Tag Archives: higher education

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Lingua Franca) and Allan Metcalf

A fringe benefit of my job is on-line access to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a must-read for college and university employees and anyone who supports or utilizes our strange and complicated system of post secondary education. The Chronicle covers everything from the fall of Silent Sam at the University of North Carolina to classroom access for underserved student populations. Every day, there’s something worth reading, and I always check the column called “Lingua Franca”.

“Lingua Franca” is all about language, and offers blog entries from a dozen academics, all highly credentialed, opinionated and amusing.

The article that motivated me to write this review was published on September 9, authored by Allan Metcalf (English professor and forensic linguist) and titled “Who is Anonymous? An Extraordinary Writer”. The anonymous missive was published in the New York Times around September 1, talking about President Trump and the discontents of his highest advisors. Of course everyone wants to know the source. Personally, I’m astonished that a paper with the stature of The Times published an unsigned document.

Metcalf’s discussion relies on rhetorical analysis and a variety of forensic linguistic approaches. (I’ve read several popular works of linguistic forensics. Remember the Unabomber?) I realize that my education, which was strong on grammar, gave little attention to rhetoric.

No, Metcalf does not put a name to Anonymous. His conclusion? “…look for someone who is noted for her or his extraordinary command of language, who knows how to recruit the exact right words and deploy them artfully and memorably in sentences and paragraphs and whole essays. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind, but he’s not eligible”.

Wow! That is high praise. I’m okay with leaving “Anonymous” alone for the time being, but I hope I live long enough to learn his or her identity.


“College (Un)Bound – The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students” by Jeffrey Selingo, Editor at Large, “Chronicle of Higher Education”

This recent book (2013) contained many familiar themes, because when the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks, my colleagues listen, and they often circulate articles with added comments. Most of what this book covers was familiar, but it is useful to read it systematically.

This book sounds a clear warning to colleges and universities – adapt or go out of business. Yes, “business”. Higher education is no longer a sector above the economic fray. With state tax support shrinking and unlikely to recover, public colleges are driven to act like their private counterparts, for better or worse. Selingo emphasizes the positive by giving examples of colleges that have made major changes. (Aside from passing reference to Princeton, New Jersey schools are not mentioned.)

The people who really need to read this are PARENTS. Maybe my family would have made different decisions if we had seen all of this information 7 or 8 years ago (but maybe not). Selingo points out that high school students base their college choices more on emotion than considered judgment, and parents hate to disappoint them. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. Decisions are often made under pressure of deadlines, and before the full price is known.

My conclusion is that it is still worthwhile to get a Bachelor’s degree, for two reasons. It will increase your lifetime earnings, and the “college experience” in all its wonderful variability engenders personal growth. But I would add many caveats to this if advising friends.

That said, everything about college is changing. Selingo lists the following “disruptors” of higher education:

  • college indebtedness,
  • withdrawal of state support,
  • demographics (not enough 19 year olds),
  • availability of alternatives and
  • the “value gap”, the difference between the cost of college and it’s perceived value.

What, no mention of technology?! Actually, that gets an entire chapter, as well it should. But today’s students take it for granted, and heaven help any faculty member who doesn’t get on board.

Selingo brings up a topic close to my heart – ratings systems. I hate them! My college is completely under the spell – we have to participate, and we have to “look good”. I would not recommend that students and parents base their decisions on any of the existing systems. Selingo offers some better ideas.

I recommend this book for everyone. We are blessed with choices and options, and need to approach them thoughtfully.