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From our pages: Louis Menand's ideas

January 15, 2010 |  6:20 pm

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In our pages this week, Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University and the author of "The Ironist's Cage," reviews the new book by Louis Menand, "The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University." Menand, who in addition to writing for the New Yorker is a professor of English at Harvard, has a front seat from which to observe the reform in academia -- or is that resistance?

He begins his new book with this challenge: How do you create a general education program required by all undergraduates? Rather than argue for any particular set of classes or distribution requirements, Menand describes the evolution in this country of a model in which the college years have been kept separate from anything that resembles vocational or professional training. Defenders of either the "books everyone should have read" POV or of the "skills everyone should have acquired" have usually been stymied by "a superstition: that the practical is the enemy of the true." Menand's message here: It doesn't have to be this way....

This slim volume of loosely linked essays doesn't offer any solutions to the resistance to innovation at America's best universities, but it does show how we have created professional academic conformity.

Read the complete review here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Michael Fein / Bloomberg

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