Inventing the University

My first impression of “Inventing the University” by David Bartholomae was confusion. Admittedly, I had to reread the essay two to three times to grasp it’s meaning, which I believe to be: write with confidence. Obviously Bartholomae delves into detail about writing authoritatively and as if you are from a position of privilege, “position of privilege” meaning that you “must be either equal to or more powerful” than the audience being addressed (Bartholomae 9). In “Reconsiderations: “Inventing the University” at 25: An Interview with David Bartholomae”, we learn that Bartholomae has not read “Inventing the University” since it “left his desk” (Bartholomae, Schlib 272), presumably since the 1980’s, and that the author was perplexed that he has been “described as someone who was advocating imitation or submission” (Bartholomae, Schlib 266). Perhaps my understanding of “Inventing the University” was incorrect, but it seemed as Bartholomae was explaining that students need to write as though they are experts in their topic. Off the cuff, my thoughts were antagonistic. Assuming the situation described in “Inventing the University”, how is it possible to pretend to be an expert on a topic you know nothing about? It seems impossible. After further reading into Bartholomae’s work, his analysis of the student essay he titled “Composing Songs” shed some light on his point. We are all (hopefully) experts on ourselves. The student responsible for “Composing Music” owned the topic of creativity by explaining their interpretation of it: their interpretation of the definition of creativity, their interpretation of the antithesis of creativity. By focusing on your own point of view/interpretation of something, you are able to write more confidently.

I can agree with Bartholomae in his thought that a grammatically correctly essay does not translate into an exemplary one. The essays used as examples in “Inventing the University” are varying in syntax as well as stylistics. For example, Bartholomae cites some of what he suggests as “basically” written essays (“White Socks”) as having more correct syntax, but having a weaker constitution from Bartholomae’s perspective of writing (Bartholomae 18). He makes it abundantly clear throughout his essay that effectively writing, in his opinion, transcends actual words and grammar, but is more an art of how the writer chooses to utilize them to illustrate their view from a position of privilege.

Dave Rick’s analysis of Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University” is the most relatable. Rick articulates some of the thoughts I had while reading Bartholomae’s writing. Rick does an excellent job of displaying this with his reasoning shown in response to “Inventing the University”. Rick points out that Bartholomae’s opinion that “basic writers” have the most trouble constructing “correct sentences” and that while able to reproduce various forms of prose, there is no understanding behind the use. While Bartholomae encourages “basic writers” to essentially pretend to be an expert on the topic which they are writing, Rick urges his students to write within “the context of their experience” (Rick).

Rick’s article brings me to what I feel would be a suitable update to “Inventing the University”. One of the most major and ongoing changes, especially from the 80’s has been technology. Technology has not only changed basically every aspect of our day to day lives, but that of the regular college student. The internet alone, never mind the incredible ease of access to it in the palm of your hand, has forever changed the way one perceives the world. In today’s world, people can gain the highest degrees of education never leaving their couch or home office.

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” Journal of Basic Writing 5.1 (1986): 4-23. Print.

Bartholomae, David, and John Schlib. “Reconsidersations: “Inventing the University” at 25: An Interview

with David Bartholomae.” College English 73.3 (2011):260-82.Print.


Rick, David W. “Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University”” N.p., 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.