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Characteristics of the New American University

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 

If our future well-being depends in some measure on the effectiveness of our research universities, what expectations should we have for these institutions?

In the excerpt below, Frank H.T. Rhodes, former president of Cornell

University, discusses the following eight characteristics of the New

American University:

1. Institutional autonomy, lively faculty independence and vigorous

academic freedom, but strong, impartial, public governance and

decisive, engaged presidential leadership.

2. Increasingly privately supported, but increasingly publicly

accountable and socially committed.

3. Campus rooted, but internationally oriented.

4. Academically independent, but constructively partnered.

5. Knowledge-based, but student-oriented; research -driven, but


6. Technologically sophisticated, but community-dependent.

7. Quality-obsessed, but procedurally efficient.

8. Professionally attuned, but humanely informed.

The excerpt is taken from From, Chapter 17, The New University, by Frank


edited by Werner Z. Hirsh and Lue E. Weber. ? 1999 by The American Council

on Education and The Oryx Press. Published by The Oryx Press. 4041 North

Central at Indian School Road Phoenix, Arizona 85012-3397. All rights

reserved. Reprinted with permission.

The posting includes the chapter introduction, a description of

characteristics #3, #5 and #8, and the chapter conclusion.

NOTE: If you would like an electronic version of the entire chapter

please let me know.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: How to Diversify the Faculty

Tomorrow's Academy

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From: Chapter 17, The New University, by Frank H.T. Rhodes

Knowledge has become the currency of the new global market; the most

successful societies in the future will be those that optimize the

creation, distribution, and utilization of knowledge. In this

optimization, the universities will play a crucial role.

If our future well-being depends in some measure on the effectiveness

of our research universities, what expectations should we have for

these institutions? What should the best universities of the

twenty-first century look like? Without pretending that anyone can

provide a precise blueprint for the research university of the

future, several characteristics seem essential. My description will

be limited to the American university, not because I think it either

the most important or the most likely to serve as a model for those

in other places, but only because I know it best. The New American

University will prosper to the extent that it can maintain a dynamic

equilibrium between several inherent tensions.


Described below are what would appear to be some of the most likely

and important characteristics of the New American University:


In spite of the growing benefits of information technology, the New

American University will still depend on an established campus base

as the essential platform for both its specialized facilities and its

scholarly community. Though its role may change, the traditional

concept of a university as a place is unlikely to be made redundant

by a virtual institution, however powerful and inclusive distance

learning may become. But the "real" university, though it may be

located in a particular place, cannot be confined to a single place,

campus-based in its location, it will be international in its

orientation and cosmopolitan in its character; its graduates will

purse their careers within an increasingly global economy and an

increasingly diverse workforce. Both its curriculum and its

membership will still be recruited; study abroad will become the

norm; both the student and faculty bodies will become conspicuously

international in their membership, and productivity in a diverse

community will increasingly come to be regarded as a "job skill."

International students already form a significant proportion of the

university's student body (typically 10-15 percent of its

undergraduates and up to 50 percent of its graduate students) and

foreign-born faculty members are already found at all levels within

the ranks of most of its departments. Boards of trustees of private

universities already include several international members. New

research partnerships, teaching exchanges, scholarly consortia, and

institutional associations all serve to reinforce these growing

international linkages. This emphasis on global knowledge is scarcely

new; it recapitulates and reflects a characteristic as old as the

university itself. While most colleges and universities will still

draw their students from local regions, the great research

universities will become ever more international in their membership

and outlook.



The distinctive feature of the New American University will still be

its commitment to learning in its widest sense. This involves not

simply the transmission of existing knowledge, but also the

creativity that produces new achievements and the research that leads

to new discovery and new knowledge. World-class scholarship will

require both greater selectivity and greater interaction among

disciplines than is now the case. But this will be pursed in the

context of a student-centered culture, with clear educational goals,

explicit statements of curricular objectives, clearly defined

professional skills, and new measures of educational outcome. It will

include a new commitment to effective learning at every

level-professional, graduate, and especially undergraduate-with

emphasis on clearly defined standards, high competence, effective

advising and mentoring, cultivation of learning skills, personal

growth, individual creativity, and meaningful assessment, all based

on a variety of learning styles, teamwork, off-campus experience,

lifelong learning, and the effective use of educational technology.

The "best" universities and colleges of the future will be those

demonstrating the most effective gains in learning and learning

skills among their students. This new accountability will demand a

better understanding of the learning process and a clear statement of

instructional purpose and effectiveness. The traditional pattern of a

student accumulating information-however advanced-and a professor

teaching "subjects"-however effectively-will be displaced by an

emphasis on developing in students the initiative, skills, and

discipline to pursue knowledge independently, to evaluate and weigh

it effectively, and to apply it creatively and responsibly.


The growth in importance of professional studies has been paralleled

by a decline in influence of the traditional liberal arts. This is

partly cause and effect, influenced in part by the growing importance

and increasing public role of the professions, and by the growing

popularity of professional studies among students. But part of the

decline in the influence of the liberal arts reflects the lack of

internal cohesion within their own traditional core disciplines. The

sciences have become powerful, but increasingly unintelligible to

nonscientists. The social sciences, entranced by microanalysis and

quantification, have become increasingly irrelevant to social issues

and public policy. The humanities, embracing fragmentation,

otherness, and unreality, have neglected the great overreaching

issues of human commonality in favor of partisan advocacy.

Yet never has professional practice stood in a greater need of

enlightened influence and humane awareness. There is limited value

and little benefit in information, undigested and un-scrutinized by

personal reflection, or in professional skills, unguided by

thoughtful insight and personal commitment. If the university fails

to educate free and responsible citizens, who will undertake the

task? So the New American University must reinvent the liberal arts,

perhaps expanding the range of cultural statement by the creative

integration of sound, text, and image, and using the new

communications technology to create both a new form of expression and

a new level of literacy. This integration is, as yet, characterized

more by trash than by pearls, more by entertainment than by

enlightenment. But it offers the possibility of enriched cultural

expression and a new cultural literacy to which the traditional

liberal arts have yet to respond.


These eight characteristics seem likely to shape, and perhaps define,

the New American University. They will change the culture of the

campus, in much the same way that the changes of the late nineteenth

century transformed the American college into the more comprehensive

research university. The transformation will involve a combination of

the best in the public land-grant university and with new global

partnerships as strong as those of multinational corporations.

How creatively the university deals with these tensions will depend

on the strength of its core values and its willingness to adapt to

changing conditions and needs. This adaption will involve

changes-some of them wrenching-within the university. But American

universities need to change, not because they are weak, but because

they are strong. American universities are not "in trouble" not in

decline. In spite of financial pressures, which are real, and public

concerns, some of them justified, universities are doing well. They

include world-class institutions; a dozen or so provide the benchmark

for the rest of the world.

So change for the sake of change offers no benefits. But responsive

and responsible change is the requirement for their continuing

strength, and their continuing effectiveness. Like it or not,

universities were originally created and continue to enjoy public

support because they are "service organizations," serving the growing

needs of society for knowledge and professional skills and service.

But that responsibility is best discharged not by immersion in the

issues of the moment, but by taking the larger, comprehensive view of

knowledge, in all its dimensions. The community that is a university

is the best means yet devised for achieving that comprehensive view,

with all its benefits. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the

university is to balance the inevitable tension between that

scholarly community, and the degree of separation that sustains it,

and responsible concern for the clamoring needs of society.

University Trustees, deans, provosts, and especially, presidents must

become the challengers of complacency, the voices of institutional

conscience, the patient advocates for change, the champions of

excellence, the midwives of the new alliances and partnerships, the

facilitators of teamwork, and the untiring exemplars of both

traditional values and a new level of commitment.

In an age of limits and constraints, of cynicism and suspicion,

universities must reaffirm the soaring possibilities that enlightened

education represents. In an era of broken families, dwindling

religious congregations, decaying communities, our nation desperately

needs a new model of community-knowledgeable but compassionate,

critical but concerned, skeptical but affirming-that will serve the

clamoring needs of our fragmented society and respond to the nobler,

unuttered aspirations of our deeper selves.

This is not to pretend that universities have either wholesale

solutions to humanity's ills or a monopoly on skills to address them.

Universities are human creations, full of human imperfection, with as

much sloth, envy, malice, and neglect as any other community and

rather more their share of pettiness, arrogance, and pride. But it is

to assert that universities, with all their imperfections, represent

the crucible within which our future will be formed. Boiling,

steaming, frothing at times, a new amalgam must somehow be created

within them if we are to surmount our social problems and rediscover

the civic virtues on which our society depends. And, as leaders in

every field of endeavor are educated within their walls, as knowledge

is increased within their laboratories, new works created within

their studios, and professional practice developed and refined within

their facilities, so universities provide each new generation of

leaders, educated, influenced, and shaped within the culture of the

campus. This emerging community-analytical and affirming, critical

and creative, inclusive and inquiring, engaging and enabling-will be

the New American University.


Frank H.T. Rhodes was president of Cornell University for 18 years

before retiring in 1995, having previously served as vice-president

for academic affairs at the University of Michigan. A geologist by

training, Rhodes was a member of President Bush's Education Policy

Advisory Committee. He has also served as chairman of the National

Science Board and chairman of the boards of the American Council on

Education, the American Association of Universities, and the Carnegie

Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He was chairman of the

American Council on Education's task force on minority education,

which produced the report One-Third of a Nation and for which former

presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford served as honorary co-chairs.

He holds over 30 honorary degrees. Rhodes has just completed a book

on American universities. He is at present a member of the Washington

Advisory Group.