- Purchase/rental options available:
The Review of Higher Education 25.1 (2001) 1-14
[Access article in PDF]
Campus and Community:
A World Turned Inside Out?
John R. Thelin
One of my favorite books about higher education is Burton Clark's The Academic Life: Small Worlds, Different Worlds (1987). Its insights about the subtle contrasts among institutions and disciplines fascinate me. They also haunt me, even when I try to find sanctuary while watching television after having taught a late-night seminar. For example, a few years ago one episode of "Law and Order" featured a senior professor of physics who was charged with homicide. His plea to the jury was that, after all, his life had reached rock bottom. Although at one time he was considered a rising star, a contender for the Nobel Prize, in mid-career he had been driven to a life ofcrime. Why? Because he had suffered the ultimate insult: at physics conferences he was relegated to presenting his research papers at six o'clock on Friday evening. Who could really blame him for having committed murder? [End Page 1]
Well, here it is, six o'clock on Friday evening. But I am not a physicist. Burton Clark was right: The academic life is composed of small worlds that are very different worlds. In contrast to this unfortunate professor of physics, I wish to note that for one whose field is higher education and is part of ASHE, there is no greater honor than to be given the opportunity and invitation to talk with you on Friday at six o'clock.
I wish to raise questions and above all, to foster discussion about campus and community. This includes specific attention to the community and courtesies of the campus. Ultimately, I hope to connect this to some questions about the place of ASHE in the higher education cosmos. My remarks are shaped by some influential works from the past decade, namely, Ernest Boyer's Carnegie Foundation study, Campus Life: In Search of Community (1990) and Clark Kerr's essay, "Academic Citizenship in Decline" (1994). My concern about the topic has been rekindled by some recent works: Donald Kennedy's Academic Duty (1997) and Robert Rosenzweig's The Political University (1998). And, the recent work that has been most illuminating and insightful on these puzzles and problems is Patricia Gumport's paper presented last year at a symposium sponsored by the Association of Governing Boards and the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education (Gumport, 1999). My caveat is that although Patricia Gumport may be clear-headed on these matters, I have yet to reach that threshold. This is literally an essay--an attempt to try to reach good resolution and clarity.
Who Killed the Faculty Club?
All this may sound a bit abstract. In fact, I prefer to deal with significant issues that surface in small, specific incidents. Years ago the board game of Clue might have included the mystery, "Who killed Colonel Mustard in the Faculty Club?" Today, my question is abbreviated and fundamental: "Who killed the Faculty Club?"
I want to investigate this mystery because it connects ultimately to a growing lament by senior faculty and administrators that a new generation of professors is absent from the revered Faculty Club. I stumbled upon the scene of this academic crime three years ago when I was simultaneously intrigued and troubled by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education whose headline pronounced, "Empty Tables at the Faculty Club Worry Some Academics" (Schneider, 1997). The lead paragraph read: "Older scholars see a loss of a common meeting ground, but many younger professors see only a relic."
According to the article, "The faculty table at the Johns Hopkins Club is all but deserted on a recent spring day. A lone professor, graying and spectacled, sits surrounded by seven empty chairs. The 'big table,' as it's known, has turned into a table for one. In the club's library, with its dark, oak-paneled [End Page 2] walls and red-leather couches," chairs are either empty or occupied by octogenarians. According to...