The Academic Revolution

By Christopher Jencks; David Riesman | Go to book overview

XI. The Anti-University Colleges

In previous chapters we have argued that the shape of American higher education is largely a response to the assumptions and demands of the academic professions. We have described a variety of different interest groups that had quite divergent ideas about what an educated man ought to know and how a college ought to teach it to him, and we have tried to show how they ended up pursuing increasingly convergent goals by ever more similar means. The primary reason for this convergence, we argued, was the colleges' universal preference for undergraduate faculty trained in the standard disciplines at the leading national graduate schools.

There has been considerable dissidence, however, and some deviation from this highroad. In this chapter we will look briefly at two of the most visible symptoms of such dissidence: the community college movement and the general education movement. We will then comment briefly on some other nodes of resistance to academic claims. The community college movement has found expression in some six hundred publicly controlled two-year commuter colleges. These recruit many of their faculty from the public schools and many others from former teachers colleges, hire relatively few Ph.D.s from major graduate schools, show comparatively little deference to professional academic opinion about how an institution of higher learning should be run, and consequently teach both subjects and students whom most scholars regard as worthless. The general education movement has found expression both in the undergraduate colleges of certain leading universities and in a handful of independent four-year colleges. It has mainly been the work of men with Ph.D.s in traditional disciplines, but these have been dissidents and heretics rather than the reliable stalwarts of the learned societies. Such men have tried to create a viable alternative to the departmentalized, researchoriented model of higher education they encountered in their doctoral studies, usually stressing interdisciplinary teaching with special emphasis on freshmen and sophomores.

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