The Public Interest

The academic system: a sociologist’s view

Talcott Parsons

Fall 1968

THE proper position of the academic community in the American society has never been fully settled. The academic system has been part of the wider ongoing society, dependent on it for support and, in some senses, responsible to it. The conception of the “ivory tower,” with no responsibilities beyond the pursuit of its occupants’ self-defined interests, has never gained wide support. On the other hand, the conception of “academic freedom” has long served as a primary justification for the insulation of the academic community from some of the pressures on it from other sectors of the society. The aim of this essay is to strike a proper balance, appropriate to the situation of academia in contemporary American society. It will, of course, be the statement of an “interested” party, a man whose career has been bound up with the academic enterprise.

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