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Kerr Says 'Multiversity' Head Must Be 'Mediator,' Not Giant

By Steven V. Roberts

Woven from various historical strands and encompassing many communities with distinctly different purposes, the American "multiversity" has "no peers in all history among institutions of higher learning in serving so many of the segments of an advancing civilization," Clark Kerr, president of the University of California, declared last night in his first Godkin lecture.

Such an institution, which has "some form of contact with nearly every industry, nearly every level of government, nearly every person in its region," present unique administrative problems, Kerr said.

"The general rule is that the administration everywhere becomes, by force of circumstances, if not by choice, a more prominent feature of the university." The influence of the students and the collective faculty has declined. "The managerial revolution has been going on also in the university," he said.

Not only must an administration preside over an institution with vastly increased and more complex relations with the outside world. The multiversity today can no longer be thought of as a single community, "like the medieval communities of masters and students," Kerr said. "A community should have common interests; in the multiversity they are quite varied, even conflicting. A community should have a soul, a single animating principle; the multiversity has several," he asserted.

Kerr noted a number of historical "ideals" of the university which have been combined in "multiversity." "The real line of development for the modern American university" Kerr said, began with the acceptance in the mid-nineteenth century of the German ideal of education. Instituted at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, this conception "brought with it the graduate school with exceptionally high academic standards," the renovation of professional education, the department system, research institutes, university presses and other new institutions.

Land Grant Movement

The German ideal fused with the land grant movement, which brought in schools of agriculture, engineering, and home economics, and widened "the gates of opportunity." Kerr noted that before World War I Wisconsin and other schools expanded the greater concern fir public affairs, and wider service to the public at large.

The third great influence, advanced by such men as President Lowell and Robert K. Hutchins, was a renewed concern for the English theories of liberal education and emphasis on undergraduate life, Kerr said.

"Out of all these fragments, experiments and conflicts a kind of unlikely consensus has been reached," Kerr declared, with undergraduate life following the English pattern, graduate life the German pattern, and the "lesser" professions and "service activities," the American pattern.

In light of this multiplicity of communities and values, and extended outside interests, the administration, on whom the burden of guidance has fallen, must redefine its role. So too, Kerr said, must the president of the multiversity.

Kerr noted that in the past a university president had been for many a "hero-figure who filled an impossible post." "It was thought that the necessary revolutions came from on high. There should be Giants in the Groves."

In the era of the multiversity "the day of the monarchs is past," Kerr declared. "Instead of the not always so agreeable autocracy, there is now the usually benevolent bureaucracy." A "monarch" cannot rule "several 'nations' of students, of faculty, of alumni, of trustees, of public groups.

Thus the president of the multiversity must be primarily a "mediator," with his first task being to keep the peace. "In seeking [peace] there are some things that should not be compromised, like freedom and equality--then the mediator needs to become the gladiator," Kerr said.

The second task of the president, Kerr said, is to further "progress." Yet unlike the giants of the past, the new president "is not an innovator," though "he must be sensitive to fruitful innovation." "Not all presidents seek to be mediators amid their complexities. But most are in the control tower helping the real pilots make their landings without crashes."

The president of a multiversity "wins few clear-cut victories; he must aim more at avoiding the worst than seizing the best," Kerr said. "The ultimate test is whether the mediation permits progress to be made fast enough and in the right directions; the needed innovations take precedence over the conservation of the institution."

In conclusion Kerr said. 'The president of the multiversity must be content to hold its constituent elements loosely together and to move the whole enterprise another foot ahead in what often seems an unequal race with history.

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