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[Excerpt] American research universities clearly are national treasures. Over the past decade, however, these institutions have increasingly come under attack for a wide variety of alleged sins. Further, their economic bases are increasingly being eroded because of budget problems at federal and state levels, coupled with increased demand for resources to meet competing social needs, such as health care. Thus, although American universities are national treasures, many fear they are entering a period of decline and may well prove to be an endangered species.

Why are research universities being attacked, and why are their supporters in both the private and public sectors increasingly less willing to fund them? In brief, the attacks stem from distress over the increases in tuition, which persistently have exceeded the growth of family incomes; the perception that universities are bloated bureaucracies that have overcharged the government for research; the feeling that universities display a lack of concern about undergraduate education and allow their curricula to be dictated by faculty interests rather than by what students should be learning; charges that they are too "politically correct" or not "politically correct" enough; claims that their faculty and student bodies are too diverse or not diverse enough; concerns that university faculty are producing unneeded Ph.D.s (because no jobs exist for their students) in programs that last artificially long so as to facilitate faculty members' research and the teaching of specialized courses; and concerns that some elite private research institutions have colluded with their private liberal arts college counterparts to limit financial aid awards to undergraduate students. Facing attacks of this magnitude and variety, which institutions wouldn't feel threatened.


Suggested Citation
Ehrenberg, R. G. (1997). The American university: Dilemmas and directions [Electronic version]. In R. G. Ehrenberg, (Ed.), The American university: National treasure or endangered species? (pp. 1-17). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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