The Christian College Phenomenon: Inside America's Fastest Growing Institutions of Higher Learning
Abilene Christian University Press, 2011
368 pp., $24.99
The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Ivan R. Dee, 2011
216 pp., $22.95
The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters
Oxford University Press, 2011
264 pp., $29.95
Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities
Richard A. DeMillo
The MIT Press, 2011
344 pp., $29.95
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
The "best of times and the worst of times" characterizes the contrast between many private and public institutions of higher learning. This divide was accented recently when Andy Crouch informed me that the summary of Baylor's conference on educating for wisdom was "refreshingly hopeful," especially "after reading Anthony Grafton's NYRB article on the state of university education."
The books in Grafton's omnibus address the ills of public education. The story at mainly private universities targeting wisdom is markedly different. Compare Grafton's appraisal of public higher education with the perspective offered by a recently published collection of essays, The Christian College Phenomenon. The latter's subtitle speaks volumes, "Inside America's Fastest Growing Institutions of Higher Learning."
Institutional growth among the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) for most of the 1990s was 36.9 percent while publics grew by only 3 percent. The most recent data (2006) finds the other privates outpacing publics by 15 percent in increased enrollment—and these Christian universities outpacing the publics by over 67 percent! The students' (and their parents') commitment to pay the higher tuitions only accents the preference for the religious classroom, real or virtual. During a recent engagement at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr., informed me it will likely become the nation's largest university, projected to reach 80,000 students due to its online programs. He wasn't boasting, but shared it when I asked, and noted the awesome responsibilities ahead.
In the conclusion of The Christian College Phenomenon, George Marsden, one of book's thirty authors, notes that the CCCU institutions have actually guaranteed their differences from the publics through faculty hiring and other gatekeeping practices. By making the hiring litmus test more general ("basic evangelical doctrinal commitments and evidence of personal faith in Jesus Christ"), and by adding the component of the willingness "to integrate faith and learning in the area of one's discipline," Marsden asserts that "CCCU schools have built in a sense of difference into the very fabric of the academic enterprise." Of the 4,300 CCCU respondents to the survey underpinning Phenomenon, 68.9 percent consider themselves at least "somewhat conservative," while only 20.8 percent consider themselves "somewhat liberal," percentages that seem to mirror conservative evangelicalism. At least by this marker, the hiring practices are working. While the desirability of private universities is not surprising, especially if a college aligns with one's religious beliefs, the various charges being levied against the publics are a bit more baffling. Some charges are perplexing because publishers are marketing them as new information, when they've been obvious shortcomings for decades. Others are remarkable because they are passionate charges coming from unlikely voices within the publics. And a third category includes those articulate charges from journalists—usually candid and controversial—reminiscent of Alfie Kohn's prophetic warnings in Punished by Rewards (1993).
Against the backdrop of Phenomenon's positive review of Christian higher education, let's consider a book in each of the above three categories, beginning with one from noted journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley. And yes, The Faculty Lounges, her newest book, is getting negative press from many academics—many consider it an unfounded rant. Once again, the subtitle shouts her thesis with two thumbs down to much of higher education: "And Other Reasons You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For." I'm reminded here again of Kohn.
Critics hammered Kohn, mainly because they were from inside the academy and he was not. Who was he to criticize K-12 education (and higher education departments that credentialed its teachers)? He presented a straightforward warning that the inflated use of egalitarian awards would lead to disaster. Where were his datasets—i.e., approved by educators? His regression studies? How dare he suggest that some students were failures? Well, as journalists often do, they report what they see among the key indicators. In essence, without approved datasets he was challenging the behaviorists—but with a healthy dose of common sense. Perhaps we'll find that today's rampant "extended adolescence," documented by Kay Hymowitz at the Manhattan Institute, is somehow linked to Kohn's concerns for this generation, not Hymowitz's controversial notion of eminent male characteristics.
The Faculty Lounges is Riley's predictably controversial diatribe. She's an outsider, which shows in the details—such as citing Eugene Rice as a current officer in the defunct American Association for Higher Education. But her main points are weighty all the same. Many faculty and administrators at religious institutions (including me) came to appreciate her through God on the Quad—a positive assessment of private religious education. Her winsome prose and outside view positioned her as an objective reporter, and her discovery or first interaction with religious institutions makes the book all the more believable. She also is a respected journalist through her regular contributions to many leading media outlets, including a key role in the Houses of Worship column in the Wall Street Journal's Friday edition. So, you ask, why is she in trouble on this one? In this book she's picking on tenure, so it appears that the qualifications to assess have changed.