Read It and Weep

by Jane S. Shaw

There’s nothing wrong with motivational writer Stephen Covey or his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But should a course based on his book replace a course in history or English?

The chancellor of Alamo Colleges—five community colleges near San Antonio, Texas—has spent $700,000 (not his own money, naturally)—developing such a course as part of the core curriculum. Specifically, says Inside Higher Ed, Bruce Leslie, the chancellor, considers it “a measured response to calls from local and national business leaders to ensure that students graduate with ‘soft skills’ – leadership, knowing how to shake a hand, how to manage time effectively – and from his own personal experience.”

Faculty, administrators, and even the president of one of the five colleges, Northwest Vista College, are rightly fighting this further decimation of the humanities.

But it’s really just an illustration of the confusion these days about what college is all about. With students pressured to attend college yet unprepared for academic work, watered-down self-help is what they want and, now it seems, what they will get.