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Reinventing the Research University

Tomorrow's Academy

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Rhodes, former president of Cornell University, introduces the collection by questioning whether the university is actually in need of reinvention: "I think reinventing the university is at the extreme end of a spectrum of possibilities. . . . These possibilities go all the way from reinvention-and presumably replacement-through reform, renewal, refocus to retention and reinforcement" (p. 3).


The posting below is a review by Bill Wolff of Reinventing the Research University, by edited by Luc E. Weber and James J. Duderstadt. It appeared in the June-August, 2005, of Planning for Higher Education 33(4): 37-39. ©2005 Planning for Higher Education. Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at: (



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Tomorrow's Academia

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Reviewed by Bill Wolff

In May 1998, 20 representatives of the higher education communities in Europe and the United States met in Glion, Switzerland to consider "the major challenges facing research universities in the age of the information technology and communication revolution" (Glion Colloquium 2005, under "Meeting History"). Out of the first Glion Colloquium came the "Glion Declaration," a document that calls upon universities to "recognize their unique responsibilities and opportunities to their communities, regions and the larger global society" (Rhodes 1999, par. 5). Written by Frank H. T. Rhodes and approved by each member of the first colloquium, the Declaration describes universities as "learning communities [that are] created and supported because of the need of students to learn, the benefit to scholars of intellectual community, and the importance to society of new knowledge, educated leaders, [and] informed citizens. . ." (Rhodes 1999, par. 19). Knowledge-making, according to the Declaration, "is the core-business of the university" (Rhodes 1999, par. 3). Yet, universities "are experiencing severe financial constraints, with increasing competition for scarce public funds for other pressing public needs" and are left with the understanding that "[w]ise political leadership will be required to sustain long-term investment in learning, without which social advancement is an empty dream" (Rhodes 1999, par. 20).

Edited by Luc E. Weber, vice president of the Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research of the Council of Europe, and James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus and university professor of science and engineering at the University of Michigan, Reinventing the Research University is the fourth in a continuing four-part series of collections that "reflect both the consensus and differences in the perspectives of the participants" (p. xi) of the Glion Colloquium. The first three collections considered (1) the challenges facing higher education in the new millennium (1999), (2) the changing nature of governance in higher education (2001), and (3) the blurring of the walls between the university and a market-driven society (2002). Reflecting the papers presented at the 2003 Glion IV Colloquium, Reinventing the Research University explores the implications of powerful external market forces and decreasing state subsidies on the functions of the university-its teaching and research, its financing and governance, its relationship to the marketplace-in a society that "fails to appreciate the value" (p. x) of universities. The diverse group of authors who contributed to Reinventing the Research University bring unique, lived perspectives to the issues facing the research university of the future, remain true to the ideals of the Declaration, and consistently remind the reader that the university "has been one of the most enduring [institutions] in our society in large part because of its capacity to adapt and evolve to serve a modernizing world while holding fast to its fundamental values and character" (p. xi).

Rhodes, former president of Cornell University, introduces the collection by questioning whether the university is actually in need of reinvention: "I think reinventing the university is at the extreme end of a spectrum of possibilities. . . . These possibilities go all the way from reinvention-and presumably replacement-through reform, renewal, refocus to retention and reinforcement" (p. 3). For Rhodes, "[r]einvention is a radical conception, especially for an institution that has existed for a millennium and is still vigorous" (p. 3); he asks, "What then requires 'reinvention'?" (p. 5). Robert Zemsky, chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Duderstadt respond to Rhodes by speculating that perhaps "what is really being asked of universities today is a reformation of processes that have become detached and hence unwieldy, on the one hand, and, on the other, a refocusing of mission and strategy such that universities more effectively invest their resources" (p. 15). Zemsky and Duderstadt suggest that "reinventing" is the wrong verb simply because "the pace of university change is being driven by social, economic, and technological forces largely external to the academy. Today universities, as institutions, are much more likely to respond to rather than initiate change-in that sense, universities are being remade rather than reinvented" (p. 15). The authors believe the most pressing concern for universities is a severe lack of funding, and describe four warning signs that universities may no longer be in control of their own destinies: (1) Darwinian competition (competition between schools for students and money), (2) commercialization of the academy (the commercial value of intellectual property), (3) from public good to private benefit (erosion of the belief that the university serves a public good), and (4) loss of public purpose (universities rarely interact with the public marketplace).

The implications of these four warning signs for both American and European universities are considered throughout the rest of the collection. Weber and Pavel Zgaga, director of the Center for Education Policy Studies at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, consider the future changes to European universities as a result of two political initiatives intended to make the universities "more transparent and competitive" (p. 29): the first is the creation of a "European Higher Education Area" by 2010, and the second is the development of a "European Research Area." This second initiative describes the "explicit ambition that Europe becomes 'the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world'" (p. 30). Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of North Carolina State University (NC State), uses the creation of NC State's Centennial Campus to show the university "as an exemplar of an American public research university that has accepted the need to develop additional non-traditional sources of revenue" (p. 197) as a result of declining state appropriations (41.5 percent of annual revenue sources in 2002 compared to 44.4 percent in 1998 [p. 201]) combined with enrollment that is likely to see a significant increase over the next decade. Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities, considers what it would take to design a "University of the Future" that is "firmly rooted in the tradition of . . . free and open pursuit of knowledge" but that will also "be connected with, and serve, the society of which it is a part" (p. 127). Roger G. H. Downer, president and vice chancellor of the University of Limerick, brings the diverse roles that the modern university plays in society back to the undergraduate curriculum, and is the only author to explore teaching and pedagogy: "There is a need to reassess the nature of the undergraduate experience . . . and the manner in which undergraduate education is provided" (p. 64). Stating that "the ultimate goal of education is not excellent teaching, but, rather, excellence in student learning" (p. 64), Downer recommends a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning (in the same vein as Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed), and offers concrete suggestions for how, with the aid of faculty champions, that change can, over time, be implemented.

In each of the essays there is a written and implied understanding that a university of the future can only be successful "by adapting to market forces" (p. 208); even Downer's student-centered essay is situated in a changing social and political climate. How a university adapts (or responds) to market forces is, however, not completely agreed upon or understood. Does a university fight against change? Work with market forces by adapting certain functions? Allow market forces to dictate all of its functions? There is no one correct answer; how a university responds to external market forces depends on a host of factors: history, geography, classification, size, values, etc. Zemsky considers a future where "with audible resignation" the functions of the university "will be left to the market-letting institutions become, regardless of what they call themselves, what the market wants and is willing to pay for" (p. 117). Looking toward one of the "innovations" closely related to market forces, university rankings, Zemsky explains that there is "a great deal of evidence to suggest that the rankings are in fact just a surrogate for market position" (p. 113). In response, Zemsky suggests reclassifying universities by employing such terms as "Medallion," "Name Brand," "Core," "Good Buy," and "User Friendly" (p. 114) in place of the Carnegie Classification, and asks readers to consider how much the new classification "reflects the confidences and aspirations of higher education's student customers" (p. 114). Other authors consider how universities should function in a "knowledge economy" (p. 89). According to Frans A. van Vught, rector magnificus of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, "our economy is strongly dependent on the creation and distribution of knowledge" (p. 90). Van Vught seeks to bridge the "widening gulf between [the] university and society" (p. 101) by describing the university as playing a vital role in the creation, transmission, distribution, and application of knowledge in the contemporary knowledge economy and society.

The essays do not, however, discuss the long- and short-term implications of adopting market rhetoric ("Name Brand," "Good Buy," "student customers") and thinking about the university as a knowledge processor. Patricia Gumport, executive director of the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, has considered the implications, and is concerned that employing the market metaphor implies that the workings of the university-teaching students, employing faculty, administering divisions-are thought of in terms of often short-term contemporary market demands:

I am concerned that technical, market imperatives run wild, urging colleges and universities to adapt to short-term market demands, to re-deploy resources (which include people, e.g., faculty), in an effort to reposition themselves within an increasingly competitive context. I am concerned that a premium has been placed upon adaptation without careful scrutiny of the gradual institutional change underway in the character of public higher education. I am concerned that the educational and societal consequences emerging from changed academic commitments will be far-reaching, as very different academic programs become available to different segments of student populations, further stratifying the inequality of life chances across socioeconomic groups. (Gumport 2000, p. 70)

Gumport believes that considering the university as both an "industry" and a "knowledge industry" is harmful to the future of the university system. She sees a conflict between viewing the university as a "knowledge-processing system" and those who see it as a "people-processing system," and argues that viewing the university as a knowledge processor often results in the university having too close a relationship with current short-term political and economic forces. The result, according to Gumport, is an educational climate in which external political and market driven forces tend to directly shape "what knowledge is considered to have value" (p. 83) and the language employed to discuss the university's goals and values.

But can we have it both ways? Can the university adapt to contemporary market forces and a decline in state subsidies by adopting market rhetoric and still remain faithful to the traditional functions of the university? Can we think of the university as a knowledge processor and ensure that short-term market forces do not dictate the education students receive? With their allegiance to the traditional values associated with the university by such figures as Cardinal John Henry Newman and Wilhelm von Humboldt, the participants of the colloquium show that they think it is possible. Gumport and others (for example, Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie, authors of Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University) are more hesitant, and I would welcome a future collection that explores these questions in greater depth.

Ultimately, though, this collection is about sharing ideas and exploring possibilities: "One of the very positive contributions of the Glion Colloquium is that it helps participants and the readers of the books from both sides of the Atlantic to learn about the situation in the other continent or countries, allowing them to benefit from the experience of others" (p. 187). Appealing to all members of the university community-administrators, politicians, scholars, faculty, students, and industry-Reinventing the Research University is an important addition to the body of scholarship concerned with planning for the future of higher education and its position in an ever-changing society.


Glion Colloquium. 2005. Meeting History. Retrieved May 6, 2005, from the World Wide Web: Gumport, Patricia J. 2000. Academic Restructuring: Organizational Change and Institutional Imperatives. Higher Education 39: 67-91. Rhodes, Frank H. T. 1999. The Glion Declaration. Retrieved May 6, 2005, from the World Wide Web: