Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Andrew Delbanco Interview

One of the speakers I am looking forward to hearing at this week's Rethinking Success conference is Columbia University American studies professor Andrew Delbanco.  As we have discussed on this blog, he has a new book out entitled College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be.'  (I just received a copy in the mail today, courtesy of Princeton University Press).

If you will not be in Wake Forest this week you can listen to an interview Delbanco did recently with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some of Delbanco's thoughts from the interview
  • Universities are in the business of discovering truth.  They do research.  Colleges are different.  At a college, students learn things from the past that will help them figure out who they are.  Delbanco argues that this college ideal is an American invention.
  • The number of full-time professors is declining.  This means that a fewer and fewer number of professors are invested in the mission of the institutions in which they work.  With adjuncts and short-term appointments increasing, fewer students will have access to full-time faculty and the traditional college experience will gradually disappear.
  • Do educational institutions have the obligation to submit to the demands of the market?  Or should they resist the demands of the marketplace in order to uphold core values?  Market logic assumes that students are consumers and will gravitate to the best price and the best program.  But the entire premise of education is that students don't know what they need or want.  They need guidance.  If they did not need this, they would not need to go to college.  College gives them what they need, not necessarily what they want.
  • It is hard to explain to someone the value of a liberal education unless he or she has experienced it for themselves. 
  • Liberal education needs to take place not only at elite liberal arts colleges like Amherst, but in community colleges and all other kinds of educational institutions.  Wealthy institutions should do better at opening the doors of opportunity for students with low-income backgrounds.  Community colleges are citizens and thus need liberal education as well.
  • Delbanco says that there is a place for assessment in colleges, but he questions the use of numerical measures and "teacher testing" to judge how students are learning.
  • The discourse that college is useless or that students don't learn anything in college has been around since the 18th century in America. 
Stay tuned.  I hope to do a blog post or two on his lecture at the Rethinking Success conference.

HT:  Read, Write, Now.