The American Dream   /   Summer 2013   /    Essays

Knowledge, Virtue, and the Research University

What is valuable and worthy must not be left at the campus gate.

Chad Wellmon

Berlin Universitaet, c.1850; public domain.

Four Contemporary Responses

Recently, a broad literature has chronicled, diagnosed, and attempted to solve what many have referred to as a “crisis” in higher education.11xOn the perpetual “crisis” in higher education, especially in the humanities, see Frank Donoghue, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008). Some authors tie the purported crisis to an out-of-touch faculty or lackadaisical students, while others blame a conservative or liberal political culture or the public’s general distrust of universities. Amidst all of these anxious arguments, however, we can discern four basic types.

The first type is technocratic. These books tend to be sociological, data-driven critiques of the university as an institution. Exemplified by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s recent Academically Adrift, they cast a pall on the university by focusing on particular problems: low graduation rates, skewed admissions policies, indifferent faculty, disengaged students, or uncontrollable costs.22xRichard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). See, also, Jerome Karabel, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (New York: Mariner, 2005); William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). In response, the authors of these studies offer specific, procedural suggestions for solving the university’s various problems. 

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