We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University.

Author:Heilman, Robert B.

By David Damrosch. Harvard University Press. $32. 50. Paper, $15.95. Reviewed by Robert B. Heilman

The author, who professes literature at Columbia, is annoyed by various procedures and styles of the Metropolitan Ivy, and in venting his distresses, he assumes that the local flaws, as he sees them, are of national extent. He is distressed by attitudes and procedures that in his view belong to some earlier period and should be replaced. All evils, as he sees them, center in the dominance of the Ph.D. programs that, as we all know and are constantly told, came in a century or so ago, an export from a romantic Germany contemplating, with awe, its glorious origins in the medieval period. In this shaping of academic life, as Damrosch sees it, the "scholar" exists in, and furthers, a culture of "alienation and aggression." Alienation means a separatist, relatively unsocial professional life, in which the individual triumphs as best he may, especially by molding look-alike followers through the Ph.D. programs, not giving a damn for anything else. Thus he is into aggression against other fields and other studies and their practitioners; he doesn't help teach general studies or help in important general education. This "tenured scholar" (Damrosch sees him rather than the "tenured radical" as the source of most educational troubles) looks out for only personal interests (and perhaps departmental interests that are of concern to his operations), and the rest of the world, academic and non-academic, pays the price. Damrosch recounts most of these errors in a style that, though often molded by indignation, is mainly good-natured enough. He strives to persuade and, I assume, to avoid hostility by habitual irritated name-calling.

How valid Damrosch's gripes are depends on whether the flaws he sees at Columbia are general throughout the profession. I can only offer some experiences that are of a different order. In a long academic life, I have known only one case in which a professor visibly neglected students to pursue his own scholarly interests. Likewise, I have known only one case in which a colleague visibly assembled a corps of true believers who felt that from him they held the only right beliefs in literary matters otherwise overrun with error. In general, the professors I have known represented "fields." They dealt professionally with students; they did not recruit followers and converts, but did their best by students interested in their fields. They knew not only their own work, but also work of colleagues in the profession that the students should know. I know of virtually no cases of "alienation and aggression," even though a professor may be, as some wit said, "an oddball who always...

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