A Sabbatical

Abelard and Heloise surprised by Master Fulbert (Painting by Jean Vignaud)

I’ve been receiving email the last couple of weeks.  “Where are the WWC  posts?”  “Are you still writing on WWC?” The short answer is “yes,” but I am taking a short sabbatical to finish my book Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities in the 21st Century.  I like the idea of taking a sabbatical from writing to be able to write something, but it’s not an original idea.  I noticed that when New York Times columnists like Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd go silent for a few weeks to finish a book, they say that they are taking a sabbatical, and I thought that I would also take a sabbatical. Maybe some their  marketplace magic will rub off on me.

What’s the book about?  It’s a WWC story about the challenges that face American higher education as the sudden appearance of abundant choices in university education erode the value of traditional colleges and universities.  I have written a little about this before.  My colleague Dick Lipton has an excellent post on what he thinks is the doomsday scenario for American colleges.

The appearance of Peter Abelard’s name in the title of my book always draws curious looks.  It is in part a metaphor for a long-lost approach to education in which the connection between students and teachers defined the learning experience.   But it is also a real part of the story of where our universities are heading because it is the starting point of an historical arc that might well lead to Liptons’s extinction event.

Peter Abelard is known today mainly because of his disastrous love affair with Heloise, but

Few teachers ever held such sway as Abelard now did for a time. Distinguished in figure and manners, he was seen surrounded by crowds — it is said thousands — of students, drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching, in which acuteness of thought was relieved by simplicity and grace of exposition. Enriched by the offerings of his pupils, and feasted with universal admiration, he came, as he says, to think himself the only philosopher standing the world…Great as was the influence exerted by Abelard in the minds of his contemporaries and the course of mediaeval thought, he has been little known in modern times but for his connection with Heloise[1].

Abelard to Apple will be published in 2011 by MIT Press.  I will be back with new WWC posts in  few weeks.


[1] George Croom Robertson, M.A., Professor of Mental Philosophy and Logic at University College, London, 1867-1892, first editor of Mind, his articles have been republished under the title of Philosophical Remains.

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