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In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  374 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
A caustic expose of the deeply state of our colleges-America's most expensive Ponzi scheme.

What drives a former English major with a creative writing degree, several unpublished novels, three kids, and a straining marriage to take a job as a night teacher at a second-rate college? An unaffordable mortgage.

As his house starts falling apart in every imaginable way, Prof
Hardcover, 258 pages
Published March 31st 2011 by Viking
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Mar 10, 2011 Kathrina rated it really liked it
I spend a lot of my time thinking about my education; thinking about how smart I am (or not), how educated I am (or not), in relation to others and in relation to my own expectations. I have a bachelor's degree from a fairly well-respected university, I've dabbled in graduate courses, alternate bachelor programs, both at the same university and it's little brother community college. My parents were well-educated, and I was raised to expect a college career. I sell books for a living. At a chain. ...more

The elitism of learning

When I left Romania, about eleven years ago, I decided to give up on teaching as well. After sixteen years of doing only this, it was not an easy decision to make, but I was so fed up with the corrupt system I was leaving behind that I had lost all faith in the generosity of my profession.

Of course, once a teacher always a teacher and although I’ve generally stuck to my decision and now I’m working full time in an office (finding my work interesting and challenging enough
Apr 10, 2011 Barbara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think there are some points here with merit, although ultimately the main argument is shaky. What really makes me roll my eyes, however, is this guy's RIDICULOUS sexism! He blames his real estate woes on an inexperienced female inspector, when he would have preferred a nice old man. He blames grade inflation on the rising number of female college professors, and thus the "feminizing" of grades. In an unintentionally hilarious anecdote about a pair of dating students in his class, he blames the ...more
Aug 22, 2011 Chuck rated it liked it
Tenured faculty are a vanishing breed as colleges and universities strive to save money by hiring part-time faculty like "Professor X" instead. These "adjuncts" not only receive considerably lower salaries; they also live without job security and often without any benefits. They are frequently marginalized by "regular" faculty, crammed into shared office space, excluded from department meetings, and denied faculty voting privileges. Because student evaluations play a major role in determining wh ...more
May 16, 2011 Nicholas rated it liked it
There are some real problems here -- the strained analogies between his university teaching and his mortgage, the sexism he seems totally unaware that he possesses, the back-and-forth between trenchant criticism of universities and the more personal stories -- but the overall critique of the mainstreaming of college makes a lot of sense. If nothing else it was truly refreshing to hear Professor X give voice to what many college instructors (of the adjunct level or not) already know: many of thei ...more
Jul 15, 2013 Emily rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2013, review
This book both surprised and profoundly disappointed me. As an extended discussion of the writer's experiences surrounding a decade long adjunct teaching career, it effectively details a lot of the problems of academia. I strongly agree that the current university system merits heavy critique, but I also feel that the problems in the university system are symptoms of several larger social problems. The reliance on adjuncts is unethical and exploitative. Much like the growing gap between the work ...more
Jun 08, 2011 Wanda rated it liked it
Highly readable for the most part. I think that I liked this book so well because it reflected my own experience as a professor -- and I am a full tenured professor and not an adjunct. Students' lack of basic skills and their inability to construct a coherent sentence, never mind an argument, is nothing short of astounding.
The author's thesis is that there are many students who are in community colleges who are ill prepared for college and have little chance of success because they lack the foun
Dec 21, 2015 Danielle rated it did not like it
One major problem I have with this book is his insistence that the college English classroom remains rigid and old-fashioned. He clearly champions the works of dead white men and goes through great lengths to dismiss many female authors and all authors of color on the grounds that they, 1: Make him feel too uncomfortable to teach the subject matter, 2: Are outdated and not relevant to his students, 3: Are somehow too quaint, sentimental, or otherwise not agreeable examples of the types of litera ...more
Michael Scott
Jun 14, 2011 Michael Scott rated it really liked it
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower is a book about education. More specifically, it is a book about the failures of the education system, from the point of view of a replacement (adjunct) educator for mostly late-evening classes.

In sometimes wordy, mostly funny prose, Professor X describes and decries the mores of today's college-level education: the pressure to inflate grades (the boss may drop the innocent "but, John, good grades also improve their chance for a good job"), the fallacy of remed
May 26, 2012 Rozzer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a three-star book, to which I added a star out of sympathy for the author.

Make no mistake. Most of this book is NOT "the truth about college." Most of this book is a memoir, not about college but just about American middle class life in the period 1990-2010. Poor Professor X. He got his B.A. in English and even took an M.F.A. in writing. And then waited on tables while writing a book, which was rejected. After which he got a government job and together with his wife raised his family in
May 20, 2013 Merrikay rated it liked it
Professor X is an adjunct instructor at both a small private college and a community college.  He writes about his experiences teaching when his poor financial decisions make a second job necessary.  It turns out after years of this work that he comes to love it, despite it being the low man position at colleges and poorly paid, with no benefits.  Adjuncts are often the stepchildren, given little support from the administration and little office space, if any.  That is common knowledge.  For the ...more
David Sawyer
Aug 07, 2011 David Sawyer rated it liked it
Professor X challenges the American notion that everyone should go to college, and that everyone who can sign a loan application is college material. It's a very thought-provoking thesis, and one that's hard to argue against. The college degree is losing its value partially because it's so frequently misused as a minimum qualification for jobs that probably don't need it. Police officers, video store managers, nurses, car salesman... these jobs cover a wide spectrum of specialized skills and kno ...more
Aug 06, 2012 David rated it it was ok
kind of interesting observations from a decade of adjunct-teaching of intro level english classes, at night, at two colleges (one a community college). Apparently grew from a magazine article against which there was some backlash. May have been preferable to leave it at an article. This may be a function of my being a college teacher, but I didn't need quite so many anecdotes to convince me that....

(a) many new college students are poor writers
(b) many students enrolled in required courses are u
Elliot Ratzman
May 22, 2012 Elliot Ratzman rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teachers
“College isn’t for everyone” seems to be the moral of this book, based on a widely read Atlantic article. The anonymous author is an adjunct at a small-town college and a community college who teaches basic English at night. Most of his students are terrible writers and few read non-assigned books, but all have to take his course in order to jump through the hoop of some sort of degree. Prof X thinks it is a waste of these nurses, policemen, and technical workers’ time and, often, his. The book, ...more
Aug 19, 2012 Mike rated it it was ok
Shelves: misc
Professor X talks about some of the problems he encounters as an adjunct instructor of community college English classes, including the profound and barely literate stupidity (in the context of traditional, broad education to be kind) of many of his students. Anyone who's paid attention in virtually any classroom won't be surprised by his observations. Higher (and lower) education has many, many flaws, and only a few of them are touched on by the professor since he likely didn't want to write a ...more
May 01, 2011 matt rated it liked it
This book can be problematic for a number of reasons:
a) it ignores the incongruity between rising tuition costs and decline of tenure track professors (replacing them instead with luxurious dorms and student activity centers)
b) makes an ill-advised connection between the author's irresponsible mortgage and his numskull students
c) Professor X glosses over the global disconnect between the increasing demand for advanced degrees while knowledge attainment--be it professional or (gasp!) for it's o
Mar 13, 2013 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: academia
Meh. I like the idea of this book, and the author is a good writer, but in general it was pretty smugly certain it held at least most of the answers to "why is academia broken?" When, in fact, it really is one scholar's experience in a specific situation (adjunct, evenings-only professor in two community college settings.) I think the author has many valid points and certainly has hit the proverbial nail on the head concerning why his students don't seem to be very good writers, but overall I do ...more
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
Contains some truths, but it makes one thing that professor X may indeed live inside an ivory tower sometimes, no matter what he claims. Also, if I had to mark this book as a paper, I'd be scrawling "continuity???" and "consistency???" all over it, he tends to jump from one subject to the other. He wants to be literary and ends up being confusing and boring. Either he wants to write about his teaching or about his estrangement from his wife, and he wants to do both he'll just have to do it bette ...more
Mar 29, 2011 Hadrian rated it liked it
Shelves: education, nonfiction
There are some salient points about the 'college education' bubble, but this book was better off as an article. Seems overwrought at points.
Apr 19, 2011 Melissa rated it liked it
Recommended to Melissa by: Kathrina
I sit at a remove from Professor X's students. It was assumed from a very young age that I would attend college at a top tier school (or at least, as top-tier as my parents' could afford); I went to a state school, graduated with no debt in four years because 1) I was driven and 2) my parents could pay for the tuition out of pocket. When medical school applications didn't pan out (after three attempts) I earned a Master's in epidemiology (while working full-time) which led to my current job and ...more
brian dean
Mar 28, 2011 brian dean rated it really liked it
I gave it four stars because I see great relevance with my own teaching position. Otherwise, the discussion about his life choices and family problems - though well-written - didn't appeal to me and took a little away from the book.

I was also disappointed in his overly florid prose, brimming with metaphor and allusions to literary classics. Perhaps he was working to defend employment; a sort of "Look at me! I know books! I really am a good teacher."

I do think he is a good teacher and I intend t
May 12, 2011 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
A few years ago I tutored high school kids for one of those high-priced college-prep learning centers you see advertised on billboards. For $175 a session, each kid received a highly-personalized battery of one-on-one tutoring from folks like me. Most of the kids I tutored needed serious help in one or more areas but over time showed definite improvement; a handful weren't far off at all but needed some tweaking here and there; one was already getting better SAT scores than I would ever get no m ...more
Jun 29, 2014 Raul rated it it was ok
The author's hiding behind a pseudonym, coupled with the subtitle "Confessions of an Accidental Academic" (apparently, in another edition it's "The Truth About College") seemed to promise an unprecedented insider's exposé about the problems of higher education. In reality, the book is more akin to a visit to the faculty lounge or the copier room, where faculty share war battles from the trenches, vent their frustrations and often tend to complain, semester in and semester out, about the immaturi ...more
Apr 27, 2011 Darla rated it liked it
Ok, so this book would have gotten 1 star if I had not forced myself to get beyond the first 26% of it. Once I moved into the 27th percent, it was like the dark clouds of Professor X's pomposity broke open and the sun shone through; his thesis, that not all people, no matter how hard we in American society and government wish for them to be, can be made into "college material;" and insisting that they "must" achieve the lauded credentials that come with the baccalaureate or master's degrees is t ...more
May 08, 2011 Maggie rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 28, 2011 Jacob rated it really liked it
This was actually a lot better than I expected. Many of the reviews felt the author was an embittered washout who despised his students, but I found just the opposite: the author seems to have found himself and his life's calling in teaching night classes as an adjunct teacher at a couple of colleges. For me, this book served as the intertwining illustration of two less-visible populations, people who unluckily but only semi-unreasonably bought homes they couldn't easily afford, and those who ar ...more
Dan Sussman
Aug 01, 2011 Dan Sussman rated it liked it
In "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," Professor X writes spends a few pages discussion the problem of "grade inflation" in the schools at which he teaches. I must plead guilty of doing the same here. I gave this frustrating mish-mash of a book 3 stars, but I think I was being overly generous.

This book is an expansion of an article X wrote for "The Atlantic" a year or two ago and, while I didn't read the original, I have to think that inflation to book length didn't do his readers any favors.
While reading much of this book, I felt myself nodding along with the things Professor X writes about his students and his classes: there's too much remediation involved in what should be college-level classes, the challenges these poorly prepared students overcome to even be able to sit in a college classroom are simply heartbreaking, and adjuncts are forced into the role of gate-keepers in supposedly open-admissions schools like community colleges. These themes are all familiar to me, and I ap ...more
Oct 31, 2016 Becca rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
I had ideas about what this would be before I started and it was none of those. Then as I read I thought I'd figured out what it was, but it wasn't that either. In the end it was an analogy I hoped it wasn't: that the homeownership bubble (that burst and led to the Great Recession) is akin to the burgeoning college bubble. I won't say these things can't be compared, but there is a great difference that the author ignores: not buying a house, or upgrading to a bigger house, would not have wrecked ...more
Gary Braham
Jan 13, 2012 Gary Braham rated it really liked it
Industry is increasingly pushing for their workers to have at least an associates degree. High Schools are under constant pressure to turn everyone into an academic, and to have a high graduation rate. And somehere, caught in the middle, is Professor X. Early in the book Professor X makes some compelling arguments. His students are trying to become nurses, police officers, and other professions where college level writing and literature would not seem like a prerequisite. Yet, thats what they ar ...more
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“The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1975, 31 percent of college teachers were female; by 2009, the number had grown to 49.2 percent.7 There are more women teaching in college than ever, and it is quite possible that their presence, coupled with our discovery of the postmodern narrative, has had a feminizing effect on the collective unconscious of faculty thought. Strong winds of compassion blow across campus quads. Women are more empathetic than men, more giving, simply more bothered by anyone’s underdog status. Many of the female adjuncts I have spoken to seem blessed and cursed by feelings of maternity toward the students. Women think about their actions, and the consequences of their actions, in a deeper way than do men.” 1 likes
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