Berlinerblau, Jacques. “Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students”, Melville House, 2017.
Having spent most of my adult life as an academic, I have drawn conclusions that I have rarely shared with others in my profession although I am sure that there are those who think they way I do and was therefore not surprised at some of the things that Georgetown University professor Jacques Berlinerblau has to say in “ Campus Confidential”.
There is “a huge gap between rhetoric and reality, between the “sanctimony, hypocrisy and doublespeak” of academic leaders and the way colleges operate in reality and statements like this are what makes this book come to life for so many of us. Berlinerblau sees himself as a contrarian who deviates “from the tenured professoriate to give aspiring students and their parents the lowdown on how their dream schools actually work.”
We read about professors being underpaid, marginalized and over-reviewed yet the success of education depends on them. Something has happened to teaching in this world of industry and the time has come for it to be redeemed.
Berlinerblau has seen it all. He began teaching at a community college, and has been everything from a abused adjunct to an assistant professor to a coddled administrator. He knows what is going on in the world of higher education today. He does not see a bright future.
There is a gap between how professors are trained, what they aspire to and for what they are rewarded. Then there is the for, and the day-to-day work of teaching undergraduates and graduates. Like Berlinerblau I have been an adjunct professor, a graduate and undergraduate professor and an administrator and have seen students come to schools attracted by the faculty only to be shocked to learn that said faculty really wants nothing to do with them. I saw this myself as a student.. Instead, Education, today, will likely be guided by part-time teachers and graduate students, who are paid a few thousand dollars a course. However, “While teaching undergraduates is normally a very large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates.”
Graduate training emphasizes research as opposed to teaching. We have lost the golden age “when devoted professors cared selflessly for their students and were rewarded and respected in return. The publish-or-perish aspect of the research university is nothing new. Sigmund Freud said that teaching is one of the “impossible professions” of which we one can be sure “beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results” whose intimate rewards are too closely “associated with other kinds of caring labor for it to command prestige on its own”.
The wholesale acceptance of business norms by many academic institutions, has recently changed and this has resulted, among other things, in the willingness to charge students ever-higher tuitions while driving labor costs down, and in the adoption of a star system. There have been various attempts to challenge these norms.
Toward the end of the book, Berlinerblau writes about “thoughtfulness” as the quality that good teachers most want to encourage in their students..