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Reforming the American university

America has dedicated more of its youth, intellectual talents, and wealth to higher education than any other nation. We have always looked to the university not just as certifier of the credentials of future leaders but as the wellsping of moral and intellectual enlightenment essential for the preservation of constitutional liberties and practice of self-governance by all citizens. In light of these expectations and of the general erosion of confidence in most institutions, the university has strong obligations to reform its role and mission.

This can be done in three ways:

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* Breaking down compartmentalized, bureaucratic barriers among faculty, carricula, and programs;

* Combining academic with administrative responsibilities of members of the campus community;

* Consolidating existing independent centers, clinics, and internship or outreach programs into a single institute which would provide applied research services for organizations in surrounding communities, and combine functions of teaching and research with economic development of the campus community.

To surmount barriers of academic bureaucracy, faculty members in sciences and humanities departments threatened with decreasing funds and enrollments could be offered relevant teaching or research positions in professional schools that anticipate increased enrollment and teaching loads. Professors of philosophy, English, history or anthropology could reduce unnecessary jargon and emphasize human and ethical values in curricula of schools of law, medicine, engineering, or management. In turn, they could learn more about contributions of professional experts in contemporary affairs.For example, Prof. Sissela Bok, a philosopher, teaches ethics at the Harvard Medical School, and Harvard's president, Derek Bok, has suggested that religious philosophers be retained to teach corporate ethics at the Harvard Business School.

To reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies, members of the campus community would share responsibilities for serving their institution. Faculty members would be requested to spend perhaps ten hours each week assisting in admission of students, preparing budgets and accounts for expenditures, overseeing policies for health, safety, housing, improving relations with alumni, parents, foundations, government. Administrative officers would be urged to teach a minimum of, perhaps, three credit hours to at least 15 students each semester. Students could participate with faculty on projects to improve facilities, operations, or maintenance procedures for classrooms and laboratories, transportation, food services, energy conservation.

Perhaps a moratorium on replacement of staff or expansion of faculty and administrative positions could be declared, pursuant to this proposal. Financed by savings in operating expenses, a fund for salary increments could provide inventives for implementation. But the proposal's main advantages would be the relaxation of bureaucratic rigidities and rejuvenation of mutual trust and concerns for democratic self-governance of the university community.

Finally, the university could help itself by helping other people and organizations facing problems of urban bankruptcy and decay, environmental pollution and health hazards, social alienation and crime. Thus the university could establish an Institute for Research on Community Problems by consolidating its existing centers, clinics, internships, and outprograms, which now concentrate independently on specialized aspects of human and social problems in surrounding communities.

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Projects would be conducted under contract agreements with agencies of government, industry, or philanthropic institutions. The intellectual purposes and content would be certified as equivalent to those of existing academic programs. Assignments to institute projects would be voluntary and limited to a maximum of, say, two years for faculty and one year for students.

Appropriate fees would be charged for most projects' services. The institute would notm function as a subsidized tax-exempt competitor of other research or consulting organization offering similar services. Income from fees would defray project expenses and contribute to the support of scholarship by the academic divisions (especially the arts and humanities, which do not receive sizable grants.)

Subject to ethical concerns, but not those of partisan political or private economic interests, the work of the institute would be conducted openly, not secretly. Proprietary rights to information developed or used in the projects would be retained by the university and used for its educational purposes.

Working on institute projects would reduce conflicts of interest for faculty members in their roles as educators and as professional practitioners for personal gain. It would also reduce risks of adverse complicity between the university and industry or government.

Through its growth in earnings and record of community services the university could stimulate even greater financial contributions from traditional , philanthropic sources.

The energies, spirit, and intellectual contributions of American teachers adn students were a major impetus for the accomplishments of -- and abuses by -- the agribusiness complex, the military-industrial complex, and the establishment for health delivery services. It is time for the college or university to abandon its posture of pseudo-elitism and covert complicity with special interests. Academic freedoms of faculty and students to specialize in knowledge for its own sake should be balanced by their moral responsibilities for demonstrating mutual trust, integrity, and strength of self-governance.