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Jul 15, 2004 3:03 pm

Burke on Third Parties and a New College ...

For those of you who, like me, have been missing your Tim Burke fix, he is back and posting, both at Cliopatria (on Michael Moore's"Fahrenheit 911") and Easily Distracted. Whatever fault you may charge him with, Burke boldly tackles the big issues. Here is his assessment of the prospects for any successful effort at a third party in American politics. In a polarized political situation, he suggests, the fruitful ground may be found neither on the far right nor on the far left, but in a conscientious center.

Over the past year at Cliopatria, Critical Mass, Crooked Timber, Easily Distracted, Invisible Adjunct, and elsewhere, Burke has participated in many discussions of the malaise in contemporary higher education. Now, he unveils a detailed proposal for a new college. It is both minimalist and visionary: Burke at his best. I hope you'll read and think about his proposal, that we can discuss it here at Cliopatria, and that there are other responses to it elsewhere on the net. Burke is serious. If you know where $500 million can be found to launch it, he's ready to put it in place.

Update: Erin O'Conner at Critical Mass and John Holbo at Crooked Timber host Burkefests today.

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David Haan - 7/15/2004

Mightn't what's being described as viable be the Swing Voter Party? And has it not moderated the doowopoly's fracture lines (as best as can be hoped for within the institutionalised framework) in UK as well as US? (Note that both the Demagogues and Reprobates represent coalitions rather than ideologies, and that fringe third parties may be considered as intramural tactics rather than durable strategy.)

Richard Henry Morgan - 7/15/2004

There actually is a real-life New College with many of the positive features suggested. It's in Sarasota. It started out as Ringling College, I believe, a private institution endowed by Ringling. Then it became an honors college of USF, with it's own endowment on top of state funding to allow for a really strong faculty geared to undergrad education. And now it is a free-standing honors undergrad college for the entire State of Florida University System.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/15/2004

You'd have to think long and hard about "student services." It is the major bunghole from which administrators pull line after line of new administrative job descriptions. Some of the _Chronicle_'s descriptions of new student service come-ons at large state universities are astonishing: eye-candy in Shangri La. One of the appeals of Tim's proposal is that it says in a fairly straightforward way: "We don't do that; we learn and teach."

Timothy James Burke - 7/15/2004

Good thoughts, and echoing some of my misgivings. In many ways, this really is just a think piece that might find its happiest real-world manifestation in exactly the form you describe, as a sort of "college within the university". NYU's current president has talked about something of this type, though his faculty are skeptical.

I also agree on the "social services" thing--I actually would whole-heartedly defend most of that spending and those activities at Swarthmore because I do think it's part of learning; sometimes it's what the students learn best and longest from. But it seems easiest to think about avoiding the problems of the "nanny state" in minature by simply cutting off the entire infrastructure that nurtures it. That, and it's the only way I can see to sustain the much larger necessary outlays on the instructional side that this basic idea would require.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/14/2004

The main critique I have of the whole project is that the tension between the small size of the student body (essential to effective instruction and growth in this system) and the number of faculty necessary to cover the fields available (I know the "braintrust" concept is supposed to help with that, but it'll be a challenge), and the student numbers necessary to generate the tuition necessary to support that faculty.

I also think that a lot of the "social services" which are offered by colleges today have a stronger connection to students' learning effectiveness than we think, and abandoning them entirely might produce retention and completion problems. Perhaps a vigorous advisor system (continuity of personnell and regular, frequent meetings with substantive issues to discuss) should be emphasized.

That said, I'm in. Core faculty, visiting, braintrust, whatever.

You might, by the way, be able to pull this off on the cheap as an "honors college"/"experimental college" within a mega-state institution, which would give you most of the infrastructure and a built-in braintrust (including alumni in lots of fields). Also sidestep the accreditation issue.

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