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Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of  the American University
Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University
Donald Alexander Downs
Cornell University Press, 1999
384 pp., $46.50

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The Calling of Education: "The Academic Ethic" and Other Essays on Higher Education
The Calling of Education: "The Academic Ethic" and Other Essays on Higher Education
Edward Shils
University of Chicago Press, 1997
308 pp., $33.00

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Order of Learning: Essays on the Contemporary University
Order of Learning: Essays on the Contemporary University
Edward Shils
Routledge, 1997
396 pp., $100.00

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Literature
Literature
Carl Woodring
Columbia University Press, 1999
224 pp., $55.00

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Rethinking the Future of the University (Mentor Series)
Rethinking the Future of the University (Mentor Series)

University of Ottawa Press, 1998
180 pp., $26.00

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Edward E. Ericson, Jr.


The University Under the Microscope

There's hope for higher ed.

When freedom of speech is considered a patriarchal tool of oppression, when truth appears only within quotations marks, when Christian groups must accept non-Christian candidates for election to leadership posts, when academic freedom means trying out sex toys in workshops, and when tuition buys credit hours for watching surgically inflated actresses in filmed copulation, this is not your father's university. It is, instead, the university bequeathed by the turbulent Sixties and shaped (or misshaped) by insurgents then embarking on their promised long march through the institutions. Today only pensioners remember what the landscape looked like in the "good old days." Aging enthusiasts of the revolution continue to champion their youth in today's classrooms, and in the 2004 presidential campaign they re-fought the Vietnam War. For the last couple of decades—starting, some say, with Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987)—critics, most of them internal, have been raising alarums about goings-on in the academy. Now the young themselves are showing signs of disaffection toward those institutions that are their ticket to adult life in service or in gated communities; and, amazingly, they and their parents agree on something. Amid the endless roar of books about the academy, one can barely sample the volumes cascading by, but this is not the moment to let up. For society has universities under closer and more critical scrutiny than many academics seem to know—witness the uncomprehending response to Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons—and it is worth wondering whether the academy is approaching a watershed moment in its history.

This sampling starts, familiarly, with the 1960s. "Arms had come to Cornell, and nobody knew what to do." So writes Donald Downs, a Cornell student then and a Wisconsin professor later. More precisely, black student revolutionaries used guns to occupy a well-chosen edifice housing visitors to campus for Parents Weekend, ...

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