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Universities and Their Leadership.

edited by William G. Bowen and Harold T. Shapiro. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. 258 pp. $29.95.

GEORGE KELLER, Baltimore, Maryland

In March of 1996, the 250th anniversary of the founding of Princeton University (as the College of New Jersey), the campus leaders held a Conference on Higher Education, loosely devoted to the theme of the relation between research universities and contemporary society. The conference was amply supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, of which William Bowen, a former president of Princeton, is president, and he and the current Princeton president, Harold Shapiro, collected the ten papers presented to form this book.

Usually such books mainly contain prosaic essays, inclined more to congratulation than to searching analysis and scholarly muscle. This miscellany is not free of puffy cotton, but it also includes essays of steel. Several of the essays are outstanding.

The authors are academics, such as Martin Trow, Amy Gutmann, Oliver Fulton, and Daniel Kevles, and scholarly administrators, such as Frank Rhodes, Harold Shapiro, Hanna Gray, Henry Rosovsky, Frank Press, and Maxine Singer. The book is divided into four sections: The University Overall, The Presidency, The Faculty, and The Planning and Oversight of Science. The editors never explain why these four subjects were selected and others such as students, curriculum, finances, and the humanities were not. But the four topics chosen are reasonably central, and the writers strive to relate their essays to the conference theme. Incidentally, Universities and Their Leadership is an exceptionally well edited book, which seems less and less the case in recent compilations about higher education.

The one hundred and twenty or so American research universities, from Duke to Berkeley, have had a growing number of critics. Therefore it seems appropriate that the book begins with an essay by the former president of Cornell University, Frank Rhodes, dealing with these criticisms. After listing some of them, Rhodes chooses not to counter or deny them; instead, he notes that Americans must recognize that "universities themselves have undergone significant changes." He cites three of these changes as especially influential.

First is the increasing "inclusiveness" of the universities in the makeup of their students and in their academic programs. Rhodes points out that one third of Princeton's incoming class of 1998 was composed of minority and foreign students, and although Princeton became coeducational as recently as 1969, the undergraduate body is now 46 percent female. All the U.S. research universities, he says, have become more polymerous; "ivory towers they are no longer." Second, professional and practical studies have proliferated and now tend to dominate the universities. Third, science has become ascendant, with the leading U.S. universities now housing many of the best scientists of our time. Professional schools too have become more science-oriented, and "the model of scientific knowledge - abstract, quantifiable, impersonal, and 'value neutral' - has been adopted uncritically by other fields."

Rhodes's article hiccups occasionally with bromides like, "We must decide what our priorities are," but he feels strongly that research universities should be more accountable to the public because "scholarship is a public trust."

Fittingly, Berkeley's Martin Trow follows with what is one of the finest explorations of accountability in higher education so far. based on a recent study (Graham, Lyman, & Trow, 1995), he advocates an unconventional view of accountability.

Trow, a long-time defender of faculty prerogatives, transparently dislikes the increasing demands that universities be more accountable to external bodies. He believes, "Accountability to outsiders weakens the autonomy of institutions" and "can also be a threat to the freedom of professionals to manage their own time and define their own work." He also believes that "there is no lack of accountability by American colleges and universities to the larger community," considering the existence of accrediting agencies, federal regulations and audits, outside trustees, the media, state coordinating bodies, unions, student assessments, consumer guides to colleges, and more.

Trow prefers to see universities develop their own quality controls and measures of efficiency. "It is necessary that the institution subject itself and its units to serious and recurrent internal review with real teeth and real consequences." He proposes that regional and professional accrediting bodies replace their institutional reviews with "audits of the quality control procedures in place."

However, Trow's arguments are weakened by two elements. He is highly skeptical of all measurements of quality, and he fails to recognize that strong internal quality and effectiveness controls require a far more intrusive central management on campus than any research university faculty would likely accept and greater faculty self-criticism and attention to student needs than most professors at these elite institutions seem willing to extend.

Three of the next four essays, believe it or not, are about "moral leadership." Harold Shapiro looks back at four presidents of yesteryear - Wayland of Brown, Eliot of Harvard, Angell of Michigan, and Wilson of Princeton - and claims they each had a vision and the energy and courage to pursue it and a capacity to inspire others. Shapiro asserts, "It is my own view that the moral requirements of a contemporary university president are no less than in some previous age."

Henry Rosovsky, emeritus professor and former dean at Harvard, aided by doctoral candidate Inge-Lise Ameer, worries about the "professional conduct" of the faculty at the best universities. He thinks they are so committed to their research and pursuit of new knowledge that many no longer give much attention to teaching, advising students, the curriculum, and governing their university. "Most professors have little sense of social contract," he writes. He attributes their excessive absorption in research and publishing to two things: "competition" and "poor management."

Rosovsky describes American higher education as an intensely competitive enterprise, fighting for faculty, students, and funding. The coin of the marketplace is prestige, and among research universities prestige is largely judged on the basis of research awards and productivity, faculty reputation, and faculty prizes and important consultancies. So research university leaders scour the world for brilliant researchers and bright-star intellectuals. "Stars bring visibility and luster. They also bring special deals, special - in the sense of privileged - rules of conduct, and discord and jealousy." (Profscam is not quite as eccentric a book as its detractors allege.) Rosovsky claims the "star system" has "greatly increased the power of professors and given many of them immunity from institutional control."

Also, the behavior of research professors is getting worse, Rosovsky charges, because of "archaic and inefficient management practices" and by administrative cowardice, permissiveness, and "lack of will." He asks, can anything be done? and seems to answer, not much. But Rosovsky wonders if a short course on professional conduct should be required of all doctoral students, and he ends, bafflingly, with two case studies - the famous battle at Stanford over the curriculum in Western civilization and a faculty-student face-off at Russell University - as examples of faculty behavior.

Amy Gutmann, a politics professor at Princeton, argues even more forcefully for "high-quality courses in practical ethics in the curriculum," such as she has been offering to Princeton's undergraduates for more than a decade. Gutmann acknowledges that there is "no morally neutral ground" or one best set of ethics, but she says that "every university must take some stand here and now, provisionally and subject to change." Gutmann earnestly wants students and faculty to be more morally reflective.

But Hanna Gray, professor of history and president emeritus of the University of Chicago, is more chary. To her, administrative and moral leadership such as the presidential "giants" of higher education's past exuded is not possible is today's complex research conglomerates. Rather, university presidents should be enablers, working with others quietly, often invisibly, to help scholars get their work done. Modesty, faithfulness to academic values, and stealth are crucial, she maintains in her slightly droll and gossamer piece.

The most traditional scholarly essay in the book is Oliver Fulton's disquisition on the contemporary academic profession, a subject he has studied for more than twenty years. Fulton, a professor of higher education at Great Britain's Lancaster University, cogitates about whether there is an academic "profession" or not, especially now that higher education is a mass enterprise in the advanced industrial nations. Fulton looks at the topic from numerous points of view and kinds of empirical data.

On the one hand, he notes that many citizens regard all professors as professors, not as mathematicians, astronomers, or literature experts, and that many scholars still agree with the old Parsons-Platt view that college and university instructors constitute a separate profession with a common allegiance to "cognitive rationality" (1968, p. 497). Fulton observes that faculty are pretty much subject to similar working conditions and academic calendars, are trained through similar graduate school requirements, and usually feel an obligation, like doctors or the clergy, to serve others.

On the other hand, Fulton reminds us that Donald Light in his groundbreaking article (1974, p. 12) argued persuasively that "the academic profession does not exist." Rather, professors are comprised of three distinct occupational groups: a small minority of academics highly active in research, scholarship, and publication; numerous scholarly instructors who occasionally write articles, reviews, or books; and a majority of teachers of undergraduates. Fulton also notes that Burton Clark (1983) and others have found a steadily increasing fragmentation of the disciplines and a breakdown of collegiality as academic specialization has grown.

Moreover, faculty have ranks; lawyers and architects do not have full, associate, and assistant lawyers and architects. And Fulton's survey data reveal that there are national differences in the way countries treat and regard professors. Fulton's conclusion: "To claim that we are all one profession is plainly wrong; but to deny it altogether would be equally foolish."

The last three essays seem further removed from the proclaimed theme of the Princeton conference. They concern the federal government's role in supporting scientific research and development. Science historian Daniel Kevles of the California Institute of Technology scans the federal government's role in supporting science from 1890 to the present with his usual superb mix of historical detail and public policy issues. He recommends that university scientists reduce their concern about how much money academic science needs from the federal government and increase their emphasis on "socially purposeful scientific programs." Frank Press, geophysicist and former president of the National Academy of Sciences, proposes a new concept, "the federal science and technology budget," to look at "the real R&D budget," not the government's vaunted $70 billion one, of which more than half goes for defense, space, and industrial development. And Maxine Singer, biochemist and president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, worries about "the problem of communicating science to the public."

Universities and Their Leadership is limited to examining the condition and obligations of the nation's relatively top-drawer research universities. But the increasingly concentrated gathering of star researchers, artists, and intellectuals at these institutions has prompted growing public concerns about universities' social obligations - to students, to the nation, and to moral leadership for society. In a gingerly manner, the book addresses some of these concerns.


Clark B. (1983). The higher education system. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Graham, P., Lyman R., & Trow, M. (1995). Accountability of colleges and universities: An essay. New York: Columbia University.

Light, D. (1974, Winter). The structure of the academic professions. Sociology of Education, 47, 2-28.

Parsons T., & Platt, G. (1968, Winter). Considerations on the American academic system. Minerva, 6, 497.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Keller, George
Publication:Journal of Higher Education
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1999
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