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The Review of Higher Education 23.3 (2000) 241-256

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When Research Is Not Enough:
Community, Care, and Love

Yvonna S. Lincoln

Presidential Address

Higher education is the target of multiple attacks, even, one might say, friendly fire. The attacks have come both from external sources--some of whom are sympathetic to higher education's broader purposes, and some of whom have already sharp and deadly axes to grind sharper still--and from within (Readings, 1996). Each of us can easily review in our minds the stinging, and often exaggerated and unfair, criticisms leveled by such works as The Closing of the American Mind (Bloom, 1987), Profscam (Sykes, 1988), and The Tenured Radicals (Kimball, 1990). Criticism directed at the overall productivity of the professoriate has been disheartening and demoralizing, largely because it tars with a large brush thousands of individuals who have given their lives to teaching, research, academic advising, collegial governance, and service and have done so, as the Lakota Sioux say, "with a good heart." [End Page 241]

Criticism from Outside the Academy

Higher education is undergoing severe criticism from outside its walls (O'Brien, 1998). In a broader social sense, we are under fire because the devolution of responsibility for various social programs from the federal government to the states has meant hard choices about limited dollars. In the context of rising demands (and indeed, needs) for increased social services, and in the wake of Reaganomic social policies which successfully argued that the major benefits to accrue from a college education belonged primarily to the individual, rather than to the community or society, we have watched expenditures for higher education at the statewide level fail to keep pace with inflation. Higher education, alongside other social goods and services, appears to be an increasingly discretionary expenditure (Nelson, 1997a, 1997b).

Another tragic inheritance from the social and fiscal policy of the 1980s has been the seemingly rational quest for increased efficiency, for "doing more with less," for "running a lean (mean) operation." In the corporate world, this approach has meant simultaneously higher corporate profits and subsequent massive social dislocation, as businesses have engaged in so-called downsizing (or "rightsizing"), releasing hundreds of thousands of primarily older workers. It is not unusual to read that AT&T has furloughed 11,000 employees on a single day, or that another Fortune 500 company--IBM is a good example--has just eliminated 14,000 jobs. While it is true that higher education could likely look for many ways to increase its efficiency, it is nevertheless, dollar for dollar, not only highly productive in the sense that its expenditures return higher profits than any corporate efforts (Creech, Carpenter, & Davis, 1994), but it also represents an "industry" which has continued to expand virtually without downturn and for which demand continues to outstrip its capacity (Levine, 1997) for nearly 40 years. It has fired, relative to the corporate world, virtually none of its employees as part of a corporate downsizing effort even though it is a "mature industry" (Levine, 1997).

Internal Criticism

We are also experiencing severe criticism from within the academy. The institution of tenure, accused of protecting so-called dead wood, will likely undergo moderate to radical change. Some institutions have created de facto tenureless faculties through the simple expedient of no longer offering tenure-bearing contracts to new faculty (Selingo, 1998). Other institutions have sought to deal with the worst abuses of the tenure system by instituting systems of post-tenure review (Leatherman, 1998; Magner, 1995, 1996; [End Page 242] Tierney, in press) to track the productivity of faculty and release the less productive from the ranks.

There has been continuing criticism over the past two decades about the perceived overemphasis on research to the detriment of undergraduate teaching (Cordes, 1996). A new study links the underexpenditure of university foundation funds such as grants and bequests with the falling quality of undergraduate education and the ongoing scarcity of tenured and nationally visible professors in the undergraduate classroom (Wilson, 1998) or indeed, in any classrooms at all. Still other reports...