Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues

by Joseph L. DeVitis (Volume editor) Pietro A. Sasso (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XX, 524 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 517


Focusing on crucial issues in higher education, this book challenges readers to go beyond taken-for-granted assumptions about America’s colleges and universities and instead critically examine important questions facing them in today’s troubled world. Each chapter presents divergent perspectives, that is, "pro" and "con" views, in the hope of stimulating reasoned dialogue among students, faculty, administrators, and the public at large. Readers will explore how internal factors in the academic community often interact with external social, economic, and political influences to produce conflictual results. They will see that academe is hardly value-neutral and inevitably political. This book urges them to transcend strident political persuasion and instead engage in the careful analysis needed to make colleges better.
The text provides in-depth appraisal of key topics of controversy: the purposes of higher education, liberal education, academic freedom, political correctness, tenure, shared governance, faculty workload, admissions tests, student learning, Greek life, the worth of college, equity and social justice, athletics, student entitlement, technology and distance instruction, and college amenities. The book will appeal to students, faculty, staff, and all those interested in the future of higher education. It is especially useful for courses in contemporary issues in higher education, foundations of higher education, higher education and society, college student development, and the organization and administration of higher education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Colleges at the Crossroads
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Charts, Figures, Tables
  • Introduction (Joseph L. Devitis / Pietro A. Sasso)
  • Part One: What Should Be the Purposes of Higher Education?
  • 1. What Is College for? (Johann N. Neem)
  • 2. Modernizing College Purposes to Save a Troubled World (Patricia A. McGuire)
  • Part Two: Should Liberal Education Be Modified?
  • 3. The Urgent Need for Liberal Education in Today’s Troubled World (Bruce W. Hauptli)
  • 4. Civic Engagement and Higher Learning (Richard Guarasci)
  • Part Three: Is Academic Freedom Still Necessary?
  • 5. “Flipping” the Tenure Debate and the Continuing Need to Protect Academic Freedom (Neal H. Hutchens / Frank Fernandez)
  • 6. What Is Academic Freedom for? (Ashley Thorne)
  • Part Four: Should Tenure Be Abolished?
  • 7. The Contingency of Tenure (David Shiner)
  • 8. Why Tenure Needs Protection in These Troubled Times (Philo A. Hutcheson)
  • Part Five: Is Higher Education Stifling Free Expression in an Era of Political Correctness?
  • 9. Free Expression at Public Colleges and Universities: Why Students Should Care About It and Why Campus Officials Should Make Sure It Is Protected (Dennis E. Gregory)
  • 10. Free Expression and Political Correctness: Contextualizing the Controversies and Finding a Way Forward (R. Scott Mattingly / J. Bennett Durham / Matthew R. Shupp)
  • Part Six: What Has Higher Education Done About Inclusion and Social Justice?
  • 11. Tokenizing Social Justice in Higher Education (Cristobal Salinas Jr. / Valerie A. Guerrero)
  • 12. Creating Inclusive Classrooms as an Imperative for Historically Underrepresented Groups in Higher Education (Michael Sean Funk)
  • Part Seven: What Should Be the Roles of Faculty?
  • 13. It Is a Balancing Act: Faculty Workload (Isis N. Walton / Nicolle Parsons-Pollard)
  • 14. Faculty Work Life: Beyond the Tipping Point (Sean Robinson)
  • Part Eight: What Should Be the Role of Faculty in Shared Governance?
  • 15. Faculty Governance as a Thorny Problem (Michael T. Miller / Everrett A. Smith)
  • 16. The Erosion of Faculty Governance (Dilys Schoorman)
  • Part Nine: How Much Are College Students Learning?
  • 17. Limited by Design? A Critical Sociohistorical Analysis of Postsecondary Learning Outcomes (Ezekiel Kimball / Juan Manuel Ruiz-Hau / Fermin Valle)
  • 18. Are College Students Learning More or Less Than in the Past? (Sergio Ossorio / Kimberly A. Kline)
  • Part Ten: Can Technology and Distance Instruction Save Higher Education?
  • 19. Instructional Technology as Revolutionary Savior of Higher Education Classrooms: An Analysis of Scope, Ethics, and Virtues (David S. Knowlton)
  • 20. Will Technology and Distance Instruction Save Higher Education? (Paul Gordon Brown)
  • Part Eleven: Should Standardized Tests Be Given More or Less Weight in College Admissions?
  • 21. The Importance of Standardized Tests in College Admissions (Martin C. Yu / Nathan R. Kuncel)
  • 22. Why Standardized Testing Is Not Essential in College Admissions (Aaron W. Hughey)
  • Part Twelve: Is College Worth the Cost?
  • 23. Is Higher Education Worth the Cost? (Monica Galloway Burke / Colin Cannonier / Aaron W. Hughey)
  • 24. Is Higher Education Worth the Cost? It Depends (Lindsey M. Burke)
  • Part Thirteen: Are Colleges Spending Too Much on Amenities?
  • 25. The College Arms Race: How It Is Destroying Higher Education in the United States (Matthew Varga / Scott L. Lingrell)
  • 26. The Need for College Amenities and Their Benefit to the Student and Institution’s Success (Steven Tolman / Christopher Trautman)
  • Part Fourteen: Are Today’s College Students Too Entitled?
  • 27. Then and Now: The Relationship Between the College and the Student (Mark Bauman)
  • 28. Are College Students Too Entitled Today? The Role of Customer Service in Meeting Student Needs and Expectations (Denise L. Davidson / Amy A. Paciej-Woodruff)
  • Part Fifteen: Are Fraternities and Sororities Still Relevant in Higher Education?
  • 29. Are Fraternities and Sororities Still Relevant? (Ashley Tull / Kathy Cavins-Tull)
  • 30. Fraternities and Sororities in the Contemporary Era Revisited: A Pendulum of Tolerance (Pietro A. Sasso)
  • Part Sixteen: Can College Athletics and Academics Coexist?
  • 31. Are Collegiate Athletics Necessary in Contemporary Higher Education? (Curtis M. Clock / Thalia M. Mulvihill)
  • 32. Academics and Athletics: Struggles and Strategies in the Pursuit of (A) Grades and (A) Games (Sally Dear-Healey)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

← x | xi →


List of Charts, Figures, Tables


Chart 13.1.The Public View of Faculty Work.
Chart 13.2.The Integration of Knowledge Transmission with Knowledge Generation and/or Application.


Figure 23.1.Average Median Annual Earnings by Highest Level of Educational Attainment, from the National Center for Education Statistics with Author’s Calculations.
Figure 23.2.US Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment.
Figure 26.1.Maslow and Amenities.
Figure 26.2.Responsible Spending Model.


Table 24.1.Bureau of Labor Statistics: Many Full-Time College Students Put in Modest Hours.
Table 26.1.One-time Fee per Student to Cover Cost of College Amenities.
Table 31.1.Representative Example of a Student-Athlete’s Daily Schedule. ← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii →




Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them—and then, the opportunity to choose.

—C. Wright Mills

If students are not going to have controversial ideas on college campuses, they’re not going to have them in America.

—Donna Shalala

At their best, human beings have practiced reasoned and passionate discourse on different points of view on an infinite variety of subjects. In colleges and universities, such debates have been fundamental to the search for truth(s). Indeed, yearning for truth(s) has been captured in myriad mottoes of American campuses and epitomized by Harvard’s one-word mission: Truth. The journey toward truth(s) serves to sharpen crucial thinking skills and enables its participants to develop fuller forms of conceptual knowledge and even wisdom. Conceived from that perspective, dialogue is part and parcel of how we come to understand the world—in this case, the often contentious terrain of higher education. It also prepares students to better serve civic responsibilities: “Individuals who can weigh truth claims, evaluate sources of evidence, and understand how knowledge evolves…are essential to the effective functioning of democratic societies” (Hofer & Sinatra, 2010, p. 118). And, given the most recent presidential campaign, let us hope we are not inhabiting a post-truth(s) world.

Historically, there have been two competing arguments regarding institutions of higher learning. The first argument contends that they have largely intersected with external social forces and thus have never functioned in a vacuum. The second argument claims that the academy operates mainly within its own walls and iron gates. That is to say, it is an insular pocket of ← xiii | xiv → knowledge transfer. Both arguments posit a complex view of academic reality, especially as we consider the seemingly endless web of external and internal intersecting factors. The outcome is typically caught in a storm of conflict (in lively arenas of debate and criticism) that may, with a heavy dose of luck, result in a dialectic of convergence.

At the same time, readers should note that this collection is hardly value-neutral; it is strewn with ideological premises and arguments. This is inevitable since any form of education is deeply political. It is wise to take care in analyzing political discourse about any level of schooling and to be wary of sloganeering and posturing. The latter can come from the Left or the Right; words and phrases such as “excellence,” “standards,” “rigor,” “world class,” and the like are typically used to persuade when they more truly offer empty bromides. No matter what one’s political preferences, education is too precious to be left to undiscerning policymaking based on public-relations platitudes. Furthermore, it does not help that strident headlines often portray the “ivory tower” in shadowy images:

News media attention to what happens on college campuses make policymakers and the public aware of such less-than-flattering topics on campus crime, drug and alcohol abuse by students, poor graduation rates of athletes, work habits and productivity of faculty members, and million-dollar-a-year athletic coaches. (Heller, 2003, p. 3)

Granted, higher education is facing serious questions about its efficacy and integrity as never before. No longer does an appreciable portion of the public view it without blinders. It has legitimate concerns about college costs, worth, and relevance in their daily lives, especially when economic downturn affects so many people. Yet a majority of the public still views our colleges and universities as national treasures—indeed, major purveyors of a key element in achieving the American Dream. After all, over 20 million people attend postsecondary institutions in the United States (Johnson, 2013). But some social critics wonder if the Dream itself is on the wane (DeVitis & Rich, 1996; Newfield, 2008). That dichotomous set of circumstances paints a puzzling portrait of confusion and a yearning need for clarity on contemporary higher learning.

The chief aim of this text is to prod students, faculty, administrators, and other college student personnel—in fact, all those concerned with higher education—to wrestle with some of the most controversial issues now confronting the academy with a sense of open-minded inquiry. Philosopher Williams Hare (2002) says it well: “Do not pretend to know more than you do or assume that what you think you know is beyond challenge” (p. 23). ← xiv | xv → In that spirit, this compendium offers a rich opportunity to deliberate with other participants and to gain new slants of comprehension on important mutual concerns. Yet dialogue can be messy; it normally generates twists, turns, and detours in our thinking before we reach any sort of resolution. And genuine dialogue demands that we respect each other by listening, with care, to differing arguments and then appraising their merits and deficiencies as gleaned from those shared ideas.

In preparing this book, we initially explored The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and similar publications in order to ascertain which issues were most often cited as “controversial” in the academic community. After this inquiry, we developed a set of themes based on divergent perspectives on these critical contemporary concerns: the purposes of higher education; liberal education; academic freedom; freedom of expression and political correctness; tenure issues; faculty governance; faculty workload; standardized admission tests; college student learning; the relevance of Greek life; the worth of a college education; the efficacy of social justice and equity on college campuses; the coexistence of academics and athletics; student entitlement; technology and distance education; and university spending on amenities.

The editors hope that the presentation of those topics will generate the kind of stimulating discussion that ideally underscores why universities can be so vital to individuals and society. Engagement in such dialogue is crucial to the collegiate experience; it fosters a sense of connectedness for student learners (Astin, 1996). Effective outcomes occur when students engage in active learning and feel that they are invested in the process (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). As David Thornton Moore (2013), a critical theorist and proponent of service learning in higher education, puts it, “Learning is not simply an intellectual matter located inside the head…it changes the way one relates to the actual world” (pp. 3–4). We heartily concur: that kind of cultivation should be pervasive throughout the campus, in both the formal academic curriculum and cocurricular activities. Additionally, to practice collegiate education in its fullest dimensions, it is imperative that we recognize the import of social learning and the continuing need to infuse campuses with an increasingly diverse array of students. In particular, intergroup dialogue can be useful in bringing together different social identity groups to address critical campus concerns (Zuniga, Nagda, Chesler, & Cytron-Walker, 2011).

The editors recommend that instructors using this text seek to insure engaged sessions with students by emphasizing provocative questioning in their pedagogy. We further suggest that these types of questions form the basis for starting and sustaining rich dialogue: ← xv | xvi →

1. Does the author(s) present the necessary facts to sustain her argument?

2. What are the underlying assumptions of her argument, and are they sound?

3. Do you perceive any hidden motives or agendas behind the author(s)’s argument?

4. Does the author(s) appear to be biased in explaining her views?

5. Does the author(s) connect ideas in a reliable way and adequately support them?

6. Does the author(s) leave out factors that you consider to be important? Which factors?

7. What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of the author(s)’s argument?

8. In the final analysis, which side of the issue do you accept most fully? Why? And why do you tend to reject the other side? (Davis, 2009)

Finally, we will begin each section of the text with a brief introduction to the pertinent controversial question. We present a “pro” and “con” format of sorts; however, readers should be assured that every essay offers an informed, thought-provoking response that is typically more nuanced than might appear at first blush. Life doesn’t promise easy decisions or simple solutions. Thus, our audience should be cautious about any hard and fast assumptions it might hold on a given topic. Perhaps Maxine Greene (1995), an eloquent educational philosopher, sums it up best: “Teaching and learning are matters of breaking through barriers—of expectations, of boredom, of predefinition” (p. 14).

Let us begin the dialogue in earnest.


Astin, A. W. (1996). Involvement in learning revisited: Lessons we have learned. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 123–134.

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3–7.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

DeVitis, J. L., & Rich, J. M. (1996). The success ethic, education, and the American dream. New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hare, W. (2002). Teaching and the attitude of open-mindedness. Journal of Educational Administration and Foundations, 16 (2), 103–124. ← xvi | xvii →

Heller, D. E. (2003). Introduction: The changing dynamics of affordability, access, and accountability in public higher education. In D. E. Heller (Ed.), The States and public higher education: Affordability, access, and accountability. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hofer, B. K., & Sinatra, G. M. (2010). Epistemology, metacognition, and self-regulation: Musings on an emerging field. Metacognition Learning, 5, 113–120.

Johnson, J. (2013, September 14). Today’s typical college students often juggle work, children, and bills with coursework. Washington Post, p. C8.

Moore, D. T. (2013). Engaged learning in the academy: Challenges and possibilities. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Newfield, C. (2008). Unmaking the public university: The fifty-year assault on the middle class. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zuniga, X., Nagda, B. A., Chesler, M., & Cytron-Walker, A. (2011). Intergroup dialogue in higher education: Meaningful learning about social justice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ← xvii | xviii →

← xviii | 1 →

Part One:  What Should Be the Purposes of Higher Education?

In “What Is College for?” Johann N. Neem contends that the essential aim of collegiate education should be to develop the student’s learning in an atmosphere as unfettered as possible by external pressures. The liberal arts and sciences are the core drivers of his abiding faith in immersing students in a kind of Aristotelian kind of education: providing them deep knowledge of the human and natural world, habituating them to asking questions about it, and building their curiosity about all things under the sun. While arguing that college is not for everyone, Neem characterizes liberal education as fundamental for those who choose to attend and have the ability to benefit from their intellectual desire for lifelong thinking about “thoughts worth thinking.”

Patricia A. McGuire, in “Modernizing College Purposes to Save a Troubled World,” offers a broad analysis of the imperative to redefine the purposes of higher education in ever-changing times. The author traces the historical nature of college purposes from traditional frameworks to what she describes as one that required “the new college student of the 21 century.” She does not relinquish her firm commitment to liberal education, but views it from more contemporary perspectives. Focusing on the needs of an increasingly diverse student population, McGuire calls for more relevant curricula, pedagogy, and delivery systems as well as more serious attention to academic governance and accountability issues. Finally, she underscores the necessity for revival of civic education to equip students for future leadership roles. ← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 →


1.  What Is College for?


A college education is distinguished from other kinds of education because it embodies ideals distinct from the rest of students’ lives. If we take college seriously, we need students to spend a good amount of time on campuses isolated from the world so that they can cultivate their intellect. Students should leave college different than when they entered. The best test of a good college education, therefore, is whether a student has been transformed—whether she has developed the fundamental intellectual virtue of curiosity about the world, and whether she has the knowledge and skills to produce deep insights about the human and natural worlds. In short, the purpose of college education is to take students out of the “real world” and place them on campuses devoted to learning as the highest ideal.

From this perspective, a university dedicated to training for business or jobs does not offer a college education. Neither do online institutions that promise to allow students to earn their degrees in their spare time as fast as they can complete their course work. Both fail the test of taking students out of their normal lives in order to reorient them around the specific goal of learning. Our daily lives are filled with all kinds of responsibilities (such as jobs and children) and distractions (such as mass entertainment). Colleges offer a retreat where these can be, at least temporarily, put aside. Ideally, one would reenter the world with new perspectives and new ideas. As the philosopher Michael Oakeshott has said, our world “is crowded.” We confront “a ceaseless flow of seductive trivialities which invoke neither reflection nor choice but instant participation” (Oakeshott, 1975). He was writing in 1975, but with the Internet, his comments have become only more true. It is more important than ever, therefore, that colleges pull people away from the world, if even for just a little while. ← 3 | 4 →

Taking time out to learn is, of course, easier for traditional-aged students right out of high school than it is for returning students who have all the trappings of the real world. Adults with jobs, credit card debt, mortgage payments, and young children at home simply cannot abandon their lives for several years. These “nontraditional” older and/or working adults now make up the majority of American college students. For this reason, many reformers argue, we must transform colleges—make them more focused on job training; provide more education online; and make degrees faster and easier. Certainly, colleges need to work harder to reach working and older students. Yet even as colleges become more flexible to help older students earn degrees, they must remain true to their mission (Scobey, 2016). In short, if we really believe in expanding access to college education, and not just access to college degrees, we must find ways to offer older students access to the real thing.

There is no reason that adults cannot devote a good part of their week to colleges, just as so many Americans do to their churches. Churchgoers know that they cannot have the same kinds of transformative and sustaining experiences online as they can by attending churches where they interact with and learn from both ministers and each other. They know that relationships formed over years are vital to sustaining their faith. While they work during the day, churchgoing adults devote time on Sundays, and often on other evenings during the week, to meet together for study and worship. They hope that by taking time away from their daily routines, by forming communities, and meeting in specific buildings designed for worship, they will grow in their faith. They hope that their faith will inform what they do in their daily lives. Adult college students should be able to have similar experiences. Colleges should structure programs that allow working adults to participate, and working adults must be committed enough to devote their time to attending. While being a full-time student on campus is the best option, there is no reason that colleges cannot do more to approximate that experience for working people.

We must also address the primary reason that so many older students are returning to college. While many adults may appreciate the opportunity to cultivate their intellect, others are there because they believe that they have no other options. Americans have been told again and again that they need a college degree to make it in today’s economy. This is in part because of larger changes in the economy, but it is also about politics. In the past decades, we have allowed the rich to get richer, while wages for the majority have stagnated. Competition from abroad, technological innovation, and the declining strength of labor unions have combined to drive down wages, but not every industrial country has permitted the gap between rich and poor to grow as large as it has ← 4 | 5 → become in the United States. Countries with similar levels of education, facing the same kinds of technological change, have chosen to promote more equal outcomes. America has not, and as a result, going to college now appears to be one of the only ways for Americans to get ahead (Dougherty, 1997).

Ironically, despite all the rhetoric, it’s not clear that the American economy requires as many college degrees as we often assume. It is possible that we are producing more college-educated workers than the economy demands. There is no doubt that Americans with a college degree earn more on average than those without one. There is also no doubt that the economy requires highly skilled workers. The question is whether we should conflate highly skilled workers with college-educated workers. Surprisingly, many of the country’s fastest growing positions require technical training but not a college education. The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), for example, estimates the fastest-growing occupations to be:

1. Wind turbine service technicians

2. Occupational therapy assistants

3. Physical therapist assistants

4. Physical therapist aides

5. Home health aides

6. Commercial divers

7. Nurse practitioners

8. Physical therapists

9. Statisticians

10. Ambulance drivers and attendants, except emergency medical technicians

11. Occupational therapy aides

12. Physician assistants

13. Operations research analysts

14. Personal financial advisors


XX, 524
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 524 pp., 6 b/w ill., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Joseph L. DeVitis (Volume editor) Pietro A. Sasso (Volume editor)

Joseph L. DeVitis is a prolific scholar and public intellectual in social foundations of education and higher education. Two of his books have earned Choice Awards from the American Library Association and four others have won Critics Choice Awards from the American Educational Studies Association. Pietro A. Sasso is Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Co-editor of Today’s College Students and Higher Education and Society, his research focuses on identity construction of traditional undergraduate students and the lived experiences of college subcultures.


Title: Colleges at the Crossroads