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Dynamics of the Contemporary University

Growth, Accretion, and Conflict

Neil J. Smelser

Publication Year: 2013

This book is an expanded version of the Clark Kerr Lectures of 2012, delivered by Neil Smelser at the University of California at Berkeley in January and February of that year. The initial exposition is of a theory of change—labeled structural accretion—that has characterized the history of American higher education, mainly (but not exclusively) of universities. The essence of the theory is that institutions of higher education progressively add functions, structures, and constituencies as they grow, but seldom shed them, yielding increasingly complex structures. The first two lectures trace the multiple ramifications of this principle into other arenas, including the essence of complexity in the academic setting, the solidification of academic disciplines and departments, changes in faculty roles and the academic community, the growth of political constituencies, academic administration and governance, and academic stratification by prestige. In closing, Smelser analyzes a number of contemporary trends and problems that are superimposed on the already-complex structures of higher education, such as the diminishing public support without alterations of governance and accountability, the increasing pattern of commercialization in higher education, the growth of distance-learning and for-profit institutions, and the spectacular growth of temporary and part-time faculty.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: The Clark Kerr Lectures On the Role of Higher Education in Society

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vii


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pp. viii-ix

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pp. ix-x

...I send thanks and bouquets to the Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley—sponsors of the Clark Kerr Lectures—both for doing me the honor of selecting me in the fi rst place and for facilitating all my preparatory efforts for the lectures. Jud King, director of the center, was supportive and helpful both formally and informally, as was John Douglass, senior research fellow. Rondi Phillips...

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1. Dynamics of American Universities

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pp. 1-39

...It is a custom on this occasion to honor the fi gure for whom these lectures are named and to acknowledge how deeply honored I am to have been chosen to deliver them. I do both these things, not out of the pressure of ceremony, but from the heart. Clark Kerr was (and is) such an important part of my own career that I must add a personal note. I met Clark Kerr in 1958, about two weeks after I arrived on the Berkeley campus as a new assistant professor. He, as new President, and...

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2. The Dynamics Ramify

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pp. 40-77

...To summarize the fi rst chapter, I laid out a number of types of change that have characterized American higher education—increase in unit size, segmentation of units, differentiation (or specialization and complexity), proliferation of functions, and coordination. I identifi ed one principle of change that to me seems especially salient; it is observable at all levels, and dramatically so in the research university. I called it “structural accretion.” The idea is simple enough. Growth is...

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3. Contemporary Trends

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pp. 78-116

...In the fi rst chapter I presented a general and systematic—but peculiar— view of how institutions of higher education, with emphasis on universities, change over time. In the second I traced out as many implications as I could from this account—implications for cost, administration, confl ict, political processes and stratifi cation. This third chapter takes a further step, assessing recent trends and what they bode for the...


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pp. 117-132


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pp. 133-139

E-ISBN-13: 9780520955257
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520275812

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Clark Kerr Lectures On the Role of Higher Education in Society
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OCLC Number: 825978148
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dynamics of the Contemporary University

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Universities and colleges -- United States.
  • Universities and colleges -- Administration -- United States
  • Educational change -- United States.
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