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De Lange VIII: The Biggest Problem Confronting Universities is Not What You Think It Is

February 28, 2012 by Hunter R. Rawlings III

De Lange Conference

The Future of the Research University in a Global Age

February 27-28, 2012

Session I, moderated by Neal Lane, Senior Fellow in Science and Technology Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University and past director, National Science Foundation, White House Science Advisor to President Clinton

Speaker: Hunter R. Rawlings III, President, Association of American Universities; President Emeritus, Cornell University


Our research universities are wondrously complex institutions that defy easy analysis or understanding. We tend to focus our attention upon their most visible components, such as scientific research, star professors, state-of-the-art facilities and communications technology, economic impact, international outreach, and football and basketball programs. It is in their least visible domain that our universities face their largest challenge: educating undergraduate students, the citizens of tomorrow. The undergraduate curriculum has become at most research universities an incoherent melange of courses having little or no relationship to each other, a smorgasbord sampled by poorly advised students with insufficient understanding of what lies before them. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that administrators and faculty members do not know how to address this state of affairs: the curriculum is the province of the faculty, and the faculty has no confidence in its ability to reach consensus on the proper curriculum for all students, particularly those in colleges of arts and sciences.



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