Monday, March 7, 2011

Defending the university.

We're in another of those cycles in which it has become fashionable to attack American universities.  If you need your spirits raised, check out a recent defense of US universities, Our Universities: How Good? How Bad?, Peter Brook's review of a slew of books on this theme.

One quick measure of how much our universities have in fact improved over the decades comes in this.  Brooks cites an account of the extremely backward curriculum of Kings College at the time of this country's founding; this early curriculum centered on the classics (my field).  But the one book he praises among the slew of books bemoaning the 'crisis' facing universities is Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by a classicist, Martha Nussbaum. Thus even the most traditional of university subjects (classics) has changed to remain relevant over the years.  (Though it is fair to note that Nussbaum, as with this book and her new job at the University of Chicago Law school--why are law schools hiring humanities big shots these days, anyway?--has gone on to bigger or at least more prominent things than classics).

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