Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education
“Cracks in the Ivory Tower is a sometimes harsh, but honest indictment of the current state of higher education in the U.S. It should be required reading for everyone interested in involvement in and improvement of this educational system.”
Those who live and work in academia are usually well aware of the problems of that world, but the general public is quite often not so involved. Cracks in the Ivory Tower serves as an eye-opening description of the realities of academic life. This book pulls no punches in its description of the problems besetting higher education. The authors are not “outsiders” with some agenda; they are fully involved in the academic world and provide a valuable insider’s perspective.
Jason Brennan is the Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is the author of 10 books, including When All Else Fails and In Defense of Openness.
Phillip W. Magness is a Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He is the author of two books and over a dozen scholarly articles on a diverse array of topics, including the economics of slavery, the history of international trade, federal tax policy, economic inequality, and the economic dimensions of higher education.
Brennan and Magness delineate four areas that are problematic. They feel most marketing of a university is dishonest, staffing and budgets for administrators are excessive and often not needed, faculty are not really interested or committed to teaching, and students are lazy and dishonest.
With their grounding in business, it is not surprising that Brennan and Magness often take a cost/benefit approach to their analysis of campus problems. The cost of expensive facilities that only benefit a small number of students is compared to the number of students who could benefit from the financial aid that would arise from this expenditure. Often the facility is built mainly to make the university look good, not because there is actual enhancement of learning.
High on the list of faculty issues are two topics: adjunct faculty and tenure. At many institutions, adjunct faculty carry a large share of the total teaching load. These faculty are not tenured, have no job security from one semester to the next, and are paid much less that full-time faculty.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty are more interested in doing research, since publication brings tenure, prestige, and grants. As a result, the students often are not taught by a prominent faculty member, but by an adjunct or graduate student. Teaching is generally not valued or rewarded; the prize goes to those who publish and bring in grants.
In no area of the campus is personnel inflation more obvious than in the administration. Today we see provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant associate deans for (fill in the blank). The authors offer the opinion that the major function of administrators is to attend meetings where little or nothing is accomplished. Perhaps a harsh assessment, but often very true.
Students are singled out for being lazy and for cheating. In addition, they usually come out of the higher education system with little or no useful skills. They have great difficulty in constructing a logical, coherent argument and cannot communicate using proper grammar and spelling. We know that the prefrontal cortex (responsible for higher-level functions that include decision-making and problem solving) may not be fully developed until the mid-twenties. As a result, they are very easily influenced by faculty who have their own agendas.
The authors are not alone in their assessment of the problems in higher education. A number of blogs routinely point out the poor decisions made by administrators, the laws violated (especially with regard to hiring and due process), the irrelevant courses offered by faculty and their advocacy of issues (generally left or far-left in nature), and the lack of genuine education on the part of students, coupled with their inability to do any critical thinking about issues. Publications such as “Accuracy in Academia,” “The College Fix,” and “Quillette” provide regular documentation of the ills associated with university life.
The book has an extensive set of notes and a bibliography that documents the issues covered.
Cracks in the Ivory Tower is a sometimes harsh, but honest indictment of the current state of higher education in the U.S. It should be required reading for everyone interested in involvement in and improvement of this educational system.