Aug 30 2010
Reading, writing, radical change- abolish tenure, require more teaching, put star professors
NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
When Mark Taylor's children were growing up, he made them write a three-page paper once a
week each summer between sixth grade and college. "It could be on any subject they chose, and
the only requirement was that the essay had to be discursive, that is to say, they had to formulate
a thesis, develop an argument, defend it, and draw a conclusion," he writes in "Crisis on
Campus," a manifesto for overhauling higher education. He says proudly of the summer
regimen: "I am so committed to teaching young people to write clearly and effectively that I
decided this would be the inheritance I would leave my children."
Mr. Taylor is the chairman of Columbia University's religion department, but his willingness to
value essay-writing may be the more impressive credential. At heart, Mr. Taylor has an old-
fashioned sense of what it takes for students to become good writers and good thinkers: for
starters, a lot of practice at writing and thinking.
Mr. Taylor's "bold plan for reforming our colleges and universities," as his book's subtitle has it,
started life as an opinion piece in the New York Times last year. He proposed ending tenure for
professors, limiting the amount of research they do, placing more importance on teaching and
ending over-rigid academic departments. To judge by the angry letters that the Times published,
and the Internet commentary the piece inspired, many professors and academic administrators
found the plan all too bold.
But Mr. Taylor believes that reform is inevitable, because there is indeed a crisis on campus, akin