The American university evolved from three very different models, all of them threatened by two trends, one often critiqued by the left, the other by the right, but in fact complementary.
This is fantastic. I would definitely read/buy the longer, more researched version. What I particularly appreciate is the emphasis on the higher education being more than one thing, which means that its problems or more than one thing. My biggest qualm on these matters is that progressives want to blame everything on the consumerism angle and on the failure of government funding to continue infinitely expanding. And conservatives want to blame everything on wokeness.
Out problems are multi-located. Our solutions must be the same.
Yes, please write a longer version. For many years I taught at a small private Catholic college--its strategy for survival was to build new sports fields, new dorms, a better cafeteria, and offer more sports teams. It kept offering new majors without the faculty to teach them.
The character building model is the most pernicious. Students are less likely to become converts to left-wing views than they are to practice deceit. Their dogmatic profs will model an intellectual life that will seem to them boring and fanatical.
The "giving students prompts" is one of the myriad small ways colleges have dumbed down of expectations. You can trace its rise to the teach-to-the-AP-exam course structure of college prep high school, as the vast majority of college bound students are now expected to take multiple AP courses in high school. In the english, history, geography, and other AP exams, a student is asked to write a 5 paragraph essay responding to a given prompt, and they are given the evidence to incorporate into their argument for/against that position. Teachers have students practice for these exams by asking students to write timed essay responses to similar prompts to students all year long.
Never is a student asked to come up with his own interesting idea, or to begin to gauge how big an idea fits into a point paper or a 8-10 page MLA term paper.
As a result, college students tend to fall apart with this much ambiguity. It is difficult to discern what verbal gestures and tropes would be safe topics, and real topics obviously too risky. They've never done it, and basic required English composition course is too busy fixing more fundamental problems, so it doesn't lend itself into writing within the discipline at that level of depth.
Perhaps a perspective on what has shifted in academia can be found in something I crossed paths again today, something illuminating an aspect I suppose to consumerist demand. A 2006 (i.e. pre-financial meltdown) paper, 'Merchants of Opportunity: Risks and Rewards' (Richard Lee Colvin at Columbia), tracing a sea change in college loans, indeed the emergence of a multi-tiered industry. This time, I read the whole thing and could only shake my head. Now that I'm reading his 'You're Hired' book, I'm left wondering whether a Casey Mulligan may have some perspective -and some heretofore unheralded prescription- to offer on this aspect, one I'd venture touches on the modern consumerist notion of higher education and the concerning (d)evolution of academia with which FIRE engages.