Towards a History of the Professional: On the Class Composition of the Research University


At first glance, it seems like a rather hoary con­tro­ver­sy: Mitch Daniels, as gov­er­nor of Indi­ana, fail­ing in an attempt to ban Howard Zinn’s A People’s His­to­ry of the Unit­ed State from K-12 class­rooms. Anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cian attempt­ing to con­trol what peo­ple can read and think, arous­ing the ire of a Left par­tic­u­lar­ly adept at pub­lic dis­plays of out­rage. How­ev­er, as a report by the Huff­in­g­ton Post details, this case pos­si­bly rep­re­sents an exis­ten­tial threat to the mod­ern research uni­ver­si­ty: Daniels aimed to overt­ly deter­mine the con­tent of Teacher’s Train­ing cours­es at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty. “Go for it,” Daniels wrote. “Dis­qual­i­fy pro­pa­gan­da and high­light (if there is any) the more use­ful offer­ings. Don’t the ed schools have at least some sub­stan­tive PD (pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment) course­ware to upgrade knowl­edge of math, sci­ence, etc.” Not only that, but in the midst of a larg­er attempt to purge “anti-Amer­i­can” works (those that high­light women, work­ers and non-whites), Daniels attempt­ed to cut fund­ing from a pro­fes­sor who had had the temer­i­ty to crit­i­cize him.

While these attempts to curb aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom are ris­i­ble on their own, sub­se­quent uproar has focused on Daniels’ qual­i­fi­ca­tions for his cur­rent post: Daniels, now Pres­i­dent of Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty – “an insti­tu­tion pred­i­cat­ed on free thought,” writes – is nei­ther a trained aca­d­e­m­ic, nor has he worked as one. As the same site details else­where, he couldn’t even defend him­self with­out resort­ing to pla­gia­rism – the car­di­nal sin of acad­e­mia! And the plot thick­ens: as gov­er­nor of Indi­ana, Daniels appoint­ed trustees who lat­er appoint­ed him Pres­i­dent of Pur­due. Even before that, he had attempt­ed to use his polit­i­cal pow­er to med­dle in the aca­d­e­m­ic affairs of pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties and the course­work of the women and men train­ing to become teach­ers.

This lit­tle episode reveals a tremen­dous amount about the ide­ol­o­gy sur­round­ing uni­ver­si­ties and high­er edu­ca­tion, while also clar­i­fy­ing what the neolib­er­al attack on uni­ver­si­ties is real­ly attempt­ing to do, how ide­ol­o­gy and state pow­er make it pos­si­ble, and why defend­ing these insti­tu­tions is a nec­es­sary but insuf­fi­cient response. To get there, though, requires a jaunt through his­to­ry, to see what ani­mat­ed the cre­ation of the mod­ern research uni­ver­si­ty. This will entail a dis­cus­sion of the para­me­ters of “free thought,” aca­d­e­m­ic con­trol of edu­ca­tion, and the for­ma­tion of the mod­ern research uni­ver­si­ty – all of which date back to the 19th cen­tu­ry. The intro­duc­tion of research into the mis­sion of high­er edu­ca­tion, a trans­for­ma­tion which took place first in Ger­many and Scot­land (where devel­op­ing links between man­u­fac­tur­ers, bankers, and uni­ver­si­ties were bol­ster­ing the bur­geon­ing cap­i­tal­ist class), had pro­found and last­ing effects; prin­ci­pal among them was pro­vid­ing a means by which fac­ul­ty in the Unit­ed States (where the state was far weak­er than it was in Europe) could pro­fes­sion­al­ize, orga­nize, and cre­ate a new insti­tu­tion­al form – a hybrid of Euro­pean and US high­er edu­ca­tion now hailed as the Amer­i­can Research Uni­ver­si­ty.

To Control Labor

The hall­mark of a pro­fes­sion is that it is self-reg­u­lat­ing. No one else, its prac­ti­tion­ers claim, has the pow­er or knowl­edge to crit­i­cize or dis­ci­pline it. For pro­fes­sion­als to best oper­ate, they need to be able to con­trol, as much as pos­si­ble, the con­di­tions under which they work and under which they devel­op their rules of prac­tice. As Ter­ence John­son, a soci­ol­o­gist of the pro­fes­sions, writes:

A pro­fes­sion is not, then, an occu­pa­tion, but a means of con­trol­ling an occu­pa­tion. Like­wise, pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion is a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic process which some occu­pa­tions have under­gone at a par­tic­u­lar time, rather than a process which cer­tain occu­pa­tions may always be expect­ed to under­go because of their “essen­tial” qual­i­ties.1

Anoth­er such soci­ol­o­gist, Eliot Frei­d­son, writes that “the min­i­mal char­ac­ter­is­tic of the pro­fes­sion­al employ­ee, then, is tech­ni­cal auton­o­my, the free­dom to employ dis­cre­tion in per­form­ing work in the light of per­son­al, pre­sum­ably schooled judg­ment that is not avail­able to those with­out the same qual­i­fi­ca­tions.”2 In order for this sys­tem of labor con­trol to work, a mech­a­nism to ensure qual­i­ty of knowl­edge and ser­vice on behalf of all those cer­ti­fied as a pro­fes­sion­al is nec­es­sary – for aca­d­e­mics, and many oth­ers, the uni­ver­si­ty would turn out to be just such an insti­tu­tion.

Just because the pro­fes­sion is self-reg­u­lat­ing, how­ev­er, doesn’t mean that there is an equal dis­tri­b­u­tion of influ­ence with­in its ranks. Through pro­fes­sion­al asso­ci­a­tions and con­fer­ences, the gen­er­al body of pro­fes­sion­als is enlist­ed to pro­pose and police bound­aries, but an inter­nal hier­ar­chy gen­er­al­ly sets the stan­dards, estab­lish­es the ground­work, and estab­lish­es high-lev­el con­nec­tions with those out­side the pro­fes­sion. This means that there are those who rise to elite sta­tus with­in a pro­fes­sion, or who take on admin­is­tra­tive or boss-like func­tions: how­ev­er, they remain with­in the purview of the pro­fes­sion, respon­si­ble for the con­tin­u­a­tion of that profession’s prac­tices and inde­pen­dence. Research uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents, for instance, have gen­er­al­ly been ambi­tious aca­d­e­mics who rose through the ranks. Mitch Daniels and Janet Napoli­tano flout this con­ven­tion – in fact, Napoli­tano will be the first non-aca­d­e­m­ic Pres­i­dent of the UC. For pro­fes­sion­als, the reach of out­siders into impor­tant admin­is­tra­tive posi­tions can be legit­i­mate­ly under­stood as an attack on their auton­o­my and their abil­i­ty to con­trol the con­di­tions under which they labor.

In a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, pro­fes­sion­al labor oper­ates with­in a field set by the strug­gle of cap­i­tal and labor. At the birth of the research uni­ver­si­ty in the US, cri­sis and social strife were obvi­ous and con­stant. From the mid-cen­tu­ry on, mas­sive increas­es in immi­gra­tion, the Civ­il War and North­ern occu­pa­tion of the South, Eman­ci­pa­tion and Recon­struc­tion fol­lowed by Jim Crow, urban­iza­tion, geo­graph­ic and demo­graph­ic growth, and waves of agri­cul­tur­al and indus­tri­al con­flict engulfed the eco­nom­ic, social, and polit­i­cal field. At heart, these struc­tur­al con­flicts revolved around the con­trol of labor, cap­i­tal, and prop­er­ty. Where­as in late 19th cen­tu­ry con­ti­nen­tal Europe, as Ser­gio Bologna has shown, a rigid Euro­pean sys­tem of skilled and craft labor direct­ly led to work­ers form­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ers’ coun­cils, in the US out­right class con­flict, while by no means absent, was ame­lio­rat­ed by a loose and flu­id sys­tem of labor.3 The devel­op­ment of a new pro­fes­sion­al class – head­ed by lawyers, jour­nal­ists, and aca­d­e­mics – tied to uni­ver­si­ty enroll­ment pro­vid­ed an occu­pa­tion­al alter­na­tive to both skilled and unskilled labor, as well as a sci­en­tif­ic solu­tion to labor con­flict. This pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing lay­er (re-pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing, in the case of lawyers) began to orga­nize on a plat­form of indus­tri­al effi­cien­cy and ratio­nal­iza­tion, humane work­ing con­di­tions, checks on cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, and oppo­si­tion to slav­ery. Through orga­ni­za­tions like the Amer­i­can Social Sci­ence Asso­ci­a­tion (1865), they devel­oped a cogent ide­ol­o­gy; through mag­a­zines like Harper’s Week­ly (1857) and The Nation (1865), they ful­mi­nat­ed on the issues; and through the for­ma­tion of the Repub­li­can Par­ty (1854), they formed a base of polit­i­cal pow­er. How­ev­er, it was through the for­ma­tion of the mod­ern research uni­ver­si­ty, orga­nized by aca­d­e­mics and sup­port­ed by these reform­ers, that they were able to con­sol­i­date, to a great degree, the auton­o­my of their labor.

Through pris­ons, unions, and the mod­ern cor­po­ra­tion, the state, the work­ing class, and cap­i­tal­ists orga­nized for class con­flict. Through the research uni­ver­si­ty (includ­ing its pro­fes­sion­al schools), the pro­fes­sion­al and man­age­r­i­al class orga­nized to ame­lio­rate this con­flict in their inter­ests. It is part­ly for this rea­son that aca­d­e­mics received the sup­port they did. These pro­fes­sion­als set them­selves for and against both cap­i­tal­ists and the work­ing class, carv­ing out space for them­selves between the two as a medi­at­ing lay­er, the lubri­ca­tion between cap­i­tal and labor that would allow the smooth func­tion­ing of a renewed cap­i­tal­ism.

The cen­tral claim of my work is that the his­to­ry of the uni­ver­si­ty, in the Unit­ed States and beyond, is the his­to­ry of the self-orga­nized activ­i­ty of men and women who devel­oped the prac­tice of their labor into a new field and, in doing so, cre­at­ed a new insti­tu­tion – the mod­ern research uni­ver­si­ty – to deter­mine, with­in the bound­aries set by cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, the con­di­tions under which they prac­ticed. While these aca­d­e­mics by no means set them­selves against cap­i­tal­ism, they sought, through pro­fes­sion­al train­ing, to carve out a mid­dle class, with its own inter­ests and insti­tu­tions, between the emer­gent cap­i­tal­ists and work­ing class. Almost imme­di­ate­ly upon con­struct­ing that insti­tu­tion, they faced the prob­lem char­ac­ter­is­tic of every pro­fes­sion: what is its rela­tion­ship to its client, and how does it con­sol­i­date what pow­er it has? In the case of the uni­ver­si­ty, a whole new client base had to be devel­oped; new rules of oper­a­tion, new forms of teach­ing, new forms of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion, and new asso­ci­a­tion­al bod­ies had to be brought into being; new rela­tion­ships with the state, with the wealthy, with work­ers and with cap­i­tal were devel­oped; new forms by which to dis­sem­i­nate research and to inform peers had to be devel­oped; and new legit­i­ma­tions had to be invent­ed to bring more and more sub­jects and pro­fes­sions under the purview of the uni­ver­si­ty – both to bring in income in the form of stu­dent fees and asso­ci­a­tion­al sup­port, and to strength­en the role of the uni­ver­si­ty in soci­ety. It was a long process that pro­gressed through fits and starts over the course of the cen­tu­ry.


High­er edu­ca­tion in the Unit­ed States, from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War to the present, has devel­oped out­side of any cen­tral­ized plan: the new states, Repub­li­cans, reli­gious denom­i­na­tions, mis­sion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, towns, rich peo­ple, cap­i­tal­ists, women, teach­ers, mechan­ics asso­ci­a­tions, and oth­er workingmen’s asso­ci­a­tions all found­ed edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions to advance their caus­es (Repub­li­can democ­ra­cy, craft work­er auton­o­my, ele­men­tary edu­ca­tion, the plight of freed slaves, and numer­ous oth­er con­stituen­cies and con­cerns). That said, the colo­nial col­lege, mod­eled on the exam­ples of Har­vard and Yale, was the dom­i­nant form of high­er edu­ca­tion. These col­leges exist­ed not for a class between cap­i­tal­ists and the work­ing class, but rather for the elite man­agers of soci­ety (that poor stu­dents attend­ed does not viti­ate this claim). These col­leges tend­ed to serve two pri­ma­ry pur­pos­es: to imbue men with the basic moral and social knowl­edge nec­es­sary for lat­er advanced pro­fes­sion­al train­ing, and to pro­vide dis­ci­pline for the youth of the wealthy (for this rea­son, col­le­giate life played a more impor­tant role than books). A third pur­pose – to bring legit­i­ma­cy to the spec­u­la­tive plans of town fathers on the fron­tier – helps account for the tremen­dous num­ber of new such col­leges char­tered (and some­times found­ed) once British rule could not stymie west­ward expan­sion.4 Tra­di­tion­al­ly, wealth­i­er stu­dents took to law and med­i­cine while poor­er stu­dents, often the first to attend col­lege, took to the min­istry (lack­ing the net­works that would allow them to suc­ceed in the oth­er two).

While men and women togeth­er devel­oped insti­tu­tions that led to the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of low­er school teach­ing – begin­ning in the 1830s and reach­ing matu­ri­ty with the advent of Nor­mal Schools, whose func­tion was to train teach­ers – men were the dri­ving force for the devel­op­ment of research uni­ver­si­ties. For those seek­ing to pur­sue schol­ar­ly research, Europe was the best option. Ger­man and Scot­tish uni­ver­si­ties, pos­sess­ing rela­tion­ships with cap­i­tal­ist entre­pre­neurs and the state, had some espe­cial­ly intrigu­ing fea­tures – per­haps most impor­tant, for the men who trav­elled abroad to these uni­ver­si­ties for advanced edu­ca­tion, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do research, teach a sub­ject informed by that research, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty, through the con­cept of aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom, of man­ag­ing their own labor. (By the 1860s, women, too, trav­elled over­seas for advanced study and found pro­fes­sion­al jobs at women’s col­leges). While the large cor­po­ra­tions that would come to dom­i­nate the land with the rise of rail­roads did not yet exist, some man­u­fac­tur­ers and bankers in New York and oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ing cities saw in new types of research based edu­ca­tion a means of max­i­miz­ing the labor and cap­i­tal they had at their dis­pos­al. As the cen­tu­ry pro­gressed, agrar­i­an cap­i­tal­ists would also move to back the move­ment for a research uni­ver­si­ty.

In the US, the occu­pa­tion “col­lege pro­fes­sor” began to emerge at Har­vard in the mid-18th cen­tu­ry, but the field would, for the next 100 years, be dom­i­nat­ed by men who first made a mark in the non-aca­d­e­m­ic world, and then returned to the their alma mater to teach. Until the for­ma­tion of the research uni­ver­si­ty in the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, fac­ul­ty had lit­tle con­trol over the cours­es they taught, were appoint­ed by denom­i­na­tion­al and board approval, stood in loco par­en­tis above stu­dents, and, when they engaged in research, did so as a hob­by rather than pro­fes­sion­al duty. The pres­i­dent, while he usu­al­ly taught the course in moral phi­los­o­phy – the cap­stone of col­lege edu­ca­tion – was not what we would call an aca­d­e­m­ic today: he did not make a name through research, he was not sub­ject to the stric­tures of a pro­fes­sion, and he was appoint­ed by a board that was behold­en to a denom­i­na­tion or town lead­ers, not aca­d­e­mics (because these did not yet exist).

With­in the old­er col­leges, how­ev­er, demands for a new insti­tu­tion were com­ing ever more fre­quent­ly as the com­po­si­tion of the aca­d­e­m­ic work­force con­tin­ued to change. Start­ing with George Tic­knor and oth­ers in the 1810s, ambi­tious intel­lec­tu­als had been trav­el­ing to Ger­many and Scot­land to pur­sue an edu­ca­tion beyond the capa­bil­i­ties of the US insti­tu­tions. On their return, these young men, from wealthy fam­i­lies, took jobs at the old and new col­leges dot­ting the coun­try­side and began to try their hand at reform with­in the col­lege. It is they who set the agen­da and tone for what would become the stan­dard for pro­fes­sion­al fac­ul­ty (and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als). At the same time, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia (UVA) and a few oth­er schools, seek­ing to attract old­er stu­dents who were bet­ter equipped for high­er stud­ies, were import­ing fac­ul­ty from Ger­many, Scot­land, France, and Eng­land. As advances in trans­porta­tion made trav­el to Europe less expen­sive, and as the occu­pa­tion of pro­fes­sor became an option for grad­u­ates – with the expan­sion of old­er col­leges and for­ma­tion of sev­er­al new ones, who could not count on suc­cess­ful alum­ni to shep­herd their flock – more stu­dents began to make the jour­ney over­seas. Oth­ers, hav­ing been the stu­dent of one of these men, also turned to the prac­tice of research and teach­ing.

One should not con­clude that stu­dents as a whole were par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the mis­sion of either the col­lege or the reform­ers. The young men who attend­ed col­leges in North Amer­i­ca in the first two hun­dred or so years were typ­i­cal­ly aged between 14 and 22, and came from fair­ly diverse class back­grounds.5 There were, offi­cial­ly at least, edu­ca­tion­al require­ments to get into col­lege: student’s fam­i­lies either employed tutors or, for the poor­er stu­dents, sent their young to one of the “wilder­ness acad­e­mies” set up train min­is­ters in the wilder­ness. Giv­en the need for stu­dents, how­ev­er, entrance require­ments were often per­func­to­ry. There was sim­ply not enough demand for high­er edu­ca­tion for stu­dent tuition funds to be denied. The fam­i­lies of younger stu­dents saw in edu­ca­tion a means to instill dis­ci­pline in their heirs and extend influ­ence, main­ly through careers in law (where lawyer states­man had been the high­est ide­al), but also the church, med­i­cine and pub­lic office; through fam­i­ly wealth and influ­en­tial com­mu­ni­ty posi­tions, they formed and coa­lesced an elite pat­tern of author­i­ty. Many of the wealth­i­er stu­dents nev­er received a degree, but instead attend­ed for a year or two and then took posi­tions with­in net­works affil­i­at­ed with their fam­i­lies. With geo­graph­i­cal expan­sion, pro­fes­sion­als (lawyers, doc­tors, and cler­gy) were not strong enough to enforce their monop­oly on eso­teric knowl­edge until the late 19th cen­tu­ry: licens­es or oth­er mark­ings of mer­it were unnec­es­sary to enter any pro­fes­sion. How­ev­er, net­works still large­ly deter­mined the suc­cess of for­mer stu­dents.

With the bur­geon­ing North Atlantic seatrade in the 18th cen­tu­ry, a change came over the colo­nial col­lege. The his­to­ri­an S.E. Mor­ri­son writes of 18th cen­tu­ry stu­dents at Har­vard that “the increase came large­ly from the sea­ports which reaped the first har­vests from land spec­u­la­tion and West Indi­an com­merce, and the rum busi­ness… The new crop of young men came to be made gen­tle­men, not to study.”6 The high­est num­ber of enrolled stu­dents in the 17th cen­tu­ry was 22, in 1695; by 1718, there were 124 stu­dents. Wealth and stu­dent expec­ta­tions affect­ed stu­dent behav­ior. His­to­ri­an Kathryn Moore cites some par­tic­u­lar changes: a large increase in the num­ber of mis­de­meanors, par­ties and pranks, debauch­ery, and pet­ty theft – “the kinds of crimes that increas­ing afflu­ence encour­aged” – were on the rise.7 Drunk­en­ness, fight­ing, card play­ing, sex, and oth­er lewd acts were on the rise. Rote mem­o­riza­tion, ear­ly manda­to­ry chapels, capri­cious pun­ish­ment, and ter­ri­ble food were now less like­ly to cow the stu­dent into obe­di­ence.

More wor­ri­some than indi­vid­ual mis­be­hav­ior, how­ev­er, was the new direc­tion of stu­dent activ­i­ty: orga­niz­ing and incit­ing riots. The Bad But­ter Rebel­lion of 1766 is one of the most famous. In it, writes Moore, a com­plaint about ran­cid but­ter “esca­lat­ed to a high­ly charged debate between the stu­dents, head­ed by the governor’s son, and the board of over­seers, head­ed by the gov­er­nor, over the oblig­a­tion to obey an unjust sov­er­eign.”8 The rebels nego­ti­at­ed a truce where­in they signed a con­fes­sion, but faced no con­se­quences. Because fac­ul­ty lacked the sub­stan­tive pow­er to pun­ish them, and their par­ents large­ly refused, col­leges lacked the lever­age to impose their will on stu­dents. From time to time, some of the old­er and poor­er stu­dents would band togeth­er to pro­tect them­selves and the school, most­ly by inform­ing on oth­er stu­dents. How­ev­er, this prac­tice, as it betrayed stu­dent sol­i­dar­i­ty, was unpop­u­lar.


Upris­ings were a com­mon expe­ri­ence through­out the colo­nial and Repub­li­can eras. Where the Rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies had, Carl Beck­er notes in Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty: Founders and the Found­ing, sought in the Rights of Man what they could not find in their rights as cit­i­zens (that is, jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for revolt), stu­dents, too, took to demand­ing bet­ter treat­ment not as stu­dents, but in their claim to be men (though stu­dents con­tin­ued to revolt for less aus­pi­cious rea­sons as well). Har­vard faced stu­dent wrath a num­ber of times, clos­ing for a month in 1766, expelling sev­er­al stu­dents in 1768 for a rebel­lion, and briefly shut­ting down in 1807 (to cite just a few cas­es). In 1830, Yale expe­ri­enced a mas­sive upris­ing known as the Con­ic Sec­tion Rebel­lion, which prompt­ed the fac­ul­ty to expel near­ly half the stu­dents. At Prince­ton, half of the stu­dents were dis­missed fol­low­ing a mas­sive riot in 1806 that essen­tial­ly crip­pled Prince­ton for the next three decades.9 In one skir­mish, stu­dents man­aged to seize and hold a build­ing. At South Car­oli­na Col­lege, claims the ear­ly stu­dent life his­to­ri­an Hen­ry David­son Shel­don, “all the stu­dents but twen­ty-eight were sus­pend­ed for refus­ing to inform on one of their num­ber. Again, six­ty were sus­pend­ed; while, at one ses­sion, sev­en­ty-sev­en refused to return because the peti­tion on their favourite griev­ance, eat­ing, had not been grant­ed.”10 In 1837, every mem­ber of the senior class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alaba­ma was expelled. In near­ly every case, stu­dents act­ed with their class; class con­scious­ness and sol­i­dar­i­ty, in fact, is a major hall­mark of the col­le­giate life before the rise of the research uni­ver­si­ty. “The fac­ul­ty,” Shel­don con­tin­ues, “real­ized that the class orga­ni­za­tion fur­nished the sup­port to out­breaks, and its atti­tude toward the class was bit­ter­ly hos­tile.” Edu­ca­tion his­to­ri­an Roger Geiger writes that, “In the first three decades of the [19th] cen­tu­ry, col­leges expe­ri­enced the worst stu­dent vio­lence of their his­to­ries… these years were dis­tin­guished by episodes of col­lec­tive resis­tance to col­lege author­i­ty.”11

For some pro­fes­sors, the answer to these dis­tur­bances was to end the enmi­ty of stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, free­ing up time for spe­cial­ized study and train­ing. This, how­ev­er, was an exis­ten­tial threat to the pri­ma­ry pur­pose of the col­lege. If the cul­ture of the col­lege was to “dis­ci­pline and fur­nish the mind,” as the Yale Report of 1828 claimed (to cre­ate the con­di­tions for expand­ing and train­ing the mind and only then fill­ing it), the dis­ci­pli­nary cul­ture of the col­lege must be main­tained. While cer­tain exper­i­ments and accom­mo­da­tions for the times must be intro­duced, the total­i­ty of the col­lege expe­ri­ence must revolve around this pri­ma­ry func­tion. Against this dis­ci­pli­nary cul­ture, pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing fac­ul­ty began to orga­nize for a uni­ver­si­ty in which to per­form research and engage in spe­cial­ized research.

Near con­stant stu­dent revolt and riot, recal­ci­trant denom­i­na­tion­al­ists, the prob­lem of gov­er­nance, aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom, funds, pres­tige (a corol­lary of pay), and lack of clients stoked cri­sis in the old forms as well as entrenched inter­ests against the devel­op­ment of new. While the small fron­tier col­leges had to exper­i­ment out of neces­si­ty (Ober­lin, for instance, became the first col­lege to accept both men and women, as well as black stu­dents), they lacked the resources to pro­vide a mate­r­i­al base for the pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing mid­dle class. Sev­er­al of these issues can be clar­i­fied by exam­in­ing the for­ma­tion of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia.

University of Virginia and Student Revolt

Thomas Jef­fer­son began plan­ning for what would become UVA fol­low­ing an abortive effort to reform William & Mary, his alma mater. But it would take a half a cen­tu­ry before he was able to get UVA up and going. With state rather than reli­gious funds, he aimed to train pro­fes­sion­als for a kind of admin­is­tra­tion that would be repub­li­can rather than monar­chi­cal, requir­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic forms of edu­ca­tion, trust between stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, and the best fac­ul­ty avail­able. In addi­tion to his own frus­tra­tion with exist­ing edu­ca­tion­al forms, Jef­fer­son and Vir­gin­ian lead­ers had sev­er­al rea­sons to devel­op UVA: desire for an elite school in the South through which to teach the tra­di­tion of gen­til­i­ty, North­ern con­tempt for the intel­lect of the South, and, sig­nalled by the Mis­souri Com­pro­mise of 1820, North­ern attacks on South­ern sov­er­eign­ty and region­al auton­o­my. Jef­fer­son bemoaned North­ern indoc­tri­na­tion in an 1821 let­ter to his friend Joseph Car­ring­ton Cabell: “How many of our youths she [Har­vard] now has, learn­ing the lessons of anti-Mis­souri­an­ism, I know not… These will return home, no doubt, deeply impressed with the sacred prin­ci­ples of our Holy Alliance of Restric­tion­ists.”12 The ancient pur­pose of high­er edu­ca­tion, to pro­vide the legal and reli­gious jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for forms of pow­er, had to be picked up by the South and not just left to the North.

The Rock­fish Gap Com­mis­sion, tasked by the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture with deter­min­ing the site, valid­i­ty, and breadth of UVA, had to work out what it was that high­er edu­ca­tion was to do. Where pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion should pro­vide for the basics – the abil­i­ty for all to trans­act their own busi­ness (ini­ti­ate, cal­cu­late and keep con­tracts), devel­op lit­er­a­cy and patri­o­tism, and main­tain Repub­li­can social rela­tions – high­er edu­ca­tion was to train those who would admin­is­ter the state: those “on whom pub­lic pros­per­i­ty, & indi­vid­ual hap­pi­ness are so much to depend.”13 Uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion must, there­fore, con­cern itself with the nature and forms of gov­ern­ment and law, agri­cul­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing, com­merce, and teach­ing math and the phys­i­cal sci­ences. Because the ori­en­ta­tion of those in a democ­ra­cy should be towards soci­ety, that soci­ety should pro­vide the funds nec­es­sary to edu­cate them. By sidelin­ing reli­gion – UVA replaced the Pro­fes­sor of Divin­i­ty with a Pro­fes­sor of Ethics – it was hoped that an alliance between the State and Uni­ver­si­ty could sup­plant the his­tor­i­cal rela­tion­ship of state and reli­gion. It was for this rea­son that George Wash­ing­ton, James Madi­son, and oth­ers sup­port­ed a Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty, though pop­u­lar fear of cen­tral­ized author­i­ty scut­tled all such attempts.

Intel­lec­tu­al and pro­fes­sion­al train­ing, by a fac­ul­ty capa­ble of such an edu­ca­tion, was to sup­ple­ment a new ori­en­ta­tion to stu­dent life. One of the prin­ci­pal dif­fer­ences at UVA, Jef­fer­son informed George Tic­knor (who had been the first Amer­i­can stu­dent to trav­el to Europe for an advanced degree and lat­er became a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard) in an 1823 let­ter, would be over­com­ing the unfor­tu­nate habit, formed at Har­vard, of mak­ing all stu­dents sub­scribe to one course of learn­ing decid­ed by the Pres­i­dent. Stu­dents here would be allowed to attend those class­es and lec­tures nec­es­sary for their own edu­ca­tions. Not only would this over­come the nar­row­ness of the clas­si­cal cur­ricu­lum, but it might achieve a new rela­tion between stu­dent and fac­ul­ty. Stu­dent dis­ci­pline and insub­or­di­na­tion were, Jef­fer­son believed, the biggest block to demo­c­ra­t­ic edu­ca­tion. For this rea­son, they eschewed the long lists of rules and penal­ties that char­ac­ter­ized every oth­er school, choos­ing to teach with respect rather than fear. Fur­ther, stu­dents them­selves were in charge of dis­ci­pline, through stu­dent-led courts. He hoped that demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples would sub­vert rebel­lion and ease the chore of dis­ci­pline.

Sur­vey­ing the pro­posed uni­ver­si­ty for the North Amer­i­can Review, Edward Everett, then a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard who, like so many oth­ers, had also trav­elled to Ger­many to aug­ment his edu­ca­tion before teach­ing, not­ed that for all its admirable advances, there was still a glar­ing gap in the plan: there was no “des­ti­na­tion” for the grad­u­ate of the col­lege. With­out a use­ful con­nec­tion between edu­ca­tion and the pro­fes­sion­al world a stu­dent could enter upon com­ple­tion, it would be dif­fi­cult to get the stu­dents nec­es­sary to make the exper­i­ment suc­ceed. The con­nec­tion between knowl­edge pro­duc­tion, edu­ca­tion, and post-grad­u­ate life still had a long way to go, though UVA would be a strong open­ing sal­vo.

UVA was char­tered in 1819 and opened in 1825. Five Euro­pean fac­ul­ty mem­bers – four from Eng­land and Scot­land and one from Ger­many – were brought in to aug­ment three Amer­i­can fac­ul­ty. Oth­er than the Ger­man pro­fes­sor, the fac­ul­ty were all under thir­ty. Jen­nings Wag­oner, Jr, an edu­ca­tion­al his­to­ri­an, has writ­ten that

the youth­ful­ness of some of the pro­fes­sors and their appar­ent lack of solic­i­tude for the per­son­al bear­ing and soci­ety of the stu­dents rather quick­ly pro­voked fric­tion… Equal­ly sig­nif­i­cant, the pro­fes­sors’ posi­tion of author­i­ty, their more seri­ous and schol­ar­ly ori­en­ta­tion, and the eth­i­cal code they embraced gen­er­at­ed numer­ous “clash­es of hon­or” between fac­ul­ty and stu­dents.14

With­out a his­to­ry of pro­fes­sion­al respect, South­ern stu­dent cul­ture, steeped in gen­tle­man­ly hon­or, would prove too strong for the pro­posed exper­i­ment.

UVA’s stu­dents, on the whole, came from wealth­i­er fam­i­lies than their North­ern coun­ter­parts. Most of them came from the South, and most of their fam­i­lies owned slaves. Some old­er stu­dents, who were inter­est­ed in seri­ous study, used UVA as a grad­u­ate school. Most stu­dents, showed lit­tle incli­na­tion to study as there was no social advan­tage to doing so. Wag­oner writes that only 55% of stu­dents, between 1825-1870, stayed for longer than one ses­sion, and only 11% were there for longer than three years. For those inter­est­ed in study, the uni­ver­si­ty was superb; for every­one else, lax dis­ci­pline, for­eign fac­ul­ty mem­bers, and a cult of hon­or frus­trat­ed the advent of a new age.

With­in just a few months of open­ing, these stu­dents had made a mock­ery of self-dis­ci­pline and self-gov­ern­ment while run­ning roughshod over the fac­ul­ty – who lacked the means and author­i­ty to rein them in. While heavy drink­ing and par­ty­ing were com­mon, what was real­ly trou­ble­some was the fre­quent use of guns on the grounds, and vio­lence direct­ed at fac­ul­ty. Though against the rules, many stu­dents had brought their pis­tols, mus­kets, and rifles with them, and enjoyed fir­ing them at night. They claimed that a firearm was nec­es­sary in case some­one affront­ed their hon­or. Hon­or, on one occa­sion, was the rea­son giv­en by a group of stu­dents for beat­ing and horse­whip­ping the chair­man of the fac­ul­ty, while close to a hun­dred stu­dents watched.

While Jef­fer­son died (1826) before things got too bad, he did wit­ness his nephew smash what­ev­er illu­sions he’d had about Repub­li­can forms and stu­dent dis­ci­pline. In the very first semes­ter, stu­dents set about show­ing their dis­plea­sure for the Euro­pean fac­ul­ty. On one occa­sion, stu­dents threw a bot­tle of human excre­ment through a professor’s win­dow while he was enter­tain­ing guests. The next night, Wag­oner writes, a group of stu­dents dressed as “Indi­ans,” began shout­ing, “Damn the Euro­pean pro­fes­sors.” Rather than let the dis­tur­bance lie, two fac­ul­ty tried to inter­vene. One stu­dent was seized, though not before he called for help. Stu­dents flew out of their rooms and chased the pro­fes­sors off with sticks and stones – and words. The next day, six­ty-five stu­dents pre­sent­ed a res­o­lu­tion stat­ing that the fac­ul­ty were at fault. Two of the Euro­pean fac­ul­ty imme­di­ate­ly quit. The oth­ers demand­ed order be imposed by the Board. Jef­fer­son, Madi­son, and James Mon­roe (all on the Board) and oth­er dis­tin­guished board mem­bers gath­ered all those asso­ci­at­ed with the school. They implored the guilty stu­dents to con­fess so as not to make the inno­cent stu­dents sul­ly their hon­or in defend­ing them. At this point, Jefferson’s nephew stepped for­ward in guilt. The lead­ers were expelled; stu­dent self-gov­ern­ment, with­in the first semes­ter, had been shown to be whol­ly unwork­able. This dis­tur­bance, though, was not even the most severe: in 1836 and again in 1845 the state mili­tia was required to restore order, and in 1840 a pro­fes­sor died of a gun­shot wound. New reg­u­la­tions (which were lat­er relaxed) and a fac­ul­ty com­posed of large­ly native pro­fes­sors – com­bined with larg­er sys­temic changes in stu­dent life and the social con­di­tions of South­ern life – helped bring a mea­sure of peace to the cam­pus before the Civ­il War. How­ev­er, the exper­i­ment was under­stood by most to have failed.

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, UVA was an elite project meant to devel­op a rul­ing class for its time, rather than a devel­op­ment by those who would work as fac­ul­ty or attend as stu­dents. The insti­tu­tion was the prod­uct of the Enlight­en­ment, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, and Virginia’s fear of North­ern aggres­sion. This unsteady mix lacked a social move­ment ready to take it up and make it a prin­ci­pal insti­tu­tion of a new era. There were nei­ther the fac­ul­ty to orga­nize the insti­tu­tion nor the soci­ety to require it. The com­po­si­tion of the fac­ul­ty – inter­na­tion­al and with lit­tle con­nec­tion to the area, stu­dents or cul­ture – could not imple­ment or sus­tain the desired reforms, and there was no social author­i­ty to impose order. It was the instan­ti­a­tion of an idea that lacked a base that could bring it into exis­tence.

New York, The Great City

If an edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion hopes to suc­ceed, some sig­nif­i­cant ele­ment of soci­ety must have need of it. High­er edu­ca­tion did not exist to pro­vide stu­dents with intel­lec­tu­al choic­es, to sat­is­fy curios­i­ty about the world, or to pro­vide a peri­od of care­free years before assum­ing a posi­tion in the “real world.” To the extent that it exist­ed for fac­ul­ty, this was so that they might give back to their alma mater by train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion. The boost­ers and towns that com­pet­ed for new col­leges saw them as a source of legit­i­ma­tion (and there­fore prop­er­ty val­ue spec­u­la­tion); the denom­i­na­tions saw in them the means to main­tain ortho­doxy across gen­er­a­tions and over an expand­ing geo­graph­i­cal area. For the men who were teach­ing at a younger and younger age and with more aca­d­e­m­ic train­ing, how­ev­er, the low salaries, long hours, lack of insti­tu­tion­al sup­port for research or the abil­i­ty to spe­cial­ize, entrenched inter­ests of gov­ern­ing boards and their sup­port­ers, enmi­ty between them and stu­dents pro­vid­ed impe­tus for think­ing of and orga­niz­ing new forms of high­er edu­ca­tion.

In fact, at an 1830 con­fer­ence in New York City, a col­lec­tion of schol­ars and their sup­port­ers (doc­tors, lawyers, bankers and politi­cians who were inter­est­ed in rais­ing the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al promi­nence of their city) gath­ered to dis­cuss the cur­rent state of high­er edu­ca­tion (state­side and in Europe), out­line the frus­tra­tions with the exist­ing state of high­er edu­ca­tion, and then to for­mu­late a the­o­ry of the Amer­i­can research uni­ver­si­ty. Metic­u­lous­ly tran­scribed in the Jour­nal of the Pro­ceed­ings of a Con­ven­tion of Lit­er­ary and Sci­en­tif­ic Gen­tle­men, pro­fes­sors, pres­i­dents, and oth­er inter­est­ed men point­ed to the com­po­si­tion of uni­ver­si­ty boards, the trou­ble with stu­dent life, poor pay, lack of flex­i­bil­i­ty in cur­ricu­lum, the inad­e­quate divi­sion of men­tal and phys­i­cal labor, the improp­er focus on the mori­bund pro­fes­sions, and the lack of a prop­er ori­en­ta­tion towards edu­ca­tion. Fore­most among the pro­fes­sors’ dis­con­tents, an appen­dix to the Con­ven­tion claimed, was that the exist­ing col­leges exist­ed to “fit” young men “for the com­mon voca­tions of life.” The Uni­ver­si­ty, absent as yet in the US, exist­ed not for stu­dents, but for the advance of sci­ence through research and pub­li­ca­tion. From sci­ence, com­merce would fol­low. Regard­ing the lat­ter, Rev. Dr. James Math­ews, who intro­duced the event, claimed that the finan­cial and cul­tur­al dom­i­nance of Munich, Lon­don, Berlin, and Paris came from their lit­er­ary and sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions – New York, to enter that pan­theon, must have their equal.

Sim­ply reform­ing the insti­tu­tions could not be enough – the need was too dire. “The neces­si­ty,” claimed the Hon­or­able Albert Gal­latin, “of assim­i­lat­ing the sys­tem of edu­ca­tion to the present state of soci­ety, is felt every where; and the gov­ern­ments of Europe, where the neces­si­ty is far less urgent, are dai­ly adopt­ing mea­sures to that effect. But that which with them is only an antic­i­pa­tion is already with us an impe­ri­ous neces­si­ty.”  Entrenched inter­ests – stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, admin­is­tra­tion, and denom­i­na­tions – at the exist­ing insti­tu­tions were not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the impo­si­tion of a new type of edu­ca­tion­al form, as the Con­ic Sec­tion Rebel­lion at Yale demon­strat­ed. Speak­ing to the student’s abil­i­ty to under­mine aca­d­e­m­ic efforts, Pro­fes­sor Hen­ry Vethake claimed, “The fact is, that the exist­ing state of things, which I am anx­ious to see altered, is the nec­es­sary result of the arrange­ment of the stu­dents into reg­u­lar­ly orga­nized bod­ies, and of the dis­tri­b­u­tion among them of the usu­al dis­tinc­tions and hon­ors.” By break­ing up the class struc­ture, elim­i­nat­ing pre­scribed cours­es (and pos­si­bly degrees alto­geth­er), and eschew­ing humil­i­a­tion and pun­ish­ment, a new ori­en­ta­tion towards stu­dents could be cre­at­ed. Most impor­tant, how­ev­er, was sim­ply rais­ing the cal­iber of stu­dents. To do this would require a bet­ter sys­tem of low­er schools and, as Lieut. Mahan (rep­re­sent­ing the West Point con­tin­gent at the con­fer­ence) argued, the train­ing of teach­ers in the new uni­ver­si­ties.

Part and par­cel of the new enter­prise, how­ev­er, would be the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the fac­ul­ty. Dr. Fran­cis Lieber, a Ger­man born pro­fes­sor who emi­grat­ed to the US for polit­i­cal rea­sons, made this point explic­it­ly: “Teach­ing in Ger­man uni­ver­si­ties, of which there are so many, forms a real pro­fes­sion, as that of the heal­ing art, or that of the­ol­o­gy; the emu­la­tion there­fore is much greater, than in coun­tries where the Pro­fes­sors of uni­ver­si­ties form but a small body, not numer­ous enough for emu­la­tion.” Oth­er speak­ers point­ed out that Boards and low pay, in addi­tion to the rela­tion­ship to stu­dents, were deter­mi­na­tive in devel­op­ing the pro­fes­sion of fac­ul­ty mem­bers. At Yale, for instance, fac­ul­ty had no legal abil­i­ty to decide in any way who they would work with.

Pro­fes­sor Jared Sparks, who would lat­er become Pres­i­dent of Har­vard, claimed that the fac­ul­ty alone should deter­mine the com­po­si­tion of the fac­ul­ty: “Such a body would be as capa­ble as any oth­er, to say the least, of judg­ing in regard to the req­ui­site qual­i­fi­ca­tions of a can­di­date, and much more capa­ble of decid­ing whether his per­son­al qual­i­ties, traits of char­ac­ter, and habits of think­ing, would make him accept­able in their com­mu­ni­ty. It seems evi­dent, there­fore, that some­thing is lost, and noth­ing gained by refer­ring this nom­i­na­tion to anoth­er body of men, who have no inter­ests in com­mon with the par­ty chiefly con­cerned.” With a pro­fes­sion­al Pres­i­dent (a pro­fes­sor who, no longer teach­ing, was freed to focus on run­ning the affairs of the uni­ver­si­ty in the inter­est of the fac­ul­ty and clients), and a fac­ul­ty body that could deter­mine its own shape and needs, the pro­fes­so­ri­ate in the uni­ver­si­ty would take the lead and deter­mine for itself its own future.

In this way, sci­ence and the uni­ver­si­ty would deter­mine, to a large extent, the shape of eco­nom­ic, social, and polit­i­cal life. “Is it for­got­ten,” the Mass­a­chu­setts-born his­to­ri­an and states­man George Ban­croft asked, “that most of the bril­liant and influ­en­tial inven­tions of the last half cen­tu­ry, are found­ed upon laws, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly estab­lished before the respec­tive inven­tions for prac­ti­cal life?” He con­tend­ed that the­o­ry and sci­ence should deter­mine the com­mon life of the peo­ple, rather than fol­low­ing behind it. The pro­fes­sion­al uni­ver­si­ty, then, exists to set the stage for social and eco­nom­ic life; its spe­cial­ized sci­en­tists, in all the branch­es the uni­ver­si­ty, take the lead in devel­op­ing the knowl­edge that deter­mines where the com­mon life of the peo­ple leads. The com­mon life of the nation – the pub­lic good – become syn­ony­mous with the com­mon life of pro­fes­sion­als.

The result­ing insti­tu­tion was plagued by con­tro­ver­sy and in des­per­ate need of sup­port, but the prin­ci­ples it laid down were tak­en up by oth­ers in the after­math. We have here, then, a gath­er­ing attempt­ing to found a school based on the pro­fes­sion­al pref­er­ences of aca­d­e­mics – pro­fes­sors were putting in place an insti­tu­tion through which their pro­fes­sion could take form, and sup­port­ing them were busi­ness­men who saw that a pro­fes­sion­al fac­ul­ty alone could inves­ti­gate the nat­ur­al and social laws that would advance busi­ness and bring peace between the social class­es. Find­ing enough clients for their ser­vices would prove to be the make-or-break issue: would there be the mate­r­i­al means to sup­port them? Pro­fes­sion­als, after all, do not cre­ate the mate­r­i­al means for their own repro­duc­tion, but depend for their sur­vival on a group inter­est­ed in their ser­vices. Of course, of the men whose thought and work found­ed the insti­tu­tion, near­ly all were inde­pen­dent­ly wealthy and could afford to endure the low pay until the uni­ver­si­ty took form. The ear­ly New York attempts at procur­ing funds from state and local cof­fers proved most­ly unsuc­cess­ful. Tuition and increased enroll­ment were the pri­ma­ry means by which they sought to fund their new ven­ture, but find­ing par­ents and stu­dents inter­est­ed in their vision was to prove dif­fi­cult. Plagued by slow enroll­ment from the begin­ning, they had to curb their ambi­tious plans.

Until the 1870s and the arrival of Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, along with the slow reform of Har­vard (which was los­ing its tra­di­tion­al base to Yale and Prince­ton), exper­i­ments would con­tin­ue. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan helped devel­op high schools to feed their need for bet­ter qual­i­fied stu­dents; both the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty sparked high-pro­file debates con­cern­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tions to teach, and who gets to decide what those are; and at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, a new cur­ricu­lum, based on stu­dent elec­tives, was being installed.

Brown, in fact, deserves an extra look. Part of the prob­lem was a flux in the pur­pose of the col­lege and the uni­ver­si­ty in the ante­bel­lum years. If the pow­er of the mer­chant class, as the dom­i­nant class in the North­east and, by exten­sion, in the West, was being sub­sumed into the social rela­tions of indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism, train­ing young men for its ranks could no longer be of pri­ma­ry impor­tance. Of course, this process is uneven and envelops var­i­ous regions asyn­chro­nous­ly. For this rea­son, there remained much con­fu­sion over what exact­ly an insti­tu­tion of high­er learn­ing was sup­posed to be. For a school cre­at­ed by pri­vate enti­ties, wrote Brown’s Pres­i­dent Way­land, the one who cre­ates it looks to the mar­ket to deter­mine what is in demand. Because the pub­lic does not lend its finan­cial sup­port, it can ask noth­ing of the insti­tute. A Pub­lic Col­lege, how­ev­er, is sup­port­ed by the pub­lic and it has a right to vis­i­to­r­i­al pow­ers. “Boards of Trustees or Cor­po­ra­tions, are the agents to whom this pow­er is com­mit­ted, and they are bound to exer­cise it accord­ing to the design for which they were appoint­ed.”15 They grant pub­licly rec­og­nized degrees or cer­tifi­cates, and there­fore there must be some way to judge the val­ue of these. At that time, this degree meant that a grad­u­ate was pro­fi­cient in those lit­er­ary and intel­lec­tu­al pur­suits prized by the mer­chant class. The dif­fer­ence between a pri­vate and pub­lic insti­tu­tion, then, lies in what is prized by the Pub­lic rather than what is prized by the mar­ket, a sect, or an indi­vid­ual phil­an­thropist.

The Professional Academic

By mid-cen­tu­ry, this new cat­e­go­ry of pro­fes­sor – the aca­d­e­m­ic, the one inter­est­ed in the­o­ret­i­cal, not prac­ti­cal knowl­edge (a des­ig­na­tion that dates to 1886)16 – had the clout and move­ment to push for con­trol of insti­tu­tions with­in which they taught. As more stu­dents who did not have inde­pen­dent access to wealth took jobs teach­ing, the imper­a­tive to form an insti­tu­tion to bring aca­d­e­m­ic con­trol of research, a liv­ing wage, and pro­fes­sion­al modes of con­trol of labor increased. The elite with­in the field led the move­ment, though they respond­ed to the demands of the emerg­ing pro­fes­sion – and helped shape those demands. Fur­ther, a crit­i­cal mass of aca­d­e­mics with­in exist­ing col­leges were forc­ing those col­leges to do what they could to accom­mo­date them and their demands while also forc­ing the profession’s lead­ers to seek wealthy allies to help them found new insti­tu­tions for the pur­pose of pro­fes­sion­al con­trol and advance­ment. They were work­ing both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly to devel­op the insti­tu­tion they desired. In fits and starts, the form of the new insti­tu­tion took shape and the prac­tice of the pro­fes­so­ri­ate crys­tal­lized. Through research and exper­i­men­ta­tion, the aca­d­e­m­ic would devel­op knowl­edge, not mere­ly trans­mit exist­ing knowl­edge. The import of the chalk­board (a West Point pro­fes­sor of math­e­mat­ics used it first in 1801) allowed for the devel­op­ment of the mod­ern lec­ture, where new infor­ma­tion, not yet in books, would be dis­sem­i­nat­ed to stu­dents; the sci­en­tif­ic lab, pop­u­lar­ized by Jus­tus von Liebig’s chem­i­cal lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Giesing, was an ide­al site for advanced sci­en­tif­ic study; and the sem­i­nar, a favorite of the Lib­er­al Arts and Human­i­ties, helped the pro­fes­sor, through small class sizes and the use of peer pres­sure to cow “mis­tak­en” inter­pre­ta­tions, steer stu­dents towards the prop­er meth­ods to deter­mine respectable deduc­tions. Through elec­tives, fac­ul­ty could begin to spe­cial­ize their teach­ing as well as research, while stu­dents could begin to spe­cial­ize their learn­ing in order to enter into fields that, with a rapid­ly indus­tri­al­iz­ing and com­plex econ­o­my, required more knowl­edge.

With the wide­spread adop­tion of sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and the sub­se­quent rise in the aver­age age of col­lege stu­dents, fac­ul­ty could throw off the dis­ci­pli­nary func­tion of the pro­fes­so­ri­ate. By 1900, not only were unqual­i­fied stu­dents being reject­ed by research uni­ver­si­ties (and accept­ed, at a high­er dol­lar cost, by old-style col­leges), but uni­ver­si­ties were mar­ket­ing them­selves in order to recruit the high school stu­dents they want­ed (Stan­ford was a pio­neer, using a list of its faculty’s pub­li­ca­tions to demon­strate its schol­ar­ly excel­lence). Fac­ul­ty could, for the first time, begin to deter­mine who would enter their own ranks, and fur­ther, the ranks of oth­er pro­fes­sions. Through grades, which replaced the now cum­ber­some eval­u­a­tion process­es that once dom­i­nat­ed, fac­ul­ty attempt­ed to rank stu­dents by mer­it. It would take until the 1950s, though, when advanced degrees became more nec­es­sary for pro­fes­sion­al employ­ment, for grades to dom­i­nate stu­dent life. Out­side of the Human­i­ties – the sci­en­tif­ic suc­ces­sor to the Lib­er­al Arts – aca­d­e­mics no longer had to con­cern them­selves with the plight of stu­dents.

Final­ly, with the pow­er to select their peers, pres­i­dents, and divi­sion chairs, the fac­ul­ty had gone a long way in deter­min­ing the char­ac­ter of their labor. Boards and Regents would sur­vive to allo­cate bud­gets (what could an aca­d­e­m­ic pos­si­bly know about the pecu­niary world, after all?) but aca­d­e­m­ic deci­sion-mak­ing – what was to be taught, who was to teach, who was to be a stu­dent, what count­ed as knowl­edge, what count­ed as pro­fi­cien­cy with knowl­edge, etc – was now to lie with the fac­ul­ty.

Of course, the sto­ry doesn’t end there. Pro­fes­sions, by neces­si­ty, have to sell their ser­vices to clients; iden­ti­fy­ing clients and then estab­lish­ing rela­tions marked by pro­fes­sion­al auton­o­my was a task that, was large­ly accom­plished in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, even if it con­tin­ues in some guis­es today. Aca­d­e­mics tried the state, labor unions, cap­i­tal­ists, local towns, and oth­er con­stituen­cies, with vary­ing results. Efforts like the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin’s “Wis­con­sin Idea,” where the uni­ver­si­ty was embed­ded into the fab­ric of the state through the writ­ing of leg­is­la­tion, per­form­ing sur­veys, and cer­ti­fy­ing pub­lic sec­tor posi­tions, was one effort. Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty – the mar­riage of the land-grant uni­ver­si­ty with the old­er lib­er­al arts col­lege – was the result of fed­er­al land-grant fund­ing, Ezra Cornell’s own vast wealth, and­mu­nic­i­pal bar­gain­ing – sev­er­al cities bid to have the school, and Ovid, NY, also in the run­ning for that fed­er­al land-grant mon­ey, was grant­ed funds for an insane asy­lum instead. Grad­u­al­ly, cap­i­tal­ists, local and state gov­ern­ments, and stu­dents were found, and the uni­ver­si­ties found them­selves in busi­ness.

Next was the ques­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and pro­fes­sion­al auton­o­my. At Stan­ford, Chica­go, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, most famous­ly, a few pro­fes­sors were fired or black­list­ed for pub­lic advo­ca­cy of social­ist, pop­ulist, or atavis­tic pol­i­cy. What was upset­ting in these cas­es, and what the defense of these pro­fes­sors revolved around, was not the con­tent of what they said, but rather the abil­i­ty of the pro­fes­so­ri­ate, and not those out­side their ranks, to sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly adju­di­cate ideas. After all, if truth was to emerge, it would have to be in the free exchange of ideas, with­in a dis­ci­pli­nary asso­ci­a­tion whose mem­ber­ship required exten­sive pro­fes­sion­al edu­ca­tion – not through the arbi­trary exer­cise of auto­crat­ic con­trol. Such dis­plays of caprice only served to under­mine the pow­er of con­sen­sus and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge to defeat igno­rance and dem­a­goguery. For many, espe­cial­ly the aca­d­e­m­ic elite, the uni­ver­si­ty was to pro­vide some­thing of a blue­print for soci­ety: fac­ul­ty, hav­ing reached their posi­tion and author­i­ty through the mer­i­to­crat­ic rise in the pro­fes­sion, would offer pro­fes­sion­al opin­ions and, in debate with oth­ers who’d been admit­ted to their ranks, deter­mine a prop­er course of action based on what the evi­dence illu­mi­nat­ed.

The new aca­d­e­m­ic asso­ci­a­tions cre­at­ed by fac­ul­ty to sort out their method­ol­o­gy and purview – such as the Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion, the Mod­ern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Amer­i­can Soci­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety – worked to pro­vide the frame­work for the self-orga­nized and self-per­pet­u­at­ing dis­ci­plines.17 The Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sors (AAUP) engaged mem­ber­ship over the fight for aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and oth­er issues. The Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ties grew to assist uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents and the grow­ing admin­is­tra­tive lay­er in the task of stan­dard­iz­ing uni­ver­si­ty prac­tice and expec­ta­tions.

There has always been an elite hid­ing in the self-orga­nized pro­fes­sions. Serv­ing Pow­er, the work of Sheila Slaugh­ter and Edward Sil­va, is an exten­sive explo­ration of how aca­d­e­m­ic lead­ers set agen­das for jour­nals and con­fer­ences, worked out insti­tu­tion­al rela­tion­ships, and con­sol­i­dat­ed the pow­er of the fac­ul­ty. From the start, they were self-sup­port­ed, able to become aca­d­e­mics when there was very lit­tle finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion. It was these men who devel­oped the the­o­ry and argued the prac­tices of the pro­fes­so­ri­ate. In the process, they were also more like­ly to become pres­i­dents, to become the aca­d­e­m­ic man­agers. In this posi­tion, their first loy­al­ty, as Freidson’s soci­ol­o­gy of pro­fes­sion­als reminds us, is to the insti­tu­tion, and to the pro­fes­sion sec­ond. Of course, no lead­er­ship could ever con­tain the oper­a­tions of a vast and diver­gent fac­ul­ty, which is nev­er as qui­es­cent as its detrac­tors insist, nor as hero­ic as their allies insist. Of cru­cial impor­tance, though, was that they too were aca­d­e­mics and were com­mit­ted to that ide­ol­o­gy – hav­ing helped to devel­op and make it pos­si­ble. The social­ist and con­ser­v­a­tive rad­i­cals in their ranks, always a minor­i­ty, were use­ful in push­ing the bound­aries of accept­able pro­fes­sion­al prac­tice (and they rarely had more than a small per­cent­age of sup­port from fel­low aca­d­e­mics), and gave legit­i­ma­tion to process­es now ensconced in uni­ver­si­ty prac­tice.

Towards the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, pro­fes­sion­als would final­ly find in state leg­is­la­tures and indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ists the means to pros­per. That sup­port, how­ev­er, would have to wait until the rise of the cor­po­ra­tion, the social form cap­i­tal takes to man­age large com­bi­na­tions of cap­i­tal and labor. Even then, it would take years of effort to prove to cap­i­tal­ists and the state that this form of labor and prop­er­ty had both a use and exchange val­ue. The tycoon cap­i­tal­ists who first orga­nized monop­o­lies laid the ground­work for the use of this pro­fes­sion, but the cor­po­ra­tion would take it to new heights. Thus, it is the self-orga­ni­za­tion of these men – and the need for sup­port to con­tin­ue this orga­ni­za­tion – that made pos­si­ble the advent of the uni­ver­si­ty. The uni­ver­si­ty is the prin­ci­pal sup­port to a type of labor pro­tec­tion that, for a cen­tu­ry,  offered a way out of man­u­al labor, towards a mid­dle class between cap­i­tal­ists and the work­ing class. Its inter­ests, to a large degree, became syn­ony­mous with “the pub­lic good,” though this good has always been plant­ed in the soil of cap­i­tal­ist class con­flict.

The Research University Today

But the work­ing class can­not sim­ply lay hold on the ready made State machin­ery and wield it for their own pur­pose. The polit­i­cal instru­ment of their enslave­ment can­not serve as the polit­i­cal instru­ment of their eman­ci­pa­tion. —Marx, Sec­ond Draft of the Civ­il War in France.

What hap­pens to these pro­fes­sion­als in the late 20th cen­tu­ry? Briefly, by the 1970s, as the divi­sion of labor with­in the uni­ver­si­ty ampli­fied, diver­si­fied, and strat­i­fied fol­low­ing the unprece­dent­ed expan­sion of the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem in the US fol­low­ing World War II, new imper­a­tives pre­sent­ed them­selves to the fac­ul­ty. From the New Left, Stu­dent Pow­er assault­ed the author­i­ty of the uni­ver­si­ty (and was brought to heel by mas­sive gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance and repres­sion); from the Right, cap­i­tal­ist retrench­ment (sup­port­ed by neolib­er­al ide­o­logues and a nation­al tax revolt) and inten­si­fied attempts to mon­e­tize uni­ver­si­ty rela­tions. The inau­gu­ra­tion of new aca­d­e­m­ic sub­jects (com­put­er sci­ence, black stud­ies, women’s stud­ies, queer stud­ies) and new com­bi­na­tions of knowl­edge (inter-, post- and anti-dis­ci­pli­nary stud­ies) rep­re­sent­ed an insur­rec­tion with­in the insti­tu­tion. They were all intense­ly polit­i­cal and rep­re­sent­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the uni­ver­si­ty to rein­vent itself.

Which it did. By arro­gat­ing more pow­er to the top lay­ers of aca­d­e­m­ic admin­is­tra­tive elite, some in the aca­d­e­m­ic pro­fes­sion saw the pos­si­bil­i­ty of imbri­cat­ing them­selves into the same social class as cap­i­tal­ists, rather than sim­ply serv­ing them. Fed­er­al, state, and local laws changed to make stu­dents into con­sumers; courts ruled that pub­lic, non-prof­it uni­ver­si­ties could patent and own intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty; a new type of cap­i­tal, ven­ture cap­i­tal, was devel­oped to accel­er­ate the trans­mis­sion of research into prod­ucts; and a sub-class of fac­ul­ty, the adjunct, was for­mu­lat­ed to teach the dregs of the expand­ing uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem – those com­pos­ing the mas­sive under­grad­u­ate base, forced into high­er edu­ca­tion as a col­lege degree became a de fac­to require­ment for admis­sion into any of the pro­fes­sions, and many oth­er occu­pa­tions. Grad­u­ate stu­dents and adjuncts took on the bulk of the teach­ing, free­ing star fac­ul­ty from the respon­si­bil­i­ty of lec­tur­ing to dullards for whom their words would be prover­bial pearls before swine.

Because so much of pro­fes­sion­al labor – and now, impor­tant­ly, so many work­ers – pass through, or wish to pass through, the uni­ver­si­ty, the ide­ol­o­gy of high­er edu­ca­tion struc­tures how many of us under­stand work and who is sup­posed to con­trol that work. The strug­gle for high­er edu­ca­tion today must be seen in at least two lens­es. First, the strug­gle of labor involved in main­tain­ing the uni­ver­si­ty: aca­d­e­m­ic labor, and what is termed “sup­port staff”: groundskeep­ers, din­ing hall work­ers, admis­sions clerks – the hun­dreds of thou­sands of labor­ers whose exploita­tion the uni­ver­si­ty relies on today. Sec­ond, the urgent need to cre­ate new types of edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, which will like­ly be less focused on abstract knowl­edge and the­o­ry.

Since high­er edu­ca­tion in its cur­rent form is under attack, it is easy to fall back on old tropes about the sanc­ti­ty of knowl­edge, education’s use for soci­ety, and oth­er aspects of pro­fes­sion­al ide­ol­o­gy. In real­i­ty, the uni­ver­si­ty was an insti­tu­tion cre­at­ed for the con­trol of a new type of pro­fes­sion­al labor, and it meant, for many, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­trol the con­di­tions under which they worked. This is still appeal­ing to many who enter grad­u­ate school, though they quick­ly find that it is now more myth than real­i­ty. A defense of the uni­ver­si­ty should then instead be a defense of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of uni­ver­si­ty work­ers – tenured, tenure-track, adjunct, grad­u­ate, and sup­port staff – to deter­mine their own work. Work­ers’ inquiry into uni­ver­si­ty labor is a first step towards devel­op­ing a form of resis­tance capa­ble of unit­ing this dis­parate group. At present, it is rare to see much in the way of sol­i­dar­i­ty between sec­tions of this dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed, much less a sus­tained social move­ment. I sus­pect that this is because allow­ing adjuncts and sup­port staff to con­trol the con­di­tions of their own labor would inter­fere with the abil­i­ty of tenured and star fac­ul­ty to pur­sue their own ambi­tions.18 This means that for a work­ing-class move­ment to take hold with­in the uni­ver­si­ty, the ide­ol­o­gy and false pro­tec­tions of pro­fes­sion­al­ism must be thrown off.

Defense of uni­ver­si­ty labor con­di­tions presents a fur­ther prob­lem: the pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship involves clients and those who can­not become clients. In one sense, the clients of the uni­ver­si­ty are Sil­i­con Val­ley, the NSA, Boe­ing, Mon­san­to, and the like. How­ev­er, the client is also the stu­dent, her fam­i­ly, and her com­mu­ni­ty. The strug­gle over edu­ca­tion is not sim­ply the strug­gle over the labor of those in the uni­ver­si­ty itself, but also the nar­row­ing of occu­pa­tion­al and edu­ca­tion­al choic­es avail­able to prospec­tive stu­dents. To move beyond the mod­el of soci­ety cre­at­ed and fos­tered by the uni­ver­si­ty requires the devel­op­ment of col­lec­tive forms of edu­ca­tion beyond cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions. Pro­fes­sion­als who deter­mines their labor with­in the bound­aries set by cap­i­tal­ism can­not be mod­els of anti-cap­i­tal­ist prac­tice, because the pro­fes­sion­al can only exist in a world char­ac­ter­ized by class con­flict between cap­i­tal and labor. As revolt, riot and street orga­niz­ing explode all over the world, anti-cap­i­tal­ist move­ments must seek to under­stand that revolt demands the inven­tion of new edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, rather than a futile attempt to reform the old – new forms of edu­ca­tion that allow stu­dents, neigh­bor­hoods, and col­lec­tives to phys­i­cal­ly inter­vene in hous­ing crises, in food crises, in neigh­bor­hood sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ments, and to bring these con­flicts into sharp relief.

  1. Ter­ence J. John­son, Pro­fes­sions and Pow­er (Hong Kong: The MacMil­lan Press LTD, 1972), 45. Images from Alma Darst Mur­ray Bevis, Diets and Riots (Boston: Mar­shall Jones Co, 1936). 

  2. Eliot Frei­d­son, Pro­fes­sion­al Pow­ers: A Study of the Insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of For­mal Knowl­edge (Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1986), 140. 

  3. Ser­gio Bologna, “Class Com­po­si­tion and the The­o­ry of the Par­ty at the Ori­gins of the Work­ers’ Coun­cil Move­ment,”, (July 23, 2005), accessed Sep­tem­ber 24, 2013. 

  4. Giv­en these func­tions, it should not be sur­pris­ing that blacks and indige­nous peo­ples were exclud­ed from high­er edu­ca­tion, until white soci­ety had a need to attend to such pop­u­la­tions. 

  5. That they catered to sev­er­al social class­es did not, how­ev­er, mean that all class­es attend­ed in equal num­bers. 

  6. Quot­ed in Kathryn McDon­ald Moore, “Free­dom and Con­straint in 18th Cen­tu­ry Har­vard,” Jour­nal of High­er Edu­ca­tion 47 (1976): 109. 

  7. Moore, “Free­dom and Con­straint,” 109. 

  8. Moore, “Free­dom and Con­straint,” 110. 

  9. Princeton’s Great Rebel­lion of 1807 illus­trates both the dam­age done to the col­leges and the types of stu­dent who was at the fore­front of the action. In that April, a great num­ber of stu­dents riot­ed, shut­ter­ing Princeton’s doors for a decade. One of the ring­lead­ers, Abel P. Upshur, would go on to become the US Sec­re­tary of State. Upshur, like many of the riot­ers, was Vir­gin­ian from a wealthy plan­ta­tion fam­i­ly. He was brought before the Board as one of those who led stu­dents to, “resist the author­i­ty of the Col­lege, and he per­sist­ed in adher­ing to the prin­ci­ples of the com­bi­na­tion.” All the stu­dents were expelled, though most trans­ferred to William & Mary or Yale. At William & Mary, one of the Prince­ton riot­ers, Andrew Hunter Holmes, helped incite anoth­er riot and was again expelled. (Holmes’ broth­ers all achieved a lev­el of fame: his old­est broth­er was a mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and lat­er gov­er­nor of Mis­sis­sip­pi and would lat­er become the sen­a­tor of Mis­sis­sip­pi; Hugh Holmes was a judge in the gen­er­al court of Vir­ginia. When he died in bat­tle, he was a major in the army and the Vir­ginia Leg­is­la­ture award­ed his rel­a­tives a gold sword in his mem­o­ry. Holmes’ sis­ters mar­ried promi­nent men and their sons pop­u­lat­ed leg­is­la­tures, judges bench­es, and the upper ranks of the mil­i­tary.) The dis­ci­pli­nary action of the col­leges seems to have large­ly been a mirage, as there was effec­tive­ly no curb on those stu­dents who brought in tuition. When they were dealt with, they could eas­i­ly trans­fer to anoth­er school: first, the schools offi­cial the­o­log­i­cal posi­tion claimed that God could trans­form these stu­dents if they would only sub­mit them­selves to author­i­ty; sec­ond, because no records exist­ed; and third, because the tuition they brought was great enough to over­come what­ev­er ret­i­cence might have stopped them. 

  10. Hen­ry David­son Shel­don. Stu­dent Life and Cus­toms (New York: D. Apple­ton and Com­pa­ny, 1901), 299. 

  11. Roger Geiger, “Ten Gen­er­a­tions of High­er Edu­ca­tion,” in Amer­i­can High­er Edu­ca­tion in the Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry: Social, Polit­i­cal, and Eco­nom­ic Chal­lenges, ed. Philip G. Alt­bach et al. (Bal­ti­more: The Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999), 45. 

  12. Thomas Jef­fer­son, “Jef­fer­son on the Vir­ginia Legislature’s Atti­tude toward a Uni­ver­si­ty, 1821” in Amer­i­can High­er Edu­ca­tion: A Doc­u­men­tary His­to­ry Vol I, ed. Richard Hof­s­tadter and Wil­son Smith, (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1961), 224. 

  13. “Report of the Rock­fish Gap Com­mis­sion on the Pro­posed Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia, 1818,” in Amer­i­can High­er Edu­ca­tion, 194. 

  14. Jen­nings L Wag­oner, “Hon­or and Dis­hon­or at Mr. Jefferson’s Uni­ver­si­ty: The Ante­bel­lum Years,” His­to­ry of High­er Edu­ca­tion Quar­ter­ly 26 (1986): 165. 

  15. Fran­cis Way­land, “Thoughts on the Present Col­le­giate Sys­tem, 1842,” in Amer­i­can High­er Edu­ca­tion: A Doc­u­men­tary His­to­ry Vol I, ed. Richard Hof­strad­er and Wil­son Smith. (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1961), 335. 

  16. The Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary has sev­er­al des­ig­na­tions for “Aca­d­e­m­ic,” but the above usage defin­i­tive­ly took hold by the late 19th cen­tu­ry. An adjec­ti­val usage also exists, dat­ing to the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, but its applic­a­bil­i­ty is unclear, since its usage appears to be deroga­to­ry, and not spe­cif­ic to uni­ver­si­ty research. 

  17. In the Human­i­ties and Social Sci­ences, they emerged from the break-up of polit­i­cal econ­o­my; in the Sci­ences, from the dis­so­lu­tion of nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy. 

  18. Of course, there are won­der­ful exam­ples of tenured fac­ul­ty orga­niz­ing for just such a move­ment, but they are a minor­i­ty today. 

Author of the article

has written for Reclamations Journal, and is a member of University Research Group Experiment (URGE). He is also a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.