Books for the News

“Wannabe U” Builds Prestige

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Universities, with their verdant quads and hallowed halls of learning, are celebrated as bastions of ideas and academic freedoms. But more and more often, universities are being operated not as secular temples of education but as corporate business. Gaye Tuchman’s exposé of the modern university, Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University, is already wilting the ivy on college walls. Yesterday, Scott Jaschik published a long review of the book on Inside Higher Ed. He writes:

The examples in the book portray an administration much more concerned with making the university look outstanding than actually becoming outstanding. And measures that Tuchman writes are of dubious value (U.S. News & World Report rankings, for example) appear to count much more than the vibrancy of intellectual life or the student learning experience.… Beneath discussions of everything from how academic programs are selected to how faculty members are evaluated, Wannabe is described as a place focused on the bottom line. Administrators talk over and over again (and the book covers periods before the collapse of the economy in the last year) about revenue streams, bringing money into the university, efficiency, etc. “Business-like concerns” dominate the life of the mind, Tuchman writes.

Jaschik notes the reaction of James C. Garland, the retired president of Miami University, in Ohio, who “gave it a mixed review in two posts on his blog. He praises the perspective Tuchman provides as one who is not a decision maker on campus.… [But] he challenges Tuchman on attitudes that he believes are common among professors, and that he thinks unfairly characterize as ‘corporate’ some policies that may well help students and promote research.” Garland, a fellow University of Chicago Press author, also has a book out this fall on the state of education. His Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities challenges a change-resistant culture in academia that places too low a premium on efficiency and productivity.
Washington Monthly also joined in the discussion, forecasting Tuchman’s ethnography to be “the next higher education book to make a big splash.” And Tuchman will appear today on the Colin McEnroe Show on Connecticut Public Radio. With the buzz starting to build, Wannabe U is sure to be one of the more thought-provoking books of the season.