Higher Education’s Public Purpose: Defending Colleges and Universities as Forces for Good
A burgeoning loss of public trust in higher education, signaled by the perception of a college education as a private commodity rather than a public good, has intensified calls for a demonstrated return on investment measured solely in terms of employability. Meanwhile disinvestments in public higher education, including cuts to the budgets of federal agencies that have provided crucial research funding on college and university campuses, mean that institutions are increasingly doing more with less. These trends threaten to undermine the implementation of educational practices and professional development programs critical to student success at every level and at all types of institutions.
The result is a growing economic and racial segregation within the academy. Yet, efforts to restore public trust in the promise of liberal education and inclusive excellence are hampered by a prevailing national rhetoric that attempts to decouple higher education from the American dream. In response, those of us who believe that higher education is inextricably linked to our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy must make visible the transformative power of colleges and universities, ensuring that we are effective communicators of, and participants in, the events of our time.
Lynn Pasquerella has served as president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities since 2016 and was appointed the eighteenth president of Mount Holyoke College in 2010. Prior to that, Pasquerella was the provost at the University of Hartford, from 2008 to 2010, and was the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Rhode Island, where she began her career as an ethics professor in 1985. A philosopher whose work has combined teaching and scholarship with local and global engagement, Pasquerella is committed to championing liberal education, access to excellence in higher education, and civic engagement. She has written extensively on medical ethics, metaphysics, public policy, and the philosophy of law and is the host of Northeast Public Radio’s The Academic Minute. Pasquerella is a member of the advisory Board of the Newman’s Own Foundation, sits on the boards of the Lignan Foundation and the National Humanities Alliance and is a senator and vice-president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She is a graduate of Quinebaug Valley Community College, Mount Holyoke College and Brown University. In addition, she has received honorary doctorates from Elizabethtown University and Bishop’s University.