Rediscovering the Social Contract of Successful Universities

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Emily Levine, Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History at Stanford University joined the podcast to talk about her new book, Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University , and lessons we can learn today from past evolution of the academic social contract.

And that particular academic social contract and privately funded one, has special importance. It's also the modern research university model because it's the one that persists and has the most longevity, you could say, in America. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Emily Levine, associate professor of education and, by courtesy history at Stanford University and author of the New Book Allies and rivals, German American exchange and the rise of the modern research university. And we welcome to the show. Thanks, Therek, so much for having me. Really excited to talk with you today about your new book and the lessons we can learn today from past evolutions and leaders of higher at before we dig in, can you get the listeners a little bit of background on both Stanford and your role. They're sure. Yeah, I'm fairly new to Stanford. I'm an associate professor of education, as you said, in the Graduate School of Education. I should say I'm knew as a faculty member. I'm a historian by training and actually had the privilege of having getting my PhD in history as a graduate student at Stanford, which is a for Year University in Stanford, California, and I returned recently mid pandemic, to teach at my Alma Mater and enjoy teaching classes on history of higher education and our master's students and policy and education and our former teachers who are coming back from more schooling, and it's great place to be here writing and thinking about the past and future of the Modern Research University. CONGRATS on the new role and the move.

I like the were both California buddies. Now and exactly, to kick us off, can you provide us with a high level overview and maybe the goals behind writing this new book? Allies and rivals? Sure. Yeah, so, you know, one thing I've encountered, especially after leaving Stanford and coming back sort of at the tail end of this project, is there's just there's so many myths about higher education and I think there's also a bias in the education reform world that the history of higher education is not useful. So if I have two general goals with this book, allies and rivals, it's first, I would say, is to dispel a number of these myths and to figure out how to make that past useful. So first first off, I'd say there's this common misconception that care a lot about in the public conversation, a complaining, even even popular in Outra pennoial circles here and Silicon Valley, that the university is so old. You know, it's high bound and stagnant. You know, and sometimes even scholars or analysts like to quote the famous line from Clark Kerr, who's the twelve president of the University of California in the S, who said that the only other institution is old is the university is the church, and you know he didn't mean that as a compliment. I like to say that longevity is not the same thing as stagnation and my book shows that the university has persisted not because it stayed the same but because it's proved to be remarkably adaptable and if you take that long historical view, you get to see what it takes to make that institutional change happen. So first we to spell the myths and then, second my goal is to make that past useful, and that comes from seeing that the history of university is itself a history of entrepreneurship. It's a history of failures and startups and it's not just the result of impersonal historical forces. So the book tells the story about a series of charismatic and compelling individuals, including the German and thinker and founder of the University of Berlin Ville, Hump Fun Humboldt, the founding president...

...of the first Modern Research University in America, Daniel Koit Gilman, the Feminist Education Reformer Martha Carry Thomas and the black sociologist web de boys, to name a few, and it tracks their trials, their failures and their successes in this sector. And what we see is that what part of what makes them successful, maybe even the most important thing that makes them successful, was their ability to negotiate what I call academic social contracts with different constituents, iterating different versions of the modern research university over time. I love this work. I'm so glad you're bringing it to life, and will you claim that successful universities are the ones able to strike a bargain between the State and society? help us understand that social contract that highered really needs to rediscover today? Yeah, yeah, thank you so much for that question. So I would say universities have always had a reciprocal relationship with their host societies. Again, I think this is another sort of myth that requires kind of dispelling. This is something we forget. We in the in the academy sometimes think, you know, we take for granted. Oh we get academic freedom, or or students who go to universities say, well, we get these goods or another. But one justification for university patronage and support has been that universities and societies serve each other's interests in the simplicit agreement, what I call an academic social contract. And that contract, over time, is reconciled the academic ideals, say, of open scholarly discourse or the pursuit of scientific truth, with the practical needs and the particular ambitions of patrons, be they government's, civil societies or private donors. Right, and that changes over time, and I think this is a very different framework from house scholars and typically right about the university in one of the distinct contributions of allies and rivals. Typically we hear about a university...

...ideal abstracted from the world, but I argue that it's better to understand that history as a history of compromises or contracts iterated by these leaders over time. And there isn't just one model for a successful academic contract. Each one is different. So you know, the contract is what's constant, what the historian looks at over time. The terms are the ones that change, and I could give you a few examples. Yeah, so. So I think the first contract that I that I look at at the book is in Berlin. Following the defeat to Napoleon, Humboldt founded the university in one thousand eight hundred and ten. They gave professors an unprecedented amount of autonomy. Right that autonomy needed to pursue truth, to learn and of itself, to do what we might call basic research and exchange for services to that society and that university, the University of Berlin, is important because, in my telling, that's the original model for this framework and and it's the store starting point of the story. Then we might fast forward to our second model, at the height of the civil war, when the moral act of eighteen sixty two established land grant institutions with the public mission of educating mechanics and farmers across the country and exchange for each state. You know, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, California, where we are getting a university as a cultural and economic anchor in the community. So a different kind of contract. And finally, a third model of the contract occurs in Baltimore in one thousand eight hundred and seventy five, when Daniel Quite Gilman, to whom I already alluded, founded the Johns Hopkins University. He would he established the first modern research university in America and the first privately funded one in which scholars are free to pursue, we might say, the humanities for its own sake. Again, basic research and exchange for providing an undergraduate education to the students who are the sons of the moneyed men of ball to bore. WHO, in this case, are the universities new contracting partners? They're the donors and they have funded this institution and that particular academic...

...social contract, the privately funded one, has special importance. It's also the modern research university model because it's the one that persists and has the most longevity, you could say, in America. So there's other moments of institutional innovation as well that I cover, from World War One to World War Two, but we see over time is a pattern that emerges. A contract is is negotiatated and once it's sort of runs its course or made obsolete by crisis or change in needs or imbalanced, then academic entrepreneurs Russian to find new partners, formulate new ideas and renew that contribution of higher education to the public good. I love how you point to not just finding the right educational model but the leader for that time. What kinds of figures do you feel have been best suited to propel, to oversee institutional change, and what can we do to make sure that those kinds of individuals are the very ones they're empowered our institutions? Yeah, it's a great question because I really believe as a historian, that this is not a defeatist history. None of this happens without leadership. It doesn't happen without individuals, and you know that is one of the focused points of this book. That the unique, charismatic, visionary and impactful academic innovators of the past, I think, hold lessons for the future. And these, these individuals were extremely skilled and negotiating among different constituents. They're the ones who iterate these different versions of the contract over time. Many were scholars, like Humbolton Gilman, but more importantly, they were expert organizers who navigated the complex terrains of universities on one hand, with their scholars and their students who identify with the values of science and with the curriculum and society on the other, which, as I said, includes both states but also philanthropists and increasingly other nonprofit and for profit entities as well, of course. So one...

...common feature of success is that these leaders were able to speak to different constituents in ways that they needed to be heard right, bringing multiple positions and viewpoints under a big tent to make that change happen. So, if we go back to Gilman, that founding president of Hopkins, his challenge was how to bridge the divide between the scholars and the donors. And the first camp saw Hopkins as an opportunity to have the first premier institution of Higher Education in America devoted to pure research on par with the German ones, which there was their main model and made competitor as well in their day. And we're motivated by that lofty goal and the prestige of research. But the philanthropists and the moneyed men of Baltimore, on the other hand, not only Johns Hopkins himself but also the men on the board who were judges, lawyers and rail railroad men in an emerging regional industrial center, wanted to see the relevance of that research for their city. So if you look at the sources that I called from the archives in the book, you see these ways in which Gilman, Gilman, is speaking to these different camps in their language, right, and the in the different language of these of their sectors. And and what's remarkable is that you see in these negotiations that Gilman himself, have he had his way, he would have done away with undergraduates, he would not have given out the BEA. He wanted nothing to do with the socalled English model of the Liberal Arts College Right. He just wanted an institution devoted to higher learning that gave the German style PhD. But he knew that his donors wouldn't go for it, because what does that do for them and there and their sons who needed training in Baltimore. So he compromised and he blended the two and from that we got the hybrid, the be a plus the PhD that is the modern American Research University today. So he was successful because he was good at both extolling the knowledge for its own sake and the benefits of applied science. And it was never entirely clear which was his priority. And I mean I...

...would argue this was his greatest skill, and you can see this from the German and education reformer Humboldt, all the way up to Clark Kerr in California. So to go back to a question Eric, I would say that not only do we need to seek out leaders like this who have system wide views and can negotiate among multiple partners, but I think we need to think, you know, in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford and an other institutions like it around the country, how do we train and cultivate individuals to be good at these and navigating this complex terrain? How do we cultivate later leaders who are not only scholars but also can engage with questions about the public good. Tor Point of the necessity of looking backward in order to look forward. What are some of the biggest warning signs from your research that you've seen lead to unsuccessful institutions that we need to make sure we're looking out for today? Yeah, that's that's a good question. The failures are important and you know in the story of Gilman you see him fail twice before he gets it right. You know, he tries at Yale in the S to turn it into a modern research university and it's not quite ready for that change. He tries again at the University of California and he runs up against other challenges again not quite able to bridge the gap between the constituents there. So I think that you're not being open to seeing that negotiation as as a key part of the process. Isn't important? But I think it also connects to another misconception that if the university does something in it self interest, then that must be bad and that initiative won't be successful. And I've come out against that misconception a lot in my in my classes already right and I think part of what my book is trying to argue against is this notion of the idealist kind of university is. It's a university as a place of ideas, yes, but it's also a place of real world, world compromises and and we shouldn't shy away...

...from that. A good, good example of this is if you take the debate about diversity, for example. Like we assume there's a tension between social justice, on the one hand, doing the right thing, and the self interest of an institution, but in fact it's often served interests, the interests of institutions, to bring previously excluded figures and marginal ideas into the university. Marginal ideas were often the source of innovation and competition. So, at a time when Anti Semitism was pervasive, Gilman used the freedom of non denominationalism at Johns Hopkins that it was, it wasn't going to be a religious institution, to hire a Jew, the British mathematician James Joseph Sylvester, as the first chair of the Department of Mathematics, and that was less a product of religious pluralism then Gilman's strategy to tap this tremendous under utilized talent to give his new institution an end and edge and there's other examples of that throughout the course of of the book. Abraham Flexner, the author of the flexner report and a member of the General Education Board, also offers a number of positions to German Jews fleeing not see Germany, to ground his newly founded Institute for Advanced Study in Priston in one thousand nine hundred and thirty three. And you know, I call him an accidental humanist in the book because he does this very much out of self interest. You know, this is an opportunity, this to sort of grab up this talent and yet, of course he also saves lives in the process. So I did not shying away from the notion of self interest is important and I think this is, you know, embracing the historical reality that the history of the university is a history of transactions and it's getting those transactions and getting those those contracts right is what yields really these institutions that stand the test of time. In terms of the tests of time. Let's fast forward thirty years. Yeah, let's set us in two thousand and fifty. Well, I'll take out my historian crystal ball. Is Right, I need I needed to so we'll assume we're dealing with, you know, code...

...forty nine, hopefully better than we do with nineteen. But describe what you believe a successful university looks like in two thousand and fifty? Yeah, I'm laughing because the storians are characteristically not great at predicting the future. But I think, I think the question that I can answer is that he you know, what is a historically rooted way to think about your question, Eric. Two fifty is thirty years from now. So if we look at other thirty year periods in the past, can we think about what might be possible? And you know, I just told the story of a thirty year period to you in three minutes about about eighteen seventy five to nineteen o five, arguably one of the most important academic revolutions, as it's called by some scholars, in which we got the combination of the BEA and the PhD, the undergraduate in the graduate experiences that yielded the hybrid that became the Modern Research University. That's been emulated and this continued to be emulated at large. So not all periods are are, as you know, volatile or as generative as you might you might say, but a historian, I think, like myself, would look at well, well, what made that possible and what would we need to have the conditions of possibility for another moment of extreme and, you know, radical change? And I think it's a combination of external and internal forces. In that case we had internal competition, we had war, we've talked about leadership and, of course, new ideas. So I think, you know, we're obviously coming out of a moment that has had a similar kind of combination of forces that suggest that we might see new kinds of formulations. And if I were to guess and if I were to hope, I would say just like we had the BEA plus the PhD and that earlier era, I'd like to see new hybridizations coming out of our current moment of change, including a combination between online and residential colleges, combinations of the high school and college that create new pathways and more access into elite universities like like Stanford,...

...combinations of workforce and learning that we would reinvigorate our landscape. And of course, as the story shows, many of these will fail, but some, like Johns Hopkins, will succeed and could change higher education. You know, forever, emily tremendous stuff. Finally, can you leave us with any next steps? Advice for institutions who are looking to navigate this future of higher reed embracing past lessons learned? What should their posture be? How should they approach that mission? Well, I would say, you know, history is your friend. I would say to my colleagues and university administration and an entrepreneurship alike, take history seriously and don't just view it as an obstacle, which is, I think, how we typically hear it talked about right. I mean it's interesting if you consider other fields, like if you were thinking about going into politics or the military, you think twice about mastering what is sometimes called Grand Strategy. You know, reading a biography of Eisenhower, studying the Peloponnesian War, happen even longer ago, to understand the principles of diplomacy, right and and of military strategy. But the great academic innovators, by contrast, is seem, you know, lost, largely forgotten, and education circles the Gilman's, the Thomas has, the two boys and the flexors, and yet their skills, their features and their accomplishments. I've tried to suggest are worth studying. So I would say let's let's create curricula and let's create the opportunities to learn from them and take seriously the models of leadership from the past as opening up new formulations for the future. Emily, thanks so much of your time today. What's the best place for listeners to go and grab your New Book and learn more? Thanks for having Argon. Thanks for having me. I would say at my new website, Emily Jay leviingcom. They can find a link to the book and buy it from their local bookstore, wherever they buy books, and they also can check out the other events that I have coming up, both virtual and in person, when it comes out in September.

Awesome, Emily, thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you so much for having me. Are Great to talk to you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Kelix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content. On how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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