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New book assesses Education in a Research University

STANFORD ­ A university should be a place of light, of liberty, of learning.
­ Benjamin Disraeli, British politician and author

Since the mid-1800s, when Disraeli set forth this ideal, the research university has become one of the most important institutions of our time. In a new book, Education in a Research University, four Stanford professors have collected 30 essays that analyze various facets of such universities, including the challenges of administration, ongoing changes in teaching and learning, and the impact of university research on society.

The topics were selected in part to reflect the career, contributions and interests of former Stanford Provost Gerald J. Lieberman, to whom the volume is dedicated. Lieberman, who retired in 1995, pioneered the interdisciplinary field of operations research and made numerous contributions to the Stanford community in his more than 40 years at the university, including service as provost or vice provost under three presidents.

The book was edited by Kenneth J. Arrow, professor emeritus of economics; Richard W. Cottle, professor and chairman of operations research; B. Curtis Eaves, professor of operations research; and Ingram Olkin, professor of statistics and education. It includes a foreword by President Gerhard Casper and Provost Condoleezza Rice.

The modern research university, the editors note, seeks to achieve a variety of aims and responds to a multiplicity of pressures. To fulfill its principal obligation ­ to educate students to prepare them to live in and contribute to society ­ knowledge must be collected, organized and disseminated. But also, and in the long run even more important, the editors write, new knowledge must be created, and "the knowledge so developed and so imparted must ultimately be carried into the larger society." The essays assess how the research university meets those challenges.

The varied selection includes writings on faculty retirement; affirmative action in graduate admissions; lessons learned about textbook writing; how linear programming began; and operations research and statistics in manufacturing. Other highlights:

  • Stanford President Emeritus Richard W. Lyman describes the effects of student protests in the 1960s: "The Stanford that emerged from the time of troubles was characterized by more formal structures for decision making, with more explicit recognition of particular interest groups than existed previously and a greatly increased involvement of lawyers."
  • In a discussion of the potential impact of new technology, Stanford philosophy Professor Emeritus Patrick Suppes foresees a possible split between undergraduate and graduate education. On the one hand: "No doubt the psychology of the virtual classroom will become increasingly intimate, but will still be no match for the physical presence, so the place for Stanford as a physical institution will remain." On the other hand: The psychology of camaraderie for graduate students may be transformed into "rapid, continual and informal network communication," as is already the case for working scientists and scholars."
  • Despite millions of dollars spent to develop world-class educational standards, they remain an inspirational slogan with little operational meaning, writes J. Myron Atkin, professor and former dean of education at Stanford. "Most crucially, identification of even the most educationally justifiable standards will be a force for improving the quality of American education only if teachers understand and support them."
  • Professors, not just students, are nervous on the first day of class, Donald Bentley, professor of mathematics at Pomona College, confides. He discusses how he redesigned his first-day lecture to "make students feel more comfortable about taking a statistics course."
  • Statistics don't mix very well with the law, reports Kenneth E. Scott, professor of law and business at Stanford Law School, in his review of the use of statistics in judicial decisions. "The flavor of court discussion about statistical evidence seems even more skeptical than that accorded other forms of expert testimony."
  • In the policy-making arena, rational analysis isn't all it's cracked up to be, according to Alexander George, Stanford professor emeritus of political science: "Decision making is effective when the policy maker deals reasonably well with trade-offs between quality, support, and time and other resources. Rational decision making, on the other hand, reflects the scholar's and the policy analyst's effort to come up with a high-quality policy decision without reference to these trade-offs or to various political considerations with which the policy maker must deal."

The book was published by Stanford University Press.



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