Allowing for any reference to the millennium at all, my title should have been "Come the next millennium, where the university?", or, even more to the point, "Come the second millennium, where the university?" While I do understand that, with the year 2001, the third millennium AD will begin, it actually will be, permitting for some rounding up, only the second for universities. The early decades of this second millennium may bring more changes to universities than their first thousand years. Some of these changes will be wrenching.
By 1100 AD, cathedral schools had emerged as the first urban schools in Europe and, with Peter Abelard's arrival, that of Paris achieved preeminence.1 At the beginning of the 12th century, Irnerius taught Roman law at Bologna and, by the middle of the century, Paris had emerged as a center for logic and theology. To quote Alan Cobban, a British historian of medieval universities:
While the universities were to some extent the logical outcome of the growth of urbanised education, they must also be seen as the culmination of the vast intellectual revival which engulfed western Europe in the late eleventh, twelfth, and early thirteenth centuries. This had at its core the assimilation of Greek and Graeco-Roman learning and the subsequent efforts made to harmonise this vast corpus of pagan material with Christian education. Aristotle's logical, physical, metaphysical, ethical, political and literary works, with their Arabic and Hebrew commentaries, along with the renaissance in legal studies and the renewed interest in Greek and Arabic medicine, were central ingredients of this far-reaching intellectual advance.2
The emergence of the western university, beginning roughly with the second millennium AD and associated first with Bologna, Paris, Montpellier, Oxford, and a few other cities is indeed a millenarian phenomenon that, while it has not led to the rule of saints, has contributed much to the improvement of the human condition.
Universities have been extraordinarily durable as institutions and in terms of the functions they have performed in Western societies. They have even been durable in their methods of instruction. The lecture, the lectio, of the medieval university is still with us, as is the disputation, if in the less structured and vastly more secular format of a seminar. Clark Kerr has counted that of seventy-five institutions founded before 1520, "which are [still] doing much the same things in much the same places, in much the same ways and under the same names," about sixty are universities3. This puts some universities in such company as the Catholic Church, the Bank of Siena,4 or the Royal Mint. And Edward Shils, the great sociologist of knowledge and my former colleague at the University of Chicago who died last January 23, put it, as always, bluntly and caustically. I quote:
Universities are much criticised nowadays by government, civil servants, professors of education, journalists, et al. [It goes without saying that, in referring to "professors of education," Shils did not have in mind any person in this room tonight.] There are numerous reasons for these denunciations - some are good reasons, many are poor. The universities cost immense sums of money, their achievements cannot be measured in any clear and reliable way, many persons fail in them, and they certainly do not accomplish the solution of economic and social problems which some expect of them. Nevertheless, these societies cling to them. The universities do not survive simply because professors have a vested interest in their survival. . . . That would never be enough. These societies cling to them because, in the last analysis, they are their last best hope for a transfigured existence. . . .
Much of the criticism of the self-indulgence of the universities is an act of hypocrisy by their beneficiaries. . . . It is too late . . . to decide whether modern societies can get along without universities. For good reasons and bad, they must have them - much as they have been.5
There is a small, if increasing, minority that predicts that information technology will prove Edward Shils wrong. The notion is that a few decades into its second millennium the university as a corporeal entity will not be "much as it has been" if, indeed, it will continue to exist in a recognizable form. We are bombarded with articles in, for instance, The Chronicle of Higher Education on plans for a "Virtual Online University"6 or "Canada's On-Line MBA."7 Britain's Open University is much looked at as a model. There is a consortium of some fifty American universities that has formed the campusless, degree-granting National Technical University offering multi-university academic curricula.8 Forbes attempts to strike terror in the hearts of academics by hyperbolically asserting, in the present tense indicative, "Colleges and universities as we know them are obsolete [my emphasis]."9 Millenarians of various types expect a Götterdämmerung that will swallow those professors who think they are gods - but also the many among us who understand that we are all too human.
I know no better way to honor the memory of Edward Shils than to attempt an effort to imagine a world without universities. I invite you to follow me in this effort by asking what would be missing if there were no more universities. I shall proceed by examining, one by one, just a few of the "roles" that universities have come to play in modern society. I am using the term "role," rather than "task" or "function," because it is more indeterminate and permits me to avoid the question how particular tasks came to be "assigned." As Clark Kerr said in his famous 1963 lecture on "The Idea of a Multiversity": "No man created it; in fact, no man visualized it."10
I turn to:
1. The role of universities in education and professional training.
From their very beginning, universities have performed the teaching role, especially in professionally training lawyers, theologians, and doctors. It could be said that in the early centuries this is what universities were mostly about. And we are still employing essentially the same approach that enticed students from all over Europe to Bologna as early as the 12th century. We expect students to travel to a physical place (often many countries away) where they will find a set course of more or less tightly integrated studies based mostly on lectures and seminars by recognized experts.
Before Gutenberg, this was quite efficient. Even after Gutenberg, it has remained so as long as books were relatively expensive or students needed extensive research libraries or anatomical theaters, such as the magnificent one in Padua, or laboratories or concentrations of famous scholars. However, as anybody who studied law in Germany in the 1950s could attest, many rational students have dispensed with most lectures for some time and have relied on text and other books instead. Nothing, though, has as yet substituted for the intellectual excitement of a good seminar or lab or clinical rounds at a hospital. Interestingly enough, this conclusion is supported by some empirical data for American research-intensive universities. If course distributions are measured by instructional method, 14% only are pure lectures, 13% are lectures with so-called "break-outs," while 40% of courses are discussion classes with thirty or fewer students, and 33% are seminars.11
If the university as a corporeal entity were to disappear, propagation of existing knowledge would no doubt continue, as would professional training. In addition to the "information industry" a "knowledge industry" will develop - is indeed lurking around the corner. For better or for worse, knowledge will be commercialized at an ever increasing rate. Software producers may well become competitors of universities. You can presently buy courses on videotape - a rather ancient technology - in philosophy, fine arts, science, religion, and history taught, to quote one sales pitch, by "today's most compelling and charismatic university lecturers." One of these sets, quite ambitious in content, is produced by a partnership appropriately called "The Teaching Company." They had the foresight to obtain a trademark for their name.
The continuing education business for professionals, with its heavy reliance on the new media, in the future will not necessarily be restricted to "continuing" education. The Stanford Instructional Television Network has, for more than twenty-five years, been delivering tutor-assisted engineering courses to companies rather than on campus. In the near future, many of these endeavors will be available as multimedia interactive disks or online or both. They will become available to students, twenty-four hours a day, regardless of whether they are still in high school in West Bloomfield, Michigan, or whether they are postdocs in Sri Lanka.
One observer believes that "CD-ROMs will soon rob teachers of their power because students will have instant access to everything teachers know."12 While "soon" may be a considerable overstatement, given the quality of present products, much of the instructional software will be superb, indeed superior to the "live talking-heads" that have been with us since Bologna. Even the corpses needed for anatomical instruction are beginning to be supplanted by "virtual corpses." Promotional copy I read recently praises a "video dissector" because "unlike the actual cadaver, the program can be rewound."
The Internet will make it unnecessary for students to travel long distances. Information will spread faster than wildfires. Computer bulletin boards and other electronic fora will become more structured and organized - though, as in a real marketplace, they will continue to amass garbage, and lots of it.
The main question is this. Will technological substitution be complete, or will the university as a physical space continue to attract students? In attempting to answer this question, I shall put aside all issues of accreditation, assuming that there is no room for a not-for-profit university oligopoly. Though, if the New York Times is to be believed, the faculty of the University of Maine just overthrew their chancellor because they did not want to see a "virtual campus" accredited.13 For a variety of reasons that remain to be examined, I assume that the traditional university will not disappear. However, in the future, very different tradeoffs will be made by students and parents. This will be especially true for the American undergraduate college, which, as Robert Hutchins liked to say with poetic license, is based on "time-serving" rather than demonstrated achievement, on what a student has been through rather than on what a student knows.14
When distance-learning alternatives develop that will seem to save families, individuals, and the public money, these alternatives will have a profound impact on the traditional college and university. For one, they will shorten the course of studies. The line between high school and college will blur perhaps even more than the one between an advanced degree and continuing education. Learning will become less concentrated in time because there will be less need to take advantage of one's presence in a physical space. This phenomenon will further enhance the shift to life-long learning.
Having said this much, I must recall Wittgenstein's distinction between "knowledge-that," i.e., knowledge of propositions, and "knowledge-how," i.e., knowledge of how to do things,15 as a general reminder that much knowledge is imparted by interaction.16 Personal trade-offs and preferences apart, the question is what learning and which skills can not be taught at a distance. I do not presume to know the answer, though I certainly urge caution before declaring victory for the electronic media.
However this may be, no university in the world, not even the best, will be exempted from reviewing - in a searching and comprehensive manner, department by department - the quality of its teaching programs with a view to improving preprofessional and professional education. For the first time, universities actually may be able to achieve productivity gains in some areas of teaching. Due to the personnel-intensive traditional modes of teaching, universities, in the past, have not participated in the productivity gains in the economy that, ironically, can be traced to the very discoveries ultimately attributable to universities. We must examine without delay how we will use the new technologies, what investments in infrastructure and software development are called for, and how new video-conferencing technology can lead to increased interaction among universities for improvements and savings in programs. All of this should go without saying, but it does not. I think we are unduly complacent about the change of pace.
2. The role of universities in credentialing.
Again, from their very beginning, universities have certified accomplishments, or, at a minimum, in Hutchins' words, "time served." Our present degree structure, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, is in the truest sense of the word "medieval." However, our degrees, perhaps as distinguished from those of the medieval universities, seem to provide a license for less and less. This may be a fact worth pondering. Graduation from high school gets you almost nowhere, a bachelor's degree will be followed by a master's degree that, in many instances, is only a stepping stone toward a doctorate that often entitles you to no more than becoming a postdoc - if you are that lucky. If we will indeed see a shift to life-long learning and a move toward what industry calls "just-in-time" training, then degrees may become increasingly meaningless.
The question is, how would the world adjust to the absence of university certification of "higher" education? This may be an anthropological question as much as one dealing with rational choices. Can the modern world do without the status conferred by traditional higher education credentials? Is what Jacques Barzun has referred to as a "mandarin system"17 by now so all pervasive that credentialing amounts to a major raison d'être of universities?
Information costs of employers would increase if they could not any longer assume, at least as a matter of convenient fiction, that a degree certifies some relevant knowledge and skills. The most important among these qualities are the ability to use reason to see clearer, the ability to think critically and to write clearly. To think critically, one has to master the very tools of thought and analysis, such as logic and the scientific method. To use reason to see clearer one cannot forego the previous organization of knowledge and the continuous evaluation of new information that is so peculiarly the task of universities. But who can attest to a mastery of those tools other than those who themselves have mastered them? Is this mastery what we attest to? Can others perform that function?
If you would like to be a lawyer, you have to graduate from an accredited college so that you may enter an accredited law school to sit for a state bar examination. Why not just the bar examination? I hasten to say that there are many reasons to insist on law school, but then I am old-fashioned and believe that my profession should be a learned one - a view clearly not shared by many. Since American society seems increasingly reluctant to pay for the extraordinary costs of a first-rate medical education, maybe we need to prepare for the specter of having physicians certified only by state licensing and national board examinations, for which candidates would prepare by whatever means was least expensive.
According to a 1990 poll by Yankelovich, Clancy & Shulman, only 17% of the American public think the main reason to go to college is to become more broadly educated. I say "only 17%" because that is what the commentators emphasize. Actually, that 17% of the public wants to be more broadly educated strikes me as a gratifyingly high proportion. In any event, 67% believe that the main reason for college is to get the skills for a good job.18 These survey data are confirmed by statistics about college enrollments in the traditional liberal arts subjects: arts and sciences majors dropped from 47% of all B.A. degrees awarded in 1968 to 26% less than twenty years later,19 in spite of the fact that the analytic skills acquired in these subjects can be generalized and applied to other endeavors. If employers were to abandon college and university degrees as marks of job readiness, then the world might learn to do without universities as issuers of credentials. Whole batteries of proficiency tests might become the means by which to demonstrate preparation for various careers.
3. The role of universities in social integration.
The medieval university was open to male individuals regardless of origin or rank or proximity of residence. As in the case today of private universities - and an increasing number of public ones - donations over and above fees were expected from those who could afford them. Higher fees were levied on members of the nobility and the senior clergy.20 To some extent, since their origins, universities have been places where one meets utter strangers in terms of social or ethnic background.
Contemporary universities are characterized by a remarkable extent of peaceful interaction across multiple social boundaries. I think we do not make enough of the fact that, relatively speaking, American universities may be the most diverse and integrated institutions in the world. In spite of occasional incidents that are played up in the press - indeed universities are no ivory towers and "have always been intimately linked with their society"21 - there are few, if any, institutions that are, comparatively speaking, more successful than universities at encouraging their members to cross bridges. Not to mention their extraordinary capacity to bring all ages together - what my Stanford colleague Michael Bratman calls "vertical integration."
The diversity universities contain is special by any measure of academic achievement and interests, artistic and athletic accomplishments, national, ethnic and social background. Some American university presidents, I am told, even speak with a foreign accent. Without colleges and universities, nations, at least those without the draft or its equivalent, would have to rely on schools and the workplace as the main fora for sustained interaction among segments of society. Distance learning, as television before it, is likely to increase social isolation, though the electronic pen pals from the Internet may offer some, if only "virtual," protection against such isolation.
4. The role of universities in providing a rite of passage.
Universities, especially the American college, also perform the function of furthering the process of coming of age, of growing up. Students, often away from home for the first time, have to cope with worlds their families never even told them about. As my discussion of social integration suggests, this has been, to some extent, the case in universities anywhere and at any time.
However, the residential version of the American college may have no equal in challenging the familiar; in challenging prejudices, and values; in creating uncertainties; in bringing about new ways of relating to one another. Its emphasis on socialization and peer interaction, in the eyes of many, make the college environment, as distinguished from the college curriculum, a formative and formidable experience that is valued in its own right, independently of any academic purposes. The rite of passage is one reason, anthropologically speaking, Americans go to college. It is, of course, only one reason, and it is not the reason anybody invokes to justify tuition.
To imagine a world without colleges is to ask what value, including monetary value, people attach to the rite of passage. Most universities the world over are not residential. Most systems of higher education do not interpose college between secondary education and specialized pursuits. At some level, it is therefore easy to imagine a world without college. However, as someone who has been severely taken to task merely for suggesting that natural law has not laid down that college last four years rather than, say, three, I cannot be so sure.
5. The role of universities in "networking."
This aspect again is closely related to the role of universities in social integration and in providing a rite of passage. I am separating it out for emphasis. A couple of years ago, I discussed the length of undergraduate education with a group of students. When I timidly asked whether it could be done in three years, instead of four, a student tore into me suggesting that one of the main functions of college was to make friends: three years meant fewer opportunities for adding to the address book.
There can be little doubt that, for all those who attended, friends and acquaintances from college and university constitute an important network in terms of social life, career developments, business, political connections. "We met in college" is, even in our day and age, an often satisfactory explanation for preferment. Universities have provided these networks since time immemorial, anywhere in the world and reaching across the world.
There are strong utilitarian reasons for being part of a university if one wants to maximize opportunities, from marriage to career. The untested question is how many would be prepared to do without this forum. Probably this is not an either-or proposition and thus the question becomes one of how much value individuals are willing to attach to this aspect of higher education in its traditional form. My point is that integration, maturing and "networking" in the past were no more than supporting roles, by-products of studying at universities. Their relative importance may change in the future as people weigh the advantages of attending the physical university against the advantages of distance learning.
6. The role of universities in knowledge assessment and creation.
The origins of universities are intertwined with the dominant position that Aristotelian logic achieved in the 12th century. To quote Alan Cobban: "This pre-eminence of logic marked a radical deflection from an educational system based upon a passive adoption of an inherited culture to one in which a challenging and analytical approach to both classical and contemporary material was paramount."22
On the whole, universities have been the ally of change. In part this is due to the values that the true university prizes above all others: freedom (not just academic freedom), nondiscrimination (you will be heard regardless of your sex, race, ethnicity, religion), and equality of opportunity.
The main task of the university has been to question and to challenge fundamental assumptions and practices - that is, by implication to favor change if these assumptions and practices prove to be wrong. However, the university's commitment is to knowledge and research, not to a particular content or to specific results. That is why so many people so frequently get impatient with universities.
Especially the quest for "applications," for research that is "targeted," has been pressed on universities from the beginning of the millennium to the American land-grant universities of the 19th century and, of course, contemporary views worldwide that universities should be engines for economic progress. No less a philosopher than Leibniz favored theoria cum praxi and urged the creation of an academy of sciences that would look to useful applications.23 The "ideal type" of the modern university, Wilhelm von Humboldt's concept of a new university for Berlin, was developed to counteract pressures for immediate practicality.24
Humboldt's five conditions of a true university were: (1) the unity of teaching and research or, put differently, "education through research"; (2) interdisciplinariness; (3) unforced and undirected cooperation; (4) solitude; and (5) freedom. One of my predecessors at Stanford, Wallace Sterling, once put it more simply. His philosophy, he said, was to find the best possible faculty; to upgrade the breadth and variety of students, and provide needed physical plant; and then sit back and see what results.25
Can we do without universities that remain committed to these conditions of knowledge creation and assessment? Some of Humboldt's conditions, of course, have never been fully met at Berlin or elsewhere. For instance, as to "interdisciplinariness," cell walls within universities are not as permeable as they should be. Ossification of disciplinary or departmental boundaries is compounded by financial arrangements within universities and in research support. As to "solitude," what I should like to call the "hustle factor," increasingly supplemented by a "hassle factor," prevents an environment of solitude for most academic work.
The notion of a golden age of simplicity and solitude must be treated with the sense of irony reflected by the adage: "The sad thing is that in a little while these will be the 'good old days.' " Yet, I have little doubt that there has been what Jacques Barzun almost thirty years ago referred to as a "damaging shrinkage of time within the university": "Time now flows there at the same rate as outside, which accounts for the pressure and strain that every academic denizen groans under." But, as Barzun has said, good work "takes time, not alone for reflection but also for non-purposive reading."26
Universities in the last century and worldwide have undergone an immensely dynamic transformation, especially since the end of World War II. This is notably true for the manner in which research in the sciences has been organized and executed. Small science competes with big science, funding has become immensely complex, often involving pooled resources from university funds, government grants, clinical income, corporate and philanthropic support. There is interuniversity and international cooperation. As the stakes have grown, so have the number of researchers and, occasionally, cutthroat competition among laboratories and even within laboratories. Government agencies in the United States and elsewhere regulate every aspect of scientific research and make major efforts at planning scientific progress.
Can the world do without universities that at least strive to meet Humboldt's conditions for the successful pursuit of knowledge? In the short run, the answer is probably "yes." As Edward Shils has said, universities' achievements cannot be measured in a clear and convincing way. Therefore, what would be lost by the disappearance of true universities would take time to be understood. Alas, if that were to happen, it would be too expensive to rebuild the complex and fragile infrastructure of research-intensive universities. Good institutions and good work need a lot of breathing space. I worry that the United States and other countries already have lost sight of the conditions that create good work and good institutions. The research enterprise can easily be smothered by internal and external politics, pressures and red tape.
It may bemuse or amuse some of you who are not as familiar with Herbert Hoover as I must be, the president of Stanford, that it was this former engineer and former Republican president of the United States who gave one of the most eloquent defenses of university research. In 1954, when receiving an honorary degree from the University of Tübingen - one of Clark Kerr's institutions that date back to before 1520 - Hoover said:
It is by the free shuttle of ideas between our universities that we weave the great tapestries of knowledge. Our academic traditions have developed a system that is peculiarly effective in spotting outstanding intellects and putting them to work in a climate that fosters creative, original thinking.
From the mutual building by our university faculties and laboratories devoted to abstract science have come most of the great discoveries of natural law. The application of these discoveries through invention and production has been the task of the engineers and technicians whom we train. Applied science dries up quickly unless we maintain the sources of discovery in pure science. From these dual activities of the scientists and the technicians, a great stream of blessings in health, comfort, and good living has flowed to all our people.27
Modern society also involves:
7. The role of universities in the selection of academic elites and
in peer review.
When Hoover said that "our academic traditions have developed a system that is peculiarly effective in spotting outstanding intellects and putting them to work in a climate that fosters creative, original thinking," he referred to the universities.
Universities have in the past played, and continue now to play, a role in the creation and maintenance of societal elites. Also, throughout history, beginning with the first lawyers trained in Roman law in Bologna, universities have contributed to specific elites from the political to business. They have been important means for upward social mobility. However, my interest here pertains only to academic elites concerned with the tradition and creation of knowledge, concerned that is with the pursuit of scholarship itself. In emphasizing this university function I stipulate, to some extent counterfactually, that its performance is subject to the values of freedom, nondiscrimination and equality of opportunity that I referred to earlier.
The role I am singling out has to do with selecting those who themselves have the capacity to become scholars. In this respect, I am less concerned with college than with graduate schools and their selectivity as to entry and the indicia of further selection that can be found in the recognition of outstanding accomplishments by means of grades, honors, and the like. In many countries some institutions of higher learning can be very selective in the admission of applicants generally or as to specific programs. Entry competition, competition within a university, and competition among universities, especially in the incredibly open and flexible American higher education system, leads to a lot of winnowing out. The system is far from perfect, but the likelihood that it will actually bring excellences to the fore is greater than in a less competitive, less differentiated system. The system depends on institutions that aim for the highest quality.
This is especially important for that part of learning that is due to peer interaction. George Stigler, the Nobel laureate in economics, was of the view that, in the leading graduate centers, students learn mostly from one another, not from the material that is in print and available everywhere. "They learn to impose higher standards upon themselves, both in the selection of problems to work on and in the adequacy of the solutions they provide to these problems."28 A society that itself wants to be at the frontiers of discovery and intellectual vibrancy will not easily get, or remain, there if it abandons the institutions that are dedicated to the recognition and challenging - and, thereby, the nurturing - of excellences.
Universities and their faculties have in the past been the primary agents for sorting out good, not-so-good, and bad academic work. The role of universities has been a complex one. Especially on the American university campus, with its many opportunities for chance encounters with one's colleagues in one's own field or across disciplines, the university has often been the main vehicle for trying out new ideas and for seeing how far, if at all, they carry.
Faculty members also provide peer-review services to grant-making institutions, in order to assess the quality of research proposals, and to refereed journals. The cooperative, socially organized nature of knowledge has been recognized and supported liberally by the universities. The peer-review system has been remarkably open to the world. It has never been perfect29 but is analogous to what Churchill said about democracy: that it is "the worst form of government except for all others."
8. The role of universities in fostering a worldwide community of
While particular universities or societies are, at times, excruciatingly parochial when it comes to recognizing the quality of institutions elsewhere or of "foreign" scholars, the work of the university has been universal by aspiration and character. The "republic of learning" has been the first global industry. This is one reason why faculty members have taken with such zest to the downsizing of the world by the communications revolution, from airplanes to the Internet.
The question is how universities can cope with ever increasing opportunities for, and demands on, faculty members to engage in what we still call, somewhat quaintly, "outside activities," with their potential for conflicts of commitment and interest. As somebody commented a few years ago, some faculty consider that in fulfilling their obligation to the discipline they have also fulfilled their responsibilities to their institution.30 We know that not to be the case.
Stephen Stigler, the statistician, addressed some of these issues in a recent paper. I quote:
It seems plausible that [the] expanding electronic network will eventually lead to a weakening of our sense of institutional identity and a fundamental change in the intellectual competition that organizes our enterprise. Individual faculty may be in closer contact with collaborating colleagues at other universities (or with graduate students working under their direction in other countries) than with faculty and students in slightly different specialties down the hall. The importance of the geographic unit may be eclipsed by intellectual disciplinary units that are international in scope. For the immediate future financial resources that are administered by geographically-constrained universities may restrict the scope of any reconfiguration, but in time even that constraint may diminish, leaving the present research universities effectively operating themselves as foundations supporting international, highly specialized, disciplinary graduate schools.31
The difficulty is that while the globalization of academic peer networks will continue, though unevenly, universities that make the global republic of learning possible will have to struggle for survival as primarily national institutions. The prospect of the university of the 21st century is that of a forum without borders. However, almost all universities are national institutions. Included in this category are the very best private universities in the world - universities that are in many ways international public utilities, but financed overwhelmingly locally. I confess that it is very difficult for me to imagine a global republic of learning without traditional universities as major elements. However, a combination of a weakening sense of identity with a dwindling of national sources of support may eventually prove to be highly destructive.
The final aspect I will consider is:
9. The role of universities in the transfer of knowledge.
Universities contribute to knowledge transfer in many different ways. The most obvious are their curriculum and teaching, the books, articles and CD-ROMs produced by their faculty. Through these and other means, they indirectly help establish standards for elementary and secondary schools; those standards, in turn, become vehicles for knowledge transfer. Furthermore, what schools of education discover and teach about how to learn is as important for knowledge transfer as standards of substantive knowledge.
In addition to the specialists in education, the transfer of knowledge involves, of course, the work of all faculties from the humanities and the social sciences to the professional schools and the sciences. Mostly it is mediated, though there is increasing direct participation in the economy by means of faculty consulting (with additional opportunities for conflicts of interest and commitment). University patents and licenses also are of moderately increasing significance. Most important, however, have always been and still are the students.
For instance, the first step in technology transfer is the education of people and openness to basic research. Graduates of research-intensive universities have a much larger impact on the economy than specific inventions created or discovered by those universities. The extensive use of graduate students in the conduct of university research as part of their training has helped to make the United States' basic research enterprise so outstanding. As Jim Gibbons, Dean of Stanford's School of Engineering, likes to stress, students trained at top research-intensive universities learn to think from "first principles" and arrive at fresh conclusions. They acquire from their faculty mentors expectations of scientific breakthrough and a knowledge base that are, for instance, the hallmarks of Silicon Valley's success stories.
In a world without universities and their generally accessible research, knowledge would still be created. There could be, for instance, government-funded research institutes as they exist now in many countries, including the United States. This, however, would eliminate most student participation, and student participation is crucial to both the creation and the transfer of knowledge. There also would continue to be proprietary industry research laboratories that, with the profit motive providing powerful incentives, can indeed be spectacular vehicles for knowledge creation. The hovering question remains how quickly all of this would dry up without the sources of discovery in university research.
As we prepare for the second millennium of universities, let us remember that the world may need us, but it does not owe us anything. The history of the last one thousand years of institutions of higher learning has seen waxing, but also a lot of waning. Unless we make the case for our work in its entirety and pursue it rigorously and efficiently the world may tire of us and develop new approaches that it will consider adequate substitutes, even though we may not think of them as adequate, and they may not be adequate in fact.
What is the function of the university as a physical space? Originally, it was mostly a teaching space. That function will undergo much challenge in the near future. But the university also, early on in its history, became, and continues to be, a space for intellectual interaction of faculty with students, students with one another, and faculty with one another. Some of that interaction has already moved to cyberspace and the level of activity there grows at a breathtaking speed.
The university as a physical space will remain attractive to the extent that we will make it more valuable to people to interact personally and face to face in learning and research. Ironically, our future may lie in going back to the pre-university Socratic gymnasium as our main model of discourse. The university as a physical space will be superior to anything else to the extent that we provide a convincing structure for individual learning. The university will remain viable if we can convince the society in which we exist that as a society it would be poorer but for the continued investment in institutions that combine the rigorous tradition of knowledge and the rigorous search for truth with the excitement of frequently serendipitous discovery and the opportunity for societal greatness.
Maybe that is exactly what Edward Shils had in mind when he wrote, rather mystically, that societies cling to their universities "because, in the last analysis, they are their last best hope for a transfigured existence." Let us make that case!
1 Stephen C. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University, Stanford University Press (1985), 18.
2 Alan B. Cobban, Universities in the Middle Ages, Liverpool University Press (1990), 4.
3 Clark Kerr, "The Internal and External Threats to the University of the Twenty-First Century" (Comments), in Minerva, vol. XXX, no. 2 (summer 1992), 150.
4 Clark Kerr, Higher Education Cannot Escape History, State University of New York Press (1994), 45.
5 Edward Shils, "The Service of Society and the Advancement of Learning in the Twenty-First Century," in Minerva, vol. XXX, no. 2 (summer 1992), 256-57.
6 The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 16, 1994), A20.
7 The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 17, 1995), A41.
8 Gerhard Friedrich, "Technology and the Role of the Universities in a Global Information Economy," in International Challenges to American Colleges and Universities, Looking Ahead (ed. Katharine H. Hanson and Joel W. Meyerson), American Council on Education Series on Higher Education, Oryx Press (1995), 91.
9 Forbes (April 26, 1993), 170-71.
10 Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, Harvard University Press (1995), 7.
11 Policy Perspectives (September 1992), vol. 4, no. 3, sec. B, 10B.
12 Charles Handy, quoted in Fortune (October 31, 1994), 158.
13 The New York Times (April 4, 1995), A10.
14 See Robert M. Hutchins, The State of the University 1929-1949, The University of Chicago (1949), 3-5.
15 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Macmillan (1953), §78.
16 My colleague John Etchemendy likes to warn against "logocentricity" in our approach to knowledge. See Jon Barwise and John Etchemendy, "Virtual Information and Valid Reasoning," in Visualization in Mathematics (ed. Walter Zimmermann and Stephen Cunningham), Mathematical Association of America, notes no. 1991, 9-24.
17 Jacques Barzun, Begin Here (ed. Morris Philipson), The University of Chicago Press (1991), 154.
18 James Harvey, "Goodwill and Growing Worry: Public Perceptions of Higher Education in America," remarks given at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Chicago (July 11, 1994), 14.
19 Francis Oakley, Community of Learning, Oxford University Press (1992), 85. Also see Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, Harvard University Press (1995), 144.
20 Rainer Christoph Schwinges, "Admission," in A History of the University in Europe, vol. 1: Universities in the Middle Ages (ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens), Cambridge University Press (1992), 172, 185.
21 Edward Shils, op. cit., 243.
22 Alan B. Cobban, op. cit., 5.
23 Jürgen Mittelstraß, Die unzeitgemäße Universität, Suhrkamp (1994), 73-74.
24 Ibid., 78-81.
25 Notes on Meeting of the President's Student Advisory Committee (October 31, 1963), 5.
26 Jacques Barzun, op. cit., 160-61, 165.
27 Herbert Hoover, Addresses Upon The American Road 1950-1955, Stanford University Press (1955), 95.
28 George J. Stigler, Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist, Basic Books, Inc. (1988), 35.
29 See, for instance, Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus (trans. Peter Collier), Stanford University Press (1988).
30 Policy Perspectives (September 1992), vol. 4, no. 3, sec A, 6A.
31 Stephen M. Stigler, "Competition and the Research Universities," in Daedalus (fall 1993), 164-65.