Avoiding a Tragedy of the Commons
Chapter 12: The Environment of American Higher Education: A Constellation of Changes
To dwell, however inadequately, on the qualities of a teacher like Alfred North Whitehead is important if our universities are important. They are important if the institutions specially charged with the accumulation of the intellectual capital of the world are important to a society. Who will deny that Professor Whitehead was right in his belief that the fate of the intellectual civilization of the world today is to no inconsiderable extent in the keeping of our universities? The Aegean Coastline had its chance and made use of it; Italy had its chance and made use of it; France, England, Germany had their chance and made use of it. Today the Eastern American universities have their chance. What use will they make of it? That question has two answers. Once Babylon had its chance, and produced the Tower of Babel. The University of Paris fashioned the intellect of the Middle Ages. The awful question that confronts American universities is, What are they doing with their power and their duty? (Felix Frankfurter’s letter to the editor of The New York Times, January 8, 1948, in appreciation of Alfred North Whitehead shortly after his death) INTRODUCTION The American university is one of society’s key institutions, perhaps the lead institution available today to respond to changing societal imperatives that I argue have resulted in undergraduate education becoming a common pool problem. However, in order for the university to continue to play a leading role, it is important to match the functions of the institution...
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