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  • The Creation of the Future: The Role of the American University
  • Dafina Lazarus Stewart
The Creation of the Future: The Role of the American University by Frank H. T. Rhodes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. 265 p.

The American research university has been under attack in recent years by many castigators, who themselves have benefited and continue to benefit from the existence and role of research universities (Readings, 1996; Wolfe, 1996). These recriminations primarily center upon the argument that the research universities are institutions which have outlived their usefulness and are taking up far more room (in terms of financial support and superlative mention) in the space of postsecondary education than is warranted. Those which are purported to uproot and minimize the relevance and impact of the Research University, have ranged from information technology and distance education, championed by such institutions as the University of Phoenix, to the continued dwindling public support for higher education and particularly, for the research that is produced mostly by America's research institutions (Altbach, Berdahl, & Gumport, 1999; Altbach, Gumport, & Johnston, 2001).

Indeed, as Rhodes (2001) concedes, the research universities do comprise a rather small number, "perhaps 125 or so," (p. 19) of the over 4,000 colleges and universities and another 6, 700+ vocational institutions, which make up the system of postsecondary education in the United States. By these numbers alone, the question why should this minority subset of institutions receive so much attention seems indeed reasonable and even justifiable. In The Creation of the Future, Frank Rhodes (2001) endeavors to answer that very question, in defense of research universities and the role they play.

Rhodes' eighteen-year tenure as the president of Cornell University positions him to answer this question with some degree of authority, not dissimilar to [End Page 358] Clark Kerr before him who was a university president, at the time that he wrote the initial essays that now comprise the volume, The Uses of the University, now in its fifth edition (2001). However, Rhodes does not simply defend the research university as an institution that is performing its task admirably under difficult circumstances as other apologists have done (see Altbach, et al., 2001). Rather, Rhodes, with almost sectarian fervor, takes this moment in his text to exhort the research university to aim higher, to both fulfill its age-old destiny as well as to lay claim to shaping the vision of the future of American society. According to Rhodes (2001), their destiny and millennial future as purveyors of knowledge, social critics, and educators of our young people is the source of nurturing upon which the research universities feed and the reason they take up such a disproportionately large space in the discussion of postsecondary education.

Rhodes crafts his language in a rhythm and cadence that is almost poetic in its fluidity. He begins his sermonic treatise with a hackneyed two chapter overview of the hallowed history and current beleaguered state of the American university (focusing in great detail on Cornell), made redundant only because so many others have done it before (Altbach, et al., 1999; Altbach, et al., 2001; Kerr, 2001; Readings, 1996; Rosovsky, 1990; Rudolph, 1990; Veysey, 1965). He moves on from this, in chapters three through twelve, to pay particular attention to the central issues confronting the research university at the beginning of the new millennium: Professionalism (Chapter 3); community (Chapter 4); undergraduate teaching (Chapter 5); undergraduate curriculum (Chapter 6); professional and graduate education (Chapter 7); cost of higher education (Chapter 8); university research (Chapter 9); university service (Chapter 10); information technology (Chapter 11); and university governance and presidential leadership (Chapter 12). Chapter 13, "The New University" sums up Rhodes' understanding of the destiny of the research university and his vision for its future.

Using language such as "transformation," "restoration," "recapture," "trust," and "obligation," the central theme in all the chapters is a call to return, in some ways, to the sectarian roots of the pioneer colleges in the United States. Rather than finding unity through adherence to a singular set of religious dogma, Rhodes (2001) advocates using the "most cherished values" of the academy as the catechism of the university: "integrity, impartiality, excellence, community...


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