From the Director


In her convocation talk to faculty this Fall, Sue Huber mentioned a book that’s been getting a lot of attention in Higher Education circles this past year. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa has been hailed as “the most significant book written on higher education in recent years” (2011), and its striking findings are being discussed and debated nation-wide. Using well-regarded student learning data documenting the progress of twenty-three hundred students at a variety of institutions, Arum and Roksa report depressingly small gains in learning among students preparing to graduate from college. What’s more, college experience failed to reduce achievement gaps separating students by race and class.

Arum and Roksa zero in on “critical thinking” – something we value so much at UST that we feature it in our mission statement. Unfortunately, findings here are equally bleak. Measurable improvement in critical thinking among students is alarmingly low, and reported levels of improvement have actually decreased since the 1980's.

The book raises serious and provocative questions for those of us engaged in teaching college students. It’s tempting to blame student culture (something Arum and Roksa also examine, with fascinating results), or simply dismiss the call for accountability these data create. Historian Sarah Igo, reviewing Academically Adrift in the AAUP publication Academe (see our “ Found Wisdom” column in this issue) presents a compelling argument that faculty and administrators need to, instead, engage the problem directly through taking charge of curricular reform. Not doing so, Igo argues, puts us at risk for unwelcome outside intervention.

The timeliness of this book is enhanced for us because of the hard work currently being undertaken by our accreditation team, led by Lucy Payne. Our institutional self-study is underway this year, creating a great context for faculty discussion of Arum and Roksa’s findings and recommendations. To facilitate conversation, the Faculty Development Center is sponsoring a J-term reading group. We’ll provide participants with breakfast and copies of Academically Adrift and meet from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on Thursdays during January (January 5, 12, 19, 26).

Put these dates on your calendar and watch for opportunities to register in the Bulletin and through email announcements. I invite you to join the conversation and decide for yourself whether we are truly adrift in the academy.

Vedder, R. (2011). Academically adrift: A must read. Retrieved from :

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