The Society is presently concerned with what is happening at the University of Tennessee. We are concerned with how the university is going to achieve its goal of becoming a first rate institution of learning and research. It is quite disquieting to realize that while the University of Georgia ranks 20 in a ranking that has the Ivy League among the top ten, the University of Tennessee ranks 45. This is the more disappointing as over the past
60 to 70 years, there has never been a spark that would have caused the three major local research and development institutions, the university, the TVA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to get into a cooperative mode that would have put UTK among the top ranking research and development universities in the country. In the mean time TVA has become a mere electrical utility, but fortunately ORNL has gone on to become an important research center in the computer, material science and energy sectors, some of the most important and exciting areas of future research. Hence, it seems that the window of opportunity for UTK to develop into an important research and learning institution remains open. A point in time seems to be at hand when the switches have to be set for future successful development of UTK to a high ranking public university.
In principle universities should be autonomous, that means self-governing
and independent. But few have the means of financing themselves to afford independent self-governance. An exception are some richly endowed private universities. Interestingly, these universities also rank among the most prestigeous in the entire country and the world. Historically, the public universities in the U.S. have developed out of land grant and state university systems and, for the time being at least, we have to take it from there. As was already mentioned, state universities can achieve and have achieved high ranks on national lists. Robert M. Berdahl, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in a speech given at Texas A&M University addressed the approach that was taken by the California university system and that has resulted in several campuses of the UC system reaching world class rank.
After the Civil War, land grant universities were established in all states. These institutions focused on agriculture and “mechanical arts.” While many of these institution were created in rural settings, the East Tennessee University in Knoxville was designated the land grant university of Tennessee in 1869. Thus, a major education and research institution was established right in the city of Knoxville. These land grant universities became the leading centers for research and graduate education in the states. In
the 1960s, during an enormous expansion of higher education, the state university systems were created to cope with the governance of the increasing number of state institutions. The term “flagship” university came into use to designate the leading university of the state system. The flagship status went to the original land grant campus, where the admiral was located that directed the fleet. In Tennessee, this designation went to UT Knoxville. A flagship university came to mean a “fully mature public university serving the state.” The flagships also used their position to extend their influence over other institutions of the state. Bardahl thinks that the creation of systems was the right choice, but the lack of a clear mission of the system’s institution created problems. The Tennessee system seems to be a good example of these problems. Not only the flagship campus, but also the other ships of the fleet seem to
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be less than happy with the present direction of the system.
Bardahl makes a convincing case that resolving this governance problem is extremely important for the successful future development of flagship universities and systems. The Technical Society wants to contribute whatever it
can to the success of UTK.(This article is based on a speech “The Future of Flagship Universities” by Robert M. Berdahl, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley, October 5, 1998). WOW.