Academia on the Whipping Post
THE conservative attack on academia has been coming fast and furious for some time now.
"Impostors in the Temple" adds to the barrage of complaints against what Martin Anderson calls the "corrupt priests" of elite institutions of higher education.
Other authors have already probed the "political correctness" problem, the financial scandals, and incidents of sexual harassment on campuses. Anderson goes the next step by pointing the finger to assess blame for all this. But, more importantly, he offers hard-hitting solutions to the ills he outlines.
Anderson, a former economic adviser to Presidents Nixon and Reagan, is a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He was a professor at Columbia University's business school in New York from 1962 to 1968.
The title of this engaging, readable book refers to arrogant academic intellectuals who Anderson judges have betrayed their profession.
"They are the great pretenders of academe," he writes. "They pretend to teach, they pretend to do original, important work. They do neither. They are impostors in the temple. And from these impostors most of the educational ills of America flow. Only when we understand these renegade intellectual priests and take action against them can America's full intellectual integrity and power be restored."
He acknowledges that this indictment applies to only a portion of the academic community while also incriminating all those who remain silent in the face of improprieties.
Anderson focuses his outrage on the issues that most directly affect the basic missions of universities: teaching and research.
"In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of today's academic intellectuals, the priorities are topsy-turvy," he writes. "Professors get prestigious positions, promotions, and salary increases primarily on the work they do as researchers and administrators, not as teachers."
In addition, he argues, much of this research is "trivial and irrelevant." Yet most academics are far too arrogant to admit it.
Anderson has set out to expose what he views as egregious violations of the public trust in academia. He rails against the common practice of using graduate students to teach undergraduates at major research universities.
"The amount of teaching done by students is now so large and pervasive as to threaten the validity of a university education," he writes.
Throughout the book, his arguments are carefully supported with thorough research. Anderson doesn't hesitate to cite statistics and name names.
The first five chapters catalog the failings of American higher education in detail. After this tediously detailed onslaught, Anderson's final chapter is a welcome relief. Titled "Culprits and Solutions," the chapter lays blame and proposes changes.
The suggested solutions are bold and include such radical ideas as eliminating tenure, prohibiting teaching by students, and deemphasizing "original" research in awarding doctorates.
Anderson even takes on the problem of student athletes who don't measure up to academic standards. Arguing that students who receive degrees without meeting academic standards are violating the integrity of universities, Anderson proposes a solution that goes beyond the unpopular idea of banishing college sports.
Instead, he suggests, we should simply be honest about the role of student athletes and make special accommodations for those who don't want to meet the regular academic standards.
"What if we just said that a student athlete is a student athlete, that he doesn't have to pass the same academic hurdles as regular students," writes Anderson. "If he wants to spend four years at a college or university just to play ball - well, fine. At the end of the four years he will have earned what we might call an `affiliate degree,' a degree certifying that he was there, played ball, and took a course or two." Such proposals show that Anderson puts a premium on institutional integrity, not tradi tion.
When it comes to placing blame, Anderson looks to the top of the academic pyramid - beyond institutional presidents to the governing boards.
"We usually call them trustees, some we call regents or overseers," he writes. "They are the ones who are responsible for the death of integrity in the world of higher education."
Not only does the author place responsibility for the corruption of higher education with the governing boards, he also uses the book's appendix to raise the profile of these "invisible men and women of American higher education." Readers can find the names and occupations of 299 anonymous power brokers - every member of the governing boards for 10 elite institutions.
These are prestigious positions held by successful business executives, authors, judges, and public officials. Many of their names are well-known but have never before been associated with the problems of higher education.
One question hovers after reading Anderson's diatribe: Will those at the top of American universities take an interest in this stinging attack against the institutions they lead? Or will there be another "ho-hum reaction," as Anderson characterizes it?