Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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'Knowledge Matters' Analyzes State of Higher Education

February 28, 2011

The realities and challenges of higher education – so often torn between multiple public and private agendas – are confronted in a new book, Knowledge Matters: The Public Mission of the Research University (Columbia University Press, 2011). Co-edited by Social Science Research Council President Craig Calhoun, a member of the Watson Institute’s board of overseers, the volume collects scholars’ reports from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe, concluding with a chapter on globalization and diversity by Institute Director Michael D. Kennedy.

“Neither universities nor their funders have clearly articulated their conceptions of the universities’ public mission, particularly not how those universities should combine their mission of research with teaching and service,” Calhoun and co-editor Diana Rhoten write in the book’s preface. In a shifting landscape of university organization, funding, and assessment, the editors cite tensions among such diverse goals as creating social mobility, producing breakthroughs in research, promoting economic development, and other private and public goods. “How well research universities will fare in coming years and in different contexts is up for debate,” they write. “But it seems clear that clashing conceptions of their missions, both public and private, will be important.”

To underscore this importance, Kennedy’s concluding chapter provides a detailed local study, “Cultural Formations of the Public University: Globalization, Diversity, and the State at the University of Michigan.” In it, as the editors note, “Kennedy reminds us that the way the issues play out is always embedded in a local culture.”