The End(s) of the University

On November 15, 2018, I delivered the 23rd Annual Holmes Lecture sponsored by Anselm House at the University of Minnesota. Andrew Hansen and his colleagues invited me to talk about the university as a public good and why I remain committed to it. What kinds of knowledge can a research university properly pursue and where […]

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How Professors Ceded Their Authority

In 1904, while touring the eastern half of the United States, the German sociologist Max Weber encountered an institution that would intrigue him for decades: the American college. Between delivering lectures and finishing the final drafts of what would become The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), Weber visited Columbia University, Harvard University, Haverford College, […]

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Publication, Power, and Patronage

In 2007, the Higher Education Funding Council in England, the government body responsible for distributing funding to universities, revealed a national system to measure and compare institutions of higher education––the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Designed to assess the quality of research in institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom, the program sought to produce […]

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Democracy & The University

In 2017, the University of Virginia reported an operating budget of almost $3.2 billion, assets of $11.2 billion, and liabilities of more than $7.8 billion. The university includes UVA Global LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary based in Shanghai; an athletics enterprise with 25 programs and $24 million in revenues and expenses; a police force with […]

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The Modest University

Around nine in the evening on the night of August 11, 2017, over three hundred torch-wielding white supremacists marched two by two across my backyard, chanting “You will not replace us” and “Anti-black.” As our children huddled in our darkened house, my wife and I followed the khaki-clad men and women as they marched away […]

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Melancholy Mandarins

As an epithet for the university, “alma mater”—nourishing mother—has proved unfortunately apt. Like modern-day mothers, universities are subjected to impossible expectations and draconian judgment. Professors assiduously avoid administrative work but rail against the overhiring of administrators and encroachments on faculty self-governance. Students expect expansive support services and state-of-the-art recreational facilities but express outrage over the […]

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Let Us Think Together

In 1637, René Descartes recounted a “fable” of how he came to think well. From his youth, he had read the books of the ancients, exercised his rhetorical skills, and observed the debates of philosophers and theologians. But in all this learning he found no rest or certainty, only endless disputes and puffed-up opinions. “Nothing […]

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