The Great American University

Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected

By Jonathan R. Cole
(PublicAffairs, Hardcover, 9781586484088, 640pp.)

Publication Date: January 2010

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback, Paperback

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The former provost of Columbia University explores the vital role of America’s research universities as engines of technological and economic growth—and illuminates the urgent need to protect them

About the Author

Jonathan R. Cole is widely known throughout the United States for his fourteen years (1989-2003) as Columbia’s provost and dean of faculties, holding the position as the university’s chief academic officer for the second-longest tenure in its 254-year history. He is currently the John Mitchell Mason Professor at Columbia University.

Praise For The Great American University

Kirkus,STARRED review
“An elegant, comprehensive examination of how American universities became the best in the world, and why research matters….A sound, enthusiastic look at the crucial vitality of the American university system.” 

William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
“Jonathan Cole has given us a stimulating and provocative account of how the American research university came to be, the ideas it has contributed, and the challenges it faces. Not everyone will agree with all of the argument, but everyone can learn from it.” 

Geoffrey R. Stone, Former Provost of the University of Chicago and author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime
“Jonathan Cole has written the definitive work on the American research university. A monumental achievement, The Great American University explores the complex historical and cultural reasons for the international preeminence of American higher education, documents the profound contributions American research universities have made, and continue to make, to our nation and to the world, and identifies and analyzes the dangers that now threaten to undermine one of the strongest pillars of American excellence.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor, Columbia University; director, the Earth Institute
“Jonathan Cole has produced a masterpiece, a modern classic. This is at once a scintillating biography of the great American university, a powerful diagnosis of its major challenges today, and an invaluable guide for a robust future of this unique, world-changing institution. This is sociological inquiry, technological history, and social philosophy at its most powerful, a penetrating study of how America’s research universities have been shaped by and have shaped American society. Cole’s study will be avidly read in all parts of the world, as societies attempt to emulate and adapt the strengths of America’s research universities to the challenges of building knowledge-based economies and democratic societies of the twenty-first century.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., professor, Harvard University
“I can think of no one better than Jonathan Cole to lead the crucial discussion on the role of the American university as the preeminent seat of intellectual and technological innovation. In the face of alarming trends in legislation and government intervention, he offers a precise and extremely well written prescription for how the American university can once again prevail.” 

Cori Bargmann, professor, the Rockefeller University; member of the National Academy of Science
“A passionate and intelligent defense of the university’s role in creating knowledge, not just disseminating it. Every university has its own story; this book steps back to tell the history of American universities as a whole. Cole describes the logic, people, and context that drove the universities to pair teaching with research and discovery. He provides an irresistible tour of advances in science and culture that grew in the universities, from artificial hips to Google to eyewitness unreliability, and a clear-eyed view of their failings, from red scares to groupthink. Cole is a compelling advocate, and his book is a resource for academics, students, and all friends of the university.”

Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York; former president, Brown University
“The story of American universities has been one of great success. Now, at a time when American higher education in general—and American public higher education in particular—is in crisis, Jonathan Cole’s The Great American University is a timely analysis of higher education’s current problems and prospects. I hope that policymakers will heed the author’s cogent arguments about the centrality of American universities in the panoply of our national life, as well as their vital contribution to the economic, political, and social advancement of the United States.”

Library Journal
“Cole has amassed extensive information to make a convincing case. Highly recommended, particularly for those interested in American history, social institutions, and public policy, as well as those working in higher education.”

New York Times Book Review
“As provost of Columbia University for 14 years and a professor of sociology and dean of faculties before that, Jonathan R. Cole is an excellent position to write about the rise of the American research university and its special contribution to American life. In “The Great American University,” he makes a case for the extraordinary role such institutions play in improving our daily lives. He also argues that these ‘jewels in our nation’s crown face a host of serious threats.’”

Dallas Morning News
“This is a work that should be read and studied by college faculties, administrators, regents and trustees, legislators and particularly large monetary donors to today's colleges and universities…The Great American University is one of the most important books on higher education to be written in the past several decades.”

Denver Post“Our high schools may be hurting, but the best U.S. universities — the Ivies, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, the select state universities — are the envy of the world. In his new book, Jonathan R. Cole, a former provost and dean of faculties at Columbia, shows how our research universities in particular came to be what they are.”

Boston GlobeIn his capacious, candid, and compelling new book, “The Great American University,’’ Cole explains the emergence of the research university; provides an eye-popping account of the discoveries made by professors in the last half century; and assesses the threats that place higher education in the United States “at risk of losing its dominant status.’’

Prism Magazine“[Cole’s] argument is a persuasive one, and he presents his material clearly and incisively, keeping readers engaged throughout these 600-plus pages. Even those within the system will find new and thought-provoking material on the university’s importance to economic, social, and national advancement.”

Prism Magazine, April 2010
“[Cole’s] argument is a persuasive one, and he presents his material clearly and incisively, keeping readers engaged throughout these 600-plus pages. Even those within the system will find new and thought-provoking material on the university’s importance to economic, social, and national advancement.” CHOICE, June 2010“This will be an instant classic. Deploying vast knowledge and lengthy experience as professor of sociology and provost at Columbia University, Cole blends sociological and historical insights to explain the rise and importance of, and threats now facing, top-tier universities in the US.” American Scientist, August 2010“[Cole] combines scholarly expertise on the inner workings of science with abundant real-world experience running an enormous, eminent research university. Clearly he knows of what he speaks.”


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