My colleague Steve Pearlstein’s weekend column in the Washington Post has generated more than its fair share of attention and, well, backlash. Perhaps the two most cogent negative responses I’ve seen were from Dan Drezner (Pearlstein’s WaPo colleague) and Matt Reed at Inside Higher Ed. Both take Pearlstein to task in some pretty tough, and I have to say, deserving, language, pointing out numerous serious flaws and/or oversimplifications in his analysis.
I want to stipulate at the beginning of this post that I know Steve, I like him, have been a fan of his writing for years (which is not to say I always agree with him), and I know him to be a thoughtful teacher, devoted to getting it right in the classroom, because I have sat in on his classes and had long discussions with him about teaching and learning. In several conversations over the past few years I have enjoyed his fresh perspective on an institution where I have worked for 15 years now and on an industry that I have worked in for 32.
That said, like his critics, I found a lot to disagree with in his essay, especially when you drill down to the specifics. Like any good polemic, though, this column made me think, in particular about the future of the university as we know it. I’ve had a lot to say about that in this space over the years and so I’m indebted to both Pearlstein and his critics for prodding me to think anew about issues that have troubled me for quite a while.
My own perspective on the issues he raises (about cost structures, efficiencies, etc.) comes from a decade as an administrative management consultant in higher ed before I joined the faculty ranks, and more recently