Archives For Universities

 

A Brief Review of
In the Basement of The Ivory Tower:
Confessions of an Accidental Academic
.
Professor X.
Hardback: Viking Books, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

I picked up In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by the mysterious Professor X because I’m a sucker for social criticism.  I had read the professor’s essay of the same title that was published in The Atlantic in 2008, and deeply appreciated the questions he asked there about whether college should be for everyone.  In the book, Professor X expounds upon the problem introduced in the essay, painting a rich Dickensian picture of the sad life of an adjunct professor, and he alludes to the complexity surrounding this problem.  However, he doesn’t offer much insight about it might begin to be resolved, and instead spends entirely too much time whining about his own situation.   Soon after the turn of the millennium, he and his wife bought a home that they, by his own admission, “really couldn’t afford.”  As the floor dropped out of the economy over the course of the decade, they found themselves struggling to keep up with the payments, which drove him to take on two adjunct professor positions (by day, he works at a modest government job) and also soured his marriage.  If Professor X was, say, a professor of business (or any other sort of professor other than an English one), this book would have been completely unreadable.  His writing style is compelling, even funny at times, but the overarching tone of the book’s bellyaching – about his house, his marriage, but most of all about his students and their lack of competency – grew old rather quickly.  Part of me wanted to dish out some “tough love,” Dr. Phil-style, telling the professor to simplify his life, sell the house, quit adjuncting, save his marriage and enjoy life.

Yes, I agree with the Professor that Western culture needs a significant amount of reform in the area of higher education, as well as in economic and societal expectations around higher education. However, the new book In the Basement of the Ivory Tower does not carry the conversation much beyond the questions posed in the original essay of the same name.  I think the original essay could have been expanded into a challenging book, however, Professor X’s new volume is unfortunately not that book.

 

“Toward A Historical, Christian
Intellectual Infrastructure”

A Review of
God, Philosophy, Universities:
A Selective History of
the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

by Alasdair MacIntyre.

 Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

 

God, Philosophy, Universities:
A Selective History of
the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

Alasdair Macintyre.
Hardback: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]

 

What good is philosophy anyway?  Those not interested in the life of the mind often sidestep discussions that probe human ways of thinking.  Yet the Church, celebrating philosophy as from the hand of the personal, eternal Creator (Prov. 8), should honor the “love of wisdom” more than anyone.  Indeed, for Christian higher education, proper thinking about how we learn and live is essential in training future generations.  Alasdair MacIntyre’s masterwork After Virtue has now been augmented in his newest work God, Philosophy, Universities as character education is given here a historical, Christian intellectual infrastructure.

 

Philosophy is “of crucial importance for human beings in every culture . . . philosophy aids in answering the seminal questions: “Who am I?,” “Why am I here?,” and “What happens after life?” (165). This basic formation of thought must be accessible for the common person.  MacIntyre’s chapter on Augustine, for instance, clearly shows the importance and benefits within the limits of philosophy.  While pursuit of wisdom in itself cannot give adequate knowledge of God nor lead us to Truth, “the project of understanding is not only one for those engaged in teaching, studying, and enquiring within universities.  Every one of us, in our everyday lives, needs in a variety of ways to learn and to understand” (69).  For the Christian “the ends of knowing and of loving God” are a pastoral guide for “plain persons” so that:

 

By developing habits of obedience to the natural law, habits that are also expressed in the exercise of the virtues, we direct ourselves toward the achievement not only of the common goods of social life, but also of our individual good, that good by the achievement of which our lives are perfected and completed (89).

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