« Gentlemen Prefer Bonds: How Employers Fix the Talent Market | Main | Entry Level Hiring: The 2019 Report - Call for Information »

Monday, March 04, 2019

"The Party of the University"

I recently read -- and really enjoyed -- Hanna Holborn Gray's memoirAn Academic Life.  Her's and her family's are fascinating stories.  We learn a lot about higher education during the second half of the 20th century and about Yale and the University of Chicago in particular.  Having just spent three years on my own institution's "Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Governance," I found Gray's accounts of committee meetings, governance procedures, and institutional citizenship not only entertaining, but even a bit inspiring.  She actually seems to have enjoyed, and to still have confidence in, these mechanisms.

This review ("The Party of the University"), by Rita Koganzon, does a good job of capturing the book's feel.  And, it discusses some of the interesting questions the book raises for us today, in higher education.  Here's just a bit:

Gray’s memoir is so insistently out of place among higher-education polemics that it might be worthwhile for that reason alone. She is an inveterate institutional loyalist, impervious to the appeal of the movements and ideologies to which many academics have openly and happily hitched their work. To call someone an institutional loyalist now cannot help but sound like an accusation of moral corruption—surely you’re not going defend Yale over justice? But in Gray’s depiction, correcting injustice rarely requires exposing the university to public humiliation, and, conversely, it is very unlikely that such humiliation will correct any injustice.

To read her memoir is to be launched into alien terrain. On this planet, there are universities full of good “citizens,” as Gray calls her colleagues, who sacrifice their time to perform often unrecognized and thankless service to guide their institutions through difficult financial straits and leadership impasses. Even the deepest clashes of principle, like those at stake in the anti-war protests, are worked out in committees and through personal discussions, with all parties satisfied that a “fair process” has been observed. In the most intractable cases—like the question of South African divestment, which was debated during Gray’s presidency at Chicago—task forces are convened to produce reports laying out broadly accepted guiding principles for the future. The various constituents of higher education may have quite divergent visions for their institutions but they can all, on the whole, be reasoned with. . . .

Has anyone else read Gray's memoir?  I'd welcome others' reactions.

Posted by Rick Garnett on March 4, 2019 at 09:21 AM in Books, Rick Garnett | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment