Higher Ed Commoditization

Joshua Kim reviewed Now and Then Reader's 'Why American Newspapers Gave Away the Future' by Richard J. Tofel in today's edition of Inside Higher Ed.  In his review, Kim looks at what higher education can learn from the mistakes that the newspaper industry made as they adapted to the offerings of the digital world.
In the news world, newspapers neglected to make investments in the reporters and editors that were the traditional comparative advantage of print media, and could have provided the service (in-depth reporting) that could have motivated readers to keep paying for content. In higher ed, we should be sure to invest in our greatest resource - our faculty - as we depend on the teaching and research that they produce to bring in students and research dollars. 

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/4-higher-ed-lessons-why-american-newspapers-gave-away-future#ixzz1qcVbGhaX
Inside Higher Ed 

The questions Kim asks are particularly resonant with yesterday's news that Santa Monica College plans to implement a tiered-pricing plan for their classes. Students trying to get in to the most popular classes, will pay more to gain access to the courses they need.    The changes are proposed in response to over-enrollment in the College at a time when budget cuts have reduced faculty and thus capacity. David Blaine of the American Association of Community Colleges is quoted in yesterday's New York Times article on the plan:

But the impetus behind it, he said, is clear. “In many cases, and California most prominently, amid the recession there was a huge spike in enrollment concurrent with budget cuts,” Mr. Baime said. “The colleges have just maxed out in terms of how many students they can serve.”
The fact that this new structure, the first of its kind, is being implemented at a community college level as opposed to a private university is particularly concerning and raises the questions of the responsibility of community colleges, in general.  It seems  logical conclusion that the two-tiered pricing system will exclude students who cannot afford to pay for the higher classes. Just as it is with the rest of the commodities we're offered in all aspects of daily life, choices will have to be made by those on tighter budgets; and, in most cases, the lower cost, and subsequently lower-value option will be chosen.

Clearly, if Santa Monica College's new system gets approved by state regulators, it be replicated in other schools, both private and public.   Since demand raises prices across all realm of products, be it nanny services or haircuts, the cost of higher education will continue to rise.

But what if Santa Monica College's pricing system has the reverse effect?  Could an ad hoc pricing structure further commoditize education services driving students to look for alternate learning resources and subsequently bring the prices down.  As Kim points out, just as the newspaper industry faced competition from websites in the early 2000s, today's traditional higher ed institutions are already facing growing "competition" from places like Udacity, Khan Academy and others.   Despite the anger voiced by protesters at Santa Monica College, there are more and more learning opportunities available everyday. Widespread acceptance of a tiered pricing structure could potentially fuel further competition and with that, improve the quality of the product. Not necessarily in the form of a new gym or student union, which  Richard B. Schwartz points out in "Is a College Education Still Worth the Price?" has become a troubling priority for many institutions, but in the form of a better education. For all.

Hilton Kramer

Hilton Kramer, the onetime chief art critic of the New York Times and in recent years the publisher of The New Criterion, died on March 26 near his home in Maine.  He had been ill for some time.

I had the privilege (I use the word carefully) of publishing two of his books, The Twilight of the Intellectuals and The Triumph of Modernism, and had the greatest admiration for his work.

I often told Hilton that I had never learned more about art and art history than I did when reading one of his essays.  He wrote his most important criticism at a time when the art world was balanced on shifting sands, and he was courageous in his defense of its higher forms.

His obit in the Times may be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/arts/design/hilton-kramer-critic-who-championed-modernism-dies-at-84.html

Review of the Movie "Free Men"

I know this will date me, but watching “Free Men” sent me back to a black-and-white TV program of the 1960s, The Outer Limits. Each episode opened with a test pattern and some eerie music. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture,” a menacing voice would announce.

“Free Men” is an effort to adjust our picture of the French Resistance during the Second World War to include the activities of North African Muslims who resisted the Nazis and rescued Jews. This is no small matter. Until fairly recently, the standard picture was completely FRENCH. Foreigners were left out, although early Resistance groups in occupied Paris and the Vichy zone contained large numbers of persecuted refugees from other parts of Europe, including Communists and Jews.

As for the many Arab and Berber migrants from France’s North African colonies who had come to the mainland seeking work in the 1920s and 30s, they might as well have been invisible. Yet they had their own mosque, the Great Mosque of Paris, built to commemorate the 100,000 Muslim soldiers who died defending France in World War I. Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, the Great Mosque’s rector, is known to have saved the lives of a number of Jews, among them the Algerian-Jewish singer Salim Halali, by issuing them certificates of Muslim identity, which enabled them to escape deportation.

The story deserves to be told, and the Moroccan-French director Ismaël Ferroukhi tells it well. Younes, the young Algerian drifter who joins the Resistance somewhat against his will, is a hero by the end of the film. He helps save Halali, among others. We see him making his way through the crowd on Liberation Day, a battered hero, sadder and wiser. Unfortunately, that’s where the film ends.

Despite their sacrifices for France and the promises of independence given by Charles de Gaulle in recognition of their loyalty, Algerians did not attain their independence until 1962, after a long and bloody war. Younes and the film’s other idealistic North African characters would become casualties of this war. Some would be arrested by the French as potential terrorists, or massacred in the streets of Paris when they attempted to stage a peaceful demonstration on October 17, 1961. Others would be seen as too moderate by radical Algerian nationalists and killed by their own side.

“Free Men” makes a place for North Africans in the heroic pantheon, but the picture it presents is still in black-and-white and out of focus. The real story of the role Algerians and Algeria played in French history, including the Second World War, was not about heroism. It was about betrayal. Sadly, not much has changed.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and NobleNook Books and Google Books. Lost Belongings, her current nonfiction project, tells how Holocaust survivors coped with irretrievable loss.

Of Historians, Umpires and Generals

Merle Miller leads off this month's list with Firing the General, Harry Truman's candid account of why he'd had enough of General Douglas MacArthur. Excerpted from Miller's oral history of President Truman, Plain SpeakingFiring the General is available exclusively through Kindle Books and for free for Amazon Prime Members.  Historiographers can indulge or dispute the reality of J.H. Hexter's The Historian and His Day with an introduction by Gertrude Himmelfarb.  Then, with baseball season just around the corner, we're happy to have Peter Morris' fascinating look at the history of violence in baseball, Don't Kill The Umpire: How Baseball Escaped Its Violent Past to put things in perspective.

Don't Kill The Umpire by Peter Morris

Don't Kill The Umpire

by Peter Morris

Violence plays a peculiar, sublimated role in the sport of baseball. In stark contrast to the play of football and other widely appreciated American games like basketball and ice hockey, baseball players are schooled to take their aggressions out on the ball, not on other players. Yet the game was not always one of quiet courage played by gentlemen, as Peter Morris shows in this fascinating historical profile of the rise and fall of violence as a part of our national pastime.

Buy for Kindle
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Firing the General by Merle Miller

Firing the General

by Merle Miller

No episode during the administration of President Harry Truman caused a greater uproar than his firing of General Douglas MacArthur. After continuing friction between his military aims in the Korean War and the administration’s policy of avoiding a larger conflict, MacArthur began to state publicly his complaints about being handcuffed. Truman’s patience wore thin and finally ran out. In this excerpt from Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking, the always candid former president explains what happened.

Buy now on Amazon

The Historian and His Day

The Historian and His Day

by J.H. Hexter with an introduction by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Deceptively mild and modest in tone, J. H. Hexter's "The Historian and His Day" is bold in conception and execution. Hexter was venturing upon a subject—the nature of the historical enterprise—that has engaged the most eminent historians, raising the perennially vexing question of past- and present-mindedness in the writing of history. It is also memorable because it addresses that issue in a notably down-to-earth, commonsensible, personal manner. .

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Free eBook of the Month

This month's Free eBook will be The Quintessential American featuring selections from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.  Check for it later this week.

The Quintessential American: The Autobiography of Benjamin FranklinThe Quintessential American: Selections from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

In his famous Autobiography, Franklin displays the iconic American virtues of thrift, ambition, hard work, self-improvement, and common sense.  But, like many of the Founders, aspects of Franklin’s character remain something of a puzzle. In these selections from his Autobiography, Franklin reflects upon his rise in the world and the self-taught lessons that brought his success.

Publishing Perspectives on peddling e-trash

Ivan R. Dee, Now & Then Reader
Our venerable chief editor Ivan R. Dee put his own words out there today with a guest article on Publishing Perspectives.

Speaking of his transition from 30+ years publishing hardcover and paperback serious nonfiction to launching Now and Then Reader and publishing short form nonfiction books and essays for e-readers:
The other day, I was accused by an old publishing friend of traitorous activities. 
Even though I'm digital born and bred, I often feel traitorous as I switch back and forth between unfinished print books that have been lying on my shelf for months and the latest Kindle book I downloaded after reading a review in the New York Times.  From a reader's perspective, it's all about convenience and immediacy. I can read it now.  From a publisher's perspective, it's the same idea.  We can publish it now:

I needn’t remind those in traditional publishing about the agonizingly slow process of contracting for a book, developing the manuscript, seeing it through the editorial and design and manufacturing processes, getting it into the stores with adequate publicity — and finally trying to move it off the bookstore shelves. In my publishing house, once the manuscript was in hand, we usually accomplished this in five to six months — and we pushed. Many publishers of similar serious materials require a year or more  
By contrast, Now and Then can get a long piece ready for publication within two weeks, including editing, cover design, production, and publicity materials. Using two to three people. Compared with book publication, it’s a piece of cake — like the difference between a meal in the Gulag and tea at the Mayfair.
With the actual publishing side of things reduced to a simple, streamlined process, the challenge remains in reaching the audience.  We founded Now and Then Reader on the belief that there is a large audience of serious readers out there.  Recent studies states that the e-reader format itself is helping to nurture and expand the audience for serious reading.  And some would argue that the world will be a better place with more people reading serious nonfiction over novels.  Unfortunately, with the ease of publishing that the new format brings, also comes a deluge of content, good and bad, that readers must wade through to find something worth their while.  The same convenience and immediacy that we herald is actually making the job of finding the reader that much harder.

Sometimes I'm not sure it is possible for topics like ours to stand above the growing fray. But then I'm re-inspired by the words of support we get from new visitors to our site, new readers, new much needed media coverage.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, I have to finish the cover for our next title.

Read Ivan Dee's guest post on Publishing Perspectives.


Chandos Erwin is the co-founder of Now and Then Reader.  He lives in Venice, California where there are occasional serious reader sightings.

The Historian and Her Day

I wasn’t yet born when Jack Hexter wrote “The Historian and His Day.” By the time I was in MY early forties and teaching in a minor college, the world had changed significantly. The day of a historian in the 1990s—a female historian with three young children—did not begin with a leisurely scan of the newspaper headlines over breakfast, and it certainly did not end at midnight, after countless uninterrupted hours of intellectual work.
I too rose early. My first class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was at 8:30, but before my husband and I could make our way to the college where we both taught, we had to pack lunches, get our son off to elementary school, and drop our daughters at the daycare center on campus. At lunchtime, I hurried over to the daycare center to nurse our baby. Conversations with colleagues took place on the fly, although my husband and I talked shop a good deal of the time at home, in and around “domestic matters.”
Somehow I managed to carve out time to read, research, think, and write about my scholarly field: 19th- and 20th-century France. But, in contrast to Hexter, I could not keep the clutter of my present-day life from intruding upon the past events I studied. Was this a bad thing?
I take heart from Hexter’s recognition that “each historian brings to the rewriting of history the full range of the remembered experience of his own days, that unique array that he alone possesses and is.” This is true, in my case, although maybe not in the way he meant.
I do find that my historical investigations have been influenced by my real-life experiences. My first book explored the cultural meaning of suicide, beginning in antiquity and continuing right up to the present. I chose the topic because I’d been haunted since childhood by the suicide of my grandfather, whom I’d never met (he killed himself during the Depression, when my father was a boy). As a parent, I wondered how he could have abandoned his family.
More insights came through my work as a counselor on a suicide hotline. Listening to the reasons callers gave for wanting to end their lives, I was struck by their willfulness. Many were depressed—and who could blame them, hearing their problems? But these people were anything but victims. They saw dying as their only means of reclaiming control over their lives, and of course it was my job to convince them that there were less drastic ways of solving their problems.
These insights led me to challenge our society’s most comforting assumption about suicide: that individuals who kill themselves are entirely passive, that they do not seriously intend to die. But as I explored the sources of this assumption, I was guided by Hexter’s commandments for responsible historical inquiry:
  1. Do not go off half-cocked.
  2. Get the story straight.
  3. Keep prejudices about present-day issues out of this area.
Present-mindedness, I would say, need not lead to sloppy scholarship. Caught up in the preoccupations of his or her day, the historian can ask questions about the past that help us to make sense of today’s world.

Lisa Lieberman is the author of Leaving You: The Cultural Meaning of Suicide. Her translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Google Books. Lost Belongings, her current nonfiction project, tells how Holocaust survivors coped with irretrievable loss.

Leaping Historians and Firing Generals

Yesterday, to celebrate the extra day brought on by the leap year, we released two new titles  to add to our ever-growing list of nonfiction books and essays.

Firing the General

Excerpted from Merle Miller's oral biography of President Harry Truman, 'Plain Speaking,' Now and Then's  Firing the General gives eBook readers the opportunity hear first-hand how Truman had had enough of General Douglas MacArthur.

Perhaps no episode during the Truman's administration caused a greater uproar than his firing of the much lauded general. As Truman candidly tells it, the decision came after MacArthur began to publicly complain about the administration's unwillingness to expand the war in Korea.

Firing the General is available exclusively through the Amazon Kindle bookstore and can be purchased here.

The Historian and His Day

Available for the first time for e-readers, The Historian and His Day by renowned historiography J.H. Hexter offers a remarkably down-to-earth, commonsensible look at the vexing question of  past- and present-mindedness in the writing of history.

A must-read for anyone interested in the nature of historical enterprise, The Historian and His Day is available through Amazon for $2.99.

These two new titles bring our list of short form nonfiction titles to a total of fifteen. Tell us what you think of these new titles as part of our list as a whole. Post a comment here or join the discussion at our website www.nowandthenreader.com