Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning
Book Reviews by Provost Salkin
Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Viking 2016).Grant, a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business, uses his research to make the point that each of us can advance original and creative thoughts that bring what we do to the next level (in our case, although not explicitly discussed, education). Grant points out that people who are passionate about their ideas have the ability to bring others along, even when others may not always see the benefits to be reaped through the idea. He also shows how it is not always important to be “the first,” since those who follow on the heels of the pioneers can fine tune the product having studied the mistakes or the oversights of the “firsts.”
This book made me think about many things in higher education where this is relevant, especially in the area of distance education. We should not be intimidated by the early adopters, rather we should learn from their experiences and continue to build quality courses and programs that make sense for our student body and where our education will benefit society. The book is a great summer read as Grant effectively uses stories about nonconformists who brought new products to market (e.g., he tells the story of how Warby Parker came to be), a person who challenged a high level CIA policy that later turned into a game-changer for our intelligence community, how a movie producer saved a popular Disney film from never being made, and how people can pitch investors and managers in non-traditional ways. Whether it is originality, innovation, entrepreneurship or a combination of these skills, Grant’s research shows how we should not let fear prevent ideas from moving forward – you just never know.
Westover, Tara, Educated: A Memoir (Random House, New York 2018).This book reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was listed as one of the paper’s top 10 books of 2018. Having had the opportunity to be in the room when the author, Tara Westover, was interviewed by Nick Anderson at the ACE conference last month (Watch the interview here), I immediately bought the book when I got to the train station bookstore. The book recounts Westover’s experience growing up with fundamentalist parents and a survivalist family. Westover recounts her childhood and lack of formal education, and the journey that took her to college. Her discovery about how education introduces students to different narratives and points of view, and how she reconciled what she had always knew and accepted growing up with changes in her beliefs that came about when she attended BYU. The impact of higher education and how it can lead students to change is a powerful message.
Jill Norgren, Stories From Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law (NYU Press 2018).In honor of Women’s History Month, I finally got around to reading a book I have had on my shelf for almost a year and as soon as I started reading I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put it down. This book turned out to be somewhat personal in that I have the privilege to know well a number of the women trailblazers whose stories are interwoven throughout the book. People including: Shirley Adelson Siegel, the Honorable Judith S. Kaye and the Honorable Constance Baker Motley from New York; and women whose friendships were developed through the ABA leadership such as Carol Dinkins and Karen Mathis; and women who I met through the legal academy such as former CUNY law dean Kristen Booth Glen, and former Georgetown Dean and now AALS Executive Director Judith Areen. It was not just that I knew many of the women whose stories were shared, but many of the dozens of other women whose experiences are described are significant names -legends- in the legal profession past and present. What I did not appreciate, however, was how much courage these early women lawyers had and how important their struggle was to enable the roughly 50% of law students who are women today have a path for success.
The book begins with an introduction that tells a brief narrative of the early women lawyers in the very late 1800s who mostly had to study law with a lawyer since they were not permitted to be admitted to any law schools. Although not mentioned in the book, Kate Stoneman in New York had to go to the New York State Legislature to get the law changed in 1898 so women could be admitted to the bar in the State. The book is then organized topically and legal historian (and non-lawyer) Norgren masterfully weaves in thematically the relevant portions of stories from these trailblazing women that have been recorded through an oral history project of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. She first discusses the early childhood influences of women lawyers, drawing differences and many similarities in how these women were and were not encouraged by family and friends to consider law. Norgren continues the story with the fascinating reflections of what attracted these women to pursue the legal profession in the late 1920s through the 1960s. She then recants the challenges that women faced getting into law school and navigating the previously male-only environment (including how women were told they were taking a seat away from a man). Another chapter offers work profiles with stories of the difficulty faced by many women lawyers to get jobs in private law firms, to get good jobs in government and the struggle to open up the judiciary to women, especially at the federal and state levels. This chapter includes a wonderful read on hair and dress appropriate for work and for court, and the reactions of their male counterparts and judges.
The chapter in breaking new ground reminds us that it was not until 1986 when the first woman dean was appointed at an Ivy League law school, and it recounts the slow addition of women to law faculty (including the Notorious RBG to the Rutgers faculty in 1963 when there were only about a dozen law professors). The book ends with a discussion of how women lawyers have balanced “home, hearth and the pursuit of a career,” or the work-family balance. Throughout the book the author makes clear that the legal changes in the country that provided equal status to women and addressed many issues relevant and important to women, where actually the result of strategy and litigation involving women lawyers. Happy Women’s History Month!
Hanna Holborn Gray, An Academic Life: A Memoir (Princeton University Press 2018).This book is a fascinating account of the life of Hanna Holbron Gray who fled Nazi Germany with her parents in the 1930s and eventually became the President of the University of Chicago – not only the first foreign born University President, but also the first woman President. Having earned her PhD in the 1950s, during a time when few women were able to pursue higher education, Hanna was a trailblazer for women in the academy.
The early chapters provide an historical account of her parents and their life in Germany, their journey to London and then the United States where her father joined the faculty at Yale, growing up in New Haven and her experiences as a student at Bryn Mawr (where she majored in history) at Oxford. Chapter seven begins her professional identity as an academic with a description of her graduate study and teaching at Harvard, where she met her husband, Charles Gray. The remaining chapters focus on Hanna's academic career and her observations on the complexities of higher education and what universities should do so as not to diminish the unique value that they bring to society.
Read the preface to the book here.