Friday, February 24, 2006

""Suppose people picked hotels based on how intelligent they expected the other guests to be."

Ann Althouse posts part of John Tierney's column from behind the NYT "wall."

"Suppose people picked hotels based on how intelligent they expected the other guests to be."
They'd be acting like someone who chooses to go to Harvard as an undergraduate, writes John Tierney -- TimesSelect link -- in his column about Lawrence Summers:

In most industries, a company would cater to customers paying $41,000 per year, but Harvard has been able to take its undergraduates for granted. (It was a radical innovation when Summers called attention to surveys measuring students' dissatisfaction.) Harvard has long known that the best students will keep coming, not for its classes but simply for its reputation. Smart students want to go where the other smart students go.

Tierney puts his finger on the real complaint against Summers:

He dared to suggest that professors teach survey courses geared to undergraduates' needs — an onerous idea to academics accustomed to teaching whatever's in their latest book....

Senior professors can shunt off the more tedious jobs, like teaching freshmen or grading papers, to low-caste graduate students or visiting lecturers. Or they just neglect the jobs that don't appeal to them....

You might expect the Harvard history department to devote a course or two to the American Revolution or the Constitution, but those topics are too mundane. Instead, there's a course on the diaries of ordinary citizens during the Revolution, and another, "American Revolutions," that considers the American and Haitian Revolutions as "a continuous sequence of radical challenges to established authority."
Rest at


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