The Uses of the University


reviewed by Edward Joseph Shoben, Jr. - 1964

coverTitle: The Uses of the University
Author(s): Clark Kerr
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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It isn't often that we find a book we wish we had written, but such a one is Jules Henry's Culture Against Man (New York: Random House, 1963. Pp. xiv+495. $7.95). An analysis of our own society by an esteemed anthropologist, it is both interesting and important for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is the only work we know in which empirical data have been used with sophistication as a basis not to prove a theoretical point in behavioral science, but to examine searchingly the human condition as it operates in contemporary America. Quoting extensively from carefully made field notes, Dr. Henry deals, for example, with teacher-child interactions in classrooms in terms of their moral implications and human significance; he is not at all disposed to establish some scientific system to which his observations can be neatly (but less meaningfully) ordered.


Second, Culture Against Man represents a blend of knowledge and passion that is rare in either social criticism or social science. More than most men, Henry honors deep emotional commitments as a part of the intellectual enterprise itself, and he deplores the decline of anger and guilt as authentic affects accompanying critical thought:


To think deeply in our culture is to grow angry and to anger others; and if you cannot tolerate this anger, you are wasting the time you spend thinking deeply. One of the rewards of deep thought is the hot glow of anger at discovering a wrong, but if anger is taboo, thought will starve to death. It is the same with guilt, for where there is none, there is no impulse to moral self-criticism, and in place of it is set self-examination merely as it relates to group conformity and getting ahead.


Discovering many wrongs in the exotic culture to which he himself belongs, Henry is in a constant "hot glow," but at the same time his emotion is disciplined by observations made according to the canons of his trade, by a mastery of the conceptual tools of contemporary behavorial science, and by an articulate and reasoned moral position. If one disagrees with him, the clarity and terms of the argument are such as to make it productive, not a mere opposition of temperaments or implicit and unconsidered ethical assumptions.


The thesis of Culture Against Man is not a novel one although it is dealt with in new ways and with more persuasive documentation than is typical. In primitive societies, a relatively small number of fixed human needs are met by an essentially stable body of rules and artifacts that defines their culture. In a complex civilization like our own, based on the twin ventures of commerce and technology, the creation of new needs is fundamental to the maintenance of our elaborate economic machinery. Consequently, advertising becomes the central activity of our culture, setting the tone for virtually all our other institutions. Henry makes deadly comparisons of such things as the businessman planning an advertising campaign that will move his consumers further along the path to an ideal insatiability with a mother anxiously insisting that her child eat. Similarly, he documents Madison Avenue's "exploitation of women's feelings that they have nothing to offer but allure," a process which entails a tragically willing cooperation among consumer, advertiser, and manufacturer in the transmutation of often desperate feelings of inadequacy into cash. Against the schools, functioning within the advertising ethos, he brings the straightforward charge of constraining thought and judgment and teaching primarily the devices of dishonesty which the larger society requires. And in the light of the evidence Henry presents, it is soberingly difficult to dismiss the case; even though the eventual verdict may be one of acquittal, the trial itself is justified, and the defendant and his counsel will not be the same in either thek outlook or thek conduct once they have gone through it.


If Henry's "passionate ethnology" illustrates a rare fusion of intellect and emotion, Warren Wagan's The City of Man (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963. Pp. x+310. $5.00) represents a more purely cognitive effort at integration. Convinced that "the city of man"—a world in which all men may live together in peace—must first be accomplished in the mind, Wagar attempts to draw together in one harmonious framework the ideas of such diverse thinkers as H. G. Wells, Teilhard de Chardin, Toynbee and Sorokin, Christopher Dawson and Julian Huxley, and a host of others. If he falls a little short of succeeding in such an heroic task, he nevertheless provides a useful review of recent prophetic thought of a serious nature; and out of his own commitment to the principle that only through the creation of a viable world order will modern man escape the edge of chaos on which he uneasily lives, he offers a virile challenge: "Prophecies of world order," he writes, "may seem like exercises in sheer fantasy to the 'realistic' man, but it is the realists who are the lunatics of the twentieth century. . . . Stuck to the flypaper of the present, enthralled by the Thing-That-Is, these realists miss what is most vital in human affairs: the role of the free-ranging will." Although it will take more than "high hopes and large thinking to do the job," an effective synthesis of knowledge is possible, and the effort to accomplish it is the cornerstone of a truly modern education. There are no panaceas, no shortcuts, and no trucklings with intellectual counsels of despair. To be achieved, the peaceful world community must first be envisioned, and in the light of burgeoning information and exploding social complexity, the process of envisionment demands intellectual synthesis as a replacement for the fragmentation in ideas and the disparateness of facts that now characterize the state of our knowledge.


A provocative and informative book, The City of Man is hardly a clear one in its formulations or a compelling one in its arguments. It serves as a surprisingly useful lead, however, to The Uses of the University (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univer. Press, 1963. Pp. vii+140. $2.95), Clark Kerr's Godkin Lectures at Harvard last year. President of that Pacific colossus called the University of California, graduate of an illustrious career as a labor-management arbitrator, and an economist by training, Kerr is convinced not only that "new knowledge is the most important factor in economic and social growth," but that this basic fact of modern life is being increasingly recognized in high places. It is for this reason that universities are being called upon to produce knowledge in quantities and at a rate never before demanded. In turn, this demand is effecting a revolutionary change in the character of the university. Among other things, it is no longer a "community of masters and students with a single vision of its nature and purpose," but a "multi-versity," a collection of communities in which students, faculty, administration, public authority, and others legitimately compete for dominance and power.


In consequence, says Kerr, the president can no longer play the role of the educator-leader. His job is that of "mediator-innovator," concerned with keeping a resemblance of peace among the warring factions under him and with promoting a steady if uneven development. Winning few clear-cut victories, he "must aim more at avoiding the worst than seizing the best. He must find satisfaction in being equally distasteful to each of his constituencies." Faculty members, on the other hand, become transformed into relatively affluent consultants, teaching little and traveling much from an academic base that is more an address for receiving mail than a place of instruction. Undergraduate teaching deteriorates; students become confused as to their role and purpose, and conflicts arise between "scientists affluent" and "humanists militant."


For the future, Kerr anticipates, with hedged optimism, a partnership between ''a large number of outstanding centers of graduate research and instruction" and the federal government, engaging in research assistance on a grand scale. Despite difficulties and dangers in this always edgy relationship, it is expected to energize "the American commitment to education to new heights of endeavor." The reason for this faith is Kerr's belief that the multiversity is taking form as a "prime instrument of national policy" in America and that, as a consequence, the federal government will become as dependent on universities for necessary knowledge as the universities are on government for research support. Conflict, while inevitable, is likely to be converted into the intrafamilial variety, where bickering and bitterness may occur and delay decisions but have little ultimate effect on their character.


There remain, of course, hosts of unsolved problems—the improvement of undergraduate instruction, the more effective relating of administrative functions to faculty and students, even the development of a more unified intellectual world. It is at this last point that Kerr's concerns overlap markedly with Wagan's, and it is Wagan's far less impressive volume that puts a bit of blight on Kerr's rather remarkable one. One cannot come to The Uses of the University from The City of Man without asking what our universities are likely to contribute to the synthesis of knowledge as well as to its production, what thought is being devoted in our universities to the moral implications of cognitive discoveries made as a part of the operation of "a prime instrument of national purposes." To the extent that he deals with the issue at all, President Kerr treats it superficially and shortsightedly. As a result, one may admire his brilliant mastery of university machinery and his hard-headed grasp of immediate opportunities and problems as the university develops as a modern institution and yet fear the outcome of the trends he forecasts with some delight.


One of the great functions of the university has been that of facilitating in both faculty and students the examined life of which Socrates spoke—the critical, autochthonous, sometimes even crochety and cantankerous life of the individual intellect. In a knowledge factory, will this function be preserved? If it will not, then the realization of Wagan's city of man is made still more difficult, and such a loss would be one to ponder well before it is deliberately incurred.


Whatever stance one takes toward such concerns, however, one will find himself better informed from a reading of President Kerr's gracefully compact little book; and it seems quite clear that it is a volume that cannot be safely overlooked by anyone who would understand the current issues or the possible futures of higher education in the United States—a matter which, for better or for worse, is of importance to the entire world.—EJS




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 65 Number 6, 1964, p. 561-561
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2769, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 6:35:04 AM

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