In the grip of market madness 1

January 13, 2006

While ingeniously linking obesity (including an eye-catchingly repulsive picture) to academia, Peter Whybrow's article parodies American higher education ("My, my, haven't we grown?", January 6).

If it is as grossly distorted by materialism as Whybrow claims, why does liberal education remain at the heart of the American undergraduate curriculum?

Why are traditional disciplines such as mine (history) thriving, and why are liberal arts colleges the most prestigious institutions? And, as Alan Ryan has commented in The Times Higher , Americans still expect higher education to address civic values.

Ironically, Whybrow's depressing description of market-driven materialism destroying educational values seems more descriptive of Britain, where current government policy emerged from a stridently instrumentalist White Paper that ignored non-economic rationale for higher education. And it is in Britain where a depressing number of traditional departments have faced closure.

Whatever the pros and cons of top-up fees, Whybrow's dire warning of their corrosive consequences rests on a very questionable depiction of American academic life.

W. Bruce Leslie
Department of History, State University of New York at Brockport

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