UCSC Review Winter 1996
Renewing the research university
Faced with economic uncertainty, changing societal needs, and diminishing public confidence, U.S. universities must readdress their mission in the context of serious real-world challenges. It is already clear that our public educational institutions--kindergarten through graduate studies--are falling short in meeting the needs of many of our citizens. Failing to address this problem places our society at great risk.
Through the structure provided by federal land-grant college legislation in the nineteenth century, the nation's public universities were instrumental in the successful development of natural, industrial, and agricultural resources. By updating the land-grant model, we can put universities to work developing our vastly underutilized human resources--and, in the process, tackling the immense challenges we face today.
I have no doubt that this change is possible. Our universities have adapted to the shifting needs of society over some two centuries. To their emphasis on teaching in the early nineteenth century, the universities soon added research and graduate work, following the German model. In the mid-nineteenth century, the land-grant legislation added public service to the mission. Follow- ing World War II, academic research figured prominently in the Cold War technological battle. In the 1980s, private industry joined the partnership, providing research support that helped restore U.S. industrial competitiveness in the world market.
As the nation's largest public educational institution, the University of California has been at the forefront of this evolution. Our often-stated mission of providing education, research, and public service for the people of the state continues to guide us. But as the needs of the state and its people change, we must alter our focus and emphasis accordingly.
Among the factors that must shape our response are growing cultural diversity and the rapid technological advances that are transforming our educational institutions and workplaces. California's linguistically and culturally diverse population provides an unprecedented opportunity to create a strong multilingual and multicultural state that can lead our country to success in the global marketplace. Further, the state's industrial base provides opportunities to integrate the most advanced technology into all levels of our educational methods and processes.
While the original land-grant initiatives grew out of a federal mandate, no clear national consensus now exists on the needs of the country, let alone on how the universities can meet them. I believe, therefore, that the direction and impetus for such change must be generated at the regional level, with universities taking the lead in identifying and meeting regional needs. Three cultural shifts must occur if we are to succeed.
First, we need to encourage innovative ways of looking at problems, moving away from the increasing specialization of academia to develop new interdisciplinary fields that can address complex real-world problems from new perspectives. Second, the orientation of faculty effort and the faculty reward system in our universities must support the full range of institutional missions in a more balanced manner. Third, our society must be willing to make quality education, especially in science and technology, accessible at all levels for all students. Education must be seen more as an investment in society's well-being and less as a cost.
The entire population must keep pace with accelerating technological change for continued economic and social well-being. This goal can only be accomplished through broad partnerships that include colleges and universities, community organizations, school districts, and business and industry.
UCSC is already building such regional relationships, chief among them a wide range of cooperative programs with area public school districts. The Monterey Bay Educational Consortium--recently established by UCSC, school districts in Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties, and California State University, Monterey Bay-- provides an ongoing framework for collaborative work promoting joint research and the development of curriculum and policy.
UCSC has also been a leader in the conversion of Fort Ord in Monterey County, a nationally recognized model for military base reuse. UCSC's Monterey Bay Education, Science, and Technology Center at Fort Ord is promoting regional economic development through multi-institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration focused on environmental science and technology.
Yet another project, the Center for Intensive Language and Culture, a partnership of UCSC, CSU Monterey Bay, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the Defense Language Institute/ Language Center, will develop new language-learning models to meet the state's increasing need for second-language competency.
We must continue expanding these efforts, marshaling the resources of our universities for the practical solution of social and educational problems. The failure to do so will result in, at best, a society sharply divided into haves and have nots--and at worst, economic and social collapse. Knowledge gained, papers published, and professionals graduated will be of little use in a society that has self-destructed.
We must be guided by a clear vision of what kind of society we want for our children and grandchildren--and how our educational institutions can be shaped to serve that vision. The nation's universities have a splendid record of service to the people of this country, indeed, of the world. The challenge to adapt to new societal conditions is urgent, and we cannot afford to fail.
--Karl S. Pister