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