ALP at Penn State: A Vision of the New Research University

University budgeting and strategic planning was the focus of the final Academic Leadership Program (ALP) sponsored by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) held at Penn State, April 12-14, 2012. No two topics have more impact on the life and direction of an institution than these.

In reflecting on this final ALP seminar (the other two were at Indiana University and the University of Chicago), I began to imagine what it might look like for Penn State to pursue a bold strategic vision of the new public research university in the 21st century. The vision would need to be grounded in the history of Penn State as a public institution, even if it would likely involve greatly diminished support from a Commonwealth intent on systematically starving the University of the resources that first made it possible over a century and a half ago.

At the center of the vision would be an unwavering commitment to the excellences of rigorous public research. The rigor would be rooted in a curriculum designed to cultivate in each student, undergraduate and graduate alike, a sense for the transformative power of inquiry and the imaginative intellectual abilities to discover new knowledge. The university would be “public” less because it receives public funding, and more because it is oriented toward public concerns and intent on pursuing the public good. Its research endeavor would be integrated into undergraduate and graduate teaching at all levels of the university. The historical commitment to ensuring that education remains accessible would be pursued on a global scale through the reach of the World Campus, and new technologies would be used to create new opportunities for innovative collaborative research and teaching. The new public research university would be smaller, more nimble, bolder and unwaveringly focused on initiatives that strengthen its core mission to pursue rigorous public research.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • dirkusa says:

    how much of the public interest will be bound to that of businesses?

  • Right now there are six members of the Penn State Board of Trustees who are elected by the Board to represent business and industry endeavors. Here is the how the board at Penn State is constituted:
    "Six trustees are appointed by the Governor; nine trustees are elected by the alumni; six are elected by organized agricultural societies within the Commonwealth; and six are elected by the Board of Trustees representing business and industry endeavors."
    It seems that there is a history of having business interests represented on the Board. Your larger question is important, though: in determining the meaning of "public concerns" and "the public good," what role will economic interests play in this?
    In the end, rigorous public research needs to be about cultivating the virtues of education in citizens, not just their economic well-being.

  • dirkusa says:

    thanks, I caught part of CSPAN's coverage of the national governors meeting and there were various experts presenting there on how to tie in higher-ed to business/economic development but none speaking in the kinds of democratic/humanist terms that I associate with your work here.
    I have read that the Pitt humanities and others are under siege and there was also this: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/04/30/120

  • While the absolute dollar amount of support from the Commonwealth continues to rise, total state support continues to decline relative to the overall increase in the University’s budget. So I don’t view the state as “starving” the University, so much as see a discrepency between the University and Commonwealth’s perspective on the true needs of the institution.

    I think, related to this, one of the things we haven’t done a great job at here at Penn State is acknowledging that even while the Commonwealth’s appropriations haven’t been as robust as we might like, the amount of “public support” for research from the federal level has skyrocketed—approaching $1 billion annually.

    So overall public support from the federal/state level is probably more robust than it often seems. But maybe I’m off base in my perception on this, and I should disclaim that I’m mainly “thinking out loud” here.

  • […] The General Education Task Force has already affirmed that engaged scholarship should be available to students within the GenEd curriculum. My support for putting themes (coordinated clusters of courses concentrating on a focal concept) at the center of the curriculum is animated in no small part by a desire to integrate the research endeavor into the heart of the undergraduate experience. […]

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