How to make a great university better? Fewer teachers, more technology!
THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
May 2, 2013
‘An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel From the Philosophy Department at San Jose State U.’
Professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University wrote the following letter to make a direct appeal to Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor whose MOOC on “Justice” they were being encouraged to use as part of the San Jose State curriculum. (click image below)
Once upon a time, . . .
I’m posting this just to let students know that, when it comes to papers, I am a traditionalist. So, don’t let appearances to the contrary fool you. Yes, when I started graduate school, years ago, I tried to be all wild and experimental in my writing. Notice what I just said, YEARS AGO. Almost nobody writes like that anymore. What professors now want to see is straightforward, organized, precisely-worded and jargon-free arguments. I have learned – better late than never – that it’s possible to convey even outlandish ideas in clear and direct prose, and that it’s best to stick to that model of writing, unless a real and pressing need for something else arises. No more gimmicks! More than anything, gimmicks tend to announce that the writer is groping after a way of avoiding the honest labor of actual thought. I say all this in the interest of being helpful and steering you toward a more successful final. If you take the assignment seriously and allow yourself to be creative in your thinking rather than expressive in your writing, you may well find that the process will actually be fun. Good luck!
A Rulebook for Arguments is a succinct introduction to the art of writing and assessing arguments, organized around specific rules, each illustrated and explained soundly but briefly. This widely popular primer – translated into eight languages – remains the first choice in all disciplines for writers who seek straightforward guidance about how to assess arguments and how to cogently construct them.
We’ve treated some very intellectually challenging and socially disruptive concepts in the last two weeks. I don’t need you to agree with all or any of these readings, just take them seriously. And you have risen to the occasion in a way which has greatly surprised and genuinely impressed me. As you have observed, I am now officially worn out from a year of relentless teaching, as are most of you from a year of diligent studying. And yet we somehow continue to show up for class, prepared and ready to rumble. The quality of discussion has been remarkable of late, and it’s your attention and helpful participation which has drawn a brilliant performance out of me. I could not do it without you (despite Leibniz’s contentions). I am deeply moved by your interest, intelligence and efforts, and I can’t thank you enough. This is college as it should be experienced. We are so privileged to have each other.
A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. Offering bold new ways of conceiving the present, Lauren Berlant describes the cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted. People have remained attached to unachievable fantasies of the good life—with its promises of upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and durable intimacy—despite evidence that liberal-capitalist societies can no longer be counted on to provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives “add up to something.”