Submitted by John Thelin on September 13, 2012 - 3:00am
Higher education of the 1960s usually brings to mind student rebellion and campus unrest. Berkeley and Mario Savio are often invoked to symbolize the era of colleges and the counterculture. But this is distorted because it is incomplete. Why not have a collective student memory that includes Mitt as well as Mario?
This seems counterintuitive to the counterculture -- but only because we have overlooked all the innovations that were taking place on American campuses in these tumultuous years. I want to make the case to add seats on the historical stage of higher education – especially with the upcoming November presidential election.
To truly understand the long-term legacy of the 1960s, we need to include Harvard’s Joint M.B.A. and J.D. program as the institution -- and its famous alumnus, Mitt Romney, as the individual – that also are part of the higher education lyrics when boomers are “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation.”
Scott McKenzie attracted a lot of listeners in 1967 when he sang, “If you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair....” Mitt Romney, however, was not listening and went in a different direction – politically and geographically. In 1969 he left San Francisco (well, Stanford and Palo Alto) and -- after a detour to France -- headed east to graduate school at Harvard for its brand-new joint M.B.A./ J.D. program, which was founded that year. The rest is history -- and no less than the higher education of perhaps our next president.
Put aside such artifacts as Steven Kelman’s memoir about student protest at Harvard in 1969-70 in his book, Push Comes to Shove. Forget James Simon Kunen’s The Strawberry Statement and its provocative subtitle, “Notes of a College Revolutionary.” Above all, suspend from memory the images of Harvard first-year law students as depicted in Hollywood’s The Paper Chase. It’s time to reconstruct the early years of Harvard’s joint M.B.A./J.D. program and its students, which were a powerful, albeit low-profile counter to the counterculture.
Harvard’s joint program brings to mind the academic equivalent of epoxy cement -- two ingredients (law school and business school) each of which is rigorous in its own right, and when mixed, create an incredibly hard bond -- probably impervious to broad humane or societal considerations. Two articles over the past six months in the New York Times provide some insights into both the joint program and into Romney as a graduate student: Jodi Kantor’s “At Harvard, A Master’s in Problem Solving,” and Peter Lattmann and Richard Perez-Pena's “Romney, at Harvard, Merged Two Worlds.”
As Lattmann and Perez-Pena wrote: “One of the most exclusive clubs in academe is a Harvard University dual-degree program allowing graduate students to attend its law and business schools simultaneously, cramming five years of education into four. On average, about 12 people per year have completed the program — the overachievers of the overachievers — including a striking number of big names in finance, industry, law and government. ...In addition to Mr. Romney, founder of Bain Capital, the roughly 500 graduates include Bruce Wasserstein, who led the investment bank Lazard until he died in 2009; leaders of multibillion-dollar hedge fund and private equity firms like Canyon Capital Advisors, Silver Lake Partners and Crestview Partners; high-ranking executives at banks like Citigroup and Credit Suisse; C. James Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company; and Theodore V. Wells Jr., one of the nation’s top trial lawyers.”
No doubt these graduate students were smart and worked hard. Beyond that, it’s important to note some characteristics that accompanied this program and its work ethic. First, the formal curriculum pulled inward rather than outward.
Second, Romney as a student in the joint program tended to screen out external events as distractions. According to Kantor, “And unlike Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School more than a decade later, Mr. Romney was not someone who fundamentally questioned how the world worked or talked much about social or policy topics. Though the campus pulsed with emotionally charged political issues, none more urgent than the Vietnam War, Mr. Romney somehow managed to avoid them.” Kantor reinforces this depiction by quoting one of Romney’s law school study partners, who recalled, “Mitt’s attitude was to work very hard in mastering the materials and not to be diverted by political or social issues that were not relevant to what we were doing.”
The program pushed toward intensive insularity using the case study pedagogy that relied on no books or contextual sources – all at a time when genuine interdisciplinary, broad perspectives were finding some breathing space in prestigious professional schools elsewhere. It’s too bad for the education of future business (and political) leaders that the joint program that started in 1969 did not consider the very different perspective offered by Earl Cheit, professor (and later, dean) of the business school at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1964, with support from the Ford Foundation, Cheit invited five scholars outside the field of business to join him in conducting a workshop that for the first time brought together business school professors with others to explore and preserve “the connection between the intellectual adventure and the business adventure.”
What a contrast to the Harvard Business School’s case study approach! Cheit’s Ford Foundation program at Berkeley featured, first as talks and later as readings, a cornucopia of ideas and issues, led off by the economist Robert L. Heilbroner’s “View From the Top: Reflections on a changing business ideology.” John William Ward, historian and president of Amherst College, spoke about “The Ideal of Individualism and the Reality of Organization.”
Henry Nash Smith of Berkeley’s English Department discussed businessmen in American fiction in the “Search for a Capitalist Hero.” Historian Richard Hofstadter asked, “What happened to the Anti-Trust Movement?” The economists Paul Samuelson and Cheit himself analyzed changing roles of business in how managers cultivate social responsibility – and how American society balanced personal freedoms and economic freedoms in a mixed economy.” Guest speakers from France and Belgium provided American businessmen with perspectives on business in Europe.
Cheit’s knowledgeable involvement in exploring the past and future of higher education did not stop with this Ford Foundation business program. In 1974-75 he sought (and received) permission to teach a graduate course in the School of Education – one in which he explored how it was that professional schools of business, agriculture, forestry, and engineering came to have a place in the American university. The course content and topic were so novel that it led to publication of a book by the Carnegie Commission, The Useful Arts and the Liberal Tradition.
Once again, it showed that an intellectual and administrative leader in the business school could look outward within the multi-versity and reach outward to the larger society and the economy by complicating the questions rather than doggedly seeking to solve business problems. Cheit also was one of the leading economists to sound an alert to the deteriorating financial condition of the nation’s colleges and universities in his 1971 book on higher education’s “new depression.”
In contrast, what were the aims and goals of the Harvard joint program? One observation provided by NYT reporters is revealing: “But former students and professors say it makes sense that a group of overachievers would be drawn to financial markets, a hypercompetitive field with the promise of immense riches.”
Really? Why were these overachievers necessarily confined to these goals? What if the teaching and discussion had included some consideration of ethics, public good, and social responsibility – along with pursuit of individual prosperity? It’s important to remember that there were good alternatives. For example, Cheit’s Berkeley approach with the Ford Foundation project was to create curiosity, exploration and reasonable doubt about our national obsession with business.
The Harvard joint program, especially its business school component, emphasized the sharpening of decision-making tools, especially in finance. Each, of course, has their place. But if a concern of a university is to ask, “Knowledge for what?,” it is Cheit’s Berkeley model more than Harvard’s joint program that is sorely needed for the thoughtful leadership, whether in business or politics, required for the early 21st century. I’ll be thinking about that on my way to the polls on Election Day in November.
John R. Thelin is a professor at the University of Kentucky. He was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley from 1969 to 1974. He is author of A History of American Higher Education (2011).
For generations, American conservatives have had an uneasy relationship with higher education. Although most recognize the importance of a college degree for employment, many conservatives are convinced that college campuses are indoctrination mills, designed to convert impressionable students into lifelong supporters of the Democratic Party. Republican concerns about higher education have become so serious, that the party delegates specifically address the issue in their 2012 platform:
“Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in state institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on state officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the left.”
Beyond their vague demands for the careful oversight of public colleges and universities, conservatives actively work to counter the influence of liberal academia, promoting right-leaning institutions like Liberty University and Hillsdale College. For impressionable youths already drawn into academia’s web, the right creates alternative centers of learning like Prager University. This website, created by nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager, offers five minute courses designed to “undo the intellectual and moral damage” done by a traditional college education.
As fellow conservatives who study the politics of higher education, we recognize elements of truth to the conservative critique. Virtually every study of higher education finds that college professors, regardless of their field, lean left. Furthermore, even those few professors who do identify as Republicans tend to hold views well to the left of Republican voters. Anecdotally, we know that some faculty use their classrooms to promote an ideological agenda. However, judging from the strong language included in the GOP platform, it seems clear that many conservatives overstate the problem. Whatever the long-term effects of a college education, there is little evidence that it has a dramatic effect on most students’ political beliefs. For example, the authors of The Still Divided Academy provide evidence that over time students’ views are remarkably stable. Additionally, relatively few conservatives feel victimized by their status as a political minority.
Yet even if liberal professors do not oppress conservative students, professorial ideological imbalance causes problems. While conservative students benefit from hearing alternative worldviews, liberal students at many institutions are rarely exposed to ideas challenging their core beliefs. Furthermore, without a critical mass of conservative faculty to challenge their liberal colleagues, social scientific research is inherently skewed to support leftist policy positions.
We argue that, rather than abandon American colleges and universities to the Left, conservatives need to “infiltrate” higher education, joining the faculty and thus reinvigorating higher education. In our recent article for the American Political Science Association's journal PS: Political Science and Politics, we synthesize more than a decade of research on politics in academe to provide conservatives with a roadmap for success. While conservatives in academe often face special challenges, with hard work, caution, and humility many can prosper in universities seemingly closed to the right.
For conservatives bold enough to consider academe, it’s important to select a field that is relatively tolerant of dissent. Obviously, fields like chemistry and engineering are less hostile to conservatives than sociology or women’s studies. Our own political science is a field already accustomed to political disagreement, with a solid seventh of political scientists leaning right. Whereas political scientists sometimes delve into ideologically charged debates, its practitioners often pride themselves on examining controversies like Congressional voting patterns, voter turnout, and judicial decision making that transcend the traditional liberal-conservative divide.
Conservatives who aspire to work in academia must recognize that, to succeed in academia, they must be intellectually rigorous, particularly since many peer reviewers will lean left. To guard against the onslaught of criticism that may follow work contradicting liberal orthodoxy, conservative scholars must do excellent research rooted in facts, and devoid of extraneous political commentary.
Furthermore, conservative academics must be both resilient and good-natured. Academic life is full of setbacks. Articles submitted to top journals are generally rejected, notwithstanding their political content. Just as women in business ought not blame every problem on sexism, and African Americans should resist the instinct to see every slight as racist, so conservatives must not play the victim, blaming every setback on politics. The ability to work diligently and happily, despite the normal travails of academic life, will ensure that conservatives don’t give up when the road to tenure seems bumpy.
Finally, if conservatives are to "infiltrate" academe they should leverage the power of the free market, moving from colleges or universities that prove inhospitable to political dissent. While some institutions will not tolerate right-leaning faculty, many others welcome a fresh perspective.
With boldness, persistence and patience, conservatives can make inroads into academia rather than simply abandoning higher education.
American higher education is at a crossroads. For much of the 20th century our postsecondary system was the envy of the world. The United States had higher participation rates than our counterparts in other industrialized nations, the cost of a college degree or certificate was affordable, and our research infrastructure and quality was lauded for its innovation and creativity. Over the last decade, however, the country’s public and private institutions have been battered by the recession and a disinvestment from state governments.
Student debt now exceeds credit card debt. Whereas significantly more people should be participating in the postsecondary sector the potential exists that the country will see fewer students entering and graduating with a certificate or degree. Ample empirical evidence points to the impact of financial aid and debt on attending college, on persistence, and on graduation. Until recently the country could anticipate that increasing number of students of color and first-generation students would participate in higher education, but now the very real possibility exists that fewer students will attend college in the future. Until we resolve the vexing issues concerning needed immigration reform, we squander significant talent. And those students who graduate may find themselves significantly in debt and unemployed.
Throughout the 20th century a hallmark of American higher education was the idea of academic freedom. Tenure came about to protect academic freedom. Although advances in technology and online learning provide significant possibilities for improving learning, a postsecondary education cannot be bereft of engaged critical inquiry amongst students and faculty. Faculty productivity in the classroom and in the research arena can always be improved upon, but the centrality of academic work pertains to free inquiry. A commitment to research and science that is based on fact rather than opinion has been a centerpiece of American higher education. America’s postsecondary institutions exist to advance the common good. The common good necessitates the search for truth, and academic freedom is critical for that search.
Accordingly, the most crucial issues facing postsecondary education are:
1. To guarantee that an infrastructure exists that maintains quality, enhances the diversity of the student body and increases the intellectual capital of the faculty.
2. To fund the postsecondary enterprise in a manner that makes college affordable.
3. To ensure that students graduate from college in a timely manner without burdensome debt.
4. To maintain regulations that do not stifle creativity and innovation but also protect consumers.
5. To vigorously support the idea of academic freedom as central to the well-being of the academic enterprise.
6. To take up comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM act, in order to use all the talent we have developed in our schools and colleges.
We look for and encourage specific proposals from the presidential candidates with regard to these issues. Although President Obama is the incumbent and has addressed some of the issues we think are crucial, we frame them as if both candidates are equally situated and equally likely to take office in January 2013.
Michael A. Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center. William G. Tierney is university professor and director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California.