The Private University and American Higher Education
Arthur M. Sussman
I am honored to be here today.
This is a new university. You have great freedom in choosing your traditions. Therefore, it is especially pleasing that you have allowed me to inaugurate one of your traditions–inviting outside speakers to campus. In the short time that I have been on campus, I have been impressed not only with the physical facilities, but with the spirit and dedication of the students and faculty. Your excitement at being a part of a new private university is evident. You have a vision of excellence for the future of this University, not only as a Nigerian university, but as part of the international enterprise of higher education. Your ambitions are high: you seek to be a model of what a Nigerian university ideally should be. You understand that to do that you must put “intellectualism” at your core. You also understand that you are part of a society and a culture, and should–to borrow words from your mission statement- be a “result -oriented institution” that produces “highly skilled and socially relevant graduates… capable of applying scientific knowledge for the resolution of social problems.”
That you have lofty aspirations and that you have accomplished so much in such a short time, is not surprising when one meets your founder. Are AfeBabalola is a man who life story is “Impossibility Made Possible.” He has dedicated much of his life to higher education and has spoken out powerfully not only about the needs of Nigerian universities, but also about the importance of life-long learning. To quote him:
A man is dead the moment that he can no longer learn, imbibe new ideas and respond adequately to new conditions. It is vitally important that we all exhibit a positive disposition towards learning.
It is this kind of passion for learning that motivates universities. Anyone who teaches, works, or studies at a university (or who has ever done so) automatically becomes a lifetime citizen of all universities, with the full obligations of citizenship. As such a citizen, youth understand and support the values that make all universities special places. These values include intellectual rigor and integrity.
Today I am going to talk with you about your fellow university citizens in America. My reflections about private universities and their governance will be in the context of the entire system of American public and private higher education. I will begin with some background about American higher education and its history and then turn to observations about its governance. Finally I will discuss the role of the government in setting directions for higher education.
Let me first ask your permission to share with you a little about how I became a citizen of the university. It will help you to understand how my views have been shaped.
I am a graduate of a public college which is part of a private university–Cornell University: the partnership between the two create an interesting relationship between the public and private sector. I attended law school at a private university, Harvard.
After practicing law for several years, I joined the administration of a public university, originally established as a teacher’s college, in a rural area of the state of Illinois. An important part of the founding mission of Southern Illinois University was to serve the region that surrounds it. I went on to work at a private university, The University of Chicago, a primarily graduate research university with a relatively small undergraduate program.
Chicago’s long -serving former president, Robert Maynard Hutchins, believed that the calling of the university faculty is “to think.” To Hutchins, a university is a “center of independent thought” and thus a “center of criticism.” In his view, a democratic society, if it was to progress or even survive, needed its universities. The University of Chicago has lived up to his standard—it has a reputation as a place where the life of the mind is celebrated. Students claim that it is the place where fun comes to die!
You can see that I have been fortunate to have studied and worked at both public and private institutions–institutions founded with the ideal of community service, and institutions modeled after the more traditional ivory tower British university, where the intellectual life is valued, not only for its critical mental process, but for the service it provides for the nation and the world as source of new ideas and increasing knowledge.
Some additional facts:
Today American higher education is a collection of 4,800 institutions enrolling over 18 million students. About 40% of Americans between the ages of 18-23 attend an institution of higher education.
– There are 1800 two and four- year public institutions enrolling 13.4 million students. These schools are established by state governments.
– There are 1,720 two and four-year private non-profit institutions with 4.8 million students.
– Finally, there are an increasing number of proprietary colleges – 1,350. These are privately owned and are profit- making institutions. The DeVry Institute and the University of Phoenix are two examples. They frequently enroll older part-time students, and have large on-line web-based programs. The University of Phoenix’s distance learning campus has over 225,000 students enrolled.
At last count there were 15.6 million undergraduates, 2.3 million graduate students, and 350,000 professional students enrolled in higher education. There are 600,000 foreign students in American colleges and universities including 6,000 from Nigeria.
These 18 million students are taught by 700,000 full-time faculty members and countless part-time teachers. Over the last thirty years the use of part-time faculty has dramatically increased.
About 75% of the 18 million enrolled students attend public institutions. If you look only at four-year institutions you find that almost 70% of these institutions are private, and that they enroll 40% of the undergraduates- almost 4.5 million students. Of the undergraduates, about 53% of those who attend public institutions graduate in six years or less. That percentage is 63% for students attending private institutions: a difference that private colleges are quite proud of.
A key point is that almost all of these students pay tuition. In public institutions the average tuition is $6,500 and in private institutions it is over $20,000 per year.
You now have a picture of a large, diverse, complicated, and changing system. You can also see how significant a role private higher education plays in the American system.
How did we get this way?
American higher education institutions are established by state and local governments and also by private and religious groups. While there were some early discussions about establishing a federal university, it was decided that within the American federal system, education was to be primarily a state responsibility. This was the first major federal government decision about higher education. Thus, with the exception of military academies and a military medical school, there are no federal universities.
While there are no federal universities, the U.S. federal government plays a central role in funding and setting the agenda for higher education. Today the federal government is the major supplier of student aid and research funding for public and private universities. Additionally each state helps to fund the public universities in its state.
It is important to know that the amount of state funding has been decreasing as a percentage of public university budgets, and in some cases, it has been decreasing in actual dollars. Some state universities receive as little as 8% of their budgets from the state. Few receive more that 35%. The average state institution receives 22% of its revenue from state support.
In reality, the economies of many state and private universities are similar. Both depend heavily on student fees. For state institutions it averages 17% of revenues. For private institutions it is 26%. All are competing for the same private and corporate donors and the same federal research support. All are under pressures to increase tuition.
Many private universities and some state universities have income from endowment funds. About 225 institutions have endowment funds of over $250 million. Many more have smaller endowments. All want to raise more. These funds are important to the university economy providing some institutions with over 25% of their budgets.
Let me turn to a discussion of some pivotal points in the history of American higher education.
The founding century of American higher education belonged to private schools. As a colony we looked to the motherland for our model of education. We found in England’s great medieval universities many of our initial university values. Small, private, church- sponsored colleges were opened –schools like Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale. Modeled after British institutions, they were schools for gentlemen, graduating clergy and academics.
The importance of these colleges was attested to in one of the early cases brought to the United States Supreme Court, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518 (1819). In that case the Supreme Court rejected the state of New Hampshire’s attempt to revoke the charter of Dartmouth, a small private college. In the course of the argument before the Court, Daniel Webster declared that while Dartmouth may be a small school “there are those of us who love it.” The case stood as an early statement of the sanctity of contract as well as the importance of private higher education.
The major voice for this educational model was John Henry Cardinal Newman. Newman’s pre-scientific university was independent of the values of industrial society. Indeed, from 1800 to 1899, only 7% of the graduates of Cambridge University entered industry or commerce. Many stayed in the academy or entered its sister institution, the church. To Newman, useful knowledge was a “deal of trash.” Yet, he did not regard a university education as useless, for he saw it as “[preparing] a man to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility.”
About the time Newman was defending his version of liberal education, Henry Adams was a student at Harvard. He would later describe the quality of his educational experiences in his classic work- “TheEducation of Henry Adams.”
In Adams’ words:
Harvard College, as far as it educated at all, was a mild and liberal school, which sent young men into the world with all they needed to be respectable citizens….Leaders of men it never tried to make. The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everyone concerned with it-teacher and taught.
By the mid 1870’s- post Civil War – this limited a view of a gentleman’s education was becoming less acceptable to many Americans. Impressed by the German research university, attempts were made to move this model across the ocean to America. Beginning with Johns Hopkins University in 1876, Americans created institutions based on this German research model. The University of Chicago, founded in 1893 is another such example. Colleges like Harvard, Yale and Princeton moved in this direction as well. All of these were private institutions.
Thus, while the “ideals” of Newman profoundly influenced more than a century of American university life, the American university was evolving quite distinctively, developing in its own
“big” ways – big campuses, big enrollments, big research, and big-time football.
An important influence on this evolution was the passage by Congress in 1862 of the Morrill Act, which created what were called land grant colleges, my institution, Cornell, being one of them.
The purpose of a land grant college was:
…to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts. […] in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes …
Under the Morrill Act the federal government gave each state federal land which could be sold. The proceeds had to be used to fund the establishment of a land grant institution. The American government wanted its universities to solve problems.
Today’s large state universities, born as land grant colleges, continue this outreach model. In the judgment of Clark Kerr–the former president of the University of California –the Morrill Act “set the tone for the development of American higher education for the next hundred years.”
The private research university and the state land grant institution were emerging as pillars of American higher education.
The next major event came with World War II. The federal government decided to locate key war- related research at different universities around the country. The prime example was the Manhattan atomic bomb project, which was initially based at The University of Chicago under the stands at the football stadium.
After the war, the federal government continued these partnerships. Universities – public and private – became the nation’s primary locations for basic research. This has continued, and, in fact, expanded. Thus, we developed what Kerr labeled the “federal grants university.” Today university research spending tops $50 billion a year; $30 billion of that comes from the federal government.
The third major shaper of American higher education also came out of World War II – the GI Bill of Rights. Under this law, the federal government paid for the education of returning soldiers at both private and public institutions. The impact on higher education was profound. The GI bill transformed American higher education from an elite system to a mass system. No longer was higher education to be limited to a small portion of the population. Returning soldiers flooded America’s campuses, learning and living in recycled barracks. They forever changed the American view of who could benefit from, and, therefore, who was entitled to, a college education.
The GI bill was followed in the 1970s by the fourth major transformation of higher education– the development and rapid expansion of the federal student aid programs – both grants and loans. Again, this was available to all accredited schools, public and private. Higher education was to be accessible to all qualified students regardless of family income.
This is a determined, if imperfect, effort to provide wider access to higher education. Further student support comes from colleges and universities who use some of their own funds to provide scholarship aid. Presently over 50% of students in public institutions and over 60% in private institutions receive some form of grant or loan aid.
Access, access, access became the goal of U.S. policy. To an important extent it has worked. In the last decade, the number of students attending institutions of higher education has increased by 20% and is projected by 2017 to increase another 10%. Yet there is a growing concern that the steady increase in student fees is pricing many poor and middle class students out of higher education. Of further concern is that students are leaving higher education with large education debts. Last year the average private school student graduated with over $25,000 in educational debt. The public university graduate had almost $20,000 in educational debt. If the student goes on to graduate school the debt increases. For a master’s degree, it can add another $40,000 in debt. For a law graduate it can add another $100,000 in debt. This is a growing public issue.
As we approach the questions of how universities are run, it is important to reiterate that we are talking about a system of diverse institutions, 40% of them state-sponsored, almost all charging tuition and many seeking federal research support. They are, in the words of Clark Kerr, “multiversities.” Rather than the earlier small college of masters and students, they are complex institutions encompassing administrators, trustees and scores of private and public patrons- worldwide. The university is an active part of society, and a major participant in technology and commerce.
With this as background I now turn to governance.
Who formally sits at the governance table?
Who claims to have a right to participate in the decision- making of a university—or, at least to seek to influence decisions?
Before discussing the major participants at the governance table– trustees, faculty and administration, let me mention some of what I will call “influence” groups who are a part of any university.
American higher education heavily depends upon private giving. This is particularly true in private universities where on average 11% of the budget is from private giving. In public institutions it is under 3%. In total, American higher education receives more than $32 billion per year from private giving. Half of the giving is from individuals. Corporations account for 16% of gifts and foundations, about 30%. Most of the gifts received are for specific purposes. The hardest money to raise is unrestricted endowment. Donors generally want to designate how their gifts are to be used. Thus donors exert influence by designating their gifts. Additionally, they have more general influence on the basis of past gifts they have given, or the impression they plant with University presidents that they might give in the future.
Students assert the right to be part of the decision process on a number of questions, but most strongly on issues of curriculum, evaluation of faculty teaching, their desire for increased student services, and on the setting of student fees. Since fees have continued to increase, students’ interest and concern make theirs an important voice in this area.. The University of California, this year, increased its student fees by 30% to $10,000.
In some universities, students are given formal representation on the governing board: one seat is given to student government or to an elected student representative. They are also important in that they help to recruit other students, becoming a powerful word-of-mouth force in attracting new applicants; students who feel heard and respected also become more generous alumni donors.
Alumni claim a right to participate in decision-making as graduates and as potential donors. Again, in some institutions they are given a seat on the governing board. Even if this is not formally done, a significant number of governing board members usually are alumni of the institution. Alumni seek to preserve the standards of the institution, in part, they argue, in order to protect the value of their degrees. They are fond of reminding everyone that it was a better university when they attended!
For most American universities a large amount of fundraising leadership and gift giving comes from alumni. In fact, alumni are the major source of gifts. More than 28% of private giving comes from alumni. This does not take into account the ability of alums to help direct corporate and foundation giving.
Most recently, another voice has been added to the discussion -the community. Community leaders are increasingly asking: What is the responsibility of the university as a neighbor to help improve the neighborhood that surrounds it? At this point almost all American universities-public and private-are committed to working with their neighbors. Many have full time staff devoted to town–gown relations. Universities are assisting in local schools, in developing housing programs for low- and moderate- income residents and in improving local policing and promoting small businesses to provide shopping and services for students and faculty. Universities recognize this as a social obligation, but also understand that a strong local community is important to the recruitment of students and faculty. The community is then another voice to be taken into account in decision-making.
Let me now turn to the big three in the university decision-making process: trustees, faculty, and administration. These are the groups that have traditionally been the formal participants at the governance table.
Richard Hofstadter in his history of American higher education explained that the American university developed a system under which:
the balance of governance power is actually distributed among trustees, administration, and faculty, [with the faculty having] a very large voice, often in effect a controlling voice, in matters of appointment, promotion, and curriculum.
Let us consider how shared governance is actually shared.
Administrators are responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the university. For some purposes they are the extension of the trustees. For other purposes they are extensions of faculty authority. In essence they are the managers of the university. Since universities don’t like using corporate language they are referred to as the “administration.”
Some administrators are faculty members who are part-time administrators, such as deans or department chairs. Others may take on full-time administrative duties with the expectation that they will return to the faculty at some point, such as the Provost Other administrators function effectively as civil service employees.
Jacques Barzun, a noted scholar, described the university decision- making process as so dispersed that:
When one looks for ‘the administration’, ‘decision-makers’ at a given university, one must knock at almost every other door.
Acknowledging this, there still is the need for skilled senior administrative leadership. Senior administration must work to make sure that the university academic processes are working well and that academic quality is maintained. The president and provost/academic vice president are usually a part of the faculty appointment and promotion process and in most universities must approve appointments and promotions. Additionally senior administration is responsible for collecting information and soliciting campus viewpoints on policy matters and then working closely with the trustees to set policy. Importantly, senior administration is responsible for implementing policy and communicating to the campus and beyond.
A successful institution requires a respectful relationship between the senior administrative leadership and the faculty, as well as an alignment of interests between the senior administration and the trustees. Achieving that alignment is a key responsibility of the president and his or her management group.
Trustees legally ‘own’ the university. However they cannot act as if they do. Trustees are responsible for the management of the assets, the selection of the president and the employment of the faculty and staff. In both public and private institutions they are the legal bosses. Even that university medievalist Robert Maynard Hutchins, accepted that the trustees have the “undoubted legal right to control the institution.” However, he cautioned that “the wiser they are, the less they will attempt to do so.” Hutchins, acknowledging that trustees “are or ought to be more competent than the faculty to manage property and to interpret the university to the public,” nevertheless expressed the conviction that “a university that is run by its trustees will be badly run.”
What then should trustees do and how should they do it?
What are Trustee Responsibilities?
– The first and most important responsibility of the trustees is to select the president and to regularly evaluate the performance of the president.
– The trustees must be able and willing to ask hard questions of the administration and of the faculty. They must force everyone to face up to difficult choices. Perhaps the admonition of President Reagan about dealing with the Soviet Union during the cold war is an appropriate one for a university board of trustees-“Trust, Trust but Verify”. A board that doesn’t trust will fail. A board that does not take the time or lacks the information or skill to verify does not do its job. Either way the university will suffer. Richard Chait, an expert on governance correctly stated that boards should “macrogovern” and not “micromonitor.”
– The trustees are ambassadors for the university. They advocate for the university to the public, to the press, to potential donors and to government. To advocate they must understand not only what is happening on campus, but they also must be able to explain why it is important. Trustees must be life- long learners, and must support the values of the institution.
– The trustees must be willing to provide and obtain financial support for their institutions
– It is considered important for boards not to do certain things, as well. In particular they should not seek to become involved in the academic decision-making process. This is the purview of faculty and administration.
How Do Trustees Carry Out Their Responsibilities?
Trustees generally meet at least quarterly. Board sizes vary. Private universities tend to have larger boards –sometimes with as many as fifty members—in order to maximize their fund-raising potential. Public university boards generally have fewer members. Many boards, especially the larger ones, have smaller executive committees that meet between regular board meetings.
A well-run board uses its meeting to learn about the institution and to discuss important policy issues. Faculty and students are often asked to make presentations to the board, to provide information, but, as importantly, to provide opportunities for board members, students and faculty to interact.
How are trustees appointed?
– Most boards of trustees are made up, entirely or almost entirely, of individuals from outside the university- or independent directors, as they would be referred to in the corporate world. They bring a fresh perspective as well as expertise and information from the outside world. They also are effective ambassadors and fund-raisers for the university.
– In public universities, trustees may be elected by voters or appointed by the governor of the state.
– In private universities, trustees may be appointed by the existing board or elected by constituents such as alumni. Frequently there is mix of the two.
– Trustees serve a fixed term. On some boards there is a limit on the length of service – term limits.
Who Becomes A Trustee?
– First and foremost no one should be selected as a trustee who does not support the mission and values of the University.
– Most frequently business, political, and civic leaders are asked to serve. Academics from other institutions also serve.
– Universities usually want some of their alumni on their boards.
– Individuals of personal wealth or people who have contacts with wealthy individuals or those in powerful positions are desirable.
– Importantly, boards are increasingly looking for a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives among its members. Universities want a mix of geographic, racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity on their boards.
In sum, an effective university board does exactly what Hutchins directed it to do almost three quarters a century ago: it manages the assets (and hopefully raises more money for endowment), represents the institution to some publics, selects the president, and acts as a critical sounding board for the administration. It generally stays out of academic decision- making.
Dwight Eisenhower early in his brief presidency of Columbia University reportedly greeted a group of faculty members by expressing his delight at meeting some of the “employees” of Columbia. The resulting silence, as the story continues, was broken by a senior professor who rose and said, “with all due respect, sir, we are not the employees of Columbia University. We are Columbia University.
Eisenhower decided that it would be easier to return to military command and then become president of the United States than to remain as a university president!
Faculty involvement in academic decision making has a long history. In a university the academic administrators, quite frequently, have the same expertise as faculty members. In many cases they have been, and still are, faculty members. Thus faculty members are not being called upon solely for their expertise, but because in the system of governance that has evolved, they have a right to be called upon. They may be called upon in a number of areas, but primarily, their right to participate is most strongly adhered to with regard to core academic decisions concerning admissions, curriculum, and faculty appointments. In these areas they have a long respected expectation of a seat at the table. In fact in many such situations they expect to lead the discussion.
Faculty participation in shared governance is a part of the American charter of academic freedom developed almost 100 years ago. This charter, drafted by a group of professors, has been accepted by most universities. It consists of three basic elements: freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching within the university, and freedom of extramural utterance and action. The charter also expects faculty participation in core university decision-making.
It is understood that academic freedom is not an absolute. It has to be balanced with the legitimate management needs of the university, and has to be exercised with professionalism. What is to be protected are:
[Conclusions]gained by a scholar’s method and held in scholar’s spirit…..fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry….set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language.
These sentiments are meant also to guide faculty participation in shared governance.
To make the university governance system work there needs to be a comfort with ambiguity, and a willingness of the governing parties to respect the role and expertise of each of the others. And then—in true university spirit—there undoubtedly follows an endless series of conversations. This all must be carried out with a continuing understanding of the needs of the university in a rapidly changing world. No wonder Mr. Eisenhower found it easier to be U.S president!
The Role of Government in Higher Education
The university is apart from society, but it also is a part of it. Outside the campus is a world from which the university draws its students, its faculty and its financial support. The government also decides to devote some of its scarce resources to support the university. It does so because it believes that what happens on the campus –in its classrooms and laboratories -will benefit society: educated students will emerge to serve society and research findings will improve health, agriculture, and the economy as a whole. In exchange for this support government seeks a voice – as policymaker and funder of the university. Government wants to make sure that it is getting its money’s worth. The university fears that government will turn it into another government agency and thus destroy one of the basic functions of the university as a critic of society. Hence there is frequent tension and conflict between the university and one of its most influential sponsors.
While I will focus on the federal government, many of the following observations are equally relevant to the relationship between the university and state government. One major difference is that much state funding is done through bloc grants—operating grants– rather than through specifically designated funds. In addition to the budget process, state controls are exercised through the state accounting system, the purchasing system, the state’s personnel rules, as well as through more direct and personal pressures by governors and individual state legislators.
I should add that while most state funds go to public universities, in some states, there are student aid programs that also assist students attending private schools.
States also impact private colleges by their licensure requirements. A private university needs state approval of its programs before it can offer degrees. There is also program accreditation, usually regionally based, that must be obtained before degrees are recognized, and before a student in the program can qualify for federal or state aid programs.
Let us turn to the role of the federal government in university life:
The federal government is a myriad of executive agencies and congressional committees, each responsible for a different higher education program. Student aid is managed by the Department of Education; research funding comes from a number of federal agencies and departments such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Defense. Thus, while I speak of ‘government’ it should be understood that there can be diversity of viewpoints and approaches among and between government agencies. Importantly, there is no one cabinet officer or agency that is all-powerful over higher education. The power and money is dispersed.
In its role as a funder, the government has two main impacts:
– The first is by making choices on how to spend its research funds. Universities and individual faculty members respond to the availability of research funds by changes in research direction and internal resource allocations. Universities make important decisions on institutional directions based on expected governmental funding.
– The second impact is as a regulator. Government increasingly seeks accountability in the use of its funds. Both fund and program accountability have become common. Accounting rules, human subject’s research rules, animal care rules, and drug free workplace rules, are but a few examples. Student aid funds come with requirements for publication of campus crime statistics, implementation of alcohol and drug abuse programs and provision of gender equality in athletics, and other mandates.
Since government is so central to both public and private institutions, much time and effort is devoted by higher education to understanding and influencing government. This means, as with other matters relating to university governance, there is the need for constant information sharing, discussion and compromise.
The courts have been very helpful in shaping these discussions by supporting university autonomy. Fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court in a landmark decision, Sweezy v. New Hampshire,set out a series of strong expectations for the behavior of all government toward universities. The decision directed respect for the core values of the academy.
In the words of Chief Justice Warren:
The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self evident. .. To impose any straight jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation….scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilization will stagnate and die.
Justice Frankfurter agreed and added:
In a university knowledge is its own end, not merely a means to an end. A university ceases to be true to its own nature if it becomes a tool of Church or State or any sectional interest. A university is characterized by the spirit of free inquiry, its ideal being the ideal of Socrates-“to follow the argument where it leads.”
It is the business of the university to provide the atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment and creation.
Justice Frankfurter then quoted the “four freedoms” from a statement protesting apartheid from South African Rectors:
[A university must have] an atmosphere in which there prevail “the four essential freedoms” of a university-to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.
This decision, written by a former public university trustee (Warren), and a former private university professor (Frankfurter), has operated as a virtual constitutional amendment giving guidance to all government entities of the need to respect the special space that is a university.
Yet, many decry what they see as the American university becoming a ‘regulated industry;’ or as Kingman Brewster, former president of Yale, more gently described it, “Now that I have bought the button, I have the right to design the suit.”
Generally, I believe that government has shown respect for the core academic values of the university.
What do leaders of American higher education have to say about the role of government?
Clark Kerr who, in 1963, had warned of the dangers facing the new “federal grants university,” was by 2000 proclaiming the 20th century one of triumph for the American research university.
In describing various tensions between the government and the academy during the “complicated times” of the last 50 years, Charles Vest, president emeritus of MIT, described the “considerate, respectful dialogue between our community and the federal government on many issues that have arisen.”
Derek Bok, in his 2007 Harvard President’s Report concluded that “American universities have fared quite well over the past 50 years.”
Private higher education–in fact all of American higher education– faces serious problems. Both society and higher education have come to expect much from each other, and each is frequently disappointed with the other. Evidence of that appeared in a recent editorial in TheWashington Post, the newspaper that every member of Congress reads every morning, calling for the “restructuring of higher education.” Lamenting the continuing increase in college tuition, the Post demanded a new business model. Like most editorials it didn’t offer any new solutions, instead falling back on old bromides such as the one suggesting that faculty should teach more.
Despite its lack of originality, the editorial did say what millions of Americans are feeling: the costs of higher education are getting too high. Lower and middle class children, despite increasing aid programs, are having harder times affording college. And those who do go to college and graduate leave with both a degree and a staggering debt. Parents are less sure than they were a decade ago that they are getting their money’s worth. Among some, there is growing concern that too little attention is being given at universities to teaching, instead the focus is on research.
These issues are only heightened by the extraordinary financial pressures facing American higher education. With revenues decreasing and costs escalating, universities have to seriously consider their priorities, in other words which programs and activities they can afford to fund. The era of guaranteed growth is over. Every university can no longer allow itself to believe that it can and must do everything. The costs of technology alone make that dream a fantasy. This is a time where boards, administration and faculty have to plan together.
Not surprisingly these economic problems have raised questions about shared governance:
What should the faculty role be in financial decision -making which impacts core academic functions?
Is shared governance a model that can adequately respond to situations where there is the need for rapid management response to changing economic situations?
What is the faculty role in developing the “new business model” that the Washington Post called for?
These are issues that are now on the governance table at a number of American institutions of higher education.
With the increased university dependence on federal funding, there is a danger that the federal government will seek to involve itself in core academic decisions. One particular issue is the growing governmental pressure to measure educational outcomes. Are students graduating from universities with adequate skills? Can the universities show that they are adding value to students? Are the costs of higher education appropriate to the added educational value? This questioning might lead to government seeking to direct the educational activities of the university to achieve the desired outcomes. One could imagine “suggestions” from government as to curriculum and teaching methodologies. Would the Court find this the “right” of a funder or an unconstitutional intrusion into the academy?
As these problems are confronted, everyone understands that the private university is essential. It provides quality education to over 40% of American undergraduates. Recognizing that its fees are higher, private universities provide significant financial support from their own funds to students. Over 60% of students at private universities receive some form of aid. While private university graduation rates are higher than at public institutions, efforts are under way in both the public and private sectors to increase the number of students receiving their degrees.
In America, private universities and colleges have been benchmarks for quality. They have been joined, in partnership, by the public universities in upholding the values of higher education. It is this mix of public and private institutions, and, importantly, the cooperation of the public and private sectors, which has allowed America to have a higher education system of such strength and vitality.
As you work to build your new university, know that you are doing vital work. By creating private options, you are helping to strengthen the entire system of Nigerian higher education. There is much at stake for all society in what happens in universities and to them. The good governance of the university, which includes a mutually respectful relationship with government, is essential to ensuring the future of the university and the future of a democratic society.
I hope there are experiences in the American journey that can be of help to you as you undertake your exciting journey of making the impossible possible.
Thank you my fellow university citizens.