At one time, universities educated new generations and were a source of social change. Today colleges and universities are less places of public purpose, than agencies of personal advantage. Remaking the American University provides a penetrating analysis of the ways market forces have shaped and distorted the behaviors, purposes, and ultimately the missions of universities and colleges over the past half-century.
The authors describe how a competitive preoccupation with rankings and markets published by the media spawned an admissions arms race that drains institutional resources and energies. Equally revealing are the depictions of the ways faculty distance themselves from their universities with the resulting increase in the number of administrators, which contributes substantially to institutional costs. Other chapters focus on the impact of intercollegiate athletics on educational mission, even among selective institutions; on the unforeseen result of higher education's "outsourcing" a substantial share of the scholarly publication function to for-profit interests; and on the potentially dire consequences of today's zealous investments in e-learning.
A central question extends through this series of explorations: Can universities and colleges today still choose to be places of public purpose? In the answers they provide, both sobering and enlightening, the authors underscore a consistent and powerful lesson-academic institutions cannot ignore the workings of the markets. The challenge ahead is to learn how to better use those markets to achieve public purposes.