Thursday, February 08, 2007

Book 5: 100 Semesters

NUMBER: 5
TITLE: 100 Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President and What I Learned Along the Way
AUTHOR: William M. Chace
STARTED: Jan. 30, 2006
FINISHED: Feb. 7, 2006
PAGES: 354
GENRE: Education

FIRST SENTENCE: Most people do not stay in school for a long time.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Chace follows his own journey from undergraduate education at Haverford College to teaching at Stillman, a traditionally African-American college in Alabama, in the 1960s, to his days as a professor at Stanford and his appointment as president of two very different institutions--Wesleyan University and Emory University.

Chace takes us with him through his decades in education--his expulsion from college, his boredom and confusion as a graduate student during the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, and his involvement in three contentious cases at Stanford: on tenure, curriculum, and academic freedom. When readers follow Chace on his trip to jail after he joins Stillman students in a civil rights protest, it is clear that the ideas he presents are born of experience, not preached from an ivory tower.

The book brings the reader into both the classroom and the administrative office, portraying the unique importance of the former and the peculiar rituals, rewards, and difficulties of the latter.

Although Chace sees much to lament about American higher education--spiraling costs, increased consumerism, overly aggressive institutional self-promotion and marketing, the corruption of intercollegiate sports, and the melancholy state of the humanities--he finds more to praise. He points in particular to its strength and vitality, suggesting that this can be sustained if higher education remains true to its purpose: providing a humane and necessary education, inside the classroom and out, forAmerica's future generations.

REASON FOR READING: One of the many on my TBR list

THOUGHTS: I'm of two minds about Chace's book. First, I loved it because it showed that there are people who truly care about education for the sake of education. Second, I disliked the somewhat ramblings nature and dense tangents. Mostly, I was intrigued by this man's love of teaching, even when he was an administrator and president, he still found time to teach classes. In reading this book, I came to admire Chace's persistent love for learning.

The memoir is extremely self-reflective and this makes the book seem longer than it is. There are just pages and pages where Chace rambles on about the purpose of higher education and his love for specific aspects of learning. While these pages are interesting to hear about, the amount of time Chace devotes to this moment is, in my opinion, too long. Everyone has a different educational experience and, in discussing his love for education, Chace has almost written two books. The first is a meditation on education, the second, and I would argue most interesting, is about the way higher education actually functions and has changed over time.

The most enjoyable segments are when Chace is outright candid in his analysis of the higher education system. He's not afraid to tell when something he or someone else did ended badly. In fact, he takes pains to mention how defensive each segment of a university can be, and how this makes for a rather inefficient and tense education system. He also discusses how colleges and universities are beginning to resemble and act like businesses - where students are customers of a product. Chace also does not neglect to mention the horrible parts of being an administrator (i.e. his firebombed office and meeting with parents whose child has just committed suicide). It is these punctuated instances that kept me reading. I've been a student all my life, and have never once considered what it must be like to be a professor, administrator, or president. His story is more dramatic than one would think.

Chace has seen every side of higher education, and he lived through a time of major upheaval in the system. It is for these very reasons that his book has deeper meaning. While sometimes dull, the self-reflective nature and meditation of purpose lead one to believe that Chace believes in the educational system in ways that most people neglect. It is a memoir that is meant to make the reader think about the most basic meaning of education: is it a product of business, or is a simple necessity of life?

MISCELLANEOUS: While reading this book, I had more than one dream about being a professor. I taught the weirdest classes.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Belongs to the library
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

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