Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Mission of the University: Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Mission of the University: Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class

Article excerpt

UNMAKING THE PUBLIC UNIVERSITY: THE FORTY-YEAR ASSAULT ON THE MIDDLE CLASS

By Christopher Newfield

Published by Harvard University Press, $29.95

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Christopher Newfield's Unmaking the public University traces the development of the American university since the 1970s, aiming to show that "the university's missions have been curtailed by the culture wars. A more equitable and effective future awaits us when these wars are done."

Newfield, a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explains early in his book that after World War II, as government programs rebuilt society, the United States experienced a new sense that prosperity might be in the reach of everyone. Universities were to be places "where blue- and white-collar ... citizens of every racial background were being invited into a unified majority." He uses the term "middle class" as shorthand here for "college-educated," indicating that this middle class seemed set to "inherit the earth."

However, Newfield says, the conservative elites who controlled society were worried about how this emerging middle class might turn out. Would it be a "friend of business," interested in preserving the status quo? Or would it go in a more radical direction, questioning the status quo, as the postwar student protesters seemed to be doing with their call for race and gender equality?

So, says Newfield, these conservatives waged culture wars to keep the university from accomplishing its diverse purpose. …

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