The Future of the Research University

The Future of the Research University

250th Anniversary Presidential Symposium examines contemporary challenges facing American higher education

Since the 19th century, American research universities have been a major source of knowledge and innovation – producing leaders in all sectors of academia, business, industry and government; driving the global economy; and helping to provide a standard of living which we take for granted. But if higher education is to serve our nation and its citizens in an ever more competitive global marketplace, the university must transform itself to remain creative, vital and an engine of economic growth. 

Barbara Lee,senior vice president for academic affairs
Examining the future of the research university – by looking to the past and ahead to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century – is the subject of the 250th Anniversary Presidential Symposium, which will take place Thursday, April 7, at Rutgers Business School on the Livingston Campus. It is the first of three symposia President Robert Barchi will host during Rutgers' 250th yearlong celebration.

The inaugural symposium, “The Future of the Research University,” will feature two keynote speakers, Rebecca Blank, chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison and former acting United States secretary of commerce, and William Bowen, president emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and former president of Princeton University. Barbara Lee, senior vice president for academic affairs at Rutgers, will introduce the day’s speakers following President Barchi’s welcome and opening remarks. A professor of human resource management at Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations who is also an attorney, Lee teaches employment law and higher education law at Rutgers and is the author of numerous books and articles on employment law, higher education law and academic employment practices. 

Rutgers Today talked with Lee about the significance of symposium and the issues facing higher education and research universities in particular.

Rutgers Today:  What was behind the idea for the symposium?

Lee:  President Barchi wanted to bring the Rutgers community together to examine critical issues in higher education during the university’s milestone 250th anniversary year. “The Future of the Research University” will be the first of three symposia the president will host during Rutgers’ yearlong celebration. The series of symposia will explore in depth various facets of what it means to be a research university and feature speakers who represent some of the finest institutions and freshest thinking in academia. It’s an opportunity to have a deep conversation about our present and future.

Rutgers Today: What are some of the key issues facing research universities today?

Lee: Research universities face the combined pressures of declining federal and state funding, rising tuition costs, intensifying internal and global competition, increasing compliance and reporting requirements, and challenges to freedom of speech on campus. Add to that the debate over the value of a college degree. Some students and families are questioning whether it’s worth the time and money.  Many students are saying the most important reason to go to college is career preparation, while many of our faculty believe the value of higher education is to prepare you for life. Some tension exists between these goals.

Rutgers Today: What can attendees expect at the inaugural symposium?

The symposium will address the role of the research university in the 21st century, and Rebecca Blank, a chancellor leading a public university through difficult times, will be able to provide a unique perspective. Her talk,"The Role of Public Universities in the 21st Century," will focus on the pressures faced by all institutions of higher education, with particular emphasis on the challenges – financial, political, philosophical – with which our research universities  must contend. William Bowen, our second speaker, has written extensively about university governance and how the role of faculty has changed in guiding institutional reform and decision making. Bowen's talk is titled, "Facing Major Research Universities at a Time of Stress AND Opportunity." A panel of selected distinguished faculty from Rutgers will respond to each speaker on the issues raised by their talk, which will be followed by a question and answer session with the audience. We anticipate a lively discussion.

Rutgers Today: Can you tell us something about what’s next in the symposia series?

Lee:  Yes, we now have titles, dates and commitments from our guests. The second symposium, “Transformational Science,” takes place Sept. 28. The keynote speakers will be Rush D. Holt, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 12th congressional district, and Eric Green, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.The third symposium, “The Value of the Humanities in the 21st Century,” will be held Oct. 26. The speakers will be Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies and former dean of humanities in the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher, cultural theorist and novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law at New York University.

“The Future of the Research University” will take place from noon to 4:45 p.m. Thursday, April 7, Rutgers Business School, Room 1095, Livingston Campus. A reception for all attendees will follow President Barchi’s closing remarks. RSVP to  Parking will be available in the Scarlet Lot for all Rutgers faculty, staff and students with valid hangtags. Visitors can park in the Yellow and Green lots.