The University of Virginia, where I teach, does many different things. It runs a medical system with a 631-bed hospital, twenty-three research centers, and a medical school. It manages an entertainment business that hosts everything from Pearl Jam concerts to monster truck rallies. It supports a start-up incubator for new business ventures. It coordinates a community-wide sustainability effort. It feeds thousands of people every day. It serves as an industry and government research center. It fields twenty-five varsity sports teams. And in addition to all that, it educates more than 20,000 students a year, while supporting the research of some 2,000 fulltime faculty members. Like most universities today, the University of Virginia isn’t just an educational institution. It’s a conglomerate.
In 1963 in the middle of the post–World War II higher education boom, when college enrollments were surging and federal research dollars were flowing, Clark Kerr, then-president of the University of California, christened this new institution the “multiversity.” During the twentieth century, he argued, the university had ceased to be a unified community harnessed a single purpose. It had fragmented into several communities. This new institution, Kerr noted, was to be neither loved nor loathed; it was to be managed. Like any other modern institution, it was to be run by organization men and women, administrators who managed a panoply of corporate enterprises. The new, modern multiversity wasn’t the quaint collegiate community of the past; it was a “mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money.” And its leader, as Thorstein Veblen had put it a half century earlier, was not an intellectual leader but rather a “captain of erudition.”