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

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  309 ratings  ·  65 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
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published January 18th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a really narrow book having to do with changes in university structure, specifically in the humanities education at 4 year universities. But within that narrow range, it is super insightful about the reasons for changes (which have a lot to do with a diminished market demand and with institutional insecurity). I loved the end where he talks about inter-disciplinarity and how that's actually a doubling down on disciplines. Menand is such an excellent writer and thinker and I want to read ...more
robin friedman
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Louis Menand On The Marketplace Of Ideas

In 1903, the philosopher William James wrote an essay, "The PhD Octopus" in which he expressed concern about over-specialization in the academic world and about the increased and not entirely beneficial effect on students and teachers alike resulting from efforts to pursue the PhD. Louis Menand wrote about James and his pragmatist colleagues in his Pulitzer-prize winning study "The Metaphysical Club" which broadly examines changes in American intellectual
Jimm Wetherbee
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Antonio Baclig
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Steven Peterson
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Menand could be more caustic about the humanities privileging their canons, moralities, disciplines, PhD programs over practical relevance and logical rigor.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
Professor Menand identifies covers a lot of ground about the status of the American university in the 21st century - the professionalization of the professoriate, the decimation of the liberal arts especially after the mid 1970s, and the conformist attitudes of the academy that inhibits true interdisciplinary work. Though Menand doesn't prescribe concrete solutions, he frames the future of reform in higher ed as one that both responds to, and distances itself from, the public. Definitely a must- ...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
Mar 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
J. Alfred
Jun 21, 2016 rated it liked it
A tight, lively little book on some of the problems in professional academia today, including, Why does it take so long to get a Ph.D in humanities, and Why do all professors seem to think alike? It's well done and thought provoking. Menand's idea on how to solve the problem that there are too many Ph.Ds running around without enough jobs seems to be to make it easier for people to attain Ph.Ds, which seems paradoxical, but I think I follow him. A quick and enjoyable argument for people interest ...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. ...more
Dan Graser
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Louis Menand is an author I greatly admire from his works, "The Metaphysical Club," "American Studies," and his editing of the anthology, "Pragmatism." Thus I was very happy to see that he had written a book on the recent changes and lack of changes in American universities. However to be clear, this is a book on the Humanities or Liberal Arts primarily dealing with 4-year institutions and Phd granting institutions.

As he makes clear early on, his primary goal for the work is to explore and answ
Stephen Case
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Our greatest fear as academics might be the fear of being proven futile. We know we're probably in some respect self-serving and that perhaps we magnify our own importance in the face of what we consider a hostile, indifferent, or Philistine public. But we like to maintain the fiction that we are free from parochialism to pursue the search for truth or something like it (maybe call it "free inquiry") in a value-free arena. Or at least that's the ideal, though I don't think anyone would go so far ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-2019, 2019
This book was a pleasant surprise. I expected that Menand would mostly discuss current events, but I found that he dedicated a significant portion of each chapter to the history of higher education in America. I really liked these historical surveys, since the information was almost entirely new to me and is relevant to my own interest in academia. Through the four chapters, Menand analyzes models for general education, the development of humanities disciplines, the practice of interdisciplinari ...more
Vinay Patel
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Not very engaging and most of the new information I acquired from the book were the sections about the history of academic movements/reforms, which read insipidly. The author doesn't make a good case for why general education and attaining a "breadth" of subjects is beneficial especially in a market that demands concrete skills and reasoning abilities.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is wildly provocative -- I'm very glad it was assigned to our IDS senior seminar class. While I don't agree with many of the stances Menand takes on interdisciplinary studies, he presents many brilliant yet startling insights to the realities of the American university.
Neil R. Coulter
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone in higher education in the US
I loved this book. It's been on my to-read list for a while, and now as I work on the details of a new doctoral program at my institution, I finally get to check out the big pile of relevant books from that list. Menand's book was right at the top. I value the history of the development of American higher education that Menand presents. It's helpful to me, in designing a new program, to understand the historical foundation and how in some areas reverence for tradition is a hindrance to where gra ...more
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: higher-ed
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
Sep 30, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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
Apr 16, 2010 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
Brian Ayres
Feb 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a good 'prose' writer Menand describes the history of "The Marketplace of Ideas," University. Despite being an academic, the tone of passages is not necessarily a political pamphlet and I have learned how Civic/Core Curriculum rose, then fell.
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Mar 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Bonnie Irwin
Mar 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found Menand's book to be interesting, but not compelling. The book is a four essay discussion of liberal education in the US, in the past and today.

The first essay explored the problem of general education and I appreciated learning about the history of the idea of general education. The second essay discussed the humanities, I found it less interesting. The third essay explored the call for interdisciplinarity. I had never really thought about why we often consider interdisciplinarity to be
Sep 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010
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
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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.

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