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Christopher Newfield

The Great Mistake

How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them

Johns Hopkins University Press 2016

NBN Book of the DayNBN Special SeriesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Big IdeasNew Books in EducationNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public Policy August 12, 2020 Steven P. Rodriguez

In The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), Christopher Newfield diagnoses what...

In The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), Christopher Newfield diagnoses what he sees as a crisis in American public higher education.

He argues that since roughly the 1980s, American public universities have entered into a devolutionary cycle of defunding brought about by privatization. The influence of private sector practices on public higher education, Newfield argues, has fundamentally shifted the view of higher education in American society from a public good to a private good.

Despite this bleak assessment, Newfield’s book provides a roadmap for how to fix this crisis in public higher education. A central component of his plan is recognizing the university as a public good by acknowledging its wide range of benefits to society and democracy more generally.

Newfield’s book will interest scholars from many disciplines, including higher education, U.S. political history, and the history of inequality in America.

Christopher Newfield is a professor of literature and American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Steven P. Rodriguez is a PhD candidate in history at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the history of Latin American student migration to the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. You can reach him at steven.p.rodriguez@vanderbilt.edu and follow his twitter at @SPatrickRod.