What’s the University For?   /   Fall 2000   /    Articles

The Higher Learning in America

Five Views of Its Present State and How It Got That Way

Carl Trindle

BEFORE TRYING TO  ANSWER, THE  CENTRAL QUESTION of this issue of The Hedgehog Review–“What’s the university for”?–I’d ask “Who wants to know?” and “Which university?” There are so many replies to these questions, so many views of the American institution of higher learning, that saggy pachyderm. In this review, I am only able to offer a sampling of views. The authors include a journalist, historians, and men of letters. None is blind, but each view is partial. Left out of account is any insider’s view of university science and engineering, medicine or law. Each of the writers discussed here knows best the elite research university, not the middling and struggling places serving most of America. Each reporter has spent a lifetime in the academy; there is no fresh anthropological explorer of this falsely familiar but consistently odd culture. But still there is much to learn, both fresh and familiar.

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