Alright, it’s almost summer and even if it seems like an abandoned hope to go to the beach this year, I know you are all desperate for my college book selection. So, let’s go.
There’s a lot to forget among the 35 university books I’ve read so far this year. I bought a lot of Palgrave college books in December when they had a ridiculous 90% discount, and … let’s just say that many of them are not really what you would describe as particularly good. Many are not particularly strong doctoral theses or one-dimensional summaries of UNESCO data or are complaints by individual authors about the politics of this or that country. It’s a bit daunting to see what is considered publishable in this industry, to be honest.
But let’s focus on the positive. In view of the large monographs that make up doctoral theses, an honorable mention is received Measuring the internationalization of universities by Catherine Yuan Gao. It is a little nerdy, but useful to understand different national approaches to measuring institutional inputs and outputs related to internationalization (and thus offers an interesting general lens for the incompatibility of institutional data across national borders. Second in this category is a concern Post-secondary education in British Columbia: public order and structural development, 1960-2010 by Robert Cowin. It suffers a bit from being too obviously based on a thesis (the theoretical sections aren’t necessary for most readers), but every province deserves such a good political story. I really appreciated it.
But first place goes without a doubt to Ogechi Anwanyu The Policy of Access: University Education and Nation-Building in Nigeria, 1948-2000 (published by the University of Calgary Press, which seems like a strange pairing, but whatever). This is possibly the best national history of higher education I’ve ever read in a country in the developing world. The way in which the history of the development of higher education institutions is intertwined with that of the country itself is particularly impressive. Too often, these issues are treated in isolation, so work that combines educational history with political history is very welcome. I wish there was such a book for every country. Really excellent stuff.
I have spent an excessive amount of time studying American higher education issues. This includes some really fascinating regional stories of American history, the best of which is Higher Education in the American West: Regional History and State Contexts, (with a number of editors, including David Longanecker). I really think that the historical approach to US higher education is less useful to outsiders than a regional approach. Overall, the region is treated as “there is the Northeast and everyone else”, but I think there’s a pretty good case for at least five and maybe six regions in American higher education (depending on whether you have Texas as a separate region counting). From an international perspective, it would be much more accurate to think of the United States as six different types of systems than one country. In any case, this is the best of the region.
Among other US college books, I recommend Redesigning American Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success by Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars, and Davis Jenkins, if only because this book made it clear to me that Americans knowingly or not advocate Canadian community colleges when they talk about the “Community College of the Future”. I am also a big fan of Vida Avery Philanthropy in Black Higher Education: A Fateful Hour to Create the Atlanta University System, This tells the very strange story of how this fusion of several fighting denominational schools became a jewel in America’s system of historically black colleges and universities thanks to Rockefeller funds (see here for more about the AUS, a campus that some of you will recognize by Spike Lee’s School Daze).
(If you click through these books and snap up price tags, I only buy Palgrave at a 90% discount).
There was a big new release this spring that I really wanted to like but just couldn’t: Markets, Brains and Money: Why America is a Leader in University Research, by Columbia University economist Miguel Urquiola. His thesis is that American universities outperform European universities because they act more like a “free market”: they have “self-government” (ie autonomy), “freedom” to offer different types of products (ie differentiation) and in which they operate a free market with easy entry and exit. This is a reasonable thesis. He then wrote a few hundred pages of good comparative history from American and European universities until the early 19th century and showed how these three things developed in the United States, but not really in Europe. Great first half of a book, right? But then it just stops. The entire past 150 years? Not considered. The idea that American research could be great because of massive government subsidies from things like the National Institute of Health? Not considered. Absolutely bizarre.
The question of comparative performance in America and Europe is generally difficult, mainly because the whole idea of college studies is so different on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, university studies are largely a result of management studies that focus on institutions. In the United States, it is primarily a branch of sociology with a focus on students. When Americans write about institutional management, it’s usually in a how-to format Head of the research university by Dean O. Smith, the perfect gift for someone you know who has just become VP Research or maybe an Assistant Dean with research responsibilities.
However, this approach lacks the analytical brilliance of the best European university management books. including Reform management at universities: the dynamics of culture, identity and organization (Stensaker, Valimaa and Sarrico, ed.) And Managing universities: politics and organizational change from a Western European comparative perspective (Beliklie, Enders, Leppoli eds), the latter of which is absolutely outstanding: a tour de force of multidimensional quantitative analysis of governance and management from a comparative perspective. There is nothing nearby in North America where the analysis hardly goes beyond other ideas of “academic capitalism” or – God forbid – neoliberalism, which are both abuse and analysis. If you want to understand the nuances of academic and institutional culture across Europe and can only read a book, Manage universities is it. Highly recommended.
But enough of the academic stuff: I’m going to leave you with a great, trashy, fun read: The professor and the pastor by Adam Sisman. This is the story of Robert Parkin Peters, an academic and spiritual deceit who was married seven times (overlapping some bigamists) and who, from the 1950s to the 1990s, kept looking for ways to find jobs in religious studies across the Commonwealth and South Africa ( In Canada, he managed to get hired at Trinity and the University of Ottawa.) It’s a fantastic and entertaining story about how a fraudster could thrive in the academic world before the internet. Definitely something to read on the beach – if beaches were still one thing in 2020.
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