Francis Lawrence

The Uses of A University

VTR Date: November 14, 1994


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Francis Lawrence
Title: “The Uses of a University”
VTR: 11/14/94

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. And I must say that, for all the truly extraordinary leaders I’ve met in a broadcast career spanning more than four decades now, known had ever left as vivid an impression upon me as my own alma mater’s longtime president when I encountered him a half-century ago. Columbia University’s Nicholas Murray Butler was, in every respect, himself a formidable American institution, one probably better identified with the Nineteenth Century than the Twentieth, and so very far removed from the challenges that now beset university leaders who must grapple with higher education issues here close to the millennium and in the new century beyond. James Conant of Harvard, Kingman Brewster of Yale, Henry Riston of Brown, John Brademas of NYU, David Truman of Mount Holyoke, Michael Sovereign of Columbia, Clark Kerr of the University of California, Nan Cohane of Wellesley and now of Duke, Claire Gaudiani of Connecticut College, Fran Ferguson of Vassar. All were here. Only the last must make ready now for starkly different uses of the university as the 21st Century begins.

And, of course, so must my guest today, Dr. Francis L. Lawrence, President of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where I began to teach in 1948, and where, of course, he’s my boss. Now, in his “Preference to Quality in Higher Education”, edited by Rutgers’ Brent Rubin, Dr. Lawrence quotes at some length from Yale’s late, great Bart Giamatti: “A college of university is an institution where financial incentives to excellence are absent, where the product line is not a unit of an object, but rather a value-laden and lifelong process. Where the goal of the enterprise is not growth or market share, but intellectual excellence. Not profit or propriety rights, but the free good of knowledge. Not efficiency of operation, but equity of treatment. Not increased productivity in economic terms, but increased intensity of thinking about who we are and how we live, and about the world around us”.

And so now I would ask Dr. Lawrence how should, indeed, how do these thoughts inform his own idea of a university, and his own conduct of our university, Rutgers.

LAWRENCE: Do you think there was some bias there in that we were both two fanatical baseball fans?

HEFFNER: Indeed.

LAWRENCE: To the quote.

Well, I think Bart Giamatti was concerned, at the time that he wrote that, about a number of problems that best the learning community. Certainly federal regulations were in existence and getting deeper and deeper in the mid ‘80s when he did this. And also his concern about the split between the faculty and the administration as a result of labor issues. And many of those problems still exist today. To those issues that he was concerned about, and that I’m concerned about, I would add a couple of more issues that I think are extremely important over the last 30 years. One of which is the assent of world-class research, and its impact on higher education, certainly since Sputnik. And the other issue of paramount importance is the broadening of access to education. When you look at the impact, since Sputnik, non American higher education, you see some dramatic changes taking place. Certainly the press, on the part of not only the federal government, but business and industry, for university faculty to be much more engaged in basic research, especially in areas of science and technology, but certainly in other areas as well, and the fact that, as a result of these changes, as a result of the impact of this new research, this world-class research, and the fact that it was not totally funded, that universities not only received funding from all of those areas but put in funds of their own, this created a strain on the learning community, on the academic community.

And the second item was that of the broadening of access of education. A more diverse population, diverse cultures, diverse resources. When you look at simply the college-age population, in less than 20 years, in the last 19 years, 19 years ago 47 percent of our high school students went on for a college education. Now it’s 62. In New Jersey, it was 55. Now it’s 73. In the late ‘70s, I mean literally in about a 16, 17 year period, nine million high school students going on to college. It’s 14 million going on now. So at the same time that we’re moving ahead on a research trajectory, you had a much larger, more diverse population coming in our institutions. And this is around the time that I came to Rutgers. And as a faculty member, as an administrator I not only observed those wonderful things happening within the university, but I observed the strains on the academic community, the feeling that research might be replacing the stress that institutions had historically put on teaching, on instruction, especially at the undergraduate level. And that’s the context in which I think Bart Giamotti was certainly focusing on. But even since that time, especially in the 90s, because the 90s alone brought economic changes that were even more draconian, we’ve had to make some changes. And of course, one of the stresses that I talked about through the interview process was to restore balance between research and teaching. Both are important. Both are vital for American higher education, which is the best in the world.

HEFFNER: How is the balance to be described now?

LAWRENCE: Well, a number of the initiatives which we have put into place to respond to that kind of criticism – and I might add that although I feel that Rutgers, as it’s done in a lot of other areas, jumped on this issue very early, many of my colleagues at other institutions throughout the country are fast at work responding to this – one of which was to focus on the teaching in promotion and tenure decisions. When one examines an individual for tenure, do you only look at research, how much is published, or do you look at the effect of the classroom experience? And certainly at Rutgers, not only do we do evaluation of teachers on a semester-by-semester basis, but we’ve put in something constructive and positive on all three campuses: Teaching Excellence Centers, where mentor scholars from our faculty send time working with other faculty to develop new methods of teaching in their fields, having to do with everything from the use of technology to simply a rethinking of how the material is presented to the students.

The second thing we did, which was a response to this diverse population, was to put in on all of our campuses Learning Resource Centers. In fact, in New Brunswick, we have three of them. One at Cook/Douglass, one in New Brunswick/Piscataway, and one on the College Avenue Campus. These Learning Resource Centers are an indication on our part, as a university that if we admit students we will have the kind of peer tutoring, supplementary instruction, all of the academic support necessary for them to succeed. They need only come and sample it.

We have been engaged in the study of the curriculum. Certainly you’re well aware of individuals like Alan Bloom and Dinesh DeSouza, and Lynne Cheney, who have attacked the curriculum in higher education in the recent past. Bill Bennet was another one.

HEFFNER: Justifiably?

LAWRENCE: I’m not sure that it was justifiable, quite honestly. I think that what they wanted to do was freeze the curriculum in the past. At least that’s my interpretation of it. The traditional view of the classics that should continue to be taught. I think the curriculum of the 90s and of the 21st Century needs to establish learning goals as opposed to a prescriptive list that you and I might have sampled years ago in a different generation prior to all the changes. Now, at Rutgers we are actually in the process throughout all of our campuses of discussing learning goals. Everything from communication skills to mathematical skills to an appreciation of history. And I think that’s the way one should treat the curriculum in the 21st Century. Certainly new fields have come up since the 60s and the 70s and they will continue to come up. But the applying of learning goals to the new fields will be much more advantageous to our students in the future than simply to go back and read what probably you and I did, which is The Aeneid, The Odyssey, The Iliad. Good works, but not necessarily the most appropriate works for the ongoing college population.

HEFFNER: Tell me what you mean by “Not necessarily the most appropriate works”.

LAWRENCE: Well, if you’re going to get into learning goals, if you’re going to try to get the students of tomorrow to learn to develop writing skills, thinking skills, analytical skills, quantitative skills, I don’t think it really matters what they read. Whether they’re reading the latest work by Nadine Gordimer, or whether they’re reading The Iliad, or whether they’re reading The Divine Comedy, all of which are great works. But what’s important is to get them to read works that will allow them to develop their skills. And therefore, I think the learning goals are far more important than a prescription of what the educated individual needs to have that certainly comes out of the past.

HEFFNER: But of course, in our times now, whether it’s Bill Bennett or others, there is that drive towards establishing those goals in terms of this book, that book, the other book, the classics.

LAWRENCE: Absolutely. And that’s one of the dangers. In fact, most recently there have been a lot of discussions, some coming out of Roy Roamer in Colorado, some coming out of the Department of Education, having to do with a national test. “Our students are not prepared”, which is their quote, “as prepared as they should be. And therefore we should establish a national test”.

HEFFNER: Do you think there will be established a national test?

LAWRENCE: I hope not. I think that would be a major disaster.

HEFFNER: For entry or exit, or both?

LAWRENCE: For both. Actually, I’m not convinced that the current standardized tests that we have do the job that they should. The current tests that we are using talk about a student’s learning experience, but really don’t give us much information on the innate intelligence of the student.

HEFFNER: What do you see as the essential purpose of the university? You talk about research. Could you do without the research and still…

LAWRENCE: Certainly not.


LAWRENCE: You could not do without the research. In fact, one of the things that we have to do on a regular basis – and this is a great opportunity for me – is to show how much research compliments teaching. Courses would be dull if faculty were not continually engaged in their research in developing…

HEFFNER: But isn’t that a different kind of research than the research that has grown up, that seems so often to be removed from the actual conduct of classes and what faculty people do?

LAWRENCE: See, I’m not sure that it is. We did a senior survey two years ago of our total graduating senior population, with about 63, 64 percent response rate. So we’ve got some real, hard numbers. And they’re huge numbers. Forty-three percent of our undergraduates indicated that they were doing research projects without faculty, ranging from senior theses to actively engaged in research with our English professor, our biology professor, or in our Advanced Technology Centers. I mean, that’s practice as well as theory. That’s what our future students need to have, more than a passive education, sitting in a classroom and being lectured to.

HEFFNER: Well, does that fit in, when you first came here and Bill Glovin did an interview with you, he said, “Lawrence believes it is the duty of a university, especially a state university like Rutgers, to provide strong community support and public service”. How much can a university provide? It’s research…


HEFFNER: …its basic teaching, its public service…At what point does a university begin to fall to pieces in terms of the various demands being made upon it?

LAWRENCE: Well, I would say that our mission – and you’ve indicated very clearly – is simple. For us to do the job most effectively, we have to have faculty, full-time faculty who are engaged in research, in teaching, and in service. And in many ways, all of those three parts of the mission are interrelated, interconnected. When you look at our Advanced Technology Centers, or if you understand our Cook, Cook College, our Agricultural Experiment Station, at the same time as they’re involved in research, and certainly teaching, they’re extensively involved in research. And of course, in regard to a public university, to a state university like Rutgers, it is vital that all three of these be done at the highest level. I believe we can do them. I mean, obviously, resources affect how much you can do. But I don’t think that resources should deter you from addressing all aspects of the mission, because we provide a very strong economic force to our state. Last year we produced an economic impact study unlike many that I’ve seen from higher education institutions. And for $380.6 million that the state invests in Rutgers, we produce $2.06 billion in return. Five to one plus on investment. Having to do with research, grants and contracts brought in on our faculty, and the kind of work that we do out in the community, whether it’s with K through 12, or with business and industry, or with pharmaceutical firms, especially in New Jersey. So all of that is interrelated. It makes us address our constituency. It helps us prepare our students for the future workforce. It’s going to be a very different workforce in the future. Beginning with probably 1997 and beyond, only 15 percent of the net entrants into the workforce will be White males. The rest of the entrants will be women, immigrants and minorities. And we’re going into a high-technology society. And therefore, we’ve got to prepare them for high-technology jobs. And this is the best way to do it, to involve research and service.

HEFFNER: Now, I need to know, how does a scholar in the humanities…

LAWRENCE: (Laughter)

HEFFNER: …like you, become so incredibly optimistic and enthusiastic about this kind of mission for the university?

LAWRENCE: Because I think that it’s vital for a scholar in the humanities to have the breadth and vision to prepare for the future citizenry. And one of the main reasons why I decided to move from an academic vice president’s position to a president’s position was to have some impact on how our future citizens are educated.

HEFFNER: And positively or negatively, as you look back, what’s your own sense of the possibilities? Max Lerner, I remember, on THE OPEN MIND, defined himself as a “possible-ist”. And it seems to me that that’s your philosophy, or religion, belief, call it what you will. Is your assumption that you’re going to beat the rap here? That we’re going to win in terms of the way you define the uses of a university?

LAWRENCE: We have no alternative.

HEFFNER: What do you mean?

LAWRENCE: Higher education, Rutgers in particular, must succeed in this effort. There is one door to opportunity in the future for the 21st Century and that is higher education. We get them, and we have to prepare them for the future workforce.

Let me give you a couple of examples along those lines. To begin with, individuals who have a college degree earn, on a whole, 70 percent more than those who finished high school. We also know that technology is the engine that moves us into the future. We know that we’re going into an information-based society, a technological society, as opposed to a manufacturing society. And by that I don’t mean that the other will be done away with. But the stress will be in those areas. We have a diverse workforce. Individuals who need to be educated in order to have quality lives. And the door to opportunity is higher education. So it’s vital that we be there to help get them to that level.

HEFFNER: What’s required?

LAWRENCE: What’s required? To begin with, I think it’s a better understanding of the difficulties and the stresses on higher education by our legislators, our governors, our national leaders. We’re in a situation nationally these days where we’re talking about efficiency, cuts, a budget that will not grow very much. And priority decisions are being made. I think it’s vital that our political leaders think about the long-term priority decisions.

HEFFNER: Go ahead. I’m sorry.

LAWRENCE: We have, without any doubt, the best system of higher education in the world. It’s recognized this way in comparison with any other system we can think of, whether it’s the European or otherwise. We want to educate all of our citizenry. We’re not in a situation where, similar to other countries, decisions are made that some will be educated and some will not. So it’s vital that we have available that process by which our citizens, not only in New Jersey but throughout the country, can lead a quality life, can be in the workforce, and address the issues that our society will face in the 21st Century.

HEFFNER: Does it look now as though the resources that are needed to, for the university to fulfill its mission, will be available?

LAWRENCE: The resources are always difficult. And we’re finding new ways every year to be more efficient and to try to re-examine ourselves. It’s interesting, you know. I sometimes hear that higher education hasn’t really looked at accountability measures. We’ve been doing accountability measures since the beginning of time. Only we keep on doing new ones in an effort to be even more accountable to our constituencies. But obviously it’s important for the public to understand the stresses that are put on higher education to deliver.

HEFFNER: Do you think – and it’s a strange question, perhaps – that I began by talking about Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of my university, and said he was more of the Nineteenth Century than of the Twentieth, more of the Eighteenth Century, indeed, than of the Twentieth – do you think there will be a place for the kind of removed-from-society institution that those great universities of the past were? And they were, to a considerable extent, removed.

LAWRENCE: Well, it was a different time, where a small minority of our people went on to higher education, certainly, and others had the ability to lead a good life, to lead a quality life without going to higher education. I’m not sure we can ever go back to that. I believe that, obviously, things will change dramatically over the next 25 to 50 years. I mean, to begin with, when you look at a population that will be more than 40 percent minority y the year 2050, we obviously have to address it, address our issues much faster. And I think that we’re also, the basis of our higher education system is education of all of our citizens. So we’ve moved away from an elitist approach to one that addresses all of our citizens, gives them the opportunity to be educated.

HEFFNER: Right. We deal with numbers now.


HEFFNER: What has happened to quality in the meantime?

LAWRENCE: If you asked me to give you a personal response on the quality of higher education at the time that I went through and now, I’d say that we’re at a much higher level. We’re doing a lot more technology. Research is at a much higher level, a more diverse level, a more exciting level, because we see the impact on our lives, as opposed to the 50s when I went.

HEFFNER: This would be true in the humanities, too, your own area?

LAWRENCE: It would be true in all fields. Humanities, years ago, were very narrow in the way in which they addressed their research. And now it’s much more encompassing.

HEFFNER: Well, in the two minutes we have left, how do you account, then, for the Blooms and for the others, the people who draw such a tragic figure of education today?

LAWRENCE: Well, to begin with, I don’t know that I can interpret their thoughts. But I think that many of us are more comfortable with the past, and more fearful that the future will bring change that will make us uncomfortable. I come from a very different direction. The past is wonderful. I appreciate everything that it did for me, as I look at higher education. But the future is now. And I think that our society rests on what we can do to not only take what is the best system in the world, but produce the best citizens of the world.

HEFFNER: Citizens. And I gather this is one of your own objectives.

LAWRENCE: Absolutely.

HEFFNER: You feel that citizenship is one of the obligations of the state university in particular.

LAWRENCE: Absolutely. We have a program that was inaugural in this area of civic education and community leadership. It continues, it’s strong. President Clinton, when he announced his program, came to Rutgers. That’s another part of the service, that’s another part of active education as opposed to passive education. It gets you to appreciate all of the problems within the university, within the community and the university, and to help solve them.

HEFFNER: Do you see any difference, in this regard, between the public institutions and private institutions?

LAWRENCE: Oh, yes. Yes. Although I think private institutions will be moving in that direction a lot faster, because the success of what’s happening in public institutions will warrant that they also get involved in these areas within their communities.

HEFFNER: And the future? What does it bring for this – and 30 seconds left – for this dichotomization between private and public institutions?

LAWRENCE: The future, I think, holds wonderful things for all of us. Now, the doom and gloom is not an approach that I want to take. I want to be part of the solution of the problems of the future. And I think our faculty and our students and our staff want to be part as well. And we want our research and our instruction and our service to be even better five years, ten years, 20 years down the road.

HEFFNER: Dr. Francis Lawrence, I can’t help but say how much I appreciate your optimism. I wish I shared it. (Laughter)

LAWRENCE: (Laughter)

HEFFNER: Thank you very much for joining me on THE OPEN MIND today.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you’d like to share your thoughts about our program today, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order.
Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.