Quotes from David Riesman, Clark Kerr, Robert Hutchins and Others

(I moved quotes from the Quotes page here and will delete the Quotes page.  4/9/2015.)

David Riesman

was one of the great minds and sociologists of the twentieth century.  He coauthored the classic The Lonely Crowd. Here is a link to an obituary (one of many) that describes some of his work.


Riesman turned his attention to higher education and became, in the words of David S. Webster, “….the finest scholar of American higher education who ever lived… far ahead of whoever may be in second place…” (page xx of “Introduction to the Transaction Edition of On Higher Education.)

Riesman’s 1980 book,  On Higher Education: The Academic Enterprise in an Era of Rising Student Consumerism, demonstrates the insights of a great mind.   I have decided to put some quotes from that book on this page.  Riesman was far ahead of his time in seeing where higher education was moving. If only we had listened then. If only we listen now.


“…I seek to alert readers to what is happening …as students turn from being supplicants for admission to courted customers…”

“…I aim to show that the “wants” of students to which competing institutions, departments, and individual faculty members cater are quite different from the “needs” of students…”

“…Since students are so often misled in their choices, I have long encouraged federal as well as regional and state efforts to protect their rights…”

“…advantage can still be taken of [students] by unscrupulous instructors and institutions..Like any other interest group, the student estate often does not grasp its own interests, and those who speak in its name are not always its friends.”

“…Our task…is to strike a balance between the need for consumer protection where students are defrauded and the need to limit student power so as to minimize the impact of Gresham’s law on higher education as a whole…”  (Gresham’s Law states, in its simplist form, that “Bad money drives out good money.”)


Robert Maynard Hutchins

was a University of Chicago president who made landmark changes to higher education.

“It is sad but true that when an institution determines to do something in order to get money it must lose its soul, and it frequently does not get the money. … I do not mean, of course, that universities do not need money and that they should not try to get it. I mean only that they should have an educational policy and then try to finance it, instead of letting financial accidents determine their educational policy.”


Derek Bok

was Harvard University President

“The commercialization of universities is perhaps the most severe threat facing higher education…Universities appear less and less as charitable institutions seeking truth and serving students, and more and more as a huge commercial operation that differs from corporations only because there are no shareholders and no dividends.”  (Report to the Board of Overseers, 1996)


Clark Kerr

was the Chancellor of the Univ. of Cal. system in the 50’s and 60’s. He developed their three-tier system.

“…This shift from academic merit to student consumerism is one of the two greatest reversals of direction in all the history of American higher education..”  (page xxv of Riesman’s book cited above)

“…how radical some professors can be when they look at the external world and how conservative when they look inwardly at themselves…”  (From the 2001 Preface to “The Uses of the University”)


“…I…am more concerned…that the greatest threats to the university will be those which arise from within the university…

…I would add the following observations about internal threats. There has been an increase in the influence in universities of the “new nomads”: teachers of the “me generation” who are very attentive to their “own work” but neglect academic citizenship, particularly responsibilities of “shared self- government” and of assistance to colleagues and students. The university as a community suffers greatly…”

(From The Internal and External Threats to the University of the Twenty-First Century [withCOMMENTS]Author(s): MICHAEL SHATTOCK, M. S. DRESSELHAUS, CLARK KERR, WALTER E. MASSEY,JOHN ROBERTS and CHARLES H. TOWNESSource: Minerva, Vol. 30, No. 2 (June 1992), pp. 130-162Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41820873 )


Adam Smith

wrote of how professors at Oxford, under the dispensation of their academic guilds,

“make a common cause to be all very indulgent to one another, and every man to consent that his neighbor may neglect his duty provided he himself is allowed to neglect his own” (in The Wealth of Nations (1776) (noted by Clark Kerr))


Bill Gross

is a co-founder of PIMCO and the most highly regarded bond manager in the world.

“…Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

[I don’t agree with the part about liberal arts.  For a partial explanation, see Why the Demise of Liberal Arts (And, Thus, Clear Thinking) Matter For The Future of America ]

Fact: The average college graduate now leaves school with $24,000 of debt and total student loans now exceed this nation’s credit card debt at $1.0 trillion and counting (7% of our national debt). Subjective explanation: Universities are run for the benefit of the adult establishment, both politically and financially, not students. To radically change the system and to question the sanctity of a college education would be to jeopardize trillions of misdirected investment dollars and financial obligations

Conclusion to ponder: … Students… can no longer assume that a four year degree will be the golden ticket to a good job in a global economy that cares little for their social networking skills and more about what their labor is worth on the global marketplace…”

(quoted by permission from http://www.pimco.com/EN/Insights/Pages/School-Daze-School-Daze-Good-Old-Golden-Rule-Days.aspx )


Alexandre Grothendieck

was one of the great mathematicians of the last century.

“…the ethical standards of the sciences ( certainly in mathematics) have been degraded to such an extent that the most bare-faced plagiarism between colleagues ( often at the expense of those who can’t defend themselves), seems to have become the norm. At least it is generally tolerated, even in exceptionally flagrant instances. .”

(Letter to the Swedish Royal Academy rejecting the 1988  $250,000 Crafoord Prize)


Richard Cyert

“…Some people associate a quality education with fine, new buildings.  Yet every new building increases the operating budget…and the university may end up with fewer funds for its  educational…budget…it is far better for a university to make do with present space than get into the construction business…” (from his 1973 inaugural address as President of Carnegie Mellon University.  He served until 1990.  He certainly helped build a great university.)


John Warner

was Carnegie Mellon’s 4th president.

“…We haven’t yet found any satisfactory reason for an educational institution to provide an athletic “show” on a commercial scale for a high proportion of the general public.” (1961)

(Dean Quincy Adams Wagstaff Doesn’t Agree:

GROUCHO (Dean Quincy Adams Wagstaff ): Have we got a stadium?


GROUCHO: Have we got a college?


GROUCHO: Well, we can’t support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.

—From Horse Feathers, 1932, starring the Marx Brothers

Thomas Jefferson

“…Preach…a crusade against ignorance…improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against…evil, and that…kings, priests and nobles…will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance…”

 Susan Feldman

“When you give people a metric they solve for the ‘winning solution’; that is, if you use a metric to determine quality, people will work to find ways to increase the metric, which is not always the same as finding ways to improve the quality.”

Anne Neal 

(president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, quoted in WSJ p2. Col1, 7/13/2012)

“What happened at Penn State is emblematic of a pervasive culture on college campuses where reputation is more important than academic quality, transparency, ethics and accountability.”