Failing the Future

A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century

Failing the Future

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: March 1998

Author: Annette Kolodny

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, General Interest > Current Affairs, Pedagogy and Higher Education

Both revealing and compelling, Annette Kolodny’s Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century is drawn from the author’s experience as a distinguished teacher, a prize-winning scholar of American literature, a feminist thinker, and an innovative administrator at a major public university. In chapters that range from the changing structure of the American family and its impact on both curriculum and university benefits policies to recommendations for overhauling the culture of decision making on campus, this former Dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona explores the present state of higher education and offers a sobering view of what lies ahead.
In this volume Kolodny explains the reasons for the financial crisis in higher education today and boldly addresses the challenges that remain ignored, including rising birthrates, changing demographics both on campus and across the country, the accelerating globalization of higher education and advanced research, and the necessity for greater interdisciplinarity in undergraduate education. Moreover, while sensitive to the complex burdens placed on faculty today, Kolodny nonetheless reveals how the professoriate has allowed itself to become vulnerable to public misperceptions and to lampooning by the media.
Not simply a book about current problems and future challenges, Failing the Future is rich with practical solutions and workable programs for change. Among her many insights, Kolodny offers a thorough defense of the role of tenure and outlines a new set of procedures to ensure its effective implementation; she proposes a structure for an “Antifeminist Intellectual Harassment Policy”; and she provides a checklist of family-sensitive policies universities can offer their staff, faculty, and administrators. Kolodny calls on union leaders, campus communities, policymakers, and the general public to work together in unprecedented partnerships. Her goal, as she states in a closing coda, is to initiate a revitalized conversation about public education.
This book should be required reading for all those concerned with the future of higher education in this country—from college trustees to graduate students entering the professoriate, from faculty to university administrators, from officers of campus-based unions to education policymakers.


“[A] compelling . . . vision of the state of U.S. higher education on the doorstep of the twenty-first century.” — Matthew Hartley, Harvard Educational Review

“[An] inspiring and ambitious book. To her lengthy list of credits as a ground-breaking feminist scholar, Americanist, and dean, Kolodny can now add to her list of accomplishments that of feminist public intellectual and educational reformer. We are fortunate to have a voice sounding such a hopeful note above the doomsday tumult of commentators and analysts. Let us hope this book will succeed in its mission to encourage a progressive and diverse generation of higher education administrators.” — Eileen E. Schell, Journal of Composition Theory

“[B]rilliantly lays out for more informed debate the challenges to and options of current higher education, especially old-fashioned elitist humanist education.” — Leonard R. N. Ashley, Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

“[C]andid, engaging, and informative. . . . Kolodny offers a surprisingly hopeful view of how change can be achieved. . . . Though Kolodny admittedly achieved only the beginning of her revolution, this book will ensure that the struggle continues.” — Phi Kappa Phi Journal

“[Kolodny] has turned her articulate mind and her marvelous imagination to the world of academic leadership. The book moves with a sharp and honest focus and must be read by all who are [concerned] about the future of higher education.” — Educational Book Review

“This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the future of higher education.” — Margaret Reilly, Association for Women in Science Magazine

“In addition to Kolodny’s strong briefs for extracurricular interdisciplinarity, for a more global approach to humanities education, and for sound approaches to new technologies . . . , three themes make this book a genuinely important one in the current conversation on higher education: her articulation of the social mission of public universities in relation to the multiple communities they serve; her detailed plan for a ‘radical overhaul’ of academic power structures; and, an understanding of affirmative action and diversity that profoundly transcends the numbers game that most administrators have learned to play. . . . It is as an advocate of proactive affirmative action that Kolodny is most determined and most successful. . . . She expands the idea of academic freedom to include protections against ‘antifeminist intellectual harassment’ and discusses the importance of ‘cognitive diversity’ in teaching and research. Her goal is nothing less than a university which genuinely reflects the community it serves.” — Appalachian Journal

“The power of this book lies in the evidence that Kolodny did indeed practice what she preached at Arizona. Even if you contest many details of her account, or if you disagree with her politics, you cannot fail to be impressed with what she did at Arizona. While the work was grueling, it made a difference. One can only hope, as Kolodny does, that this example will inspire other activists to join the ranks of academic administration.” — Rebecca Bushnell, American Literature

“Whether or not one shares Kolodny’s political views, her book is a bracing reminder, especially to those who will plan for the higher education of the 21st century, that what we plan and how we plan matters, because human lives are at stake.” — Jonathan A. Glenn, Planning for Higher Education

“Annette Kolodny has turned her articulate mind and her marvelous imagination to the world of academic leadership. Failing the Future is personally moving, with a sharp and honest focus, and it should be read by all those who care about the future of higher education.” — Barry Munitz, President and Chief Executive Officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust and former Chancellor of the California State University System

“This book should lead to an opening of the American mind. It is possibly the best book on higher education in the last decade. It is full of ideas that one needs to wrestle with, discuss, and chew over in faculty lounges, over e-mail, in journals, and in faculty senates. Failing the Future shows us not only what we must do, but explains HOW.” — Emily Toth, author of Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia

“This is a welcome and outstanding work. Particularly at this time, with the avalanche of right-wing and largely mindless criticism of universities, this book clearly sets forth the actual situation, the real problems, and suggests useful and possible solutions to the complex situation of higher education in our country today.” — Carolyn Heilbrun, Avalon Professor in the Humanities Emerita, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Annette Kolodny is the College of Humanities Professor Emerita of American Literature and Culture at The University of Arizona. She is the author The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630–1860 and The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. She is the editor of Joseph Nicolar's The Life and Traditions of the Red Man, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

A Personal Preface: Reflections on Five Years in a Dean’s Office I

1. Facing the Future: An Introduction 33

2. “60 Minutes” at the University of Arizona: The Polemic against Tenure 53

3. Raising Standards While Lowering Anxieties: Rethinking the Promotion and Tenure Process 81

4. Paying the Price of Antifeminist Intellectual Harassment 98

5. Creating the Family-Friendly Campus 131

6. Teaching and Learning in a World of Cognitive Diversity 159

7. Setting an Agenda for Change 173

8. Failing the Future; or, How to Commit National Suicide at the End of the Twentieth Century 214

A Closing Refrain: Reflections at a Graduation 249

Appendix 1. University of Arizona College of Humanities Promotion and Tenure Procedures 257

Appendix 2. Summary Checklist of Selected Family-Friendly Initiatives and Programs 269

Notes 273

Works Cited 281

Index 291

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2470-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2186-6
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