- Twentieth-Century Higher Education: Elite to Mass to Universal
For about a half century following World War II the late Martin Trow made sure that insights accompanied the abundance of information about higher education. Thanks to editor Michael Burrage's anthology of many articles and papers by Trow, a new generation of higher education readers will have access to Trow's works long after his death in 2007.
Trow's signature theme, radiating from his influential 1970 essay, was to critically probe the nooks and crannies that the transition from elite to mass to universal higher education had both on American society and the institutions of colleges and universities. If there is a residual message from his numerous writings and talks, it was that the quantitative changes signaled equally fascinating and complex qualitative changes. He was a participant-observer to the historical changes, especially as informal advisor to the University of California's famous President, Clark Kerr, a role that Trow fused with his appointment as Professor of Sociology at Berkeley.
Trow was an unapologetic elitist in the sense that he favored student admissions and faculty hiring based on superior achievement. He paid a price for his stance in 1969 as part of a messy divorce from the sociology department at Berkeley. For the remainder of his faculty career he found a home in Berkeley's new School of Public Affairs. His logic was that imposition of artificial props and privileges ultimately served no one well.
He maintained this candor in 1998 with a talk about Derek Bok and William Bowen's widely praised study of the merits of affirmative action, The Shape of the River, to an audience of the presidents whose institutions constituted the Association of American Universities. The irony was that Trow, often maligned for his particular brand of elitism, gave an informed scolding to the academically selective East Coast private universities for their rush to self-congratulations for having enrolled high achieving African American students. To Trow, this achievement was selfish and self-serving, and had national consequences because it begged the larger questions of access that faced most large public universities, including his own University of California.
Although the big questions of higher education access as parts of public policies since World War II dominated the coverage of Trow's writing, his lesser known commentaries on scholarship and academic life within colleges and universities warrant special note. Trow drew from an unpleasant and, hence, [End Page 347] unforgettable experience as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to raise sorely needed questions about the presumptions undergirding this well-funded haven for distinguished scholars. In his essay, "Guests Without Hosts," Trow painfully reconstructed the lack of courtesy and civility that the small number of permanent Fellows showed toward the revolving door of Visiting Fellows. The fault, he observed, was not merely the aloofness of the Permanent Fellows; it was promoted and perpetuated by a lack of administrative and operational services that could easily have made visiting scholars welcomed as part of the historic and contemporary mission of this special place. Perhaps most important, Trow questioned whether it made good sense for individuals, institutions, or ideas to create and generously fund a small group of advanced scholars who would be absolved for the remainder of their careers of any of the responsibilities and round of life typically associated with being a professor in a department or degree granting program. Unlimited time and freedom, he argued, usually were dysfunctional and unproductive. Conversely, professors just might gain and contribute, thanks to committee meetings and departmental initiatives that came with the territory of campus life.
To another extreme, Trow chided the widespread practice in which universities allowed "R&D" centers to sprout like mushrooms with the expectation that each center should be self-supporting, a goal pursued by continually pursuing federal or foundation grants. Trow early on ferreted out a syndrome in which research center directors ended up devoting most of...