsibility of teaching to anyone other than the teacher. After all, teaching assistants have been overseeing grading in large lecture courses in universities for many decades. But this oversight was in principle part of learning to teach by learning to evaluate. Of course, it is easy to view such a principle cynically and to acknowledge that graduate students seeking to unionize have been given over to another kind of class struggle that marks the end of teaching as it once was embraced and practiced.

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