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Why Professors Prefer Universities Without Students


One serious problem that "federal grant" universities have is that their faculties, especially in the sciences and social sciences, have far less commitment to the university as an institution than they have to their own research. Many professors do not care especially where they do their work, as long as the institution has good scientific facilities, a good library, and a few reasonably intelligent colleagues. Federal funds for research are acquired, for the most part, by the professor himself, and he can usually get them just as easily at Illinois as at Harvard. So professors have become more itinerant than they used to be, especially the better known ones, whose names attract federal funds which the university as a whole can use.

When students challenge the university, many faculty members are apt to retreat from the challenge and give the students what they want, or they are apt to leave the university. The reason is that they want to get on with their research, and matters of administration and student trouble interfere with their work. A study by the Brookings Institution found that faculty members spend three to four times as much time on administrative work as they would desire ideally.y It is little wonder, then, that faculty members who grow tired of student unrest simply pick up and leave the university where they have been working, trying to find a calmer place. This has happened most dramatically at Berkeley, at Columbia, and recently at Cornell. There are other reasons too, of course, especially in the case of Berkeley. But, generally, faculty members whose work depends on large federal contracts and grants have lost much of their institutional commitment. They lost their commitment to teaching long ago, again as research became the main function of the university.

An interesting document on this subject of faculty commitment is a memorandum from Seymour Martin Lipset to Amitai Etzioni, with copies to other concerned persons with the subject: "Proposed Establishment of a University of the United States to be Located in Washington, D.C." It is dated August 21, 1968. The document is especially significant because Lipset, an expert on student movements, who has received large grants from the Air Force for his studies, is scheduled to testify this week before Edith Green's committee in the House along with President Pusey.

Lipset proposes the establishment of a school of social science in Washington--not only so the professors can study Washington policy-making first-hand but also so the professors can influence the policy-makers first hand. Lipset believes that academic people and government people should develop close personal relationships. He says that professors do not understand political decisions because they are too far away from them: "Much of the academic community is simply in the dark about the reasons for policy that they disagree with Hence, the American academic community feels much more outside of government then do comparable communities in various other countries. This sense of being outsiders contributes to the well-known propensity for American academics to be alienated form politics." The evidence in the essay above indicates just the opposite. The most severe problems that universities face are a result of the overwhelming influence of the government.

Lipset notes that there are certain characteristics of universities that get in the way of serious social scientists who are trying to make contacts and learn about government policy. One of these characteristics is students. In Lipset's "University of the United States" the student problem will be taken care of once and for all. This particular Ultimate Solution is one that many faculty members at Harvard and other universities would probably greet enthusiastically: "There is clearly no way to reduce the concerns of existing universities about the possible loss of faculty to a major Washington school. Some of the other insecurities, however, might be reduced if the new institution did not have regular students. . . . Limiting the number of students at the new school would also presumably reduce another objection raised against the idea of creating an important Washington university, the possible political role of students as a protest group. Presumably some people may worry about this, and such anxieties can be eliminated if there are few students at the place."

Another advantage of this new university in Washington would be the proximity to federal money itself. Lipset writes, "Presumably distinguished scholars in Washington will find it easier to secure funds, or, conversely, will be offered funds since they will be the people best known to those in control of money in Washington." Lipset admits that the ease that the faculty members will have in getting federal money may cause hard feelings in other universities. He suggests, then, that the new school "have as a rule that no member of the faculty could consult for a government agency or handle government research contracts. . . . The proposed rule would not bar the Washington faculty from applying for grants from government agencies. Of course, it is difficult to know where a contract ends and a grant begins."

What federal funding in universities has done in to make faculty members so uncommitted to their universities, so uncommitted to teaching that Lipset's university sounds like a wonderful ideal to them. Lipset writes, "The institution which has the most prestige in this country is one which has the aura of an institution for advanced studies, that is, an institution which is perceived as academic, but in which almost all its faculty are primarily defined as research professors." Harvard and many other large universities, sadly, are approaching this ideal. J.K.G.

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