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Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Christopher Newfield, Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. 290 pp. $32.95 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-8223-3201-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Henry J. Bruton, Department of Economics, Williams College.

In Ivy and Industry Christopher Newfield studies a variety of issues related to the way higher education and the marketplace interact. He is mainly concerned with the research university, but has some observations on the liberal arts college. His main theme is that the research university in the United States has been shaped to a significant extent by business while at the same time strongly affected by the pulls of academic knowledge in the sense of John Henry Newman’s notion of education as an end in itself. He argues quite persuasively that the demands of business and the military have been making inroads on the idea of education over a longer period than is commonly believed. He quotes Clark Kerr (in 1963) to the effect that the university’s visions of its role have been increasingly set more by its external environment than by its own internally generated ideas of its role. The serving of two masters — the humanities and hardheaded business, government, and military — is at once the task of the university. It is not easy and may be impossible.

The book is divided into three parts. The first discusses the two missions, the second the managerial issue in the university due to its two missions, and the third the increasing strength of the market in the functioning of the university.

Of great relevance to the story is the financial dependence of the university. The great so-called private universities are, and long have been, heavily indebted to the state in a variety of ways. Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, Newfield notes, could not have survived the colonial period without help from the state. Private businesses have also offered support in many ways over the history of many institutions. Gifts from private individuals, largely alumni, were important early on and, recently, have become crucial to covering even the operating costs of many schools. It is this dependence and the necessity of these external sources of funding that create limits on what the university can do. As the costs of the universities rise and pressures to keep tuition “low” increases, this dependence will become more overt, and hence more important in determining what the university does, what its mission really is. Especially has the idea of “efficiency” become recognized and, combined with the fact that universities often appear remarkably inefficient, has become another issue that pushes toward a more business-oriented management style.

University people committed to the humanities find this a disturbing trend. “Efficiency” in education means, or should mean, something different from what it does in business. It is, however, difficult to define efficiency for the research university in a manner that is convincing for all parties — donors, tuition payers, and faculty. So management emerges as an extremely complex task for university administrators. Newfield examines the ideas of John Dewey in some detail. For Dewey “social efficiency” was the basic notion. Social efficiency, says Dewey, “covers all that makes one’s own experience more worth while to others, and all that enables one to participate more richly in the worthwhile experiences of others” (p. 137). Dewey argued further that humanism has to be defined in such a way that it becomes an alternative to managerial systems of control, so it can move management to recognize the importance of relations between individuals and systems. The idea of freedom comes through especially clearly in the discussion of Dewey’s work.

Other writers discussed in this contest include Kenneth Burke and Tom Peters. The latter, Newfield notes, can be looked upon as a “corporate humanist,” in search of a “humanistic” management theory as a counter to the strong appeal of the ideas of Frederick Taylor, the guru for efficient management in all activities. Both Burke and Peters have had considerable influence and are relevant in the understanding of modern issues of university management.

Newfield begins his conclusion by suggesting that his story is a “tale of historical determinism, in which the irresistible rise of corporate capitalism sweeps everything in its wake….” The autonomy and liberty now seem like “echoes of pre-capitalist nostalgia” (p. 222). In return the university has obtained remarkable affluence and technological power. Is this then a bad trade-off? However, this story he actually concludes is not complete. Freedom and agency have not been eliminated and alternatives have been generated to the centralized management of cultural traditions. Even with greater financial dependence and increased separation of university management from direct concern with education, the university has remained a place where bright people can follow their curiosity and their ideas.

How can the university be subject to market tests, be continuously dependent on external sources for funds, and be independent? There is obviously great opportunity here, but there is great danger as well. Newfield promises a sequel to this book in which he explores these issues at greater depth.

This is a good book on an important topic. A reader puts it down with greater awareness of the issues currently facing higher education. There are some issues that need more attention, at least in my view. His attention and his examples all seem to apply to the great and powerful universities of the nation — Harvard, Yale, Chicago, etc. There are a handful of these, there are many lesser places where important research is done and that are important components of the educational system. They may well be more vulnerable because of greater funding dependence and much less prestige. These less-than-the-best places may in fact be more strategic in the overall picture than are the few great places. Similarly, the small liberal arts college may be at greater peril than Newfield implies. Data now show that many liberal arts colleges are moving out of their traditional curricula into more “practical” training type courses. The reasons seem to be student demand and the greater willingness of donors to support such activities. One may doubt that even the great universities can continue to be both independent and productive unless the liberal arts colleges supply a strong flow of bright students steeped in a liberal arts education.

Christopher Newfield teaches English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The book is nicely written, although I did have trouble now and then when he seems to be a bit more nuanced and qualified than I would have liked. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Henry J. Bruton is the John J. Gibson Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at Williams College. He is the author of The Search for Well-Being, University of Michigan Press, 1998, and “A Reconsideration of Import Substitution,” Journal of Economic Literature, June 1998.