Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century

By Christopher P. Loss | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Higher Education Confronts the Rights Revolution

By 1960, California embodied the future of American higher education, and Clark Kerr, the balding, bespectacled president of the University of California, embodied California’s approach. In that year Kerr achieved international acclaim as designer of the Master Plan, which readjusted California’s system of universities, and state and junior colleges. Hailed a technocratic triumph, the California system’s new mission was to readjust millions of students. Using high school grade point averages (and soon, the SAT) to determine admission, and by charging no tuition, only fees, the Master Plan guaranteed all Californians a shot at higher education. Like the NDEA and the G.I. Bill before it, the plan boldly reaffirmed higher education’s place as a key mediating institution between citizens and the state.1

Kerr continued reimagining the institution in The Uses of the University (1963). Here Kerr declared the arrival of a new university that resembled closely his own beloved Berkeley. He called it a multiversity. Forged during the World War II era and the great transformation in state-academic relations that accompanied it, the multiversity was an amalgamation of institutional types. It combined the German commitment to research, the British to teaching, and the American to mass access and practical utility. To Kerr, the multiversity was a “city of infinite variety” where competing groups of administrators and faculty, students and their families, business leaders and government officials pursued crosscutting endeavors variously related to the production and consumption of “the university’s invisible product, knowledge”2

Kerr painted a generally optimistic picture of the multiversity. A trained labor economist who brokered hundreds of labor disputes before entering academic administration, Kerr was a diehard pluralist who remained committed to group theory and the multiversity model he believed it helped run.3 Yet he also observed the multiversity’s human costs—and pluralism’s limits. In theory the pluralist multiversity promised boundless “freedom” to all its citizens; in practice this rarely occurred. Different groups battled it out for scarce resources within the university. There were winners and losers. For students, the multi

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