restricted access 3. Emergence of the U.S. Research University
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In this chapter we look at how the universities were created in the country, their missions at the start and how those missions evolved, and how some of the past complexities foreshadow themes that we discuss in later chapters . This history is necessary because the past is always prologue and because we cannot understand the present ambivalence in the universities toward political education and civic engagement without seeing how the Progressive tradition promoted the values of expertise and scientific knowledge while disparaging politics. The Progressive movement was schizophrenic in that it both fostered the public service responsibilities of the newly established professions and subverted the idea of service to society and civic engagement. Professionalism became redefined and reoriented into more commercial channels as the universities competed with each other for students and pushed graduates into the expanding industrial economy. The original enthusiasm for shaping public policy soon ran up against the distasteful realities of politics, political controversies, and political machines. The universities, in keeping with the strand of Progressivism that reflected faith in the experts rather than in “the people,”found ways to train their graduates in scientific and business management for private companies, as managers of the public schools, public health systems, city governments, railroad commissions, or the bodies that regulated and promoted commercial developments. The great Victorian educational reformers who founded and ran the new universities liked the idea of their pro3 Emergence of the U.S. Research University 24 ch03 6/30/08 10:46 AM Page 24 fessors serving society, but not if those same individuals stirred up political controversies and angered powerful donors and trustees. Academic freedom, to the presidents, meant teaching an expert body of knowledge in the classroom , not engaging in political debate that aroused controversy and confronted the business interests that supported the universities. So long as professors engaged in science and the pursuit of truth, and steered clear of controversy , the universities would flourish and grow in size and significance. The Colonial Legacy America’s colleges and universities evolved in three overlapping periods. The first period stretched from the colonial and revolutionary eras through the Civil War, when the colleges (there were no universities in our sense at that time) were principally serving as transmitters of culture. The colleges’ functions included preparation for civic life in the new democracy, with a related role as vocational trainers for the teaching profession, the ministry, and the law. The curriculum, modeled on the British system, consisted largely of studying the classics, the history of Rome and Greece, Latin and Greek, and, eventually, natural philosophy (or science). The framers considered this kind of curriculum appropriate for the class of citizens who would run affairs in the new republic. The virtues of the educated class were essential to the civic republican tradition that underlay the constitutional order. The original colleges were denominational in affiliation, from the founding of Harvard College in 1636 and extending into the nineteenth century (at which point a second wave of colleges, secular in nature, such as Amherst College in 1829, came into existence). The colonial colleges were founded by Protestant denominations, most notably, Episcopalian, Congregational, and Presbyterian. They usually had an explicit mission of instilling moral and Christian virtues and building the character of the students. Indeed, it was not until World War II that America’s elite institutions were fully secularized and de-Christianized.1 Gaining new knowledge through the conduct of research was not a goal of the early colleges. Such nonacademic institutions as the Royal Society in London and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the latter founded by Benjamin Franklin, were the more important institutions in the birth of modern science. Not until later, notably in the 1870s, did the hard sciences become a significant part of America’s university curricula.2 Many of the leaders of the American Revolution and the Constitution’s drafters attended one or another of the fifteen colleges existing at the time of the nation’s founding. John Jay and Alexander Hamilton attended King’s ColEmergence of the U.S. Research University 25 ch03 6/30/08 10:46 AM Page 25 lege (Columbia) in New York City. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson studied at the College of William and Mary. James Madison attended the College of New Jersey (Princeton), where he might have encountered Alexander Hamilton had the latter not been denied admission. Benjamin Franklin, a selftaught genius, founded the University of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Rush, a graduate of the College of...