The State of the Academy: A Review Essay

Robin Wallace


Two recent books (Professor X, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower and Arum and Roksa, Academically Adrift) both indict American higher education and, at least implicitly, compare its situation today with that of an idealized past when college students were better and professors had it easy. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower describes the experiences “Professor X,” who writes colorfully and provocatively about the time he had spent as an adjunct instructor of English teaching evening classes at two regional schools. Academically Adrift is written by two sociologists, with the assistance of several graduate students, and it received very wide press coverage when it appeared in 2011 because of its claim that despite the vast amounts of money being spent by American students to get a college education, most of them aren’t learning very much. Together, these works lead us to ask whether progress is possible in the diverse and baffling environment of current college teaching and to wonder what that progress would look like.

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ISSN 2155-109X