The opening of the American mind. By: Lee, Lee C., Human Ecology, 15307069,
Winter91, Vol. 19, Issue 2
Academic Search Premier
HTML Full Text
THE OPENING OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Educating Leaders for a Multicultural Society
One major aspiration of a university is to create future leaders of a nation and the world. A first-
class university must provide a range of options, philosophies, and tools for its students. It should
be both a center of knowledge and learning and an enabler for its graduates, who are its link with
the larger society and with the future.
In recent years, there have been many changes in higher education that have functioned not to
serve the broader purposes of society, but to answer more specific demands. Large American
universities, Cornell included, have responded to a number of outside pressures with the result
that most universities, at the baccalaureate level, have become better at producing skilled
professional graduates than graduates who have a broad, critical understanding of the world.
In particular, the availability of funds and the demand for advanced research in the natural and
physical sciences have been major contributors to a far-reaching trend toward specialization; as
more resources--both human and financial--have gone into technical and scientific research,
fewer remain for other educational purposes. This trend is also evident in the social sciences and
the professions, where it appears that universities have responded less to academic
considerations than to the certification requirements of professional societies.
In addition, the university reward system for faculty advancement has further reinforced the
trend toward specialization. Decisions about tenure and promotion are largely based on number
of publications, and narrow specializations can produce many "pot boilers." On a vast scale, we
now have higher education with a narrow focus. Specialization has gained stature, while the
importance of a broad-based education--which was formerly unquestioned--has become
Let us briefly consider what the graduates of a modern university face as they take on leadership
roles in society.
These graduates will share responsibility for an increasingly complex world, one in which
technical knowledge and traditional wisdom appear to be at odds, a world in which national and
corporate interests thrive alongside growing concern over global issues, a world being
transformed by the demands of population, the influences of trade, and the possibilities of