Syllabus S2015


Higher Education and American Life: Mirror to a Nation

Educational Administration 0855, Sections 002, 003, 004

Spring 2015


Kim Wilson, Ph.D.

Office Hours: By appointment


About the Course


Higher education is both an institution, and as Jeffrey Williams puts it, “an idea.” We will explore what this means for us as we attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of higher education by examining a broad range of issues.

We will conduct our inquiry into the role of higher education in American society by developing critical questions, engaging in dialogue, paying attention to history, thinking about the broad political implications, and exploring the sociological significance of one of the most important and fascinating institutions that exists today.

In doing these things, we will attempt to bridge the gap between reflection and action (praxis). In other words, we will first, read the assigned material and work individually to understand it, before we engage one another in dialogue. We will work through relevant examples that highlight issues that have shaped or are shaping American higher education. At no point will we resist “the heart of the question,” even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Because higher education has always been, and largely remains an elitist pursuit, and because shifting attitudes and public policies have attempted to provide access to individuals who do not fall into narrow categories (middle class, male, etc.), the institution today reflects broader social trends that are important to understand. As an exercise in deepening our understanding of higher education, we will read material from a broad array of disciplines and we will not limit our readings to scholarly work.

Our work will not be carried out in isolation to important contemporary events including, POTUS’ announcement on January 9, 2015, to provide free community college education, the continuing movement in Ferguson which is connected to America’s long history of racial problems, and the often overlooked connection between higher education and another enduring and complex set of institutions in American life, the prison industrial complex. While any of these things, individually, could easily fill an entire semester, we will do our best to think about them while we also attempt to understand many other issues that are part of the history and contemporary arrangement of institutions of higher education. We will also ask how these issues impact each of you as students/consumers of higher education.

While there are a number of goals for this course set forth by the Gen Ed Program, the overarching goal for me, is to teach you how to analyze a problem. In order to conduct an analysis of a problem one must have the tools to understand the problem and a language to describe it. Without these things one is not engaging in an analysis of anything, but is rather dabbling in opinion and speculation without digging deeper into the issue at hand. That is perhaps a valuable and enjoyable activity that one can engage in outside of the context of a course where we expect you to think, read, and write critically about the role of higher education in American society, but it falls short of doing what is possible in terms of empowering you to learn a skill that will serve you well throughout your academic career and your future lives.

Therefore, in the context of this course, we will be deliberate and intentional in our approach. A deliberate approach requires that we develop questions about the role of higher education in our society that are often left out of the popular literature or whitewashed in many textbooks. By asking you, the students, to develop questions we upset the banking model of education that privileges a teacher/expert in front of the room asking the questions, and the students/novice answering them—to one where students are empowered to direct their own learning, while having the benefit of a teacher there to guide them. In doing so, we will be doing what Freire describes as “people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.” (Freire, 1993)

Part of the framework for analysis that we will be using in this course is dialogue. Freire will again serve as our guide. He said,

 Dialogue cannot exist…in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and recreation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself. It is thus necessarily the task of responsible Subjects and cannot exist in a relation of domination. Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and masochism in the dominated. Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is a commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical. As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love. Only by abolishing the situation of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love people—I cannot enter into dialogue. (Freire, 1993)

By engaging in dialogue we are actively challenging the “dehumanizing aggression” of silence. Silence is often expected of those in subordinate positions within institutions including, institutions of higher education. There is much to legitimately criticize about institutions of higher education, as there is much that we can praise. Our work in this course is not to be complacent or satisfied with the status quo or to be satisfied with incremental progress. Our work will be to understand and to critically analyze the who, the what, the how, and the why, within these institutions so that when you leave this course you will have a) a set of analytical tools that you can use to evaluate other institutions b) a way to dialogue about issues that are uncomfortable c) a record of your reflections so that you can trace where you began and consider where you are in 14 weeks. In addition, I want you to enjoy this semester.



Students are asked to do the readings in advance of the class meeting when they will be discussed. It is up to you to print out the material or use electronic copies. I’ve found that there are many other reasons, beyond costs, for why students prefer or want to use their computers, and my job is not to police your use of technology in this course. Therefore, you are encouraged to use the method for reading the course materials that works for you.

In addition to the readings, I’ve developed 3 useful guides that I ask you to review before you begin reading, that will help you read and write about the material more critically. These PowerPoint presentations are titled: 1) Annotation and Critical Writing 2) Critical Reading 3) Reading Difficult Texts. You can access these items through Bb.

Finally, we will approach the readings with the understanding that the issues presented are complex and interrelated, and in no way reducible to gross generalizations. You are encouraged to read for nuance, and to read for what is between, around, and beneath the lines. Take nothing for granted. Ask questions. Interact with the material and interrogate the author. Do these things, and you will find that you’re much better prepared to engage your colleagues in dialogue.


Required Text

All of the readings for this course are available online or on Bb in folders that correspond to the week the readings are assigned.


Course Text 

Berdahl, Robert O., Phillip G. Altbach and Patricia J. Gumport, American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges. Third Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.


Issues Forums

The purpose of the issues forums is to critically analyze a topic or set of topics in the course. Students need to have completed the readings in advance of the Issues Forums, and come to class with a set of 5 well thought out questions that they would like to explore. In groups, students will spend 15 minutes reviewing the questions and selecting 1 that they would like to present and discuss with the class. Each group will select 1 student to act the presenter for that day’s Issues Forum.

Note: not every student will get to present during the issues forum, but every single student will have an opportunity to share their thoughts via the small group discussion and the larger class discussions. There are no “extra” points allocated for Issues Forum presenters.

Each Issues Forum is worth 10 Points                                                       Total   40 Points

No substitutions for this assignment.


In-Class Exercises

The purpose of the In-Class Exercises is to give students an opportunity to work on their writing and presentation skills in a structured manner. The topics for the In-Class Exercises vary, but are generally in keeping with the assigned material. Students do not have to do any special advance preparation for the In-Class Exercises beyond the usual reading. In-Class Exercises are a robust way to explore and learn about the material through the use of different pedagogical approaches including, short documentaries, writing circles, etc. Because In-Class Exercises take place in class they cannot be made up or duplicated. Please contact me if you run into a problem that prevents you from being in class on one of these days.

Each In-Class Exercise is worth 10 Points                                                 Total 40 Points

No substitutions for the In-Class Exercises


Final Group Presentation


The purpose of the final presentation is threefold. First, it gives students the opportunity to practice their oral presentation, planning, and group work skills—all of which are vitally important skills that students need. Second, the final presentation allows students to address one or more of the issues in the course. In this way, the material is something that students revisit rather than reading and learning about it and then moving on to something new without the benefit of reflection at the end. Third, students are asked to pay particular attention to issues that they are interested in or trying to understand more about. I emphasize this because I believe that is far more productive for students to have a stake in their own education rather than being dictated what they will learn all of the time. Therefore, I expect you to approach the final presentation with a sense of confidence that you have learned the analytical skills necessary to consider a problem. The goal is not for you to be an expert or to have all of the answers. Surely, if you were an expert or omniscient you wouldn’t be here so relax and take heart, the final is your chance to show us what you got.


Tip: Students will work on their presentations both in and out of class, and I encourage you to use Google docs, Google Hangouts, etc., to ease the burden of having to coordinate in-person meetings.



While I am not requiring that students keep a journal, I am certainly encouraging you to keep an ongoing record of your thoughts this semester. Journaling is personal and it’s supposed to be messy (or, if you prefer, pretty). Either way, the journal is one way to brush up your writing and analytical skills, and to keep track of interesting bits and pieces that you might come across outside of class that you may find appropriate for sharing in class. I will not collect or grade journals.



  1. Course policies including boilerplate language required by the University are posted on Bb.
  2. Should it become necessary to adjust the course schedule, I will do so and inform you via Bb.




 Week 1         

M- 1/12         Introduction to the course

W- 1/14         Annotation and Critical Writing and Reading

F- 1/16          Chapter 2: Pedagogy of the Oppressed pp. 52-67

Week 2       Part I: The Setting

M- 1/19        Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday-No Classes

W- 1/21         Introduction: The Contexts of American Higher Education pp. 1-15

F- 1/23          History as a Challenge to the Idea of the University by Jeffrey Williams

Week 3

M- 1/26       Chapter 1: Patterns of Higher Education Development pp. 15-37

W- 1/28       Chapter 3: Autonomy and Accountability: Who Controls the University pp. 69-87

F- 1/30         In-Class Exercise 1


Week 4         The Academic Community: Focus on Students

M- 2/2          Chapter 10: College Students in Changing Contexts pp. 254-278

W- 2/4           Housing Instability and College Students

F- 2/6            Pell Grants are America’s Investment in Needy Yet Promising College Students—Why Not Tell Them?

Week 5         

M- 2/9          Unpaid Internships: Bad for Students, Bad for Workers, Bad for Society

***Please read the rebuttal to this article in the link provided on the site.

W- 2/11         Colleges Increasing Spending on Sports Faster Than on Academics, Report Finds

F- 2/13           In-Class Exercise 2


Week 6

M- 2/16         Chapter 12: Financing Higher Education: Who Should Pay? pp. 315-340

W- 2/18         Academy Fight Song

F- 2/20           Issues Forum 1


Week 7          The Academic Community: Focus on Faculty

M- 2/23         Chapter 4: Academic Freedom: Past, Present, and Future pp. 88-112

W- 2/25         Low Wage Professors Battle Adjunctivitis

F- 2/27           The New Old Labor Crisis: Think being an adjunct professor is hard? Try being a black adjunct professor


Week 8         




Week 9

M- 3/9            What exactly do student evaluations measure?

W- 3/11         Chapter 9: Harsh Realities: The Professoriate in the Twenty First Century pp. 227-253

F- 3/13           Issues Forum 2


Week 10      Diversity in Higher Education

M- 3/16         Chapter 17: The Diversity Imperative: Moving to the Next Generation pp. 465-490

W- 3/18         Higher education: a market for racism?

F- 3/20          In-Class Exercise 3


Week 11

M- 3/23         We Need to Talk About Student Mental Health More, Not Less

W- 3/25         A Student’s Personal Account with a Service Animal (Association of Higher Education and Disability)

F-3/27            Issues Forum 3


Week 12

M- 3/30         LGBT Challenges in Higher Education Today: 5 Core Principles for Success

W- 4/1           LGBT and Queer Research in Higher Education: The State and Status of the Field

F- 4/3             In-Class Exercise 4: Gender Violence in Higher Education

Week 13

M- 4/6             Issues Forum 4

W- 4/8           Workshop

F- 4/10           Workshop


Week 14

M- 4/13         Final Presentations

W- 4/15         Final Presentations

F- 4/17           Final Presentations


Week 15

M- 4/20         Final Presentations

W- 4/22         Final Presentations

F- 4/24           Final Presentations


Week 16

M- 4/27       Conclusion


Berdahl, Robert O., Phillip G. Altbach and Patricia J. Gumport, American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges. Third Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

Broton, Katherine and Sarah Goldrick-Rab. “Housing Instability and College Students.” October 2013. Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Post-Secondary Education. <;.

Cottom, Tressie McMillan. “Think being an adjunct professor is hard? Try being a black adjunct professor. .” 24 January 2014. Slate.<;.

Frank, Stephanie. “A Student’s Personal Account with a Service Animal .” October 2014. Association of Higher Education and Disability. <;.

Frank, Thomas. “Academy Fight Song .” 2013. The Baffler. <;.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1993.

Goldrick-Rab, Sarah. “Pell Grants are America’s Investment in Needy Yet Promising College Students–Why Not Tell Them?” 2012. Scholars Strategy Network. <;.

James, Malcom and Sivamohan Valluvan . “Higher education: a market for racism?” 25 April 2014. Darkmatter: An International Peer Reviewed Journal. <;.

Kendzior, Sarah. “Who is Obama’s ‘Middle-Class College Student’?” 18 February 2014. Chronicle Vitae. <;.

Kim, E. Tammy. “Low Wage Professors Battle Adjunctivitis.” 17 July 2014. Aljazeera America. <;.

Lewin, Tamar. “Colleges Increasing Spending on Sports Faster Than on Academics, Report Finds .” 7 April 2014. The New York Times. <;.

Renn, Kristen A. “LGBT and Queer Research in Higher Education: The State and Status of the Field.” Educational Researcher (2010).

Stark, Phillip. “What exactly do student evaluations measure?” 21 October 2013. The Berkeley Blog. <;.

Thompson, Derek. “Unpaid Internships: Bad for Students, Bad for Workers, Bad for Society .” 10 May 2012. The Atlantic. <;.

Trammell, Jeffrey B. “LGBT Challenges in Higher Education Today: 5 Core Principles for Success.” May/June 2014. Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. <;.

“We Need to Talk About Student Mental Health More, Not Less.” 11 Noveember 2014. PhDisabled. <;.

Williams, Jeffrey. “Brave New University.” College English 61.6 (1999): 742-751.—. “History as a Challenge to the Idea of the University.” 25.1 (2005): 55-74.




This is an incomplete list. If you have suggestions that would be particularly useful to share, feel free to post them in the comments.


(There are way too many articles to list them all here. I’ve included this one because it’s particularly relevant in light of President Obama’s recent announcement on free community college education).

Transforming America’s Community Colleges: A Federal Policy Proposal To Expand Opportunity and Promote Economic Prosperity (in light of Obama’s announcement last week, this 2009 report (see link at the bottom of the article) addresses key issues in federal policy. By: Sara Goldrick-Rab, Douglas N. Harris, Gregory Kienzl and Christopher Mazzeo


Blogs and Websites

Association of Black Women in Higher Education:

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Edge of Sports, Dave Zirin’s column (Writes prolifically about sports and politics in general, and offers tremendous insight into the world of college sports):

The Freire Project (Requires no introduction):

Henry Giroux’s blog (What can I say? You’ll appreciate this blog if you are interested in a critical theory approach to the study of higher education. If that’s not your thing, keep it moving):

Inside Higher Ed:

No Extra Credit (Dr. Nyasha Junior’s blog is full of helpful tips for students):

Jessica Luther’s blog (A wonderful blog, full of articles that address sports and gender violence):

***Check out her article on the History of Race and Football in Austin:

PhDisabled (This blog focuses on ableism in academia, and it should be required reading for students (esp grad students), professors, staff, and administrators, who are often clueless about these issues).:

Remaking the University, Chris Newfield’s blog (Obligatory reading for anyone studying higher education).:

Tressiemc, Tressie McMillan Cottom’s blog (If you’re not reading Tressie’s blog, you should ask yourself “what is my life?”) :

What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? (This isn’t your “rose colored lens” look at higher education. Important read for those concerned about diversity in higher education in general, and in philosophy, in particular):

Wisconsin Hope Lab, Sarah Goldrick-Rab’s blog (A good resource of reports and articles addressing economic issues in higher education):

The U.S. Department of Education: (The Policy section of the site is particularly useful for accessing policies relevant to higher education including, FERPA, IDEA, and HEA).

University Affairs: (The site focuses on Canada’s system of higher education)

The Urban Institute, a non-profit think tank that conducts economic and social policy research, collects data, educates the public on key domestic issues, and provides advice and technical assistance to developing governments abroad:



Pinterest is a visual content organizer that is an extremely useful and very pretty way to share information. I curate a number of boards, and while you are welcome to follow all of my boards, I encourage you to at least consult those listed below. These resources are available so that you can browse and read material beyond those required for the course. This will help you develop a sense for the vast array of material that is out there just waiting for you to dig into it and broaden your knowledge.


Critical University Studies:

Critical Pedagogy:


Education and Schooling in America:

Education for Liberation:

Self Care:


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