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Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues


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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Introduction (Joseph L. Devitis / Pietro A. Sasso)


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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...

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