BOSTON — 'I DIDN'T intend this book as a guide to colleges," says author Martin Anderson in an interview promoting his new book, "Impostors in the Temple."
"But parents are buying it to use as a guide to colleges in a very different way," he's found. By learning how universities work, they're finding out what questions to ask.
Most college guides include an incredible amount of information, but they don't answer what Mr. Anderson considers to be the critical questions. For example: Is teaching done by professors or graduate students? Are the best professors teaching undergraduate courses or only spending time on graduate students? Who grades the exams? Who counsels students?
"If parents have an idea of how the university works, then they can make up their own set of questions for administrators," the author argues. "But you've got to know how the place works."
For the most part, people have "assumed that the university is terrific, Anderson says. I don't think many people have paid any attention to it."
Although he delivers a sharp indictment of the American university, Anderson emphasizes that not all academics deserve criticism. On many faculties, 90 to 95 percent of the professors are teaching and conscientiously doing what they're paid to do, he says. "But if you go to some of the more prestigious research institutions, the list of conscientious teachers who really care about the students and teach a good course drops into the 20 percent category."
Despite the laundry list of "intellectual corruptions" he airs in this book, Anderson says he's confident that positive change is possible on university campuses. "I don't think this is an impossible dream here," he says.
Take, for example, the problem of widespread graduate-student teaching. "The trustees have the absolute power to change that in one meeting," says Anderson. "All they have to do is pass a resolution saying, `We have been thinking: It would not be a good idea to use any students for teaching. The faculty shall resume their teaching capacities, etc., etc.' And it's done."
Anderson acknowledges, however, that trustees are currently "loathe to use that power." Seventy-five to 80 percent of the people on governing boards are businessmen or other nonacademics, and they don't feel comfortable getting into the academic business of the university.
But, Anderson says, "I don't think it's going to happen until the trustees understand that they are going to pay a price if they don't make changes."