R. Shep Melnick | Higher Education in Crisis

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In this episode of Keeping It Civil, host Henry Thomson speaks with R. Shep Melnick who is the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Professor of American Politics at Boston College and co-chair of the Harvard Program on Constitutional Government. Melnick joins us to talk about his previous research on Title IX and the current state of gender equality within higher education. Melnick also talks about his new book, “The Crucible of Desegregation: The Uncertain Search for Educational Equality,” set to be released April 28, 2023. 

As the podcast begins, we ask Melnick about whether or not he feels the American higher-education system is in crisis. 

“It seems like higher education is always in a state of crisis,” says the Professor. “But I do think that things are at a turning point right now. And that’s because there are a variety of forces that are requiring universities to think more distinctly about their purposes. Most importantly, the debate about critical race theory, microaggressions and the clear left-leaning of the faculty.”

We also discuss the important responsibility higher education has to balance the politics of the university with what students are being taught. Melnick discusses a number of factors which encumber politics within an institution. 

“Number one, there is a demographic factor, that the number of college-aged students has been declining,” Melnick says. “There’s the other factor that the costs have been escalating so rapidly. We can talk about the causes of that. And then that leads parents and students to think, ‘You know, what am I getting that’s worthwhile?’” Melnick goes on to say, “It’s hard to tell whether the humanities are being murdered or whether they’re committing suicide.” 

Melnick also explains in great detail what his newest publication is set to contain. Available everywhere in early May 2023, the book is the second of Melnick’s about what he calls the “civil right state.”   

Melnick explains there is “this immense set of regulations, laws, court decisions that basically define discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, and so many other things. The main theme of the book, ‘The Crucible of Desegregation,’ is that the Supreme Court has never defined what desegregation means; it has issued scores of decisions and has never explained what schools must do.”

To listen in on more of this episode and to hear more from Professor Melnick’s work involving the growing shifts amongst the humanities, be sure to listen to this week’s episode of Keeping It Civil.

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