Convinced that America's institutions of higher learning now face a crisis - that they are not meeting the educational needs of their students, that faculty members can do better - William H. Willimon and Thomas H. Naylor here propose bold changes in the nation's undergraduate educational system. By looking at academic life from the students' point of view - the text is filled with real-life situations, reflections from students, and poignant illustrations - The Abandoned Generation evaluates American colleges and universities on the basis of the quality of the lives that they are now producing. Willimon and Naylor take an honest look at three realities of student life - substance abuse, indolence, and excessive careerism. They then evaluate the underlying causes - the sense of meaninglessness in student life and the absence of community. Finally, they build a provocative four-tier strategy for change - restructuring the academy, teachers who actually teach, curriculum reform, and the creation of learning communities.
Decades at Duke University, where Willimon is dean of the chapel and Naylor is professor emeritus of economics, provide the experience and motivation for this powerful plea to reorganize colleges and universities. The authors begin with an examination of the symptoms of decline: grade inflation; unmotivated, alienated students; a careerist approach to education; and, most centrally, alcohol abuse. These symptoms, they claim, point to problems stemming from the late-20th-century move away from liberal education. Students today accumulate data without being taught how to apply it. Like Plato in his Phaedrus, the authors worry about students who ``will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.'' Troubled by an increasingly anti-intellectual atmosphere on college campuses, Willimon and Naylor end with several radical proposals: form separate institutions for graduates and undergraduates, dedicating the latter to a stringent liberal-arts curriculum; reward faculty for teaching rather than for researching and writing; and eliminate tenure. They rely heavily on anecdotal evidence from students, data from various universities, and both ancient and contemporary literature, usually managing to strike a balance between professionalism and humanism. The authors provide compelling arguments for saving the abandoned generation of college students. (Sept.)