The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected

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"Americans and people throughout the world have become increasingly dependent on America's great research universities. Yet few of us truly understand to what we owe this extraordinary excellence or what we must do to keep it." "From the development of technologies like the laser, the global positioning system, the MRI, radar, and even Viagra, to predicting weather patterns, American research universities are one of our most vital sources of economic growth and social welfare. They have flourished because of a system that has invested public tax

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The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected

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Overview

"Americans and people throughout the world have become increasingly dependent on America's great research universities. Yet few of us truly understand to what we owe this extraordinary excellence or what we must do to keep it." "From the development of technologies like the laser, the global positioning system, the MRI, radar, and even Viagra, to predicting weather patterns, American research universities are one of our most vital sources of economic growth and social welfare. They have flourished because of a system that has invested public tax dollars in their work and, more importantly, granted substantial autonomy to funding agencies and the universities." This system is now under attack, the university's preeminence endangered by the USA Patriot Act and other conservative policies. This revelatory and alarming book will show how this vital institution is at risk of tragically losing its dominant status and why a threat to the university is a threat to the health and wealth of our nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Many current books on higher education emphasize the problems and urge transformation. Sociologist Cole (former provost & currently John Mason Mitchell Professor of the University, Columbia Univ.) has a different goal. He believes that the American research university is the best in the world and in need of renewed support to maintain its extensive contributions to a strong and prosperous society. Cole effectively conveys a three-part argument, starting with a history of U.S. higher education and noting the factors that led to the rise of numerous excellent institutions after World War II. His central section summarizes the vast range of discoveries emerging from research universities to enrich American life, from science to medicine, electronics, and food production, and the insights we gain from the humanities and social sciences. Last, he describes the threats to this vital American resource, including invidious public and governmental threats to academic freedom and serious underfunding, and he calls for the reactivation of the partnership among universities, government, and industry. VERDICT Cole has amassed extensive information to make a convincing case. Highly recommended, particularly for those interested in American history, social institutions, and public policy, as well as those working in higher education.—Elizabeth R. Hayford, emerita, Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews
An elegant, comprehensive examination of how American universities became the best in the world, and why research matters. Former Columbia University provost and current sociology professor Cole begins with the transformation of the earliest provincial colleges aimed at educating the elite for the ministry-such as Harvard and Yale-into the first engines of original discovery and research. This transformation was exemplified by the founding in 1876 of Johns Hopkins, the "first university to emphasize research rather than undergraduate teaching." American industrialization was driven by invention and innovation, and captains of business like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller injected enormous amounts of money into institutions for this purpose. With the emergence of organized academic disciplines and the introduction of doctorates, the American university evolved into a "hybrid"-combining the English system of undergraduate residential colleges with the German emphasis on graduate specialization-and created research laboratories and a "new breed of empirically oriented scientists." Cole lists 12 core values that were internalized by American universities as of 1930, involving free inquiry, openness to talent and ideas, academic freedom and peer review. He also enumerates a baker's dozen of "factors that predict greatness" for a research university. The author provides plenty of examples of the "building of steeples of excellence," such as Stanford's Frederick Emmons Terman and Clark Kerr and his three-tiered California system, and draws heavily from Vannevar Bush's seminal work on "big science." Cole ably moves through the years, from the enrichment of American universities with theinflux of European Jewish scholars during World War II, to the challenge and growth of the 1960s, especially in the health sciences, to the recent restrictions on academic freedom and underfunding during the Bush era. Especially compelling are examples of innovation emerging from research centers that have profoundly changed our lives, from genetics to Google. A sound, enthusiastic look at the crucial vitality of the American university system. Agent: Kathy Robbins/The Robbins Office
From the Publisher
Kirkus,STARRED review

“An elegant, comprehensive examination of how American universities became the best in the world, and why research matters….A sound, enthusiastic look at the crucial vitality of the American university system.” 

William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“Jonathan Cole has given us a stimulating and provocative account of how the American research university came to be, the ideas it has contributed, and the challenges it faces. Not everyone will agree with all of the argument, but everyone can learn from it.” 

Geoffrey R. Stone, Former Provost of the University of Chicago and author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime

“Jonathan Cole has written the definitive work on the American research university. A monumental achievement, The Great American University explores the complex historical and cultural reasons for the international preeminence of American higher education, documents the profound contributions American research universities have made, and continue to make, to our nation and to the world, and identifies and analyzes the dangers that now threaten to undermine one of the strongest pillars of American excellence.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor, Columbia University; director, the Earth Institute

“Jonathan Cole has produced a masterpiece, a modern classic. This is at once a scintillating biography of the great American university, a powerful diagnosis of its major challenges today, and an invaluable guide for a robust future of this unique, world-changing institution. This is sociological inquiry, technological history, and social philosophy at its most powerful, a penetrating study of how America’s research universities have been shaped by and have shaped American society. Cole’s study will be avidly read in all parts of the world, as societies attempt to emulate and adapt the strengths of America’s research universities to the challenges of building knowledge-based economies and democratic societies of the twenty-first century.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., professor, Harvard University

“I can think of no one better than Jonathan Cole to lead the crucial discussion on the role of the American university as the preeminent seat of intellectual and technological innovation. In the face of alarming trends in legislation and government intervention, he offers a precise and extremely well written prescription for how the American university can once again prevail.” 

Cori Bargmann, professor, the Rockefeller University; member of the National Academy of Science

“A passionate and intelligent defense of the university’s role in creating knowledge, not just disseminating it. Every university has its own story; this book steps back to tell the history of American universities as a whole. Cole describes the logic, people, and context that drove the universities to pair teaching with research and discovery. He provides an irresistible tour of advances in science and culture that grew in the universities, from artificial hips to Google to eyewitness unreliability, and a clear-eyed view of their failings, from red scares to groupthink. Cole is a compelling advocate, and his book is a resource for academics, students, and all friends of the university.”

Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York; former president, Brown University

“The story of American universities has been one of great success. Now, at a time when American higher education in general—and American public higher education in particular—is in crisis, Jonathan Cole’s The Great American University is a timely analysis of higher education’s current problems and prospects. I hope that policymakers will heed the author’s cogent arguments about the centrality of American universities in the panoply of our national life, as well as their vital contribution to the economic, political, and social advancement of the United States.”

Library Journal

“Cole has amassed extensive information to make a convincing case. Highly recommended, particularly for those interested in American history, social institutions, and public policy, as well as those working in higher education.”

New York Times Book Review

“As provost of Columbia University for 14 years and a professor of sociology and dean of faculties before that, Jonathan R. Cole is an excellent position to write about the rise of the American research university and its special contribution to American life. In “The Great American University,” he makes a case for the extraordinary role such institutions play in improving our daily lives. He also argues that these ‘jewels in our nation’s crown face a host of serious threats.’”

Dallas Morning News

“This is a work that should be read and studied by college faculties, administrators, regents and trustees, legislators and particularly large monetary donors to today's colleges and universities…The Great American University is one of the most important books on higher education to be written in the past several decades.”

Denver Post
“Our high schools may be hurting, but the best U.S. universities — the Ivies, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, the select state universities — are the envy of the world. In his new book, Jonathan R. Cole, a former provost and dean of faculties at Columbia, shows how our research universities in particular came to be what they are.”

Boston Globe
In his capacious, candid, and compelling new book, “The Great American University,’’ Cole explains the emergence of the research university; provides an eye-popping account of the discoveries made by professors in the last half century; and assesses the threats that place higher education in the United States “at risk of losing its dominant status.’’

Prism Magazine
“[Cole’s] argument is a persuasive one, and he presents his material clearly and incisively, keeping readers engaged throughout these 600-plus pages. Even those within the system will find new and thought-provoking material on the university’s importance to economic, social, and national advancement.”

Prism Magazine, April 2010

“[Cole’s] argument is a persuasive one, and he presents his material clearly and incisively, keeping readers engaged throughout these 600-plus pages. Even those within the system will find new and thought-provoking material on the university’s importance to economic, social, and national advancement.”
 
CHOICE, June 2010
“This will be an instant classic. Deploying vast knowledge and lengthy experience as professor of sociology and provost at Columbia University, Cole blends sociological and historical insights to explain the rise and importance of, and threats now facing, top-tier universities in the US.”
 
American Scientist, August 2010
“[Cole] combines scholarly expertise on the inner workings of science with abundant real-world experience running an enormous, eminent research university. Clearly he knows of what he speaks.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484088
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Pages: 640
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan R. Cole was Columbia University’s provost and dean of faculties from 1989 to 2003, holding the position as the university’s chief academic officer for the second-longest tenure in its 254-year history. He is currently the John Mitchell Mason Professor Emeritus at the University at Columbia.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 1

I The Rise to Preeminence 9

1 The Idea of a University 11

2 Coming of Age in Tumultuous Times 45

3 The Path to Greatness 75

4 Building Steeples of Excellence 109

5 In Search of a Golden Age 145

6 Growing Pains 175

II Discoveries That Alter Our Lives 191

7 Finding a Smoother Pebble: A National System of Innovation 193

8 It Began with a Fly: Genetics, Genomics, and Medical Research 207

9 Buckyballs, Bar Codes, and the GPS: Our Origins, Our Planet, Our Security and Safety 245

10 Nosce te Ipsum: Culture, Society, and Values 299

III Facing Challenges and Looking Forward 343

11 Academic Freedom and Free Inquiry 345

12 The Enemy Is Us 387

13 "Political" Science 419

14 Trouble in Paradise? 451

Acknowledgments 511

Appendix A Top-Ranked American Research Universities 515

Appendix B An Online Source of Information About University Discoveries 519

Notes 521

Index 581

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