This is part two of the review by Vidar Grøtta who is a PhD candidate at the Department of Educational Research/KULTRANS at the University of Oslo. He holds a magister degree in comparative literature from the University of Oslo. For the past four years he has been working for the Ministry of Education and Research in Norway. You can find part one here.
The review is focused on four books:
- Frank Donoghue: The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (NY: Fordham U P, 2008)
- Stanley Fish: Save the World on Your Own Time (NY: Oxford U P, 2008)
- Martha Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton U P, 2010)
- Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (NY: Norton, 2010)
A much-quoted piece of advise to young artists, sometimes attributed to the British playwright John Osborne, is this: “Never explain, never apologize.” Stanley Fish, once termed America’s most famous professor (and the model for the character Morris Zapp, the prototype postmodernist professor, in David Lodge’s entertaining campus novels), gives what is in effect the same advise to his fellow academics. He begins his book Save the World on Your Own Time with a review of the many strategies of legitimation which have been proposed for higher education, among them: “It’s contributing to economic growth” (whether in the crassly direct version, or in the more indirect “tickling down” version); “It’s fostering citizenship, so necessary for our democracy” (Nussbaum’s position); “It’s the institutional home of critique and counter-culture, without which capitalist society would run amok” (the Leftist view) – and a few other, more esoteric ones.
Not surprisingly, Fish abandons them all, and instead offers a view of higher education which “takes the air out of some inflated balloons. It denies to teaching the moral and philosophical pretensions that lead practitioners to envision themselves as agents of change and or as the designers of a ‘transformative experience,’ a phrase”, Fish adds, “I intensely dislike.” To replace moralizing he admonishes his colleges, as some of his chapter titles say, to “Do Your Job,” “Don’t Try to Do Someone Else’s Job,” and “Don’t Let Anyone Else Do Your Job.” (more…)