The Divided Academy: Professors and Politics

The Divided Academy: Professors and Politics

The Divided Academy: Professors and Politics

The Divided Academy: Professors and Politics

Excerpt

Interest in the politics of college faculty and students surged upward in the 1960s with the renewal of a vigorous campus political activism. Protests and demonstrations seemingly enveloped American higher education in the late sixties—spurred on notably by reactions to the growing United States involvement in the Vietnam War, even though not exclusively attributable to anguish brought on by the war. The protests of the 1960s were important not only in their own right, but also because they called attention to a development of more fundamental significance: the increased prominence of universities in American social life. Campus protests had the impact they did because academia had expanded so dramatically and had assumed a central position.

In 1920, just 48,000 people were employed as faculty members in America's colleges and universities; a half century later, in 1972, there were more than 600,000. The most dramatic increases came between 1965 and 1970, when the professorial ranks were swelled by 150,000, with the number of new positions created and filled exceeding the entire number of faculty slots that existed in 1940 (Table 1). There were 238,000 students at all levels of college training at the turn of the century. The numbers grew steadily, exceeding 1 million in 1930 and 2.5 million in 1950. But in the 1960s, the college student population took an extraordinary jump, increasing by 4 million.

Achievement of a central place by universities in American society has occurred partly through the sheer growth to which the above data attest. But the growth only reflects the increased requirement of postindustrial society for university-trained people and continuing high levels of innovative research.

Among the many functions which have fallen to the university in a society highly dependent upon trained intelligence, none is more important than that involving certification. Academics occupy a unique position among occupational groups since they alone serve to certify . . .

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