ERIC Identifier: ED284515
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Crosson, Patricia H.
Source: Association for the
Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
Public Service in Higher Education: Practices and Priorities.
ERIC Digest 85-2.
Service has long been a distinctive part of higher education in the United
States. Most administrators and faculty members would identify service as one of
the three major functions of their institution. They would describe with
rhetorical flourish countless programs and projects of service to society.
However, most would admit that service is quite a distant third after teaching
and research and that institutional priorities and reward systems-- unwritten
yet well known--operate against service in higher education. The questionable
priority and doubtful reward value are especially apparent when the "service" is
public service for individuals and groups external to the campus rather than
service to the academic discipline or the institution.
IS PUBLIC SERVICE AN IMPORTANT FUNCTION?
The subject of college and university public service involves an ongoing
debate about its role and importance in higher education--a debate that is
inextricably linked to fundamental questions about the nature and purposes of
Different perspectives on the nature and purposes of higher education are
revealed through three popular metaphors--ivory tower, social service station,
and culture mart (Adelman 1973). Each concept of higher education is
characterized by a different definition of service and differing perspectives on
the nature of service and its role and function in higher education. Service can
be provided through the fulfillment of teaching and research, through "ideas of
value," through social criticism, through social problem solving, or through
social activism. Each form of service has its advocates in the historical and
Throughout the history of American higher education, the concept of service
and references to service have been used to justify claims for public support.
Often service in this sense is taken to mean the fulfillment of teaching and
research. Charles William Eliot asked rhetorically in his 1869 inaugural address
And what will the University do for the community? First, it will make a rich
return of learning, poetry and piety. Secondly, it will foster the sense of
public duty--that great virtue which makes republics possible (Hofstader and
The concept of service, linked with notions of utility, has also been used
throughout our history to justify and rationalize new departures in higher
education. From the expansion of the classical curriculum to include scientific
studies to the creation of land grant colleges, professional schools,
interdisciplinary institutes and centers, and recent programs of technology
transfer, we have made the case that each new endeavor was necessary as a
service to society.
The ideal of public service was perhaps best captured by Andrew S. Draper in
a 1907 commencement address:
The American university will carry the benefits of scientific research to the
doors of the multitude. It will make healthier houses and handsomer streets,
richer farms and safer railways, happier towns and thriftier cities, through the
application of fundamental principles to all the activities of all the people.
The missionary overtones and the zeal of Draper's rhetoric pervade
discussions of service throughout the literature and can be found in much
contemporary writing, but Derek Bok (1982) captures somewhat better the current
tone of the debate:
By 1970, then, the issues were clearly defined. Should universities turn
inward and dedicate themselves to learning and research for their own sake,
benefiting society indirectly through advances in basic knowledge and the
education of able students? Should they continue instead to respond
energetically to society's requests for new services, new training programs, and
new forms of expert advice? Or should they take the initiative and set their own
agenda for reform by deciding for themselves which programs to mount and which
projects to encourage in order to bring about social change?
It is unlikely, however, that single "yes" or "no" answers to these questions
will be formulated for higher education as a whole or for any college or
university. The debate over the social responsibility of the university is a
WHAT SERVICES SHOULD WE PERFORM?
While we have debated the issues of the role and function of service in
higher education, we have been engaged in extensive and various service
activities. We have offered noncredit community service programs responsive to
every conceivable educational need and interest from basic English to belly
dancing. We have made our facilities available for and helped sponsor cultural
and civic activities. We have developed special training programs for business
and industry and for local state government employees.
We have created extension programs, technical assistance centers, and other
special units to help solve specific social and policy problems. We have been
engaged in research services through contractual arrangements and consulting for
every conceivable external agency. All of these areas and more are college and
university public service activities.
Draper's ideal has been most fully realized by Clark Kerr's multiversity, but
all types of colleges and universities are involved in public service. Service
activities differ across types of institutions-- public or private, two-year or
four-year colleges and universities--and among institutions of the same type.
The easiest way to categorize public service, however, is by external recipient:
service to the community, service to state and local governments, service to
business and industry.
Community service is especially important for community colleges. Community
colleges have developed exciting programs and activities, and the literature
contains an interesting debate over the extent to which community service is or
should be the major function of the community college.
Many state universities are experimenting with new offices and programs
intended to link their institutions more closely to the legislative and
executive branches of state and local government. Formal research partnerships
have been developed between public and private research universities and major
corporations to foster the immediate application of scientific breakthroughs to
new products and economic developments.
HOW SHOULD WE ORGANIZE FOR PUBLIC SERVICE?
The problem for college and university administrators and faculty becomes one
of making choices and decisions. How should a particular institution define
itself in relation to society? Should we assume a variety of social
responsibilities and make public service something more than an added dimension
in higher education? What specific organizational structures, personnel
policies, and financial mechanisms will clarify the role and function of public
srvice and enable service to be performed effectively?
The literature on service in higher education provides no easy answers to
these questions. Although it includes little in the way of formal research
results and evaluation, the literature does reveal how some institutions have
answered these questions and contains many ideas worthy of close examination.
Many institutions have developed formal policy statements of public service.
Others have created high-level offices or other special units to coordinate
Still others have experimented with ways of documenting and assessing service
for decisions about personnel. Some state and local governments have provided
specific resources for service activities beyond those targeted for research and
teaching; others expect services for free. Perhaps the most difficult, as well
as the most enduring, question of public service is the question of how we can
afford it--or indeed whether we can afford not to do it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adelman, Howard. THE HOLIVERSITY: A PERSPECTIVE ON THE WRIGHT REPORT.
Toronto: New Press, 1973.
Bok, Derek. BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MODERN
UNIVERSITY. Cambridge, MD: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Cohen, Arthur M., and Florence B. Brawer. THE AMERICAN COMMUNITY COLLEGE. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1982.
Draper, Andrew S. "The American Type of University." SCIENCE 26 (1907):33-43.
Hofstader, Richard, and Wilson Smith, Editors. AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION: A
DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Martin, Warren Bryan. "Service through Ideas of Value." In REDEFINING
SERVICE, RESEARCH, AND TEACHING, edited by Warren Bryan Martin. New Directions
for Higher Education No. 18. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1977.
Phillips, Ione. THE ADDED DIMENSION: STATE AND LAND GRANT UNIVERSITIES
SERVING STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT. Washington, D.C.: National Association of
State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 1977. ED 136 720.
Worthley, John A., and Jeffrey Apfel. "University Assistance to State
Government." JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 49 (1978):608-619.