The University in the Twenty-First Century

By Rubenstein, Richard L. | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The University in the Twenty-First Century

Rubenstein, Richard L., The World and I

In his essay on contemporary higher education, John Tagg argues that colleges and universities, the engines of progress of the contemporary knowledge society, are failing badly and are not meeting the need for their radical transformation. This author is in agreement with Tagg that much reform is needed. However, I am far less skeptical concerning the ability of American colleges and universities to transform themselves. Although they have often been characterized as "ivory tower" institutions and remote from the "real world," over the centuries they have in fact responded to the needs of a changing marketplace. There is no reason to believe that they will cease to do so in the information age.

One of the most important functions of the university has always been to train personnel for knowledge-intensive professions in the labor market. In eleventh-century Bologna, that market consisted of the two most important institutions of the time, church and state. Not surprisingly, the only courses of study initially offered by the University of Bologna were canon and civil law. In eighteenth-century Prussia, the state came to regard inherited feudal status as a woefully inadequate basis for the appointment of public officials. It required a professionally trained corps to hold public office. In addition to the administrative and judicial bureaucracy, these included teachers and professors in state-controlled schools and universities and the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the established Lutheran Church. The academic offerings of Prussian universities expanded to meet this demand.

Apart from law, medicine, and theology, professional and scientific training did not become an important part of the university's mission until late in the nineteenth century. Germany was the first country to respond to the rapid industrialization that was taking place in western Europe and North America. It created the university as a complex of graduate schools performing advanced research and experimentation that became the worldwide model.


The rationalization of agriculture and the growth of industry in the second half of the nineteenth century were principal factors in the expansion of the modem American university system. In 1862 Lincoln signed the Morrill Act granting thirty thousand acres of land for each representative and senator "for the endowment, support and maintenance of at least one college ... to teach branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts." The act provided the basis for the extraordinarily successful American land grant system of agricultural education and research without excluding "scientific and classical studies." Many of the land grant colleges have become great universities. These include Ohio State University, Michigan State University, Cornell, and the Universities of Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, and West Virginia.

With its insatiable demand for ever more effective weapons systems, war has contributed enormously to the growth of the modern university system. In World War I, chemists and physicists worked on weapons development in government laboratories. In World War II, the government contracted its weapons research projects to the universities themselves. Physicists first produced plutonium at the University of California at Berkeley. On December 2, 1942, the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction was achieved in a squash court beneath the unused football field of the University of Chicago. The war also created a heightened demand--largely met by American colleges and universities--for economists, sociologists, demographers, political scientists, psychologists, managerial experts, historians, cryptographers, professionals skilled in foreign languages, and, in general, those who possessed knowledge concerning both Allied and enemy countries.

After the war, returning veterans and the Cold War provided the basis for the further expansion of the university system.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The University in the Twenty-First Century


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?