Book Reviews -- Up the University: Re-Creating Higher Education in America by Robert Solomon and Jon Solomon

Article excerpt

Robert and Jon Solomon. Up the University: Re-creating Higher Education in America. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing company, 1993. 312 pages. $24.95.

Up the University is a set of reflections about a multitude of practices and problems confronting large, state-run universities in the 1990s. Written by a famous (for an academic) philosopher from the University of Texas, Robert Solomon, and his lesser known brother Jon, a classicist from the University of Arizona, the book reads like the outcome of an extensive bull session the pair had during a weekend vacation in the mountains. (Having no library handy, and in the midst of their third glass of wine, they encounter one of those ridiculous memory blockages and call Matthew Arnold, Malcolm Arnold [p. 54].) The book does not really provide a blueprint for "Re-creating Higher Education in America" as the subtitle promises. But we shouldn't be vexed at the book the Solomons didn't write. We should take pleasure that we can overhear this conversation that has the ring of authenticity about it (they claim it is a "report from the front") even though some of the ideas are so little thought out that they seem silly.

The book has three parts devoted to the nature and mission of the University; three parts on students: their character, their exploitation and their possible use in staffing the school; six parts on teaching and the curriculum; three parts on faculty, especially their relations to one another and the institution; and three parts on administration and why we should regard it more casually than we do. Each of the parts is then divided into brief topical sections that range from a few paragraphs to several pages in length.

The most important message of the book is that the mission of the University is to teach. Research is a derivative activity, generated by the natural liveliness of the minds of the faculty and students. Even research aims back at the activity of teaching, not at "improving society," nor at "economic development." The University has been corrupted in part by money. It must recognize that it is not a business corporation in nature or in function and its relationship to the state that supports it is primarily through the benefits it bestows on the individual citizens that pass through its halls. This message is not novel. Indeed, the Solomons acknowledge that many University presidents pay lip service to the primacy of the teaching mission of the University, but they also ruefully note that the existing structure of things gives the lie to such pronouncements. Unfortunately, the authors seem to think that the mere recognition of this situation will provoke the will and invent the techniques to dismantle the current structures in preparation for the University's "re-creation. …