Moving to the US I thought I should get up to date with US higher education. Daniel Johnson’s book, on American Higher Education’s Uncertain Future, is a critique of where we are. I was expecting criticism of government funding levels, lack of appreciation of the benefits of academic thought, and maybe students themselves. It isn’t that.
Johnson Doesn’t Love All Academics
Johnson was an administrator. This may have led to his frustrations with his fellow academics are obvious in the book. Some of the problems he sees comes from the actions of the academics themselves. He tries to focus on how we can help students. This is a running theme and so it makes it a little hard to place his views at times.
Furthermore, he thinks things are too expensive from fees to textbooks (and some textbooks are really, really expensive). He is certainly not a fan of athletics programs. Johnson also thinks we haven’t done enough for students from backgrounds traditionally under-represented and that academic leadership hasn’t changed as much as you think in his career.
Following this he had some interesting points on governance and the credit system. (I don’t really have enough experience to comment more on this.) He has also been involved in accreditation and clearly has a lot of sympathy with the idea of changing that whole process.
Is Tenure Part of American Higher Education’s Uncertain Future?
What else is a theme in American higher education’s uncertain future? Probably his most controversial comment (for academics) is his view of tenure. “Lifetime job security to ensure academic freedom is, to be very clear, a costly scam…Tenure that means lifetime job security, irrespective of the needs of students and the costs imposed on universities, students and the state is an unaffordable anachronism….” (Johnson, 2019, page 57). Johnson is much clearer than most on the topic to the point of vehemence. This is something I would like to think more about. I do personally have some worries about tenure and how we square that with the goal of diversifying the academic workforce. That said there are benefits to tenure. I would love to hear more perspectives.
Read: Daniel M. Johnson (2019) The Uncertain Future of American Public Higher Education: Student-Centered Strategies For Sustainability, Palgrave Macmillan
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