Home Books Review: “After the Ivory Tower Falls,” by Will Bunch

Review: “After the Ivory Tower Falls,” by Will Bunch

by Jersey Lady

After the Ivory Tower Crashed: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics — And How to Fix It, Will Bunch


Americans owe $1.7 trillion in student loans, a staggering amount that remains in the public consciousness like the Great Wall of China seen from space.

“After the Fall of the Ivory Tower,” by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, explores how the Great Wall loan was built, why it divides us, and how higher education is an opportunity. It’s a story about how you changed from being a beloved guarantor. , the destructive force of cultural and economic isolation. It’s ambitious and engrossing, even when the story gets tense at times, to meet the demands of Bunch’s claim that college has become “a phony meritocracy that’s been made to make half of America hate college.” increase.

The history of the bunch begins with the unexpected success of the GI bill of 1944, which sent millions of white veterans to college for free, as a missed opportunity to define and fund colleges as public goods. I keep track of what I do. President Harry S. Truman’s Commission on Higher Education followed up in his 1947 with a far-reaching vision of intelligent, productive citizens educated by federally funded colleges and universities.

But like many good things, this idea was ruined by racists. While an undergraduate named Mario Savio helped find the free speech movement at Berkeley (after registering black Mississippi voters during Freedom Summer 1964), an undergraduate named Ronald Reagan The aging actor saw an opportunity to ride on the middle-class loathing of radicals on campus, and he moved to the California Governor’s Mansion. Reagan continued to champion an anti-tax, small-government philosophy that would undermine public education revenues for decades to come.

Bunch applies his skills as a veteran newsman throughout the book, incorporating the first-hand voices of Savio’s widow, the Kent Massacre shooting survivor, and many others to great effect. But most of his reporting focuses on the current conflict that seems to keep the country apart. and speak to the Trump-loving residents of nearby towns who feel alienated by wealthy students and the cultural turmoil they represent.

The prose is tight, direct, and often taut. We meet idealistic low-income graduates, squeezed by six-figure loans, Obama-to-Trump voters skipping college and taking factory jobs, but suddenly no longer. Both are treated with fairness and humanity. Bunch explains that the dream of college as a tool of democratic citizenship “instead became a demand to show us rough papers to cling to the middle class.”

The final chapter brings the past and the present together in one discussion. The “university problem” is underestimated as a major driver. of It’s a major factor in the miles-long chasm that divides Americans by class, culture, geography, and ideology. Until very recently, those with college degrees split the vote about evenly between Democrats and Republicans, similar to voters who didn’t attend college. Bill Clinton won the presidency by attracting non-college voters, and until 2012 Barack Obama’s margin among college-educated people was relatively small.

But the Trump era has caused or induced a disastrous split of voters into opposing camps defined by their educational attainment. Ran. The result was two tribes of him who disagreed not only on values ​​and ideals, but also on basic tenets of science and fact.

A self-professed progressive, Bunch acknowledges, but doesn’t take too seriously, the internal debate about race and gender, sometimes called “identity politics.” His main focus is turning public universities into institutions designed to deliberately exclude voters who have left the Democratic camp. Decades of lost opportunity to organize and fund universities as public goods have resulted in costs funded by tuition and student loans.

Universities always openly denounce funding cuts, but many were so secretly happy that the excuse was more exclusive, costly, and focused on the desires of the wealthy. is the definition of excellence in higher education. Just as tectonic economic shifts have forced tens of millions of workers to require new training and qualifications, the public university system has become unaffordable and out of control. On the other hand, even students who might have been inclined towards higher education for background or political reasons became disillusioned with the debt crisis. did.

All this is true and important. But it begins to creak as a comprehensive account of the alarming state of the political body. Bunch devotes a long chapter to his four-part taxonomy of American discontent, defined by the axis of age and college education. An example is Dave Mitchko, a man in his 50s from the Scranton area who doesn’t have a degree. He briefly rose to fame for distributing thousands of Trump 2020 signs from his home garage.

Maybe Mitchko genuinely believes he signed the social contract right before his eyes. Historically speaking, that deal didn’t last long and was only offered to people with names like Dave and Mitchko. , it was broken. Technological change was a daily occurrence, and universities were either deunionizing or trade policies that put workers in competition with foreign workers, or George Floyd resisting arrest. was not responsible for the beliefs of

Bunch carefully acknowledges all this. But at some point the fair warning starts to feel like a counterargument. Universities are as much a root cause of political divisions as they are places of political divisions.

credit…Philadelphia Inquirer

Bunch sometimes overgeneralizes from his experience at public universities in his home state of Pennsylvania. State funding for colleges and universities has not fallen significantly nationally, in part because neighboring states such as New York and Maryland have improved significantly. His story of the student loan crisis, caused in part by rogue Wall Street financial technologists, ignores the fact that his system of loans was almost completely deprivatized in 2010.

“After the Tower Falls” concludes with a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the practical and political challenges facing legislators seeking to return the higher education system to a public purpose. It also advocates a highly encouraged form of national service as a means of recreating the spirit of national unity after World War II without war. Older members of the warring political tribes may be too far apart, but Bunch believes the younger generation will be more likely to find their way into the world than to toil alone in a college system riddled with economic traps at every turn. We hope to work together for the benefit of the community.


Kevin Carey directs New America’s education policy program.


After the Ivory Tower Crashed: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics — And How to Fix It, Will Bunch 310 Pages | William Morrow | $28.99

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