Why do professors all tend to think alike? What makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects should be required? Why do teachers and scholars find it so difficult to transcend the limits of their disciplines? Why, in short, are problems that should be easy for universities to solve so intractable? The answer, Louis Menand argues, is that the institutional structure and the educational philosophy of higher education have remained the same for one hundred years, while faculties and student bodies have radically changed and technology has drastically transformed the way people produce and disseminate knowledge. At a time when competition to get into and succeed in college has never been more intense, universities are providing a less-useful education. Sparking a long-overdue debate about the future of American education, The Marketplace of Ideas examines what professors and students-and all the rest of us-might be better off without, while assessing what it is worth saving in our traditional university institutions.
Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of The Metaphysical Club, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History. A longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.