Can a University Save the World?

November 22, 2019
By Nicholas Lemann | The Chronicle Review

In this piece for Chronicle Review, Columbia University's Nicholas Lemann notes Perry World House as one of a new wave of university initiatives making a difference in the here and now.

 A new movement is underway: a large number of research universities, 40 or more, have recently launched initiatives that aim to violate [Max[ Weber’s injunctions against engagement with the nonacademic world and working across specialties. Their purpose is to direct scholarly knowledge outside the university in the hope of making a difference in the here and now...

The impulse to try to address problems in the real world has swept through American higher education in periodic waves. Our leading public universities now follow the research-university model, but they weren’t founded that way, and they have a long history of doing practical-minded scholarly work meant to be used by state government agencies and local businesses...

There isn’t space here to go into the particulars of these new entities — which include, just to name a few, MIT Solve, Carnegie Mellon Moonshots, Social X-Change at Stanford, Perry World House at Penn, the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins, and Grand Challenges initiatives at, among other universities, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Texas A&M, Indiana, and UCLA. But it is possible to offer a rough typology among them, and to enumerate some of the questions they will have to answer if they’re to grow and prosper. 

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