To the Editor:
A THOUGHT OCCURRED to me when reading Jonathan Marks’s review of Campus Confidential, by Jacques Berlinerblau (“Teach or Die Trying,” July/August). The purpose of a university is not only to gain knowledge through research but to disseminate that knowledge. Publishing is a far more efficient mode of dissemination than teaching in a classroom. Not only can a book reach a wider audience, it can outlive its author. Of course, there is no substitute for the immediacy of a classroom, and I should think that most professors would find teaching rewarding if they knew that the knowledge they shared would be absorbed and used. But imagine yourself as a scholar devoted to your field—instead of standing in front of an intimate group of intelligent youths eager to learn, you find yourself before a dull, disinterested throng who are there only to earn a credit toward graduation. Your teachings would be destined for oblivion. The oversold imperative of “getting a college education” has inflated and debased the student population. It’s no wonder that professors look at undergraduates with a jaundiced eye.
Vero Beach, Florida
Jonathan Marks writes:
IN MY 20 YEARS teaching at the college level, although I have encountered my full share of students little interested in learning what I have to teach, I do not recognize Jack Rice’s “inflated and debased” student population in the students I know. Moreover, since students have, throughout the history of higher education, arrived on campus with different priorities than those of their teachers, I cannot regard the fact that some students are not interested in learning as a product of the drive to get more people to attend college. That drive has undoubtedly brought in students who would be better off not attending. It has also brought in students whose interest and aptitude for learning are either well-formed or waiting to be ignited. In light of that assessment, which I concede is grounded in no more than my own experience and what I’ve heard of the experience of others, Mr. Rice’s assessment seems unduly pessimistic. I have no idea how to weigh the value of writing an academic monograph against the value of changing a student’s life for the better when it comes to achievements that outlive us. But I see much to recommend in pursuing both activities.