June 13, 2017
On sale now: Campus Confidential by Jacques Berlinerblau
by Melville House
We’re thrilled today to be publishing Jacques Berlinerblau’s Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students.
A look at the state of higher education today from one who knows, Campus Confdential is fresh, funny, and hugely informative. What are the actual forces and personalities that will shape the college experiences of today’s students? Overworked, underpaid, insufficiently trained instructors? Check. Scholars more interested in pursuing their own research than instructing their students? Check. Administrations more concerned about the bottom line than the campus experience? Oh yes — check.
Folks in the know are already calling it “supremely hilarious.” Gary Shteyngart writes that “Berlinerblau is not just an astonishing thinker; he knows how to turn a phrase, and he knows how to keep the pages turning.” It’s just the thing for parents, students, and professors alike — and it hits stores today. Here’s a brief excerpt, in which Berlinerblau kicks of his campus tour — a look at what colleges are all too aware they aren’t telling their prospective undergrads.
Some backward-walking senior is giving you the campus tour. He exudes college pep and spirit the way a dog flicks off water upon scooting out of a river. This fellow is a repository of the oddest assortment of facts. President Warren Harding, he reports, delivered an address on these very steps. The new business school building, on your left, is powered by geothermal energy. Every incoming freshman receives a complimentary iPad and a motorized golf cart.
This is all very intriguing, no doubt. But the guide does not—and cannot—address the issues that should be foremost among your concerns. What is unique about how this school educates undergraduates? What transpires in its classrooms? How do professors here enhance the career prospects of their young charges? Assuming an undergraduate has a soul, how does this place make it possible for scholars to tend to or mentor that soul? Challenging questions, every last one of them — though I contend that for anyone selecting a college these are the questions that matter most.
An undergraduate’s intellectual, psychological, and, dare I say, spiritual growth is nourished by many things: friends, sports, romance, sexual experimentation, parties, tawdry flavored vodkas, internships, community service, the contemplation of the metaphysical, the enjoyment of art, music, and cinema, and so much else. But ultimately, nothing will validate the massive investment of time and money that is a college education more than a student’s encounter with professors.
I am speaking of those roughly 1,800 contact hours spent in the company of thirty to forty teachers. A young person’s classroom engagement with a few dozen scholars across four or five years—more than anything else, that is what college is about. We scholars might be in a very bad way. We might be watching our way of life lurch into oblivion. We might, deservedly, be a class that history is about to roll. But until our countless detractors figure out a way to provide a better 1,800 hours, we remain the most important variable in a student’s education.
All of this, naturally, is way above the pay grade of your twenty-one-year-old tour guide. Lurching toward oblivion? No one told him.
As for the college-bound, when they visit campus it seldom dawns upon them to inquire about the aforementioned concerns regarding teaching. Which is providential because no one on campus is capable of assisting them. Most professors and administrators would be at a loss to provide answers—at least accurate or honest answers—to the queries above. Why this is the case is actually a pretty interesting story in its own right, and one I shall recount below.
So permit me to escort you on my own sort of campus tour. Consider this an unauthorized tour, a sounding into the mysterious depths of American undergraduate education. My task is to direct your gaze to essential aspects of college teaching that most schools would rather you did not see, or could not show you even if they tried.