Thursday, October 3, 2019

Kronman's "Assault on American Excellence"

Anthony Kronman at Yale wrote a book a few years ago called Education's End (a pun), which had some resonance with Excellence Without a Soul. He has another book out about higher education, The Assault on American Excellence. It's pretty much guaranteed to make you angry in places, either because you think he misrepresents something you think important, or because you think he exposes some stupidity you can't believe is actually dignified at places like Yale. For me it does some of both, but I tried to swallow all that and write a dispassionate review when asked to. I entitled the review "Overlapping Magisteria" in homage to Steve Gould, and used it in part as an opportunity riff on a problem that doesn't get discussed much.


  1. Odd to comment on a book review, rather than to read the book. Maybe there should be a book about the cliff-noting of America.

    1) Does DIB stand for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging? I Googled the DIB and got nothing relevent to the topic, so you or Kronman may have just come up with a new word!

    2) Books and articles about the problems with academia currently seem to implicitly indicate that there was a prior golden age. Was there? Legacy admissions, doing what they could to cut down on the number of Jews in a school, a rather homogenous WASP viewpoint (were Catholics also discriminated against? I honestly don't know). In short, perhaps we should not idealize a past age that never existed. OR I am wrong and there was a brief time (e.g., 1951-1959) where there was an optimum.

    3) I have noticed (and blogged about:
    a diff sort of diversity issue: with students with awesome backgrounds applying to grad school (this prob also applies to ugrad) its harder to take an INTERESTING case: returning students, veterans, people with work experience.

    1. 1) Yes.
      2) I suppose every age was a golden age for somebody. But really we should recognize that this is a multidimensional optimization problem, so defining the meaning of optimal (or "golden") has to come before deciding whether any period was golden.
      3) Cf. my response to #2. There is nothing wrong, IMHO, with having "interesting" be part of your objective function. But that is arguable.