GTR Archives 2000-2020

 

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Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education 

(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)

By Mark. S. Ferrara

Rev. by R. Pedreira

Mark S. Ferrara is concerned about the future of American higher education. He is worried that American universities are in danger of losing their absolute and relative international eminence. In fact, they are in a condition of “neglect and disrepair.” He sees China as a looming threat. In his view American universities are under-subsidized, over-administrated, too expensive, and excessively exploitative of part-time, temporary, fungible, disposable, underpaid “adjunct” faculty. He is especially irked that administrators are so highly paid to do essentially nothing, he believes. Professors could and should do the work, he feels. Highly paid administrators could then be given their walking papers and put out to pasture. Costs could be reduced. Students would not wind up knee deep in debt. It sounds nice. But is it realistic?

The book starts out stating the problem. It then provides a historical overview of Chinese and Western education, both serviceable.

Mark Ferrara’s solution to this problem (if it is a problem) is not surprisingly related to what he believes is the cause of the problem (see page 159 for a summary.) The cause is runaway corporatization of education. Universities are increasingly being run as, or like, profit-oriented business. The solution, at risk of parodying his somewhat more complex argument, is for the proletariat to rise up and say “enough,” and restore the American higher education system of old.

In short, Mark Ferrara has put his finger on the problem, but his solution is utopian in a market-oriented democracy with a non-centralized and highly competitive higher education sector. Harvard and the other big name universities are still turning away hoards of applicants, suggesting that students are willing to pay what these schools are charging. As for other schools and students, they need to consider the benefits of what they are paying for (which is largely the signaling value of a particular diploma; Harvard and others are giving away education via MOOCs for free and certificates of completion, for a modest fee.)

Readers can arrive at their own conclusions.

An earlier version of this review was published on amazon.co.jp

(C) R. Pedreira. All rights reserved.

 

    

 

 

 

GTR Archives 2000-2020