The Last Professors: The Twilight of the Humanities in the Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities

The Last Professors: The Twilight of the Humanities in the Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities

The Last Professors: The Twilight of the Humanities in the Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities

The Last Professors: The Twilight of the Humanities in the Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities

Synopsis

"What makes the modern university different from any other corporation?" asked Columbia's Andrew Delbanco recently in the New York Times. "There is more and more reason to think: less and less," he answered.In this provocative book, Frank Donoghue shows how this growing corporate culture of higher education threatens its most fundamental values by erasing one of its defining features: the tenured professor.Taking a clear-eyed look at American higher education over the last twenty years, Donoghue outlines a web of forces - social, political, and institutional - dismantling the professoriate. Today, fewer than 30 percent of college and university teachers are tenured or on tenure tracks, and signs pointto a future where professors will disappear. Why? What will universities look like without professors? Who will teach? Why should it matter? The fate of the professor, Donoghue shows, has always been tied to that of the liberal arts - with thehumanities at its core. The rise to prominence of the American university has been defined by the strength of the humanities and by the central role of the autonomous, tenured professor who can beboth scholar and teacher. Yet in today's market-driven, rank - and ratings - obsessed world of higher education, corporate logic prevails: faculties are to be managed for optimal efficiency, productivity, and competitive advantage; casual armies of adjuncts and graduate students now fill the demandfor teachers. Bypassing the distractions of the culture wars and other "crises," Donoghue sheds light on the structural changes in higher education - the rise of community colleges and for-profit universities, the frenzied pursuit of prestige everywhere, the brutally competitive realities facing new Ph.D.s - thatthreaten the survival of professors as we've known them. There are no quick fixes in The Last Professors; rather, Donoghue offers his fellow teachers and scholars an essential field guide to making their way in a world that no longer has room for their dreams.

Excerpt

Universities are timeless. A Carnegie Foundation study forty years ago counted sixty-six institutions that have been in continuous operation since 1530: the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the parliaments of Iceland and the Isle of Man, and sixty-two universities. Professors are a different story. As we know them—autonomous, tenured, afforded the time to research and write as well as teach—professors have only been around for the last eighty years. Yet, as the American university took shape in the twentieth century, the professor became one of its defining features. The Last Professors argues that they are now disappearing from the landscape of higher education. The university is evolving in ways that make their continued presence unnecessary, even undesirable. Over the course of the last century, the American university has risen to prominence both alongside and in opposition to corporate logic and corporate values. Important recent studies such as Derek Bok’s Universities in the Marketplace and David Kirp’s Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line have elaborated on this development. My book focuses squarely on the figure of the professor. I exclude from my study those academics whose work is subsidized by government or corporate funding or is supplemented by extensive consulting contracts. This leaves professors of humanities. I take a dispassionate look at how our jobs have evolved and how they have come to be assessed (and devalued) by corporate standards. I speculate on why those jobs are likely to vanish in the not-too-distant future and on what universities might look like without professors.

I have written a book that I suspect will be unpleasant for professors and Ph.D. students to read, since I have not only pointed out but also foregrounded the market forces and the deeply entrenched institutional practices that will, I believe, eventually overwhelm us. I paint what could be called an unremittingly bleak picture of what the future holds in store for humanities professors, and I offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems that I describe. I think that professors of the humanities have already lost the power to rescue themselves.

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