Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Community-Building and Knowledge-Producing: A Productive Tension?

Anne Dalke's picture
Serendip's Card Catalog
Title of Book: 
The American College and University: A History
University of Georgia Press
Year of Publication: 
Anne Dalke

For Serendip's Bookshelves

I have been participating, for the past year, in a series of conversations about different views of risk-taking and community-building on the Bryn Mawr campus and beyond. In the course of those discussions, mention was made of Frederick Rudolph's history of the American college and university, in particular to its observation that faculty, who were once hired to do "service"--that is, to teach students and act as moral exemplars for them--have since organized into a form of faculty governance that allows them to operate as "entrepreneurs." Most now see their primary task not as teaching, but as the making of new knowledge, contributing to their fields of study.

Intrigued by this story, and interested particularly in its implications of a strong tension between the sorts of community-building and knowledge-producing we are engaged in @ places like Bryn Mawr, I sought out the book. I learned a lot from reading it--grasping, in particular, something of the complex history of several long-standing, still-intractable (and ofttimes-productive?) tensions in college life today: between, for instance, the conservative and radical functions of learning, between scholastic and practical methods of acquiring it, between the social and the intellectual life, between being a good "organization man" and expressing independent thought and behavior, between local and larger spheres, between fixed and itinerant locations, between practices that are immediately useful and those explorations that may better serve us long-term. I archive, for my own use and that of any others with similar interests, some of the more provocative stages in the story Rudolph tells:

  • the Englishmen of early Massachusetts found English college such as those they had Cambridge where Puritan theology and Puritan aspiration had been especially nurtured (4)
  • the orientation of the colonial college was religious, but the relations between church and college were characterized by diversity....rivalry was also a source of costly injury to the cause of higher education in colonial America (18)
  • the charge was sometimes made against them that their curriculum was stultifying, unimaginative, inadequate to the times...almost certain to keep the student and his world at a standstill (23)
  • The emphasis on teaching rather than on study; on students, rather than scholars; on order and discipline, rather than learning--all this...derived from the residential colleges of the English universities (26)
  • a curriculum designed to make clergy men and statesmen, a curriculum in which ancient tongues were fundamental tools and in which truth was of ancient origin, was of course diluted by a rising empiricism, a scientific point of view that questioned old truths and established new ones (28)
  • The colonial college was overwhelmingly concerned with right conduct....scholasticism that orientation...Yet...its spirit was counter to...the role of experiment and of experience as a source of knowledge. Scholasticism was the philosophy of thoughtfulness, of deduction, of "ought." A new spirit was arguing for a philosophy of experience, of experimental evidence, of "is." (31)
  • Jefferson proposed to bring he curriculum within the range of the practical and the pubic (41)
  • In 1799, the American Philosophical Society offered a prize for the best plan of an American system of education....Benjamin Rush, the Philadelphia physician......suggested setting up special schools "for teaching the art of forgetting." He distrusted the ancient languages. "While Greek and Latin are the only avenues to sciences, education will always be confined to a few is only by rendering knowledge universal, that a Republican form of government can be preserved in our country (42-43)
  • Because...Americans were on the whole much impressed by the careers of self-taught, self-made men...colleges could with difficulty advance the necessity for close, rigorous intellectual exercise as a justification for attending college. In the end, the colleges to a certain extent incorporated a posture of anti-intellectualism in their behavior (63)
  • everywhere there lingered the belief that life was sounder, more moral, more character-building where the college was nestled among the hills or planted on the prairie. Supporting this belief was the attachment of the American people to an agrarian myth, to a view of the world that saw the land as the source of virtue and as the great moving force in history (95)
  • most of the evils of college life could be attributed to dormitories: the inappropriateness of the same rules and regulations for students of all ages, the spread of disease by epidemics, the tendency of students to exercise too little, the exposure of many young men to the vice and habits of evil leaders, the isolation of the college from the life of the community and of the world, the expenditure of money needed for libraries on living facilities, the imposition on the college of responsibilities it was unable and unprepared to carry out effectively (99)
  • One of the most liberating regulations in the history of American higher education--indeed, in the history of liberty in America--was the one adopted by the University of Virginia board of visitors in 1824: "Every student shall be free to attend the schools of his choice, and no other than he chooses"....every student was a free to study where his inclinations took him (126)
  • The Yale Report of 1828 put the weight of a great American college behind things as they were...."the two great points to be gained in intellectual culture, are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge." These points might be best gained by adherence to the ancient subjects....most certain to discipline and most worthy to furnish a balanced mind" (131-132)
  • In the professors...the colleges located that effective Christian impulse, that kindly paternalism, that moral rectitude on which their best intentions rested...only rarely were the professors scholars (158)
  • there was among the professors a certain willingness to be exploited, a certain sense of Christian sacrifice which invited martyrdom on the alter of Christina learning (195)
  • thanks to a band of curious, inquiring pioneers, science was popularized in the United States and before long was recognized as offering that broadly utilitarian orientation which the ancient studies lacked (223)
  • "We shall have no more acute distinctions drawn between scholastic and practical education; for, it will be seen that all true education is practical, and that practice without education is little worth" (234)
  • The Civil War conquered space. It freed thousands of Americans from a village orientation (242)
  • the land-grant college movement...was intended, in part, to sustain an agrarian past...on the level of the imagination "State College" continued to represent the independent American farmer...and liberated the farm boy who would make his way in the city. And in doing so it kept its focus on the became in America the temple of applied science, essentially institutionalized the American's traditional respect for the immediately useful (264-265)
  • Now what mattered for so may young men was not the course of study but the environment of friendships, social development, fraternity houses, good sportsmanship, athletic teams (289)
  • The English university...revolved...around...the production of gentleman aristocrats. The German university found its the production of scholars. The American university....the emphasis was placed...on the preparation...for active lives of service (356)
  • the badge of the organization men who now replaced [that independent character,] the old-time college professor...was a degree of Doctor of philosophy, the Ph.D.--the label of academic respectability, the mark of professional competence, the assurance of a certain standard sameness of training, experience, and exposure to the ideals, the rules, the habits of scientific Germanic scholarship (395)
  • In a notable challenge to the Ph.D. degree, the Harvard philosopher William James in 1903 called it an octopus, "a mere advertising resource, a manner of throwing dust in the Public's eye," a grotesque tendency," "the Mandarin disease," "a sham, a bauble, a dodge where by to decorate the catalogues of schools and colleges"....He deplored the tendency of Harvard in particular to keep raising its standards for the degree as a means of carrying on a kind of specious warfare with other universities, he regretted the strength of this new form of academic snobbery that enticed undistinguished students into failure, and he feared for the consequences of the free spirit of the tendency toward excessive organization which he saw in the Ph.D.requirement (397)
  • To the apparatus of hierarchy was also added the concept of departmentalization....not only a method of organizing...academic specialists into the framework of university government; it was also a development that unleashed all of that competitiveness, that currying of favor, the attention to public relations, that scrambling for students, that pettiness and jealousy which in some of its manifestations made the university and college indistinguishable from other organizations... under the regime of specialization, narrowness of interest and inbreeding could lead to some of the greatest dangers of organization: dearth of originality, excess deference to authority, diffusion of responsibility (399-401)
  • The same relationship between productions and rewards was also being established in the great organizations that now characterized American business life...the organization....promoted research....The research emphasis of course created its own agencies: learned journals, learned societies, university presses, and sabbatical leaves....All this apparatus...would be a tremendous boon to the academic itinerant, for whom a reputation in his profession was more important than any commitment to a particular institution. The tendencies of the new schoalrship and of organization would make such a man loyal to professional standards and to the processes and attributes of organization but indifferent to the fate of the institution to which he might temporarily be attached (404-405, 408)
  • the deans were an effort to maintain collegiate and human values in an atmosphere of increasing scholarship and specialization (435)
  • If there were no longer any...great moral guiding teachers, in their stead was a body of trained professionals, with all the self-conscousness and self-respect which that suggested, and with an abiding devotion to the life of the mind. To such minor blessing could be added...the new vitality of the relationship between the universities and the public...and the increasing articulation between the schools and the colleges and universities. Al this...was made possible by organization (441).


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
2 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.