It is no longer clear what role the University plays in society. The structure of the contemporary University is changing rapidly, and we have yet to understand what precisely these changes will mean. Is a new age dawning for the University, the renaissance of higher education under way? Or is the University in the twilight of its social function, the demise of higher education fast approaching?We can answer such questions only if we look carefully at the different roles the University has played historically and then imagine how it might be possible to live, and to think, amid the ruins of the University. Tracing the roots of the modern American University in German philosophy and in the work of British thinkers such as Newman and Arnold, Bill Readings argues that historically the integrity of the modern University has been linked to the nation-state, which it has served by promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture. But now the nation-state is in decline, and national culture no longer needs to be either promoted or protected. Increasingly, universities are turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of culture is being replaced by the discourse of "excellence." On the surface, this does not seem particularly pernicious.
The author cautions, however, that we should not embrace this techno-bureaucratic appeal too quickly. The new University of Excellence is a corporation driven by market forces, and, as such, is more interested in profit margins than in thought. Readings urges us to imagine how to think, without concession to corporate excellence or recourse to romantic nostalgia within an institution in ruins. The result is a passionate appeal for a new community of thinkers.
Readings argues compellingly that the university has outlived its purpose--a purpose defined two centuries ago, when the nation-state and the modern notion of culture came together to make the university the guardian of national culture...What, Readings asks, "is the point of the University, if we realize that we are no longer to strive to realize a national identity, be it an ethnic essence or a republican will?" What happens when the culture the university was meant to preserve goes global and transnational along with everything else? This is an intriguing argument. And...it helps to explain much. From this perspective, for example, Readings is wonderfully insightful on the "culture wars" that have wracked universities and bewildered the public for two decades...Readings offers a call to arms to those of us who live and work in universities as well as to those on the outside--a call to better understand our position in a changing world, to come out of our professional shells, stop pining for a lost world, and actively seek to construct something different...[This is] a remarkable contribution.
The University is a ruined institution, forced to abandon its historical raison d'etre and enmeshed in consumerist ideology...The task that substitutes for the pursuit of culture is the adherence to Excellence, which relegates the university to the treadmill of global capitalism. It turns out graduates as objects, not subjects, at so much per head, under the scrutiny of the state bureaucracy. That is the nub of Bill Readings's superbly argued pessimism...His essay provides an insight into contemporary vexation as experienced in every form of society and community obliged to exist in the new globalized economy. The university has always suggested an institution immune to wider trends, but Readings...argues very convincingly for its fragility. It is a microcosm caught in the coils of consumerism, and forced to act as a satrap in that kingdom...The dysfunction, as he envisages it, is very deeply pondered and rather brilliantly expounded.
Bill Readings...presents a comprehensible and intelligent interpretation of the status and meaning of the university today which draws inspiration for its ideas from paradigms as diverse as Jean-Paul Lyotard's seminal The Postmodern Condition and the cult movie of the late 1980s, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure...Anyone who has been through the academic mill in the English-speaking world at any level in the last decade will certainly have no problem perceiving the truth of Readings's observation that corporate-style management has become part of the fabric of university administration.
[A] fiercely intelligent polemic about the contemporary university...Whether they're polishing off the latest bit of research or merely fishing in some desolate sound during the summer break, The University in Ruins is a book that's indispensable to everyone working in or attending post-secondary institutions. If they're not in ruins yet, they're certainly under siege.
[An] acerbic, often witty critique of the University...[Readings] would have made a formidable opponent in the debates that his book will surely occasion...[W]e should be thankful [for Readings' book] because it raises precisely the large theoretical questions that university types often prefer to ignore.
Bill Readings' scholarly work The University in Ruins is one of the most challenging and critical books of this genre. He argues compellingly that there is a crisis of purpose in the modern university...Readings' arguments about the linkages between globalisation, corporatism, culture and the university provide an important insight into the malaise of the contemporary university...This highly intelligent and fiercely written book is a fine epitaph to a scholar of rare distinction.
The University in Ruins is both challenging and accessible. Readings can discuss the German Idealists and Macro-Economists, F. R. Leavis and Francois Lyotard, Beavis and Butt-Head, even Bill and Ted and (of course) their Excellent Adventure-all without obfuscation or condescension. His book offers acute assessments of higher education, its architects, and its critics. There is much material for reflection and debate here; that's the way Bill liked things and what he liked best about the university.
Sadly, Readings died in a plane crash shortly after this acerbic, often witty critique of the University was completed. He would have made a formidable opponent in the debates that his book will surely occasion But what we have is Readings' book, and for that we should be thankful because it raises precisely the large theoretical questions that university types often prefer to ignore.
- 256 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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