The September 2014 issue of The Atlantic is now available online—summarized and provided below:
Cover Story: “The Future of College?”
The brash tech entrepreneur Ben Nelson thinks he can reinvent higher education by stripping it down to its essence, eliminating lectures and tenure along with football games, ivy-covered buildings, and research libraries. What if he’s right? Graeme Wood gets exclusive access to the Minerva Project, an online university that’s launching in September with a first class of 33 students. Minerva's ambition is to grow exponentially and compete with the Ivy League in terms of quality of education and caliber of students and faculty, at a lower cost (future coeds will pay $28,000 a year). Wood is the only reporter to have experienced a Minerva course—which he describes as intense and exhausting. “I was forced, in effect, to learn. If this was the education of the future, it seemed vaguely fascistic. Good, but fascistic.” Read more.
“The Law-School Scam”
For-profit law schools are a capitalist dream of privatized profits and socialized losses. But for their debt-saddled, no-job-prospect graduates, they can be a nightmare. Paul Campos, a law professor, exposes the schools’ “perverse financial incentives” and the devastating consequences for students who come away unprepared to take a bar exam but laden with federally funded debt. “The arrangement,” he writes, “bears a notable resemblance to the subprime-mortgage-lending industry of a decade ago.” Campos focuses on the InfiLaw System, which owns three for-profit schools and, he argues, makes huge profits in part by accepting students no other ABA-accredited school would admit. Among Campos’s findings: 90 percent of InfiLaw’s 2013 graduates carried educational debt, with a median of $204,000; nearly one quarter were unemployed nine months after graduation; and less than 1 percent obtained federal clerkships or jobs with large law firms (versus 78 percent of Columbia’s 2013 grads and the nationwide average of 16 percent). Read more.
“The Escape Artist”
Frat boy, hippie expat, big-time drug dealer, prison escapee, millionaire mortgage broker. Jim Sargent was many things (in fact, a different person entirely) before he arrived in the idyllic Hawaiian town of Hawi and established himself as a civic leader. But it was only a matter of time before his troubled past would catch up with him. John Wolfson traces the fascinating tale of this Great Gatsby: born Eugene Russell Esposito, in West Virginia in 1948, he assumed the identity of Jim Sargent after walking out of a minimum-security prison in 1990. The piece includes lengthy interviews with Sargent—now imprisoned in the same California complex he escaped from more than 20 years earlier—along with former business associates, cohorts, and enemies. Read more.
- “The Cesarean-Industrial Complex”: In 1887, the American Journal of Obstetrics noted that a pregnant woman was more likely to survive being gored by a bull than having a Cesarean section. Fast-forward to today, when C-sections are the most common major surgery in the U.S., and more and more often an elective one. Senior associate editor Sarah Yager charts the reasons behind this skyrocketing method of birth, and examines new research finding that C-section babies are more prone to health problems later in life. Read more.
- “The Transparency Trap”: “Americans used to say, ‘You can’t fight city hall.’ That was long ago. Today, there’s almost nothing a city hall might do that could not be appealed in court somewhere.” Senior editor David Frum argues that calls for transparency and accountability in government have backfired, causing more administrative and judicial supervision but fewer actual results. Read more.
- “Congressman Moonbeam”: Can Representative Tim Ryan teach Washington to meditate? Political staff writer Molly Ball profiles Ryan, whom she describes as “the guy you know who’s just started mediating and can’t stop talking about it, only with the ability to propose legislation.” Ryan has been practicing mindfulness on Capitol Hill— leading “quiet-time” sessions for staffers and other representatives—while securing funds for relaxation training in his Ohio district and writing a book on the subject. Read more.
- “Better Hygiene Through Humiliation”: Many health-care-related infections are preventable with clean hands, yet studies show that fewer than half of doctors and nurses clean their hands as often as they should. In By Design, we look at a device that shames workers into frequent scrubbing. Read more.
- “How to Look Smart”: Wear glasses, use a middle initial, and put down that beer! Health editor Julie Beck helps us gain (perceived) IQ. Read more.
From The Culture File & Essay:
- “How to Talk About Climate Change so People Will Listen”: Environmentalists warn us that apocalypse awaits. Economists tell us that minimal fixes will get us through. “How is one supposed to respond to this kind of news?,” Charles C. Mann wonders. Looking at a group of recent books on climate change, he explains how we can move beyond the impasse. Read more.
- “Building Better Teachers”: Sara Mosle writes: “Mastering the craft demands time to collaborate—just what American schools don’t provide.” With half of all teachers on the brink of retirement, and 40–50 percent of novice ones quitting within five years, schools will likely need to hire more than 3 million new teachers by 2020. Mosle reviews Building A Better Teacher, a new book from Elizabeth Green arguing in favor of better training and resources for teachers. Read more.
- “Pistachio Politics”: Traveling in Istanbul, Esther Yi discovers a new angle on Turkey’s identity crisis through baklava. She learns from the greatest pastry-maker in the country, whose the dough, butter, syrup temperature, and, most important, pistachios must be just so. Read more.
- “The Gonzo Historian”: Rick Perlstein’s massive chronicle of “the wackadoodle far-right” gets ever more manic, writes Sam Tanenhaus in his review of the historian’s latest opus, The Invisible Bridge. Says Tanenhaus: “Perlstein’s gift for energetic caricature and his taste for bizarre incidents have overpowered his impulse to sift through the ideas and beliefs that animate his subjects.” Read more.
- “How Rye Came Back”: Wayne Curtis writes that rye whiskey, nearly extinct after Prohibition and then dismissed as the geezer’s go-to drink, is making a comeback, thanks to craft bartenders. Read more.
Finally, the back-page Big Question asks: “What is the most significant fashion innovation in history?” Calvin Klein celebrates blue jeans; Simon Doonan nominates high heels; Kathy Battista votes in the leather jacket; and Emily Weiss says: the bra. Read more.
These articles and more are featured in the September issue of The Atlantic, available today, August 14, 2014, on TheAtlantic.com and The Atlantic’s mobile apps, and on newsstands next week.