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Book Review: The Lost Soul of Higher Education

Truthout - Ellen Schrecker, a history professor at New York City's Yeshiva University, starts "The Lost Soul of Higher Education" with a blunt assessment: "In reacting to the economic insecurities of the past forty years, the nation's colleges and universities have adopted corporate practices that degrade undergraduate instruction, marginalize faculty members, and threaten the very mission of the academy as an institution devoted to the common good."

It's depressing stuff. And sadly, there is a wealth of evidence to support Schrecker's assertion. She starts by introducing the concept of academic freedom - the notion that teachers should be able to present ideas, both popular and not, without fear of reprisal.

Sounds great. Yet, reality, Schrecker writes, is somewhat different, for while rhetoric in support of academic freedom is plentiful, neither pedagogical nor personal autonomy have ever had free rein on campus. Howard Zinn, for one, was fired from Spellman College 50 years ago for supporting sit-ins against then-rampant racial segregation. More recently, Professor Norman Finkelstein, a prominent critic of Israel, was denied tenure at DePaul University following a campaign led by Harvard Professor Alan M. Dershowitz. Similarly, Native-American studies Professor Ward Churchill lost his post at the University of Colorado after a campaign by right-wing ideologues slammed his scholarship as inauthentic. Other examples abound and Schrecker makes clear that "tenure cannot protect a controversial professor when an institution wants him out ... Contrary to common assumptions, tenure does not grant its holders guaranteed life time employment." Read more.

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