The Ideal of the University / Edition 2

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The Ideal of the University is a lucid, comprehensive analysis of the rationale, principles, and presuppositions that make contemporary universities what they are.

The book begins with four sharp, carefully delineated models of a university. After analyzing such controversial issues as the role of grading in the university and the “myth” of value neutrality. Wolff turns to the crucial question of how the university should be governed. He argues for a radical reconstruction based on a “social contract” that would place ultimate authority in the hands of the faculty and students. The book concludes with a series of “practical proposals for Utopian reform,” including such provocative recommendations as a variable-length, ungraded undergraduate program and elimination of the Ph.D. degree.

In his introduction to this new edition, Wolff expands upon his original speculations to argue in substantive detail for the liberating potential of the liberal arts. Drawing upon Freud and Marcuse, Wolff proposes that literature, art, and philosophy embody a promise of gratification that engenders a negative critique of the social and cultural status quo. The rationale for the liberal arts university is society’s need for a reservoir of critical thinking that is the motor of social, economic, and political progress. Elegantly written and passionately argued; The Ideal of the University is essential reading for educators and sociologists.

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Editorial Reviews

Wolff (philosophy, U. Mass.) first published the book reprinted here in 1969 with Beacon Press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560006039
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1992
  • Series: Foundations of Higher Education Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Paul Wolff is professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts. His books include The Poverty of Liberalism, The Autonomy of Reason, In Defense of Anarchism, and Understanding Marx.

Robert Paul Wolff is professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts. His books include The Poverty of Liberalism, The Autonomy of Reason, In Defense of Anarchism, and Understanding Marx.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Transaction Edition
Introduction to the Original Edition
Pt. 1 Four Models of a University 1
Ch. 1 The University as a Sanctuary of Scholarship 3
Ch. 2 The University as a Training Camp for the Professions 9
Ch. 3 The University as a Social Service Station 28
Ch. 4 The University as an Assembly Line for Establishment Man 43
Pt. 2 Partisan Thoughts About Some Educational Controversies 58
Ch. 1 A Discourse on Grading 58
Ch. 2 Three Myths of Education 69
A The Myth of Value Neutrality 69
B The Myth of Relevance 76
C The Myth of Efficiency 79
Ch. 3 The Admissions Rat Race 85
Pt. 3 How Should a University Be Governed? 96
Ch. 1 Why Should a University Be Governed at All? 96
Ch. 2 How a University Should Not Be Governed 111
Ch. 3 How a University Should Be Governed 126
Conclusion: Practical Proposals for Utopian Reform 139
Index 157
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