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Chancellor Addresses National Press Club
Discusses Future of Public Universities in the United States

Posted June 9, 1999

Chancellor Berdahl

Chancellor Berdahl

In the 21st century, universities will increasingly be "hybrids" involved in both public and private realms, but for public universities in particular, "the sorting out of the relationship between these two realms is vital," Chancellor Berdahl told the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In his June 2 speech, carried by national broadcast and cable networks, Berdahl noted that public research universities -- established originally as state-based, state-supported public institutions accessible to many -- played a unique role in American democracy. But dramatic shifts have occurred in the relationships between these institutions and public and private sectors, Berdahl said -- and "the legitimacy of the public university's claim as an instrument of progress in a democratic society hangs in the balance" on questions of access, quality and purpose.

Following are exerpts from Berdahl's speech highlighting three critical questions facing American public universities as we enter a new century.

For the full text, see

"Nearly 40 years ago, Clark Kerr, who was then the president of the University of California, described the modern research university as a 'multiversity.'

'The multiversity,' he said, 'is an inconsistent institution. It is not one community, but several.... It serves society almost slavishly, a society it also criticizes, sometimes unmercifully.... A community...,' he wrote, 'should have common interests. In the multiversity they are quite varied, even conflicting. A community should have a soul, a single animating principle. The multiversity has several...'

If that was true of the modern university four decades ago, it has become even more true today. The edges of the university are today even more fuzzy. The boundaries defining communities within the university, as well as those defining the univerversity to the world outside of it, are more unclear today. And yet even as some boundaries become blurred, others become more distinct, more difficult to overcome.

It is about these changing boundary conditions and their implications for the future of the university that I want to speak today.

Funding and Access

One of the remarkable features of American higher education has been the unique mixture of public and private institutions. A healthy competition for academic excellence among these public and private institutions has served all of higher education very well. Although all of these institutions have seen themselves as serving the public good, ... public universities have had a special place in the development of American democracy.

They were created to educate a broad spectrum of the public and ... their research and education was given a uniquely practical dimension intended to serve rural agriculture, mining and the emergent industrial base of the economy. State-based, state-supported, public universities were to be low-cost and accessible to the many. Private universities, on the other hand, were available to the few who could afford their costs.

These distinctions have, over the past decade and a half, become blurred. Today, private universities receive funds from federal financial aid programs, allowing them to admit students on a need-blind basis. In addition, their operating budgets are substantially augmented by federal research funds.

Public universities, on the other hand, receive a declining proportion of their resources from their respective states. At Berkeley, for example, only 34 percent of our operating budget comes from the State of California, down from nearly 70 percent ... three decades ago. ...

This means that public universities now act more like private universities in how they generate operating revenues. Berkeley, for example, is currently engaged in a capital campaign to raise $1.1 billion. ...

Fees at Berkeley are still low -- by private school standards, at least. But at roughly $4,000 a year for tuition, they are significantly higher than a decade ago. ...The national data reflect a similar pattern. ...

Institutions have tried to offset some of this impact on poorer students through financial aid, largely by applying some of the increases generated by tuition into financial assistance. ...

Little of the growth of financial assistance came from public sources. ... This general trend, at least in California, represents a general shift in priorities for public spending away from education. ...

The result of these trends has been to reduce access to higher education for the poorest children in our society, especially those confined to the least effective public schools. ...

In California, the state with the most dramatically changing demographic profile in the country, ... the percentage of high school students going on to college ... [has] fallen from 60 percent in the early 1980s to 55 percent today. If California is a bellwether state, the sound of that bell is not encouraging. ...

Our task is to see to it that selective strong public universities continue in the future, as they have in the past, to provide opportunities for a broad spectrum of the population. ...

Traditional Universities, "Virtual" Universities

The technological revolution ... has enabled universities to explore and expand the realm of distance learning through which teaching materials are delivered to students in very remote locations.

For many, this represents a new market, a new revenue source, drawing institutions more fully into the sphere of private enterprise. Students can now obtain advanced professional degrees as well as a panoply of courses through online offerings from a number of universities and colleges. ...

No university that is concerned about its future in the 21st century can afford to overlook these opportunities, [but] ... the electronic university raises several profound questions as well.

One is, again, the question of access to live teaching and real minds. It may very well be that the public will see the virtual university as the "cheap" solution, ... thus allowing even further disinvestment in public universities where scholars, teachers and students gather and interact face-to-face in their education.

As Peter Applebome wrote in last month's New York Times education supplement, the rise of the electronic university, "raises the specter of a tiered educational system. Green quads, small classes, ... for the privileged few, and software for the many."

A central feature of the modern research university is that of creator of knowledge as well as conveyor of knowledge. If the virtual university diminishes further the public's belief in the need to support traditional universities, where will the new knowledge, transmitted electronically, be generated? ...

The American research university has contributed enormously to the wealth and productivity of the nation. ... It is no accident that 30 percent of the biotechnology companies in the world are located within 30 miles of a UC campus and that six out of the 10 most-utilized drugs that they have produced came from the laboratories of UC scientists. ....

Research Findings: Public or Proprietary?

As the ideas developed in research universities -- from software to genetic maps -- have valuable commercial applications, the lines separating public good research from proprietary research have become very fuzzy.

Modern scientific research is very expensive. Federal investment in research -- as a percentage of the of the whole R&D investment of the nation -- has slipped steadily. .... This means that universities, where the lion's share of the basic research is conducted, have turned increasingly to private industry for support.

And increasingly, concerns are raised about the proprietary nature of privately supported research and about the impact of such support in the free exchange of ideas.

This past year, Berkeley negotiated an agreement between the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute and the Department of Plants and Microbial Biology. This agreement ... is an experiment and will be subjected to careful scrutiny to determine what, if any, may be the unintended consequences of this new mixture of public and private interests.

The awesome frontiers opened up by genomic research, of course, raise even larger questions about the relationship of the public and the private spheres. Whether anyone can lay claim to owning, for commercial purposes, sequences of DNA codes is itself a larger philosophical and policy consideration. ...

Pursuing the Public Good: Four Imperatives

Commitment to the public good, which must be the bedrock commitment of public universities, cannot be separated from investment in the public good. ... [But] we cannot lay claim to that greater public investment unless we are seen to serve the public good. ...

First, we must assure that we give the best educational opportunity to all American children, from kindergarten through graduate school."

Second, our research must address issues of public interest, from decaying cities to new technology. The land grant model of public universities should be employed in the service of urban America.

Third, we must continue to lead the information revolution, integrating its benefits at all levels of education, neither standing in awe nor in fear of its impact, to strengthen learning, not to dilute it.

And finally, we must assure that public universities continue to fulfill their public trust as weavers of the social fabric, educating individuals for citizenship and leadership, comprehending the ethical dimensions of human life."



June 9 - July 13, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 35)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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