Duke University Alumni Magazine

The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education

By William H. Willimon and Thomas H. Naylor. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. 162 pp. $11.

n December 1992, English professor Reynolds Price '55 blasted Duke's intellectual climate during his now legendary Founders' Day address. Frustrated by what he considered unmotivated students, uncommitted teachers, and hapless administrators, Price, a Duke faculty member since 1958, claimice, a Duke faculty member since 1958, claimed that, "All of us, in long collusion, have failed to exert a sustained and serious attempt to nurture the literal heart of a great university."

     Just a day before Price's broadside, then-president Keith Brodie, citing concern over Duke's alcohol-saturated social scene, had asked Dean of the Chapel William Willimon to undertake some first-hand investigation of student life. Willimon seemed the logical choice for the job. In 1991, he and Thomas Naylor, a former Duke professor of economics who now teaches at Middlebury College, had created a first-year ethics seminar called "The Search for Meaning." The course challenged students to worry less about grades and professional ambitions and to think more about family, friendship, and spirituality. Willimon was troubled by the lack of direction he encountered in his students, many of them the products of broken homes, and his research at Brodie's behest did little to reassure him. After a series of nights spent sleeping in dorm rooms, crowding into fraternity parties, and watching drunken students dance around bonfires, Willimon issued a report that painted a bleak portrait of Duke student life.

     Less than three years later, Willimon and Naylor have expanded that report into a book, The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education. The authors address three problems that plague an alarming number of college students--alcohol abuse, indolence, and careerism; they argue that these realities are symptomatic of a "culture of neglect," one in which adults have failed to assume their share of responsibility for the moral development of today's youth. For the authors, the most catastrophic shortcoming in higher education since the 1960s has been the "abandonment...of the moral, character-related aspects of education, the widespread but erroneous assumption on the part of administrators that it is possible to have a college or university without having an opinion of what sort of people ought to be produced by that institution."

     Willimon and Naylor are not calling for a return to the days of in loco parentis. Rather, they envision universities acting "in loco amicis, as wise friends." The authors ask, "What can we do at the modern university to nurture friendship between adults and those who are becoming adults and to explore friendship as the normative means of education?" They spend the majority of the book answering this question, and their bold solutions should be enough to unsettle everyone from provosts to football coaches. Willimon and Naylor contend that, in the absence of a well-defined purpose or mission, life in the academy has become consumer- driven. A consumer mentality manifests itself not only in students' perennial demands for more dining options and easier course requirements, but even more seriously as a philosophy of education that values the acquisition of enormous amounts of information without considering how to transform a jumble of facts, ideas, and opinions into knowledge. "Knowledge is not a matter of the technologically aided accumulation of information," state the authors. "Skills of discernment must be acquired. Judgments about the information cannot be endlessly deferred. Yet critical discernment and judgment are precisely the virtues of which modern education is terrified."

     For the authors, a community of friendship and discernment will become possible only when existing structures are revamped. Among their suggestions: Abolish tenure and replace it with a series of long-term contracts, require professors to teach three or four courses each semester, increase the number of undergraduate courses needed for graduation, institute residential college systems that permit students to live in small communities, and greatly reduce the amount of money invested in college athletics. And one more minor thing: The authors suggest that during the next decade large universities should "basically withdraw from the teaching business. The university of the future would consist of a collection of professional schools, graduate-degree-granting programs, high-level research institutions, adult-education programs, and professional outreach services." Undergraduate instruc- tion would occur at small liberal arts colleges modeled after the likes of Amherst or Vassar.

     The urgency with which Willimon and Naylor drive home their recommendations stands as one of the book's great strengths. However, their decision to tackle so many topics within the span of a mere 162 pages compromises the weight of their arguments as well as the book's organization. One chapter begins by bemoaning the academic overspecialization that typifies research universities like Duke, but shifts without warning to a discussion of the funds wasted on college athletics. The authors then move on again--this time to claim that too many universities exist in America. All three topics prove intriguing; unfortunately, justice is not done to any of them, as the chapter ends and a new one--appropriately titled "Where is the Glue?"--begins.

     Despite its disjointedness, The Abandoned Generation deserves a close reading. The authors have listened carefully to students, quoting them effectively throughout the book. They describe undergraduate initiatives, particularly those at Duke, that have helped improve the campus community. In doing so, they remind us that, abandoned or not, students themselves must assume a larger mantle of personal and communal responsibility as higher education lumbers into a new century.

--Stephen Martin

Martin '95 is a freelance writer living in Durham.

The New Rules of the Job Search Game

By Jackie Larson and Cheri Comstock. Boston: Bob Adams, Inc. 256 pp. $10.

n the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the reader is exposed to one of the first job-hunting books ever written. Reading through the first section is like discovering all the finer points of the do's and don'ts of networking. Franklin makes all sorts of perilous career decisions in his youth. He "quits" a good job working for his brother, heads to the big bad city of New York with no letters of recommendation, nor a resume. Of course, he can't find work, but, because of his amiable nature, he is befriended and gets a hot lead to a job in Philly. Naturally, as a headstrong youth, and male, he fails to get directions and loses his way, arriving so late that the job has already been taken. He's forced to freelance for a while until his talent and luck offer him full-time employment. From that rather bumpy and inauspicious beginning, Franklin settles down, starts his own newspaper, invents a stove and the stamp, discovers electricity, helps write the Declaration of Independence, puts the crack in the Liberty Bell...well, you know the rest.

     A little later on in Franklin's book, one will find his thoughts on life (read "job hunting") summarized in a list of things to do; his thirteen "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion" are set out as a guide to virtuous living that will surely lead to success in life. He even has a chart to help the reader keep track of progress along this virtuous path. Thus, the outline for nearly every career guide thereafter was wrought: personal experience chronicled through compelling true stories and case studies, surrounded by key points, charts, graphs, and samples. It's a great outline. Over the years, thousands of people have put it to good use and have written career guides, otherwise also known as "autobiographies with a purpose."

     Why this rather facetious introduction? Simply, job hunting is not rocket science. Once you understand that people are the key to winning job offers, that's all there is. Of course, figuring out how to work effectively with people is important. Getting motivated to do all the hard work involved in a job hunt is important. Understanding the current complexion of the job market is important.

     Therefore, reading Ben Franklin's autobiography will probably not do it for you in terms of finding a new job. Reading The New Rules of the Job Search Game will. The authors, Jackie Larson M.B.A. '84 and Cheri Comstock, with extensive experience as hiring managers, have been responsible for helping Silicon Graphics meet its staffing needs as one of the fastest growing companies of the Nineties. They have taken this experience, along with a strong background in markets and management, to suggest some innovative methods to uncover the "hidden job market." They correctly identify small to mid-sized employers (those employing between 100 and 1,000) as the best sources of new jobs. They then offer shrewd means for researching and pursuing these companies.

     Remember that scene in The Graduate in which the well-meaning adult whispers the word "plastics" to Dustin Hoffman? Well, the whisper coming from this book is "mutual funds." By studying the prospecti of the most successful mutual funds, you gain insight (backed by the massive research divisions of these successful financial gurus) into those companies and industries that are hot. Larson and Comstock go into great detail about where to find and how to use this information. They offer examples and walk you through all the steps necessary to reach important information. My favorite example is that of Calloway Golf, in which the authors search relevant industry articles and company reports to demonstrate why this company would be a good prospect as an employer. The comprehensive nature of their approach encourages the reader to give it a try. Co-author Larson has taken the best of her Fuqua training and translated it into something non-M.B.A. job hunters can use productively.

     Another unique aspect of this book is that it takes the reader all the way through each step it suggests. Most job hunting guides leave the reader short on specifics, only providing strategies. This book provides detail, right down to suggested scripts for telephone conversations, including several different paths such conversations might take. It makes the bold and correct assertion that much of the search process in the current job market takes place over the telephone. It also has helpful sections on writing resumes and cover letters and goes into depth on the ins and outs of successful networking.

     And, as in Franklin's autobiography, the authors neatly summarize their wisdom into a list they call the Focus Method, although they use a luckier group of seven, rather than Franklin's thirteen. It's not convincing that having a "method" adds much to this book. While a convenient way to sell and summarize the idea, it's something readers have heard before: "Follow this method and you will get a job."

     Other minor irritants in the book are byproducts of its strengths. For example, the authors suggest that onemust make 800 contacts to be effective in one's search. While a nice idea, this recommendation would seem daunting to even the most stalwart of job hunters. There is a bit of a boot-camp mentality to this book in the severity of some of its urgings, but some might say that you need this frame of mind to be successful in a competitive job market.

     While the basic messages contained in this book are time honored, the techniques and examples are indeed new. We need insight into how job hunting works in this new era of down-, right-, and what one cynic calls cap- sizing, and The New Rules of the Job Search Game offers this insight. But, just for fun, read Franklin's book, too, so you'll see how old some of these new ideas can be.

--John Noble

Noble is director of Duke's Career Development Center.

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