Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Compared to What?

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Compared to What?

Article excerpt

A cynic, it's said, is a disappointed romantic, so I suppose I qualify as a cynic about the American university. From the show trials of political correctness to the mundane rites of academic guildsman-ship, it's been one heartbreak after another. It has long seemed to me that the American university is the General Motors of the knowledge economy, a comfortable oligopoly ripe for ruin.

But it's always necessary to ask the simple question, Compared to what? And despite the university's many imperfections, our cover articles on the global race for knowledge leave American higher education looking pretty good in relative terms--vigorous, diverse, adaptable, and productive.

Much of today's anxiety about the university concerns America's ability to produce enough engineers, scientists, and other specialists to supply the knowledge economy. Closer scrutiny makes those worries seem exaggerated, though not completely unfounded. It ought to concern us just as much that we are producing too many mere specialists--too many narrowly (or under-) educated graduates who are unprepared to think as expansively as true "knowledge workers" must or to participate fully in democratic life, and too many academics who are unwilling to venture beyond the confines of the academy to the larger world of the public square. …

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