Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week going through it. Day 1.

Seery begins:

I write this essay with mixed feelings. Half of me is mighty reluctant to write something harshly critical about higher education in the United States because I’m such a true-blue believer in, beneficiary of, and insider (here in my nook) to the system: Why should I contribute to the clamorous cross-country badmouthing so in vogue? We educators today are under siege by roving bands of pauperized parents, skunk-eyed skeptics, bean-counting accountants, dastardly disrupters, cretinous accreditors, mega-moneyed magnates, technology tycoons, pooh-poohing pundits, profiteering politicos, and others.

The more you love something, the more you have a responsibility to engage in honest, thoughtful criticism of it. I haven’t written almost every day for 15 years about Williams because I hate it. I write about Williams because I love it. Despite that (or maybe because of it), I suspect that most of Hopkins Hall views me as a “skunk-eyed skeptic.” Not that there is anything wrong with that!

My on-the-ground, in-the-hallway reality thus contravenes the prevailing narrative depicting professors as a bunch of pampered partisan prigs. Go ahead, troll me, if you must.

Professors as a class are hardly “pampered.” Indeed, the dramatic over-supply of Ph.D.’s and the ever increasing adjunctification of higher ed means that the average Ph.D. who teaches college students in the US is under increasing siege.

But Seery and his tenured peers at Pomona (and Williams) are among the most pampered workers in the entire world. Does Seery really not know that? First, they can never be fired. (Recall Williams Professor Aida Lalelian use of the term “nigger” to attack a faculty colleague. In any other company in the US, she would have been fired the next day. As a tenured professor at an elite college, she was safe.) Second, they get raises every year. Even the worse teacher/scholar at Pomona, once tenured, is on almost the exact same ever-rising ladder of prosperity as Seery. Third, their required workloads have decreased dramatically. At Williams, professors have gone from “3 and 3” — meaning a requirement to teach 3 courses each semester — to “3 and 2” to “2 and 2.” You can be certain the same thing has happened at similar colleges. If tenured professors at Pomona are not “pampered,” then no employee is.

I’m an outspoken, latter-day, and self-appointed apostle for the small liberal arts college (SLAC) form of education, a distinctively American institution.

Me too! Read “Choose Williams Over Harvard” for the details.

Only about 1 percent of the nation’s twenty million undergraduates are educated these days in a SLAC. Maybe I’m whistling past the graveyard, or going down with the sinking ship, or living on an isolated island as a blinkered holdout after the war is long over, but I still assert that the small liberal arts college form of education ought to be recognized (because it is so in fact, sotto voce, even if in dwindling numbers) as the gold standard, the summum bonum, the best of the best, for undergraduate education (rich, poor, white, black, religious, secular, you name it).

That is absurd. Has Seery ever met a high school senior with, say, 25th percentile intelligence? He should go visit some average high schools! Such students don’t like school, they don’t like reading, they don’t like all that intellectual stuff that Seery (and I!) like. And that is OK! We should no more make such students go to places like Pomona than we should make non-academically inclined Pomona students get a Ph.D. Graduate school is not for everyone, and neither is life at a SLAC. Such students are much better off learning a trade after high school.

But, to the extent that Seery is talking about the intellectual elite, I agree. If you have a choice between Pomona and, say, Cornell, you should choose Pomona for all the reasons that you should choose Williams over Harvard.

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