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Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues

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Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso

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.

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1. What Is College for? (Johann N. Neem)

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1.  What Is College for?

JOHANN N. NEEM

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...

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