Public Funding of Higher Education: Changing Contexts and New Rationales, edited by Edward P. St. John and Michael D. Parsons. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. 2004. Cloth: ISBN 0801879736, $40.50. 252 pages.
As a faithful reader of the Chronicle of Higher Education for many years with forty-seven years of experience as a student, faculty member, and research fellow at fifteen different institutions of higher learning in the United States, England, and Germany, I should be well qualified to review this book. However, the academic scene has changed so rapidly in the last generation that the many fine essays in this study are not only informative but even novel to an experienced observer. (1) Since it is impossible in a review of this length to analyze each of the twelve chapters, I will confine myself to restating what I learned and to observations of a more condemnatory general nature regarding the state of higher education.
This book is grounds for serious concern about the present state of affairs in academe, yet it will not cause most readers to relinquish hope for improvement. The four thousand or so institutions of higher learning in the United States, whatever their frailties and however much the waste and slippage, represent a massive, perhaps historically unprecedented, investment in both social capital and social equity. The twelve contributions, some co-authored, about this state of affairs are not compilations of "educationese." Rather, the level of cognition and learning on the part of the contributors extends to theoretical concerns and evidences a reading of Habermas, Gramsci, Rawls, and, of course, Dewey. Interestingly, the social theory is at least casually integrated with policy evaluation. And it will appeal to a sophisticated audience of policy analysts, politicians literate in the social sciences, and educational leaders whose opinions, in the final analysis, matter.
In terms of the equity-efficiency debate on which economists often focus, the majority of the contributors come down on the side of social equity-meaning greater access for the socially disadvantaged, grants instead of loans, and so on. (2) Policy adequacy in higher education tends to be measured in terms of its contribution to social and economic equality as well as Deweyan-Maslovian self-actualization. In short, the left-liberal political bias of most of the contributors is evident. Fortunately, little effort is made to conceal ideological and doctrinal...