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My New Book (on higher education)

This blog is only a bit more than a shameless plug for my new book, Guiding the American University: contemporary challenges and choices, which has just been published by Routledge. My flimsy excuse for blogging about it stems from the fact that the book relates strongly to the regular series of blogs I did in my last years as Provost at George Mason. Many of the blogs dealt with subject matter closely linked to what the book covers. Reactions to the blogs, including several comments about how useful it would be to have material of this sort available more widely and systematically, helped spur my commitment to doing the book, and helped shape its contents. So thanks, to many of you, for pushing the process along. And I should also note that I benefited hugely from several careful readings of earlier drafts by Mason colleagues and a few others.

The book is of course much less about George Mason than my blogs were. I use some Mason examples, and certainly lots of my Mason experience with names avoided to protect the innocent, but I explore many other cases as well and lay out material on American higher education more generally.

The book seeks to wed two themes: first, the experience of administering a major public university, and how this might help inform other administrators, interested faculty, aspirants, and others. And second, the unprecedented crisis surrounding American higher education today. There is a massive array of recent material on higher education, and I certainly benefited from many titles, but I think this particular combined approach is distinctive, and I hope useful. Certainly many higher education critics are somewhat removed from actual administration, and while this does not mean that they are wrong – many of course argue that distance is essential for the necessary disruption – it does create an opening for a somewhat different tack.

Two other comments about the book. First, although Routledge is really great about prompt publication (I finished the book only last May), this is a fast-moving field, and there are already a couple of points in the book that could usefully be tweaked in light of recent developments. Notably, the new variety of proposals about a federal funding role would warrant more attention – it fits my own analysis of need, but the option was not given the attention it now warrants. The newly released government data on earnings and retention rates for students who had received federal aid would also warrant further coverage, though I have a relevant section already in Chapter 2. I’d also take an additional potshot at some of the for-profits, given recent specifics about their massive contributions to student debt. The gap between hopes for international student enrollment at many schools, and actual achievement, is another point I deal with but where there is now additional information.

The second comment is more embarrassed. I specifically deal, in the book, with a number of what I see as useful reforms, in the current context, that I did not attempt to push when I was actually Provost. Partly this follows from additional opportunities for reflection, now that I am out of the fray as a regular faculty type. Partly it reflects the fact that some changes require more than one institution taking the lead – a single university either can’t take the risks or can’t make a real dent. Partly it picks up on the deepening of the crisis, particularly on the budgetary front: the need to face up to some difficult topics is probably increasing. But, finally, it may also suggest that I was a bit too cautious on some topics when I was in power, and I am open to that ex post facto criticism. This comment applies particularly to what I now see as some essential modifications of the tenure system, along with a more candid confrontation with problems such as the surge in adjuncts, which of course were and are hot button issues.

Anyway, the book is out. I hope many find it useful and provocative. And I hope it adds to the voices that seek to preserve quality in American higher education, and that recognize that this is no easy task, as well as contributing to desirable change and innovation.

And for the masses of you who can’t wait for access, here is the publisher’s contact information: