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Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses
Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses
Richard Arum
University Of Chicago Press, 2011
272 pp., $25.00

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Jerry Pattengale


The Next Big Test

Is a new assessment agenda adrift?

Dr. Edwin Yamauchi knows 26 languages!" The host of the massive retirement party at Miami University continued, "We counted. We actually went through his piles of publications and counted." While working as Yamauchi's graduate assistant, I observed as he learned Russian for researching the Scythians (for his Foes from the Northern Frontier). He switched from first-year to third-year level courses over Christmas break and earned A's in both.

As Yamauchi's doctoral students, we had a rare firsthand view of his indefatigable nature—and of his similar expectations of us. Try studying Sahidic Coptic, Classical Greek, and German simultaneously. Add two seminar classes with dozens of required books. Next add grading duties. The workload beneath Yamauchi was so stringent that "social life" became oxymoronish. Near my breaking point, I asked Professor Jack Temple Kirby how I could possibly continue. While swirling his Zinfandel, he said with his southern charm, "Jerry, you'll learn to read a book a night whether you can or cannot."

I spent a decade doing coursework that year.

Just as Cyrus Gordon pushed Yamauchi, and Yamauchi us, countless others do the same. No easy rides under James Hoffmeier, Walt Kaiser, David Lyle Jeffrey, George Marsden, Helen Astin, Arthur Holmes, and the like. Yet Academically Adrift, a well-researched indictment of higher education, claims that colleges lack rigor and students aren't learning. Their professors lack high expectations. Students are lazy or preoccupied socially. There seem to be too few Yamauchis and Miami learning cultures.

You don't have to count the bricks in a razed building to prove it has fallen. But if you wanted to, you'd likely want the research acumen of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa and the backing of the Social Science Research Council. Arum and Roksa commit 40 percent of Academically Adrift to their "Methodological Appendix," citations, and sources (pp. 145-248). But before you humanities professors turn your examination ...

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