Coming Through the Current Challenges

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The following talk was presented at the Annual Meeting of the University Faculty, Feb. 10 in the Nasher Museum of Art auditorium.

Coming Through the Current Challenges

By Richard H. Brodhead

I’ll begin by offering my greetings to the assembled faculty and my thanks to Craig Henriquez and the Executive Committee of the Academic Council for making the annual faculty meeting a special occasion. This is a chance to celebrate our community and honor those who have done our common work supremely well. It’s also an occasion to take the long view of our situation and think how to prepare ourselves for road ahead.

I’ll introduce this subject with two thoughts. First, universities are among the most durable institutions the world has ever seen. They have survived wars, revolutions, economic booms and busts, and many cycles of cultural transformation. Clark Kerr once pointed out that of the eighty-five institutions in continuous existence since 1520 under the same name in the same place performing the same function, seventy are universities.  But paradoxically, higher education in the form we know is not an ancient but a comparatively recent creation, an artifact of the post-World War Two years.

Let me remind you of some facts. The number of students who went beyond high school in the US was around 250,000 in 1900 and only 350,000 in 1910 but already 1,500,000 by 1940, over 4 million by 1960 and over 12 million by 1980—a number that grew somewhat less rapidly to 15,700,000 in 2000, and is around 18 million today. In other words, within the lifetime of living men and women, higher education changed from a relatively rare experience open to the privileged or those headed for a few learned professions to the more broadly distributed opportunity and career prerequisite that it forms today.

Read the full text of President Brodhead's speech»