Excerpt: “Who Rules America?” on Universities and Power
Being a former student and activist and student activist led to the study of power in societies, and the institutions of power, one of which was universities. Universities have a large influence in society at large, one example my documentation here of UNM’s dealings in New Mexico. The academic literature survey brought me to author Thomas R. Dye, who wrote “Who’s Running America.” I have a copy of Who’s Running America: The Bush Era; Fifth Edition. It’s an edition that always gets updated, and this particular one is for Bush the Senior, for it was published in 1990. Here’s the passage from this book on Universities, on pp. 159-161, in Chapter 5, “The Civic Establishment. :
“The growth of public higher education since World War II – the creation of vast state university, state college, and community college systems in every state in the nation – has diminished the influence of the prestigious private university. There are now nearly 3,000 separate institutions of higher education in America, enrolling over 12 million students – more than half of all high school graduates. Only about one quarter of these students are enrolled in private colleges and universities. Moreover some leading public universities – for example, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan – are consistently ranked with the well known private universities in terms of the quality of higher education offered. Thus, the leading private universities in the nation no longer exercise the dominant influence over higher education that they did before World War II.
Nonetheless, among private colleges and universities it is possible to identify those few top institutions which control most of the resources available to private education. The twenty-five universities listed in Table 5-3 control two thirds of all private endowment funds in higher education; this was the formal basis for their selection. “Only three public universities rank with the top twenty-five private universities in endowments. These are the University of Texas, the University of California, and the University of Virginia.) Moreover, they are consistently ranked among the “best” educational institutions in the nation. Finally, as we will see, a disproportionate number of the nation’s top leaders attended one or another of these institutions.
We have already acknowledged the growing importance in higher education of the nation’s leading state universities. Is there any reason to believe that their rise to prominence since World War II has distributed power in education more widely and opened positions of authority to persons whose elite credentials are not necessarily as impressive as the ones we have seen again and again in our lists of top leaders? Our answer is a very qualified “yes.”: State boards of regents for state universities are on the whole composed of individuals who would probably not be among the top institutional elites according to our definition in Chapter 1. Many of these regents hold directorships in smaller corporations, smaller banks, and smaller utility companies; they frequently have held state rather than national political office; their legal, civic, cultural, and foundation affiliations are with institutions of state rather than with prestigious and power national institutions. (13)
University presidents, particularly the presidents of the nation’s top institutions, are frequently called upon to serve as trustees or directions of other institutions, and to serve in high government posts. Most university presidents today have come up through the ranks of academic administration, suggesting that universities themselves may offer channels for upward mobility into the nation’s elite. (Harvard’s president, Derek Curtis Bok, rose through the ranks of Harvard’s law school faculty; Yale’s former president, A. Bartlett Giamatti, rose from Yale’s English faculty; and Chicago’s president, Hanna H Gray, rose from professor of history at Chicago through administrative posts at Northwestern and Yale.) We must keep in mind, however, that presidents are hired and fired by the trustees, not the students or faculty.”
13. David N. Smith, Who Rules the Universities? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), pp. 30-33.
This should be read by every student and faculty member, as well as those directly affected by university decisions such as employees and surrounding community. Then you will understand the policies of a university.