These are perfectly implausible times for radical surgery on the academy.
John M. Ellis’s new book begins on a note close to despair. The time is long gone, writes Ellis, when diagnoses of the educational disorders on college campuses might inspire consequential reform. Leftist radicals have effectively dismissed such hopes as irrelevant to their project, which is not to improve undergraduate instruction but to gain power for themselves. Ellis finds himself with no choice but to perform an autopsy—at which he succeeds marvelously.
A distinguished professor emeritus of German literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ellis devotes seven of his eight chapters to describing the academy’s terminal decline. Contemporary colleges are, as he titles one chapter, “Sabotaging Education for Citizenship.” They are busy creating “The Campus World of Lies and Deceit.” In Ellis’s view, academe is so far gone intellectually and morally that its only shot at health is a risky, unprecedented procedure—in effect a brain transplant: replacing today’s tenured radicals with “professors who don’t politicize their classrooms in either direction.”
He realizes how preposterous this sounds. Most people, he admits, assume “nobody will ever agree” to, in effect, a faculty brainectomy. But he holds out hope that a desperate public will realize, finally, that desperate times call for desperate measures. In practical terms,
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