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The Research University of the Twenty-First Century

by C. Judson King

Monday, May 4, 1998 | San Diego, CA

C. Judson King

As Provost and Senior Vice-President of the University of California (UC), C. Judson King’s thoughts on the future of research universities are not only important as it applies to the nine existing UC campuses, but in the planning of the tenth campus in Merced which will be the first new major university of the new century. In his plenary address, Dr. King shared his perspectives and the challenges and opportunities of research universities as they “change and adapt to the times.” He also conceded that the future is difficult to predict, considering the changes since the time he was programming with ORACLE as a student at MIT.

First, Dr. King listed the traditional roles of the research university as discoverers, generators, organizers, custodians, and deliverers of knowledge, and in evolving and nurturing critical thinking and creativity. Then he outlined the major changes that will be occurring: (1) information technology in which global networking and increased bandwidth will overcome distance, time, time zones, and language in research; (2) demographic and education and career path changes in which there will be increased ethnic diversity, increased availability and quality of education with university education being the primary route to upward mobility, and a shift to life-long learning and continuous education; (3) a shrinking globe with “world business and a business world” (often giving a shortened horizon for research); and (4) financing research and judging its worth.

The question of how the research university will evolve with these changes was pondered next by Dr. King. The nature of research will change from individual investigator to collaborative partnerships with international teams. Global problems, such as control of weapons destruction and environmental issues, will be addressed in the “global laboratory” and with increased emphasis on language studies. Scholarly communication will be via electronic journals and home pages with “living” publications. The best and most lasting will be reserved for peer-reviewed, archival publications. The information base for research will include extensive databases, intricate network linkages and more powerful search engines. The structure of the research enterprise will be such that industry will pursue targeted and proprietary applied R&D, while universities will pursue new discoveries and the interpretation and generalization of knowledge in a public sense. However, there will be limits on research as it will be necessary to explain its value to society. The national laboratories will focus on research pertaining to national interests such as defense, environment, building codes, criminal justice, etc. The size of the research enterprise will change by a paring down of the production of PhDs. Dr. King felt the California master plan for education was worthy of exportation, as a way to implement change for the future in education.

Dr. King concluded by predicting that education in the research university of the future would foster creativity, provide a breadth of education, deliver first professional degrees, have increased diversity and access, respond to the impact of information technology, and provide continuing, life-long education. There will be growths of partnerships of all sorts to facilitate these changes as research universities enter the 21st century.

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