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The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University
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The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  200 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Has American higher education become a dinosaur?

Why do professors all tend to think alike? What makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects should be required? Why do teachers and scholars find it so difficult to transcend the limits of their disciplines? Why, in short, are problems that should be easy for universities to solve so intractable? The answer, Louis...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published January 18th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Antonio Baclig
I took two classes with Menand, so I had to pick this up. I wasn't disappointed.

He draws a couple of strands into one appraisal of the American university system. The debate on the General Education curriculum at Harvard, which dragged on for years; the "Humanities Revolution" in the 70s and 80s (a revolt against the disciplines and a proliferation of fields, emphasis on diversity and the contingency of representations); the current anxiety over getting professors to do things interdisciplinaril...more
Steven Peterson
Louis Menand notes at the outset of this rather brief volume (Page 15): “There is always a tension between the state of knowledge and the system in which learning and teaching actually take place. The state of knowledge changes much more readily than the system.” We see institutions of higher education with cutting edge research housed within institutional structures that are a century or more old.

The book’s central chapters address, in order, one of four general questions: (1) Why is a sound ge...more
Jimm Wetherbee
Back in the dark ages when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was in college my father wondered aloud about the value of a BA. He argued that the literature and philosophy classes did not contribute one iota to his career as a research chemist, and that he had not any reason to refer back to a single class that did not have to do with his major in chemistry. As a philosophy of religion major, this hurt. I muttered something about a liberal arts education being valuable because it inculcates a love...more
This should be required reading for all academics. Menard gives a concise overview of the history of higher education in the U.S., pointing out that a crucial moment was the separation between the idea of a liberal arts degree and professional degrees. He accepts lots of the things we claim about a liberal arts education--that it "exposes the contingency of present arrangements" and "encourages students to think for themselves," but argues that academics--in particular those in the humanities--a...more
Louis Menand's "The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University" is an insiders guide to the history, current state, and potential future of higher education in the United States. This book is a part of the "Issues of Our Time" series "in which some of today's leading thinkers explore ideas that matter in the new millennium."

As a product of a four year liberal arts undergraduate institution in the United States, I didn't think twice about taking this book to the check...more
I would walk blindfolded into traffic if I thought there was something to read by Louis Menand on the other side of the street, but since I work at what some might be tempted to call a major mid-western University, I was not anxious to hear more about what is wrong with higher education today -- a game that is generally best played at a campus bar, with rules similar to "Hi, Bob." My fears were unfounded. Menand provides a recognizable account of life on the ground, enlightening historical analy...more
Much in the spirit of Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind", Menand's "Marketplace of Ideas" is a disconcerting exposé of the current university system, specifically in the Liberal Arts. Suffice to say that during the past 150 years universities were frequently reinvented--with good intentions--but have become (at best) a monstrosity incapable of providing a real education, and even (at worst) a drain of society's best & brightest.
This book is short (39,000 words). I liked best chapter 2, an early rough-draft of which can be read here.

An early draft of chapter 3, on academic interdisciplinarity, can be read here.

A 5000-word excerpt from the book's final draft can be read here.
Maughn Gregory
How and why was liberal arts education ever distinguished from professional schools and trade schools? Should professional and trade schools be liberalized by giving some attention to their own history, theory, and relationship to culture? How many divergent aims - e.g. teaching people to think for themselves, preparing them for the job market, binding them into a common culture, enlightening them with great works by great minds, making them smart enough to help with national security (fighting...more
Bonnie Irwin
Another book on higher ed that gives one a lot to think about. It will take some processing before I decided how much I agree with Menand, but certain points ring true. "The state of knowledge changes much more readily than the system." Much of the so-called crisis in the humanities today is not only systemic, but of our own making, Louis Menand argues, dating back to the move toward professionalizing our fields in the late 19th century.
I especially appreciated the way he contrasts the professio...more
This book was frustrating, but I'll say up front that it was probably my fault. No wait. Scratch that. It was not my fault. I'm noticing the irony that my first instinct is to deprecate myself as "too dumb" to understand the dry prose and windy academese of this book. But the author himself discusses the necessity of tenure-track professors to write books that few read and even fewer understand. Why didn't Menand follow his own cue and write something a little more engaging?

The sheer number of...more
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The Marketplace of Ideas Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand

Louis Menand is critiquing the concept of a library education in todays world. He is doing this from the point of view of a professor inside the university system. The book is focused on what happened in fairly recent history.

There is a lot on the production and dissemination of knowledge. This is focused on teaching and research. Libraries are not that well covered in this book. There is more about the cre...more
The most interesting parts of this book were the sections on the professions and "interdisciplinarity" (which I run into a lot in my clients' work - it has replaced "post-structualist" as the buzzword du jour in academe) and Part 4 about why professors seem to think the same way. In my work as an editor of dissertations and scholarly articles (with the occasional PhD application essay thrown in there), I hear a lot of horror stories about doctoral candidates forced to stay in their programs for...more
Brian Ayres
This book is a concise look at the state of higher education from a number of angles, including the decline of general education and a look into why professors pride themselves on academic freedom but think the same way politically. Menard writes as an historian of higher education as he winds the reader through the destruction and attempted resurrection of a core curriculum at the undergraduate level. While I found the middle two essays tedious and a rehash of the lament of the humanities, Mena...more
PRO: Eminently useful history of four keywords in American higher ed, four keywords central to understanding current debates -

Essay 1: the "general education" requirement
Essay 2: the very idea of "the humanities"
Essay 3: the rise and reproduction of academic "disciplines"
Essay 4: professors as "professional" guild

I like that he denaturalizes certain distinctions that get drawn and redrawn in discourse about and within higher-ed: vocational/knowledge-for-itself; self-interested/disinterested; ge...more
Apr 16, 2010 Nat added it
Menand assembles a handful of helpful reminders about pressures shaping University education. The only claim in the book that I can personally confirm figures in Menand's discussion of why it takes so long for humanities grad students to finish their PhDs (the average time to completion is 11.3 years!). He says:

"People in the humanities are uncertain just what research in the humanities is supposed to constitute, and graduate students therefore spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come u...more
Menand has received criticism in some quarters from not being prescriptive enough and for not going super in-depth. Well, for those of us who are only peripherally aware of the issues that he raises, it's an excellent introduction and brings a few new insights both to one's experience as well as to much of the public debate around academia.

Of course, it helps for this reader that he deals with his four main topics -- General Education; the revolution in the Humanities (the turn to and then some...more
This book actually showed up as a "people who read that also read this" on Goodreads! I would have dismissed it as yet one more anti-intellectual screed, except this is the author of the Metaphysical Club (very fabulous).

The book is a nice short review of the history that leads up to the format of today's university- very eye openeing! Menand then focuses on a few statistically demonstrable elements of dysfunction. He doesn't present any concrete suggestions for reform, which I would have liked...more
Travis Timmons
I was hoping for a more sustained and coherent argument about higher education and/or reforming it. However, Menand's analysis is remarkably concise (and breath-taking in a sense!) with sparking clear prose. An analytic and stylistic achievement. While the book offers argument-via-exposition (and subtly in smaller Menand makes), I don't find this method strong enough, considering the topic and purpose for the book.
Oliver Bateman
The first part of Louis Menand's latest book is a summary of richer and more detailed sources (e.g., John Thelin's excellent overview of the history of higher education). However, the second part--which raises questions about the ideological makeup of the liberal arts professoriate (the real problem, it seems, is that the academy is filled with mainstream liberals and few radicals of any stripe) and the training of graduate students (Menand argues that eight years of benign neglect in a Ph.D. pr...more
The author presents, from a historical perspective, four problems facing Higher Education. He begins his thoughts by stating "The American university is a product of the nineteenth century, and it has changed very little structurally since the time of the First World War" (p. 17). He addresses 1) General education 2) The Humanities 3) "Interdisciplinarity" and 4) Why Professors think Alike. His discussion is interesting, and one would assume that there would be suggestions for reform (based on t...more
Gabriel Oak
Interesting book about the university. Provides a compelling explanation for why professors seem to think alike (high barrier to professional entry) and interesting musings on the state of the humanities in particular.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book didn't introduce a new reality as I spent the last year working with humanities scholars, but it painted a pretty vivid, accurate, and depressing picture of the landscape of higher ed and, in particular, of humanities departments. Marketplace of Ideas echoed a lot of the history of higher education that I read in graduate school, so the historical context also wasn't new for me (but was interesting). I was disappointed that there weren't more suggestions of changes, although there is c...more
This superbly written, succinct, and informative monograph is a model of clarity and organization. It reviews the history of the structure of a university, with most emphasis placed on the humanities. There are pertinent observations and, by extension, recommendations, although these are largely inexplicit.

The book would be of interest to a tiny readership of those at or closely affiliated with a university, and is recommended to that miniscule audience. It would not be of particular interest o...more
Much of what Menand writes is fairly obvious, but I still think it is important to actually see it in print. He is right that the current model of academia is not really working anymore, and it is still based on the 19th and early 20th-century model. I wish he offered some ideas for solutions to these problems, but it is a great starting point for discussion. With the economy in the garbage, perhaps one good thing is that there will probably be other routes to "professionalization" besides a col...more
Alex Bloom
I guess my expectations were a little too high after having read "The Metaphysical Club." Menand's writing is still brilliant, but the content presented here just wasn't nearly as fascinating as the personalities developed in his earlier work. As always, though, Menand presents insightful and nuanced opinions about complex and divisive subjects. For those interested in the liberal arts in higher education, it's well worth a read.
If you want to understand the difference between US higher education and elsewhere in the world, this is the book to read.
I'm not sure who the audience is for this book. I would think it would be me, but I felt I was hearing a lot of what I already knew/could guess. So if it was written for a more non-academic audience, I'm just not sure they'd be all that interested. Beyond that, it's a brief, accessible overview of four different aspects of the current university climate.
I need to re-read this book. I got bogged down in the numbers and grandiose vocabulary, and I missed the big picture. However, I thought the conclusion given in the last section of the book was reasonable and that it would prompt a good discussion. Also, I learned a lot about the history of higher education from reading this book.
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Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of The Metaphysical Club, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History. A longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
More about Louis Menand...
The Metaphysical Club American Studies Pragmatism: A Reader The Best American Essays 2004 Discovering Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context

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