The Public Interest

The trouble with higher education

John William Ward

Summer 1966

Berkeley is now a symbol in the full sense of the word, that is, an image which condenses a complex range of ideas and emotions and presents it for our contemplation. Berkeley is a symbol of the necessities and the possibilities which confront higher education in the United States today. In this sense, Berkeley is now a convenient shorthand name for the internal structural strains and the external social demands which trouble every university and college in the country. If it were not, if the explosion of student unrest and the painful grinding to a halt of one of the world’s great universities were purely local phenomena, Berkeley would soon have passed from the front pages of the national press and soon been forgotten. But the torrent of books and articles about the meaning of what happened at Berkeley poured forth because Berkeley dramatized a national and not a local problem. Higher education in the United States is today– always granting the fond hope that war will not obliterate all other social matters and make them inconsequential– the most important institution in American society as we enter the second half of the twentieth century. The claim is large but not extravagant. And Berkeley symbolizes the crucial fact that higher education is in trouble.

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