A credibility gap exists between research universities and society, former University President Dr. Kenneth H. Keller told 50 University staff members Thursday at the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center.
Keller, the Phillip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, delivered a speech titled “Academic Research: Looking Forward” at scientific research society Sigma Xi’s centennial anniversary.
Keller served as University president from 1985 until 1988, when he resigned under a cloud of controversy surrounding the $1.5 million renovation of Eastcliff, the University’s presidential residence. He is still a tenured professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, however, and teaches one course annually.
Keller spent much of his speech discussing stagnation in funding for universities in the past 10 to 20 years. Although the private sector has helped keep university funding afloat, the funding future for universities is uncertain. “Society looks at (universities) in two ways,” Keller said. “One, to account for how much money we’ve spent, and two, to find reasons for not giving us any more.”
Chaos and confusion about the purpose of higher education have helped erode the bond of trust that once existed between universities and society, Keller said. Research fraud, intercollegiate athletic scandals, a resistant attitude toward change and an inability to set priorities also contribute to the problem, he said.
Universities have to regain society’s trust by “doing that that [they] can do well,” which is providing quality education and performing academic research. However, those abilities must be balanced, and spending decisions must be made wisely, he said.
Keller said universities must use the resources they have in more productive and efficient ways and must also become more accountable by giving businesses and the general public more of a role in making decisions about university policies.
Within universities, reducing restrictions on research between disciplines would allow large pools of talent to work together, he said.
A panel discussion on the future of academic research followed the speech.