Research universities as Powerhouses: From The Economist – The real dangers facing America’s most important universities
The Great American University: Its Rise to Pre-eminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected. By Jonathan R. Cole. PublicAffairs; 640 pages; $35.
WHAT do the following have in common: the bar code, congestion charging, the cervical Pap smear and the internet? All emerged from work done at America’s pre-eminent research universities. The central contention of Jonathan Cole’s book is that these mighty institutions are “creative machines unlike any other that we have known in our history”. They stand at the centre of America’s intellectual and technological global leadership, but are now under threat as never before.
Professor Cole has worked all his life at one of these institutions, Columbia, where he was provost for 14 years from 1989 until 2003. His book is really three, each a magisterial work. First, he sets out an admirably comprehensive history of how America’s great universities came into being. Then, he trawls for examples of the enriching inventiveness of these institutions, listing the extraordinary range of innovations in technology and in thinking that have sprung from their research. Finally, he outlines the forces that threaten America’s research universities.