Will Cerbone of Fordham University Press kindly sent me a copy of The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue, so here's an informal review.
Donoghue's subject is the decay of the American university system as we know it, particularly its faculty, particularly in the humanities. Whereas a lot of the discussion on this subject focuses on the disappearance of tenure, Donoghue emphasizes deeper systemic changes in how schools are administered, and in the role that faculty play in them. What made the biggest impression on me was the early part of the book in which Donoghue talks about the corporatization of the university. Not only are nonprofit schools being displaced by for-profit ones; schools of all types are increasingly being run like corporations, with for-profits leading the charge. Faculty, who were once masters of the educational programs of schools, are increasingly being treated as interchangeable delivery agents of a curriculum that belongs to the school administration. Donoghue mentions the popularity of online classes and flexible per-student learning plans but stops short of suggesting the obvious next step, in which faculty are entirely replaced with Skinnerian "teaching machines".
Another eye-opening part of the book is the discussion of the role that well-known rankings of schools play in the administration of schools. I knew that the US News & World Report rankings existed, but I had no idea that anybody but the most naive yuppie parents took them seriously. I'd never have imagined that the president of Virginia Commonwealth University would be given a $25,000 bonus for each year the school stayed in tier 2 of the US News rankings.
Overall, the book is well written (as you'd hope, given that Donoghue is a professor of English), and I'd recommend it to anybody interested in what's happening to the American university system. Perhaps its most notable flaw is that it was written in 2008 and has been republished this year without a major content update, just a new introduction. When a book is about assessing the immediate past and trying to predict the future, timeliness counts. I also thought it was odd that Donoghue gives attention to science and the humanities but not the arts, which seem even likelier to fall to the corporate chopping block. Finally, I noticed that Donoghue criticizes at length the usual arguments for why the humanities are valuable (e.g., that they make people more informed citizens who can participate more competently in democracy) without advancing one of his own. Presumably Donoghue would at least agree with his fellow humanists that his job is worth doing.