ENG 420: Contemporary Perspectives on Higher Education

Special Topics in Creative and Professional Writing
Spring 2017
Time: 12:30-1:45
Location: CAND 1045
Prerequisites: ENG 319

Professor: Marc C. Santos
Office: 1180D Ross Hall
Telephone: (970)-351-2475
Office Hours: TBA
E-mail: marc dot santos at unco dot edu
Course Website: www.marccsantos.com/teaching/special-topics-higher-ed

Course Description

My interest this semester is to immerse you in a historic and contemporary conversation regarding the purpose of higher education. These questions will be both philosophical (what does it mean to be educated? What are the ideals we hold for students and institutions of higher learning?) and pragmatic (How do/should institutions best educate students? What are the habits of educated people?).

This course is divided into three stages. In the first stage, the historical stage, we will survey a range of ideas concerning the purpose of education–from ancient Greek through the early 20th century. Along the way, we identify tensions between the Idealist philosophical tradition and the sophistic rhetorical tradition that continue to shape and influence contemporary perspectives on higher education (are you Plato or are you Isocrates? Idealist or Pragmatist?). In the second stage, the contemporary stage, we will read 5 books that make very different arguments about the purpose, conditions, and effectiveness of contemporary higher education. These arguments will serve as a launching point for stage three, in which you will select an issue to develop into an extended research paper and corresponding multimedia presentation.

The ultimate aim of this course is to develop your ability to read carefully, think critically and constructively (in Bruno Latour’s sense, both paying attention to how something is put together *and* recognizing how it might be put with other things), communicate clearly and persuasively, and argue logically. In simplest terms, to argue logically is to differentiate between making a claim and supplying evidence, contextualize and qualify evidence, and explicate how evidence reinforces a particular claim.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  • Read, summarize, synthesize, and respond to academic articles by distinguishing claims and evidence
  • Write in a number of different academic genres, including the academic proposal, annotated bibliography, research paper, and presentation
  • Research using a variety of tools and resources
  • Publish in digital environments/genres using hyperlinks, images, tags, etc

Required Texts and Materials

The required texts:

  • Arum and Roksa, Academically Adrift. 2010.
  • Dowd and Bensimon, Engaging the ”Race Question”: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education. 2014.
  • Thelin, A History of American Higher Education. 2011.
  • Giroux, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. 2014.
  • Nathan, My Freshman Year. 2006.
  • Nussbaum, Not for Profit. 2010/2012.

Additional course readings will be distributed via Canvas. Students are expected to print and bring copies of all digitally distributed texts to class.

Course Requirements

Here is a brief list of the expectations I hold for the semester:

Reading Blogs: I will ask you to maintain a blog this semester that focuses on digesting course readings and preparing for class discussion. I advise using Blogger for your blogs, though you are free to use other platforms if you wish. I will detail the exact expectation for blog posts in class. During weeks 10-14, I will ask you to compile an annotated bibliography of research that informs your final project; you will post annotations of this research in the form of blog posts.

What is Education Essay?: At the conclusion of the historic stage of readings, I will ask you to compose a 1000 word essay that offers a purpose for higher education. This essay will draw upon readings from the course to support its definition.

In-class Discussion Responses and Coursework: I will reserve the final 10 minutes of each class for you to write a quick discussion response (you will notice response threads in Canvas). This provides you with an opportunity to share with me what you got out of class discussion, what you feel needs more explanation, or a question that you feel needs to be addressed. Anything. I am sincerely interested in knowing what you are getting out of our class sessions. Additionally, I might assign in class writing exercises or quizzes.

Final Project Proposal: Around week 9 of the course, I will ask you to submit a 750 word proposal for a final research project. I will meet with everyone individually or in groups to discuss the purpose of their research and help them develop a research question. I expect research projects will have a primary and secondary component (meaning, you will read some things and conduct some research), though every project will be likely be different. Research projects can also go back and explore figures, ideas, or arguments identified in our historic readings.

Final Research Paper: Final research papers should be 12 to 15 pages in length (3000 to 3750 words). I recognize that writing a longer paper can seem intimidating, but we will write these papers in stages. I will help you break down a longer paper into a series of research questions. I will review and comment extensively on drafts of these papers before final grading.

Final Research Presentation: In our last week, I will ask everyone to give a 10 to 12 minute presentation on their end of semester research, complete with handout. This is to prepare you for academic conference presentations.


The weight for these requirements:

Reading Blogs: 20%
What is Education Essay? 10%
In-Class Discussion Responses and Coursework 10%
Final Project Proposal 10%
Final Research Paper 40%
Final Research Presentation 10%


As with any class, it is vital that you attend every session and come fully prepared; in other words, please have the readings completed by the class period for which they are listed. Much of the intellectual labor in the course will happen through discussion and the interchange of ideas. There is no way for you to make up this labor outside of class.

Therefore, attendance is required and will be taken at the beginning of every class. More than FOUR (4) unexcused absences will be grounds for failure in the course. Excused absences will require medical or other official documentation. Unexcused absences include but are not limited to non-life threatening illness, car trouble, general sleepiness, and non-emergency doctor (or advisor) appointments. NEVER assume an absence is excused unless you have it in writing from me. Arriving late to or departing early from class (i.e., ten minutes) = ½ absence. Missing 30 minutes or more of class = 1 absence. You are responsible for keeping track of how many classes you miss. Do not expect a warning. Finally, if you have an emergency or a death in your family, or you need to miss class due to religious observation, please let me know as soon as possible and provide proper documentation.

Our discussions will arise from looking closely at the texts so you must bring the assigned text(s) to class each day. I will feel free to mark you as absent if you do not have the proper text on your desk and open to the appropriate page(s). Some of the readings are longer than others; please pay close attention to the reading schedule and allow yourself sufficient time for each assigned reading.

You are responsible for all of the readings on the schedule whether or not we have time to discuss them in class. Please remember that “reading” an assignment involves a close and detailed analysis, in which you make notes regarding significant passages or ideas and become as thoroughly familiar with the assigned material as you can. It’s never a bad idea to keep a “reading journal” in which you sketch out defining traits of characters, major plot points, et cetera.

If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out from a classmate if there are changes to the course schedule. I expect you to find out what you missed from another student and to come fully prepared—without excuses—to the next class meeting. In-class work can not be made up unless I am informed in advance that you cannot attend that class meeting.

Because of the nature of group activities and discussion-oriented class periods, it is important that you respect the beliefs, backgrounds, and ideas of one another. While I do not require you to accept my beliefs or those of other students, I do require that you treat one another with respect and consideration.

Policy on Laptop Computers in the Classroom

Please bring a laptop to every class session, if possible. We will often take time to write reflections at the end of class sessions regarding class discussions to submit to Canvas. This is much easier to do if you have a laptop with you.

University Grading Standards

University Grading Standards:

  • A (90% or higher) – achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements
  • B (80-89%) – achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements
  • C (70-79%) – achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect
  • D (60-69%) – achievement that is worthy of credit even though it fails to meet fully the course requirements
  • F (59% or lower) – represents failure (or no credit) and signifies that the work was either (1) completed but at a level of achievement that is not worthy of credit or (2) was not completed and there was no agreement between the instructor and the student that the student would be awarded an I

Disability Statement

Any student requesting disability accommodation for this class must inform the instructor by giving appropriate notice. Students are encouraged to contact Disability Support Services at (970) 351-2289 to certify documentation of disability and to ensure appropriate accommodations are implemented in a timely manner.

Email Policy

I strongly encourage you to come to office hours to pose questions and discuss upcoming assignments. I am also available for questions via email. Generally, I check email at least twice a day–once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Please give me at least a 6 hour window to respond to an email before sending a follow-up. I do not always respond to emails over the weekend. Make sure your emails have subject lines, salutations, and complete sentences.


The Department of English at UNC has adopted the following policy regarding plagiarism. Pretending that another’s work is one’s own is a serious scholarly offense known as plagiarism. For a thorough discussion of plagiarism, see the Dean of Students website:


Students who are caught plagiarizing will receive a final grade of ‘F’ in the course. In addition, they will be reported to the Chair of the Department of English and the Dean of Students office for possible further disciplinary action.

Some but not all UNC instructors regard double or repeat submissions of one’s own work as a form of plagiarism. If you intend to use in this course written material that you produced for another course, you must consult with your instructor before doing so for each individual assignment. Otherwise, you may be guilty of cheating. Falsifying research also constitutes academic dishonesty and will be treated the same as plagiarism.

The issue of digital plagiarism has raised concerns about ethics, student writing experiences, and academic integrity. UNC subscribes to a digital plagiarism detection program called SafeAssign, which will be used to check papers submitted in this course against Web pages and databases of existing papers. Although you may never have engaged in intentional plagiarism, many students do incorporate sources without citations; this program can alert me to your academic needs.


Here’s the rough draft of how we will spend our time this semester. The calendar is subject to change based on course discussions.

Stage One: The History of Higher Education

Week One (Jan 10/12)
Tuesday: Course Intro (15 min). DP: ”Why are you here?” (15 min) L: Plato’s philosophy and Plato’s rhetoric (30 min).
Homework: Plato Republic VII (pdf). Set up a blog with Blogger (or another platform)

Thursday: Share/tweak blogs (15 min). Discuss Plato (30 min). L: Who is Isocrates? (10 min). DP: Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” (10 min).
Homework: Haskins and Benoit (pdf). Make sure you have two blog posts (one on Plato, one on tonight’s reading).

Week Two (Jan 17/19)
Tuesday: D: Haskins and Benoit (30 min). DP: Isocrates and civic education.
Homework: Read and blog on Barlow on Cicero (pdf).

Thursday: Discuss Cicero via the Chronicle article.
Homework: Read and blog on Lanham (pdf, I will email a preface for the Lanham reading). Tell me about how the strong defense differs from Plato’s “metaphor of the cave.” Tell me about “architectonic rhetoric.”

Week Three (Jan 24/26)
Tuesday: Share Grassi, discuss Barlow and Lanham (45 min). DP: Roman education.
Homework: Read and blog on Proctor (pdf). Tell me about why we should(n’t) read poetry.

Thursday: Discuss Proctor and Humanism.
Homework: Read and blog on Kant (pdf) and Emerson (pdf). Have you been taught to think or to obey?

Week Four (Jan 31/Feb 2)
Tuesday: Discuss Kant and Emerson. DP: Education, skills, and politics.
Homework: Read and blog on Dewey (pdf).

Thursday: Discuss Dewey. DP: Dewey.
Homework: Read Freire and Lorde. Note that the Lorde reading isn’t a .pdf, but is available here. I am interested in the tension or resonance between Freire’s notion of liberatory education and Lorde’s take on poetry.

Week Five (Feb 7/9)
Tuesday: Listen to RATM. Read Lorde. Discuss Freire and Lorde. DP: Lorde, Freire, Poetry, and Education.
Homework: What is Education? essay.

Thursday: Open date to work on/revise What is Education? Essay.
Homework: Complete essay.

Stage Two: Contemporary Perspectives on Higher Education

Week Six (Feb 14/16)
Tuesday: Preface, Introduction, Chapter One of Nathan.

Thursday: Chapter 5 and any two other chapters of Nathan.

Week Seven (Feb 21/23)
Tuesday: Thelin.

Thursday: Thelin.

Week Eight (Feb 28/Mar 2)
Tuesday: Chapter One of Arum and Roksa.

Thursday: Read chapter 2 (33-57), chapter 5, (121-144). Then read either chapter 3 or chapter 4. It might help to examine the outline of each chapter before you make your decision (see page 61 and 92)

This week we will begin work on final project proposals.

Week Nine (Mar 7/9)
Tuesday: Introduction of Giroux. Know your materialist history.

Thursday: Read any one chapter in Giroux. Read chapter one in Dowd and Bensimon.

This week we will look at the genre of the academic proposal. Wayne Booth research exercise (forming a narrow-enough question).

Week Ten (Mar 14/16 Spring Break)
Final project proposals will be due the Thursday of Spring Break. You should read about 60 pages of new material to inform your proposal.

Week Eleven
Tuesday: Review proposals. Read any two chapters in Dowd and Bensimon.

Thursday: Nussbaum, chapter 1 & 2 (pages 1-27).

Stage Three: Research

Week Twelve
Tuesday: Read any two chapters in Nussbaum.

Thursday: Digital Research methods.

Week Thirteen
Tuesday: Focus: Articulating a scholarly problem. Work on drafting papers.

Thursday: Focus: Identifying a “gap”; writing a scholarly lit review. Continue to work on drafting papers.

Week Fourteen
Tuesday (Apr 11): Peer review in Ross 1240. (3-4 pages)

Thursday: (Apr 13): Presentation expectations (Pecha Kucha). Working with Google Slides. Visual Rhetoric and design principles.

Week Fifteen
Tuesday (Apr 18): Meeting in Ross 1240. Multimedia presentation formats. Working with Windows Moviemaker. Bring a smart phone to class and a USB adapter (if you have one).

Thursday (Apr 20): Peer review day #2 in Ross 1240. Please bring a copy of your complete paper. Also: this is the last day to submit draft of papers to Canvas for my feedback.

Week Sixteen
Tuesday (Apr 25): Final presentations #1

Thursday (Apr 27): Final presentations #2

Final Papers will be due Monday, May 1st.

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