By Wray Herbert
A RECENT BOOK THOUGHTFULLY EXAMINES
THE IMPACT THAT TECHNOLOGY AND BUDGET CUTS ARE HAVING ON ACADEMIA.
The Lutheran Church was founded in 1530, some 66 institutions
existed that still exist today in approximately the same form.
In addition to the Lutheran Church, those included the Catholic
Church, the Parliament of Iceland and the Isle of Man, and
This point was made some years ago by the late Clark Kerr,
American educator and reformer, to emphasize just how resilient
the university is as an institution. Kerr added: "They
have experienced wars, revolutions, depressions, and industrial
transformations, and have come out less changed than almost
any other segment of our society."
Is such resilience to change a good thing or a bad thing?
Kerr's observation is cited by former Cornell University
president Frank H.T. Rhodes in the introductory chapter of
the new book, Reinventing the Research University,
a collection of essays on the condition of the modern research
university and the challenges facing it. The consensus view
from the 13 contributors to this volume—educators, administrators,
and industry representatives from both the United States and
Europe—is that, yes, resilience is a good thing—at
least when it comes to the university's basic missions
of creating and imparting knowledge. When it comes to its
other purposes, some new to our age, these thinkers have more
reservations and questions.
Here are a few of the major pressures for change
suggested by the essayists.
- So-called "massification"
of the university: Higher education is no longer for the
elite, and extending the privilege of a higher education
to the masses is a major challenge facing university administrators
and faculty for a variety of reasons. The massification
of higher education is accompanied by a major shift in the
demographics of entering students. For example, it estimated
that by 2010 over 50 percent of all university students
will be working adults over the age of 25.
- Industry-university cooperation. In
his essay "Globalization of Research and Development
in a Federated World," Hewlett Packard's Wayne
C. Johnson describes a new model for innovation—which
he dubs "open innovation"—in which corporate
labs and university labs no longer exist as separate entities.
Instead, he argues, industry and academia need to break
down the traditional boundaries between them to generate
the kind of knowledge needed in our global economy.
- Technological revolution: Not only
is technological progress changing the face of the university
and higher education with blinding speed; the world of work
is demanding a workforce more technologically savvy than
ever before. This requires some major rethinking of curriculum
and departmental organization.
- Shrinking budgets: Just as these
social changes are demanding a greater investment in higher
education than ever before, states are facing budget deficits
that prohibit such expansion. In addition, there is less
and less public support for what's perceived as the
elite (and unaccountable) mission of the university, as
baby boomers age and focus increasingly on other priorities,
such as healthcare.
The fundamental issue underlying these other institutional
challenges is the role of the university in relation to society's
pressing needs, and many of the essayists touch on the tension
between "applied education"—training in
clearly useful disciplines—versus "curiosity driven"
research. In the end, the editors conclude, the university
must face these powerful changes as an opportunity rather
than a threat if the basic mission is to be preserved.
Wray Herbert is a freelance writer on culture and society
in Washington, D.C.