Change and the Research University
The question "What will the great research university of the mid 21st
century look like?"
tends to be met with a reaction that implies that the answer is too obvious to merit serious
discussion. In an academic version of Word Association, the prompt "research university" seldom
elicits a response of "change." Indeed, the popular perception - both inside and outside of the
academy - of the American research university is that it provides an island of stability in the midst
of a changing world, and that it will be pretty much the same fifty years from now as it is today.
However, even a cursory look at the history of the research university shows that it has evolved in
very significant ways over the past half century in response to wars, governmental focus and
reactions, and changing social and economic conditions. Unless the world somehow has reached a
new and unprecedented level of stability, we should expect that the university will experience an
evolution over the next half century that will be as significant as that which occurred over the last.
So an effort to answer the question that began this essay should start with a review of the
events of the past and an analysis of how those events created the research university of the
beginning of the 21st
century. In order to keep this discussion to a reasonable length, I will focus
roughly on the period from 1940 to the present, with only brief excursions into earlier periods. This