Graduate and Professional Education in the Research University
November 9, 2004
Based on a speech delivered at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
The James P. White Lecture
- The Research University
- Graduate Education within the Research University
- Professional Education within the Research University
- Some Common Challenges Facing Graduate and Professional Education
It is a singular honor to be asked to deliver a lecture named for Jim White. His name is synonymous with excellence for any of us who come from the world of legal education. But, still more, his name is synonymous with the great virtues – including, of course, words like “dedication,” “wisdom,” “grace,” and “generosity.”
Jim’s twenty-six years at the helm of legal education marked an extraordinary transformation in the way those of use who care about law and educating lawyers thought about what we do. He oversaw our growing awareness that law was dependent upon other disciplines, he encouraged the connection of the academy with the practicing bar, and (finally) he gently steered the American Bar from its acute ethnocentrism to an active embrace of the rule of law around the world. His achievements were enormous and our debt to him is great.
Of course, Jim’s greatest achievement was and always will be his ability to persuade the magnificent Anna to bear with him even in the face of his full dedication to us. They are, as you all know, one of the world’s great couples. I bless both of them and I am happy to be here.
Today, in a way, is for me a return to my academic home – and, in a way, it is not. It is fair to say that I would not be here today were it not for my fourteen year tenure as the dean of NYU’s Law School: in that role, I came to know the world of legal education (and, of course, in the process, came to know Jim White); and it was as a law school dean that I began to think seriously about the nature and anatomy of legal education and about the role of law schools in the academy and in the globalized world of our century.
Still, truth be told, my first academic home was not in legal education, but in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences -- from my foundational liberal arts education by Jesuits who believed an inability to read Horace and Homer in the original Latin and Greek constituted illiteracy, to my position as chair of a college religion department.
Thus, not surprisingly, I approach a conversation about professional education with a strong impulse to link it generally to graduate education and to the research university itself. I take your invitation to me, even as I live my new life as a university president, as expressing your willingness (and perhaps even interest) in hearing the views of one coming from the broader perspective.
I speak today about graduate and professional education in research universities. By choosing this context, I move to a small but highly influential place in the landscape of learning. Of the 1500 American institutions offering four year college programs, fewer than 200 meet the Carnegie criteria for research universities. Of course, the large majority of America’s graduate and professional schools are housed within research universities.
Within legal education in recent years, there has been much discussion of the appropriate relationship between law schools and the profession, with many from the practicing bench and bar decrying an increasing disconnect they perceive (I believe wrongly) between what is done in even (perhaps, they would say, especially) the best of our law schools and what happens in the actual life of judges and lawyers. At the same time, even as talk of interdisciplinarity has become common among law professors, little attention has been given to the appropriate relationship of our law schools to the research universities that house them – and still less to the appropriate connection between the professional and graduate schools of the university.
Given the extreme tendency of those within law schools to view themselves as exceptions worthy of special dispensation from most university rules, this lack of attention to the integration of legal education with the university may not be surprising. Nonetheless, it is odd, especially odd given that several foundational, if unstated, premises of the legal academy’s structure seem to demand such attention: the first is the notion, inspired by Thomas Jefferson and manifest by the location of most law schools on university campuses, that there is a deep connection between preparation for the practice of law and university study; the second is the parallel notion, captured in the rules of admission to the bar, that a law school education is superior preparation for practice than an apprentice system; the third is the peculiarly American notion that this law school education should consist of three years after college; and, the fourth is the simple fact that law is a derivative discipline – in the sense that its rules are created, guided, and often best understood by reference to disciplines outside of law itself – disciplines comfortably located in our faculties of arts and science.
Today I propose to describe and test the proposition that there is value in an integrated notion of a research university which not only hosts but also embraces and intertwines graduate and professional education. In my view, this notion of the university is not simply an historical artifact, but also a concept of deep value, both intrinsically and instrumentally. In this talk, I hope to identify those values, and to test the performance of the elements of the integrated university in meeting the aspirations they express. Finally, I will explore the challenges these constituent elements of research universities face and share with one another.
Let me begin with the nature of the research university itself. The core mission of the research university is knowledge: its creation and distribution – expanding and deepening what we know, how deeply we know, and the number of those who know. In pursuit of this mission, the research university relies on various attributes, the most important of which are the processes of rigorous inquiry and reasoned skepticism, which in turn are based on articulable norms that are not fixed and given, but are themselves subject to reexamination and revision. In the best of our universities, faculty characteristically subject their own claims and the norms that govern their research to this process of critical reflection.
The research university is deeply committed to intellectual honesty, to pursuing leads where they go, and to engaging with and being persuaded (or not) by others along the way. Our universities nurture the quest for truths both plain and complex, and especially those truths that disturb prevailing assumptions. Moreover, scholars in our universities are free (and hopefully more often than not encouraged) to pursue their own research agendas. In this regard, our universities play a very different role from corporate research centers, political think tanks, and even the best policy research institutes.
Of course, our research universities simultaneously deploy their agents in a powerful act of engaging students in the process of discovery and learning, one fundamentally and palpably different from that which occurs at even the best of liberal arts colleges. The research university is distinct precisely because it captures the specialness of learning in the shadow of knowledge creation. The intertwining of knowledge creation and learning is intrinsic to the research university of today and constitutes its most powerful comparative advantage.
The research university, so constituted, produces enormous – sometimes inestimable, and too frequently insufficiently appreciated – benefits for society. Thus, for example, it is fair to say that a significant part of the wealth of our nation increasingly comes from new ideas and innovations. Still further, our universities influence our social well-being as their faculties discover better methods to design monetary policy and novel ideas that breed better law and policies. Moreover, just as our nation’s wealth springs from our campuses, so too does our health. Our research faculties bring us, to cite just a few examples, new ways to understand the workings of the brain as well as miracle cures for diseases, both chronic and pervasive. And all of this is only part of the story. The quality of our society depends upon the historians, classicists, and philosophers who, among others, bring the wisdom and insights of the ages to bear on the questions of our day – and upon our scholarly reflections on how to shape the professions and their products.
And – as none would know better than you at this great university – our universities sustain the wonderful artistic acts, from poetry to symphony to palette, from the recording studio to the stage, which can lift us to another dimension – even as they also encourage the investigation and interpretation of the great creative achievements of earlier generations. In short, the creative activity within the research university is unabashedly ambitious and vast. Indeed, the research university is nothing less than the celebration, continuation, and expansion of what defines us as human, our intellectual and expressive experience and our quest for more.
Finally, our great research universities increasingly are modern sanctuaries, the sacred spaces sustaining and enhancing nuanced and honest conversation on the great and complex issues of the day. We have seen the attention span of our society decrease and the willingness of its citizens to invest in the work of thoughtfulness decline. And, in these times of high anxiety, an appetite for simple answers, packaged in easily digestible slogans, has grown.
At a time when the traditional public forums seem increasingly incapable of sustaining meaningful discourse on the great issues of the day, it is necessary to assert for universities a potentially pivotal role within civil society both as a powerful reproach to the culture of caricatured thought and as a model of nuanced conversation. Always the best, and perhaps now the last best, venue for the full expression and development of ideas, our universities must strive zealously to live their ideal as intellectual sanctuaries and sacred spaces where claims are tested not only by objective measures but also by informed and open debate.
There is then no denying the contribution of the great research universities to our wealth, health, and self understanding: nor can we deny its role in constructing our narrative and in laying the foundation of our future as a people. If it is difficult, as indeed it is, to assign a monetary value to the research university, it remains undeniably true that it is an institution of immense -- indeed, incalculable -- social value.
Given the nature and role of the research university I have just described, the place of graduate education within them is in some ways obvious. It is nonetheless useful to recall that, although we can trace the antecedents of the modern university back to twelfth century Bologna and Paris, the modern graduate school did not develop until the nineteenth century. Yale did not award America’s first Ph.D. until 1861; NYU did not award the second until 1866. It also is useful to recall the two very different traditions which spawned the graduate schools of today, for those traditions (along with their values and methods) remain with us.
The German research university, a creature of the early nineteenth century, was brought to the United States in 1876 by the visionary Daniel Coit Gilman of the Johns Hopkins University. Others, including Harvard and my own NYU, followed within a decade. This new version of the university prized advanced research and learning and, as tools of such research and learning, the seminar, the laboratory, and the monograph. The Morrill Act, passed in 1862 (more than a decade before Gilman created Johns Hopkins), established the land grant university and, with it, the second tradition still extant in our graduate schools, one celebrating applied research and serviceable knowledge.
The duality of basic and applied research in graduate education today can be traced to these foundational moves. And, the decades since World War II have witnessed an enormous investment, largely stimulated by government, in the growth of the research university and its graduate departments – though in recent times there has been a decided (and, in my view, lamentable) emphasis in placing the vast bulk of this investment in science (as opposed to the humanities, the social sciences, or the arts).
Our graduate departments provide a place for those most expert in disciplines to engage on the most advanced level possible the generations who in time will succeed them; the departments both represent and support that claim of interest, knowledge, and progress but also train and credential those who will perpetuate the process: the next generation of scholars, researchers, artists, and faculty. And, as they perform these tasks, our graduate departments also serve as communities of advance inquiry, modeling for all the incidents of such a community.
The process of graduate education is and must be essentially disciplinary. Our graduate departments must serve as the sites of the most advanced inquiry and activity – the places where minds are stimulated and creativity abounds. The disciplines, with their traditions running back through centuries of discourse, provide the basis of norms and rigor that are essential to testing and advancing serious thought. These attributes must never be compromised. But, care also must be taken lest the boundaries of the disciplines not constrain the testing of ideas and the advancement of knowledge. In today’s world, even the most time honored of fields is fluid, and mastery even of a well-defined field demands an ability to recognize the blurring of established borders, the emergence of new paradigms, and the reconfiguration of connections with other fields. Thus, the movement toward interdisciplinarity.
And, our graduate departments also must test themselves for their faithfulness to both elements of their tradition. Duke’s former President, Nan Keohane, has written: “The modern research university is a company of scholars engaged in discovery and sharing knowledge, with a responsibility to see that such knowledge is used to improve the human condition.” Kate Stimpson, the Dean of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, put the same idea more fully when she wrote about our graduate schools: “We test ideas by their originality, which makes us feel surprised (not always by joy); by their magnitude, which should make us feel awe; and by their applicability, immediate or potential, and helpfulness, which should make us feel grateful.”
This notion of graduate education is a demanding one – and I applaud it for being so. It demands fidelity to disciplinary rigor, even as it demands connectivity to other disciplines and to a requirement of general (not, I hasten to emphasize, universal) attention to the need to apply our creative talent and test our ideas against reality. But even these demands are not, in my view, sufficient. There are still other demands I would place upon graduate education in the fully integrated version of the research university I envision.
The first would be the development of a general education for graduate students, a curriculum which would be viewed as foundational to all advanced study in our doctoral programs. This curriculum, which has been eloquently described by Dean Stimpson, would have as its purpose the cultivation of “a sophisticated understanding of the nature and structures of advanced inquiry itself.” Such a curriculum, with its attendant additional pressure on valuable time and attention, is, in my view, important as a counterweight to potentially unhealthy isolation and a stimulus for interdisciplinary awareness, if not work. It is important to note, however, that such a curriculum also would highlight the necessity of specialization. Specialization leads to focus, and concomitantly to depth of inquiry. The curriculum envisioned here would celebrate such depth, and lead to a clarity of context and purpose which would support, not undermine, rigor.
There is one other demand I believe we must place upon graduate education – this one, for the benefit of the commonweal. Specifically, we must encourage and sustain a meaningful connection between those involved in graduate programs – both faculty and students – and the enterprise of undergraduate education.
The case for involving the leading research faculty in undergraduate education at our universities is clear and should not be controversial. There is something inherently exciting for students about being in a classroom in which the instructor is shaping the field. So, for example, a top professor at a college might use the same (excellent) text for economics that would be used at a research university, and she would teach it very well. But a frontier researcher, as an active player in the culture of creation, could point to where the book falls short and which issues remain unsettled, which difficulties are brushed over and why. She could do this because she knows the subtleties first hand; her own research has helped shape the existing literature, not necessarily of this particular text, but of the body of ideas on which it rests. This is a natural corollary that knowledge is created at research universities. The college professor can know only what is in the latest journal; the university professor knows what will be in the next volume of the very same journal. Thus, content of what is taught at a major research university will in fact be very different from the content of what is taught at even the best four-year college.
If the research university is to maximize its value proposition, not only the faculty but also the best of graduate students, even as they do the arduous work of completing their doctoral studies and dissertations, will devote time to the undergraduates. Doctoral students, who by definition have discovered their intellectual passion, should become ambassadors to the undergraduates both for the joys of the intellectual life in general and for the delights of their chosen discipline. Particularly in these times when our undergraduates tend to plan their lives too soon with too much detail, thereby prematurely channeling themselves on career paths, advocates for the life of the mind are important. Moreover, as doctoral students seek out undergraduates in formal and informal settings to share the joy of ideas, they themselves will begin to experience the rewards of teaching and mentoring which will characterize the life they have chosen.
One final point. Thus far I have talked only about graduate education at its most advanced level – doctoral education – and the connection of that part of the research university to undergraduate education. However, we already are witnessing an extension of graduate education to a new set of students, as the Master's degree increasingly becomes an end in itself, rather than a default for those who seek, but do not attain, a Ph.D.
Much of society already regards an undergraduate education as a necessary life-building tool. Now the Master's degree is coming to be seen as a necessary supplement for those who wish to be well prepared for both life and work. From elementary and secondary school teachers, to social workers, to real estate brokers, to professionals of all sorts, the additional knowledge and credential provided at the Master’s level increasingly makes sense.
For universities to remain the primary producers of intellectual fuel in the knowledge economy, we must be responsive to its demands. The need for an increasingly flexible, adaptable and highly skilled workforce requires an increasingly educated populace. The question is not whether this education will be provided, but by whom — and in many cases, there are advantages, both to universities and prospective students, that this learning be provided in the context of a research institution. Innovations like Master’s programs and the Master’s college address only part of this new educational imperative. In our time, citizens likely will move through several occupations in the course of a professional life – education will be more than an event preceding a career, but an enduring necessity at every stage. Research universities will not be the ideal providers of some of this lifelong learning, but in many cases, sometimes in degree programs, and sometimes in less formal environments, they will have a key role to play, and it will be to both their intellectual and economic advantage to do so.
Even as research universities are well positioned to offer Master’s education along the lines I have described – providing a socially valuable credential – we must be clear-eyed and candid about the impact of such programs in terms of possible diversion of focus and resources from doctoral programs. This is not to say conflict or strain is inevitable, but neither is it inconceivable.
As I turn to considering professional education within the research university, let me reveal some skepticism. As John Cardinal Newman, the author of his century’s most profound treatise on the university, put it: “All professions have their dangers. Every professional man has rightly a zeal for his profession, and he would not do his duty towards it without that zeal.” This zeal, he feared, would lead to a narrowness of mind and shallow thinking.
Of course, neither Newman nor I would expel professional education from the university. It is instructive, however, that the good Cardinal linked the success of professional education to what he viewed as the essence of the university, the faculty of arts and science. In his view, outside a university, one preparing students for the professions would be “in danger of being absorbed and narrowed by his pursuit, and of giving lectures which are the lectures of nothing more than a lawyer or physician.” In contrast, inside the university “he will just know where he and his science stand; he has come to it, as it were, from a height, he has taken a survey of all knowledge, he is kept from extravagance by the very rivalry of other studies, he has gained from them a special illumination and largeness of mind and freedom and self-possession, and he treats his own in consequence with a philosophy and a resource, which belongs not to the study itself but to his liberal education.” Put another way, for Newman, the key to a successful professional education had to be an underlying and surrounding liberal education, the result of which was a person “who has learned to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyze, who has refined his taste, and formed his judgment, and sharpened his mental vision.”
I confess to holding a view close to Newman’s. Yet, as you will see, I also believe that he did not appreciate (or, perhaps better, that in his time he could not appreciate) that professional schools offer enormous opportunities to enrich some of the best creative work of faculty in the arts and sciences – and that the work of professional schools can be connected to the enterprise of graduate education in a way that is felicitous to both (something to which Alfred North Whitehead referred when he spoke of “the connection between knowledge and the zest of life”). But, more on that later.
As I noted earlier, Thomas Jefferson stimulated the move of legal education to our campuses. In this regard, his view was of a piece with Newman’s vision as captured in these brief quotations. The question before us now is: are Jefferson and Newman’s ideas about the relationship between professional education sound in our time? The great Yale historian and theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan, in a magnificent book built on his exegesis of Newman’s work, put this question provocatively when he wrote:
To consider the place of professional education within the university in critical perspective, I have sometimes put two unabashedly rhetorical questions, which still, I think, formulate the issue quite directly. One is to ask: “Should the university establish a school of mortuary science, perhaps across the street from the school of medicine?” The other, still reflecting that preoccupation with lugubrious thoughts, is to enquire: “If the bubonic plague were to strike the university tonight and wipe out the entire faculty (save for thee and me and the endowment), would we, after burying our dead, proceed to replicate all the dozen or so professional schools that happen to be here now?” If the answer to both questions is an obvious No, the underlying justification for such an answer is considerably less obvious.
Pelikan’s point builds upon the tendency of a greater and greater number of our citizens to associate their occupation with professional associations. In a world where a janitor can be called a “sanitary engineer,” it should not surprise us if there is an association of mortuary scientists – or if that association is developing a set of best practices and standards for membership.
Let me put aside those cases that clearly caricature and misuse the term “profession.” Let us begin with the idea that a profession is characterized by a tradition of norms and reflection and a body of literature in which these norms are articulated and examined over time. Surely there are many activities – the classic trivium of law, medicine and theology among them – for which such professionalization is useful, or even essential.
That said, what might justify the incorporation within the university of a school designed solely to create and sustain such a profession? And what should be the relationship between the hosted professional school and the university? Is it possible to argue that, at least in some cases, that the conceivable relationship between a professional school and a university is so special that the university is the only place where sufficient reflection upon the particular profession can occur, and, hence, that the university is the only place where aspiring professionals should be trained?
As an example, let me reflect on what I see as the relationship between the legal profession and the university. In America, a society without a state religion, law and lawyers always have played a special role. We are a society based on law and forged by lawyers. The law is our great arbiter, the principal means by which we have been able to knit one nation out of a people whose chief characteristic always has been diversity. The law has been a principal means for founding, defining, preserving, reforming, and democratizing a united America. In our society, the role of the lawyer is that of a fiduciary for and conscience of the civil realm.
The role of the lawyer in American society and the shape of American legal education always have been closely linked; and our vision of each has evolved not merely on parallel lines, but as intertwined strands. George Wythe of Virginia, the mentor of Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, was widely hailed as embodying the standard to which lawyers of the time aspired. At Jefferson’s suggestion, Wythe, a scholar steeped in both the humanities and all of the areas of practice, was named the first professor of law in America.
From that start, American law schools have sought to produce graduates capable and worthy of serving the ideal Jefferson and Wythe personified. This, in my view, continues to this day to be the usually unarticulated entrenched goal of law schools in the United States. In service of this goal, our schools have sought to instill a respect for the rule of law and a sense that law is a product of reason, not power. And, to that end, our curricula have moved well beyond teaching lawyering skills and legal reasoning, ultimately marrying elements of student training and the work of research faculty in law development and reform.
No matter how diversified the world of legal education becomes, it will be important to maintain and nurture law schools and degree programs designed to inculcate these values and to produce graduates who will serve society in the role I have described. However, it would be wrong to assume that programs designed in service of that end will be identical to what our American law schools are offering today. It is now a commonplace – though it was not always thus – that law is not an autonomous discipline. This was the chief lesson of the realists. In this sense law is a derivative discipline, and so its courses must draw on other disciplines to explain how rules have developed and should develop. Many law professors already teach their courses in this broader context, but it is imperative that this approach become the norm.
Interdisciplinary work not only clarifies for law students how we derive our legal rules; it also potentially provides a useful antidote to specialization by pressing law students into new areas of inquiry. It may be that we never again will see the ideal captured in the classic Jeffersonian and de Tocquevillian notion of a lawyer. Nonetheless, if we view lawyers as occupying a special place in civil society, we should expect our lawyers to discern and study the connections between law and other great disciplines.
The question becomes: if the case is strong for bringing the training of lawyers to our campuses, for how many other professions is it equally or sufficiently strong? Medicine, dentistry, education, social work, and government are all schools at NYU. Journalism, nursing, and physical therapy are departments. They all stake a claim to professional status, to be educating and training professionals. Is there a case for including any or all of these in a research university? In any or all of these cases, is the benefit to society sufficient to justify that training take place on university campuses?
One thing is clear. If professional schools are to be a part of research universities, their inclusion should make a difference both to the professions involved and to the university. In other words, professional education should be different and better because it is at a research university, and the university should be different and better because it has a professional school.
I believe this case can be made in both directions. Edward Levi put it well. He argued first that “the professional school which sets its course by the current practice of the profession is, in an important sense, a failure.” Then, he added: “The professional school must be concerned in a basic way with the world of learning and the interaction between this world and the world of problems to be solved.”
In these points taken together, Levi points to the reciprocal advantage to the profession and to the university when inclusion is appropriate. Through the university, the profession is placed in the position to develop norms and practices thoughtfully and reflectively and to assess impacts and outcomes rigorously. Through the profession, the university is provided a powerful vehicle for putting theory into practice, testing the theories in the process. In truth, therefore, there is a way in which the professional school and the university feed each other.
If we are all in this enterprise together and if we can realize the values of a research university and its graduate and professional components only when we are integrated, then we must also look at the challenges that face us. As I survey emerging forces, it strikes me that graduate and professional schools within our universities are facing or are about to face a set of common and quite significant challenges. Let me list some of the more important ones that I see on the theory that it might be useful for those toiling in one vineyard or the other to observe and consider an issue playing out in an alternate venue.
First, there is an accelerating tendency toward specialization in society generally and in the professions in particular. With notable exceptions, specialization is mirrored in our graduate departments both between and within departments. Such a trend is a natural response to a felicitous explosion of knowledge and information, making it increasingly difficult even to remain current across the full breadth of a field. The laudable recognition of the values flowing from interdisciplinarity, including the embrace of that approach within our professional schools, only exacerbates the difficulty.
The understandable press toward specialization clearly has a cost – and the cost is still high as the narrowing moment of specialization occurs earlier and earlier in the career of a young scholar or professional. I observe among an alarming number of our undergraduates a remarkable degree of risk aversion – a need to walk a well-beaten and narrowing mental path.
This is a trend to be feared, especially as we move to a world where most of our undergraduates – and more and more of the alumni of our graduate and professional schools – will move through several careers (involving, in many cases, several disciplines) in a lifetime. Earlier I argued that graduate education and professional education, viewed separately, each benefited from the presence of the other within a fully integrated university. Here I argue the corollary proposition that each must resist, as far as practical, premature or excessive specialization. The classic argument on behalf of a liberal education is that its beneficiaries possessed range, depth, habits of rigorous thought, and imagination. The argument for graduate and professional education at universities depends upon pressing, so far as possible, in the direction of inculcating such breadth of interest and scope of imagination and avoiding the dangers of specialization.
A second phenomenon, similar in structure but distinct from specialization, is the necessary but far from costless development of disciplinary and professional language and modes of speaking. Professional and graduate education proceed within a framework of distinctive ways of speaking and modes of analysis which are preconditions of developing disciplines but which invariably separate discourse into specialized and often rarified channels.
Let me underscore my acceptance of the general need for disciplinary and professional language. The development of code permits rapid contextualization and precise communication among experts, and, used properly, facilitates rigorous thought, the advancement of knowledge, and/or a proper professional outcome. My purpose here is simply to flash an amber light across disciplines. Let me provide a few examples.
In a wonderful address at NYU’s Medical School last year, a noted physician and novelist, Abraham Verghese, highlighted the difference between what he called the “voice of medicine” and “the voice of the patient.” As he put it:
This dichotomy between the Voice of the Patient and the Voice of Medicine came home to me some years ago when I was asked to see a man in his seventies who had undergone a laminectomy to remove a bulging disc and had developed infection at the operative site caused by an unusual organism, corynebacterium xerosis. He was excited to know that his illness had been so unique that I had submitted a case report about his illness and the infecting organism. It confirmed for him what most of us want to think about our illnesses: that they are unique. I had the opportunity one morning to share the reprint of the paper with him. He sat down to read it with a great deal of excitement. Then his face fell. He looked up and said, “Abraham, there’s nothing about me in this paper!” The cold, unimaginative language of science had completely stripped away his story and in the process, it seemed to him, his humanity. It was an important lesson for me on how dissimilar the voice of medicine can be from the voice of the patient.
Doctor Verghese continues:
Students come to medicine with a great capacity to imagine the suffering of others. Then, as they enter their clinical years, students are taught to take the patient’s unique story of illness and translate it into the formal language entered into the chart.
This language is essential for diagnosis, but the danger is great that students may begin to think of their patients as simply the “diabetic foot in bed two,” the “myocardial infarction in bed three” or the “chronic renal failure in bed five.”
The day after Doctor Verghese addressed our Medical School students, a graduating class at the Law School heard its student speaker express a similar concern:
The earliest and most consistent advice students receive about law school is that “you don’t go to get a body of knowledge, but to learn to think like a lawyer.” They usually have no clue what this really means. When they actually arrive at law school, however, they often find that several of the cases discussed first year directly implicated issues about which they are passionate, but that “thinking like a lawyer” means that their passion on the issue is not central to analysis.
For example, I remember studying a case in Contracts where a furniture store was engaged in predatory lending practices leading to the repossession of an entire house of furniture for a late payment on a single item. It had obvious implications for low-income communities and disproportionate consequences for communities of color. I cared deeply about such implications; indeed, my concern for them had brought me to law school. Yet the discussion omitted these issues, and was limited to whether granting relief here would lead to a slippery slope forcing relief in many other cases. This, I learned, is “thinking like a lawyer.”
Both the necessity and danger of professional discourse inheres in disciplinary discourse as well – as sophisticated codes provide both the vehicle for precision and advancement of thought and an inherent truncating effect, distancing those versed in the language from those outside the group. Indeed, as Dr. Verghese attests, even from those whom professionals are there to serve. With an over reliance on “codes” as the language of the discipline, we run the danger of dehumanization, reification or artificial insulation from external criticism. Our Economics Department must guard against allowing rational choice theory to so dominate the disciplinary mode of conversation that evidence is ignored that human choice and behavior respond to other drivers. In our Literature Department, even as they study the structure and form of works, must continue to connect their examination to literature’s role in explaining and understanding the human condition.
Balance must be maintained between the need for rigor and detachment, on the one hand, and the dangers that flow from allowing detachment to become such a character trait or state of mind that the purpose of study is lost. There is a similar balance to be sought in all fields. My instinct is that we increasingly should make it a part of the graduate and professional school environment, captured in formal and informal but significant structures.
A third common challenge for graduate and professional education, one related to but distinct from the dangers of voice I have just described, is rooted in the emergence of worldwide disciplinary communities – and the increasing possibility that the natural and desirable participation of our faculty in these communities will draw them away from participation in the campus community. Put simply, scholars may come to regard their academic specialization and not their academic institution as their primary allegiance and come to define their community as those who share their common set of intellectual interests to the exclusion of those who share a common geography.
This phenomenon of fealty to discipline at the expense of institution could accelerate even further as now unimagined technological advances offer faculty more absorbing and more meaningful membership in virtual academic communities that literally can span the globe. Of course, we should not resist the development of external disciplinary communities, for they share the same core values of conversation unconstrained by conventional boundaries. I urge only that as the scholar is drawn into broader, even worldwide dialogue, it is vital to create a parallel, palpable, and human community – experienced simultaneously and differently – a community which is equally a part of the scholar’s life.
So the challenge is not to discourage faculty loyalty to disciplines but to produce appreciation that no set of methods, procedures, or working assumptions is privileged; none should be immune from criticism and testing; and one of the best tools for inquiry and insight is examining and re-examining intellectual formulations and artistic acts, not just with colleagues in other disciplines wherever they are located, but from the perspective of colleagues and other disciplines within a scholar’s own university. Put another way, there is a richness at home, sometimes discovered quite serendipitously and without the affirmative act of reaching out to other communities that can be invaluable to the scholar and powerfully validates the call to common enterprise. In responding to that call, we must advance and fulfill the paradigm for which so many of the faculty already strive — of active engagement across the span of university life.
The fourth common challenge to graduate and professional education arises from the irresistible force of globalization. The most familiar usage of the word “globalization” describes a transformation in the world economy. More and more, commerce and communication transcend boundaries, and transactions once merely local now routinely touch multiple continents and implicate several different legal regimes. Globalization in this sense is ubiquitous, unavoidable, and undeniable – impacting for good and ill the relationships of governments, markets, and the daily lives of institutions and citizens everywhere. This understanding of globalization is the simplest, the most conventional; and, it certainly is the case that, understood in this widely accepted sense, globalization is profoundly consequential and often controversial. Moreover, it is beyond dispute that the economic consequences for the modern university of interdependence and world competition will be enormous. We will be forced to adjust to marketplace competition from commercial providers, to the advent of online education, and to the explosion both of technologies and the information they deliver.
Beyond its most common meaning, globalization also refers to a deeper and even more fundamentally transformative force – embodying cultural and societal developments that touch the whole range of human experiences. Globalization does not merely require us to coordinate with those beyond our borders in ways in which we never imagined we would; it changes the nature of our borders and the structure and content of the cultures nourished and developed within them.
The penetration of American culture is but one example. There are streets and storefronts in once remote parts of the world that could be transplanted from any American suburb; and, undeniably, on many of those same streets, treasured traditions are threatened by an accelerating process of homogenization. Ironically, perhaps, even as globalization makes us ever more aware of the diversity of our cultural and social histories, it threatens the very diversity that it spotlights and celebrates.
Globalization in this broader sense is just as much a revolutionary force as is its economic counterpart; and, it has just as much catalytic potential, both positive and negative. In the years ahead, as we encounter ourselves and others as never before, we may witness the emergence of some new homogenized ethos and culture and the death of old traditions, or we might not. Connection and mutual enrichment need not destroy diversity; they can incorporate and celebrate it. Neither synthesis nor synchronization requires sameness. The challenge is for us to find a way to channel globalization, maximizing its benefits and minimizing its costs.
But channeling globalization will not be easy. The broader conception of globalization I have offered resonates with important themes familiar to those of us who devote our lives to higher education. We know well the dangers of certitude, silence and silencing; and we are profoundly aware of the lethal nature of intellectual homogenization and party lines, whether in disciplines or in conversation. And, I believe that our ability to channel globalization will vary directly with our aptitude for reflection, our capacity to listen and to learn, and our willingness to be humble. We will need modesty not certitude, and we will be forced to cultivate a desire to discover new insights equal to our inclination to transmit our insights to others.
There also are quite specific impacts of globalization in some of our graduate departments and professional schools. Thus, its substantive impact on economics, politics, business or law clearly is profound. This impact will not be universal; there will be virtually no impact, for example, in math and the sciences.
In some areas, however, the impact will be not only substantive but also structural. For example, there are many levels at which globalization and legal education intersect. We can be sure that law will provide the basis of economic interdependence and the foundation of human rights. The rule of law will permeate an emerging global village -- touching societies it never has touched. And – importantly – the success of this new community will depend in large part upon the integration and accommodation of disparate traditions through law. Since our graduates will practice in a globalized world, they will have to know how the reality of globalization affects the way legal rules operate, and they must develop a set of techniques for mediating within a much more complex sovereign system.
Still more to our point, the process of globalization is bound to raise questions about the unusual structure of American legal education. For example, today clients are represented in the same transaction by lawyers from American law firms who are graduates of American law schools and by lawyers from European firms who are products of a much more typical legal education, consisting of five years of education after secondary school. These clients report that the American-trained lawyers and those trained elsewhere bring comparable skills to the table. This observation, if true, will become more palpable as the American firms and the European firms begin to hire lawyers from each other’s pools – and these lawyers begin to practice side by side as associates and partners. Ultimately, this assimilation will beg the question: Is value added by the extra years of training (and the extra cost) invested by the products of the American system?
A fifth common challenge facing graduate and professional education is posed by technology. Technology surely will reshape our concept of the classroom. Students increasingly will be comfortable with computer-based learning and research, and less comfortable with printed material; professors who rely primarily on printed materials will appear narrow minded, and ultimately foolish. Now familiar ways of transmitting information in the classroom will become at least partially outmoded.
And, of course, by reshaping our concept of the classroom, technology also will reshape the delivery of education. In a cost-conscious world – and in a world where advocates of technology-based education argue that an education in cyberspace offers pedagogical advantages as well as cost advantages over our traditional “fixed facility” version – it will be impossible to stifle the development of at least some schools in cyberspace that educate some elements of the profession. These developments, like the other trends I have noted, will challenge us to justify the basic structure and form of the education we offer, especially as it differs from legal education elsewhere.
Arthur Levine, the wonderfully brilliant President of Teachers College at Columbia University, has analogized the moment at which we educators now find ourselves to the moment described by Henry Adams in criticizing his college for providing an eighteenth century education as the world was plunging toward the twentieth century. Adams believed that, in the space of only a few years at the end of his century, education had fallen 200 years behind the times. Levine, for his part, opines that economic and technological pressures are, as he puts it, “likely to force those of us who shape the academy not only to adapt our institutions, but to transform them.” In this transformation, he asserts, the emphasis will be on “convenience, service, quality and affordability;” moreover, there will be “little demand for ivy,” because students will “gravitate toward online instruction, with education at home or in the workplace.”
Levine quotes an entrepreneur as offering him the following account of higher education: “You’re in an industry which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and you have a reputation for low productivity, high cost, bad management, and no use of technology. You’re going to be the next health care: a poorly managed nonprofit industry which is overtaken by the profit- making sector.” From this, Levine concludes: “Colleges and universities are not in the campus business, but the education business.” He predicts what he calls “a great convergence in knowledge-producing organizations” such as publishers, television networks, libraries, museums, and universities. For him, the University of Phoenix is the harbinger of what will become the norm, with firms hiring the finest faculty from the most prestigious campuses to offer premium degree programs over the Internet.
I shudder when I read such views from one of our leading educators – and I know Arthur well enough that he himself recoils at the prospect of what he sees coming. A learning community in cyberspace is different from (and in some ways inferior to) the learning community we have in our schools today. The depersonalization of the educational process inherent – and the concomitant devaluation of inspiration and serendipity – is striking. Still more, the reduction of researchers and thinkers to “content people” is downright chilling. I have no doubt that transformations will be necessary – and even desirable – in the more diversified educational world which is our future. The question is whether they will occupy the entire educational landscape, and the answer we provide will shape the structure of what we will be able to do in the future.
A sixth common challenge to graduate and professional education is manifest in American society’s (and possibly contemporary humankind’s) deep need for immediate gratification, manifested particularly in a devaluation of long-term advantages in favor of short- term rewards. This general social trend will affect what we do more subtly than the other trends I have noted, but it will affect it profoundly.
For the moment, the best external example of the deleterious impact of this phenomenon is medicine. As the economics of medical care develop, basic medical research and research hospitals are being compromised in the rush to lower short term costs. This is dangerous and shortsighted.
I see an analogy in law. Legal research -- by which I mean serious thinking about what the law should be, not the parody of serious research evoked by the phrase “yet another law review article” -- legal research has no tangible payoff obvious to the public whose lives are most affected by the laws discussed. Consequently, it has no broad-based powerful constituency defending its necessity. Yet, at a time when law is spreading as it is, and when the fundamental premises of our laws are being challenged, serious thinking about the law is vital. The place where such thinking occurs best is the academy.
Of course, the devaluation of long-term advances in favor of instant gratification extends aggressively to undermine the entire agenda of basic research within the university. And, in such a world, the humanities and arts are especially fragile. We would do well to remember the words of John Maeda of MIT’s Media Lab as he poignantly wrote in an article called Scientists Look Ahead:
Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life. We must beware of the tendency to sacrifice the long-term gain of research for the short- term gratification of cost reduction. The seventh and final common challenge to graduate and professional education flows from the set of factors that, simultaneously and at cross-purposes, are creating enormous financial pressures on research universities.
The cost of providing a first-class education increases at a breathtaking pace. Not only is the sheer volume of knowledge to be mastered and the number of fields to be represented multiplying constantly, but also many of the moves necessary to improve the learning experience require a reduction in the ratio of students to faculty, with the attendant increase to costs. Simultaneously, in the research enterprise, each new advancement of knowledge almost inherently entails more complexity and subtlety – and a greater marginal cost of production.
These increased cost pressures are pressed upon our universities just at the time that public funding for research universities – lamentably – is shrinking. Priorities such as defense, homeland security, health, Social Security, and K-12 education all are in competition – far more successfully than higher education – for societal allocation of scarce resources. To complete the perfect storm of bad economic news, our huge national debt and just as significant current accounts deficit combine with the imminent arrival of a baby boom generation in search of its Medicare and Social Security benefits to portend even tighter days ahead.
These are formidable challenges. Still, the university as an institution has been remarkably resilient: it is worth noting that, of the 85 institutions that exist today as they did 500 years ago (entities such as the Vatican or the English Parliament), 70 of those 85 enduring institutions are universities. Nothing more need be said than that to indicate the power of the core concept of the university.
Moreover, the case for the research university and its most advanced constituent parts – its graduate and professional schools – never has been stronger. We are entering the knowledge century. We face a world, suddenly miniaturized by transportation, communication and technology so dramatically that previously distant peoples and cultures (and all that they do) are palpable and immediate to us.
Karl Jaspers coined the phrase “First Axial Age” to describe the millennium roughly 800 BC to 200 AD, during which a notion of individuality emerged from notions of tribe. My doctoral mentor, with a nod to Jaspers, uses the phrase “Second Axial Age” to describe our time – a time in which the great challenge will be creating a sense of community in the highly pluralistic and miniaturized world of our day. In the face of this challenge, we who deal in understanding and creativity have a preeminent role to play.
It also is the case that most of the common challenges faced by graduate and professional education press us toward responses that not only will enhance the quality of what we do but also will better position us to play the vital role required of us by these times. Those responses are captured in the notion of the synergistic, integrated university with which I began.
I see, as we move forward, a deeper and deeper connection in this common enterprise university between graduate education and professional education: Research medicine long has seen the value of “translational research” – which bridges the basic research laboratory with the hospital, testing theories in the cauldron of practice and patient care to produce cures. By metaphor, I see an increasing tendency in our great research universities to marry more and more work done in our graduate departments and that done in the professional schools. This marriage is natural – and it flows well from the decision to place professional education on our campuses. It is a prospect much to be celebrated – and deeply necessary.
Let me close with the insights of a scholar with whose work I began, Jaroslav Pelikan, and his challenge:
If the university understands the crisis in which it is living and if the university is the key to education reform throughout the various societies in which it exists all over the world, the reexamination of the relation between its professional mission and its research and teaching in the faculty of arts and sciences may well be its most fundamental assignment. Inherent to my argument is the prediction that, at any rate for some professional schools and for some universities, such a recognition will lead to the conviction that this framework calls for a fundamental reorganization not only of the professional schools but of the whole university. Is it possible, is it even conceivable, that the entire university could be reorganized on that model? This would happen not only by integrating B.A. and Ph.D. studies under the aegis of the several departments of the faculty of arts and sciences, as has been done almost universally, but by providing for the structural (as distinguished from the merely informal) integration of both of these with the faculty and program of one or more professional schools that are germane to such study, and conversely the integration of those professional schools with one or more of the divisions to which they have intellectual and scholarly affinities: “law in the framework of the social sciences and humanities”; medicine in he framework of the biological and social sciences; the claims of “theological science” in creative tension with those “of literature, of physical research, of history, of metaphysics.”
This is a bracing vision, indeed – one that takes our current notions of an integrated research university and presses them still further. It is a vision I leave you with in the hope that it may trigger the very processes that inhere in the best of our universities: an open mind, rigorous scrutiny, and critical reflection.
Revised as of 10/6/05