When George Marcus was in Taiwan he briefly mentioned William Clark’s new book Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University over dinner. I promptly added it to the ever growing list of books I intend to read when I have time. Fortunately, Anthony Grafton has distilled the book for us in a recent issue of The New Yorker, and the result is available online.
I won’t attempt to distill Grafton’s distillation any further, but here is a snippet which, I think, captures some of the spirit of the piece:
Universities are strange and discordant places because they are palimpsests of the ancient and the modern. Their history follows a Weberian narrative of rationalization, but it also reveals the limits of that rationalization. … Modern universities sincerely try to find the best scholars and scientists, those who work on the cutting edge of their fields, but they are also keen to preserve the traditional aspects of their culture and like their professors to wear their gowns with an air. They hope that some undefined combination of these qualities will attract the best crop of seventeen-year-olds available.
Perhaps universities should seek to incorporate Rate My Professor ratings in their tenure review process – with extra points for a chili pepper?