The Contradiction of the Research University

There was an interesting article in the Chronicle a few weeks ago:

The Soul of the Research University by Nicholas Lemann.

Lemann provides a very interesting discussion of the contradiction between the academic ideal of the research university and the political perspective of the vocational school of further education, including some healthy historical perspective on the development of the concept in the US.

"Underlying all of this is the fundamental problem of the country’s having adopted two noncongruent ideals of higher education.
... most of the stakeholders that provide resources to universities—including parents, students, alumni donors, legislatures, businesses, and foundations—believe they are paying for skills-conferring, teaching-centric institutions. And most of the senior leaders of universities believe that the institutions’ core mission is research."

There is a succinct summary of Baumol's Disease as it applies to higher education, a good discussion of the attempt to setup the California Higher Education system and the extent to which it succeeded, and not.
He notes the truism - that Universities are among the oldest stable institutions, as self-perpetuating oligarchies they serve their discipline, not their civic hosts, and he even proposes some interesting solutions for how to reduce costs and provide new incentive structures.

A very good, interesting read. There is a lot to say about it, more than I can get into here and now. My quick take is that he fails to tackle a major elephant in the room, which is to acknowledge that not every, indeed, arguably most, institutes of higher education are not Universities, and maybe should stop acting as if they are.
But that is also arguably an entirely separate issue.


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