February 19, 2010

The Marketplace of Ideas

Louis Menand got involved with Harvard’s latest attempt to craft a core curriculum, and this engaging book is the result. Menand explores the intellectual foundations of curricula and disciplines, and carefully shows how disciplinarity helps and mars the university. Most interesting, perhaps, are his insights into the prehistory of the American university and the key role a few institutions and a handful of college presidents played in creating the familiar landscape of departments, degrees, and professional schools. The core problem of the humanities, he argues, is that they have become very good at training ABD’s, the all-but-dissertation cadre of inexpensive teaching assistants, adjuncts, and composition instructors on which contemporary American colleges rely.