A Central Heating System

From Clark Kerr’s lecture “The Idea of the Multiversity”, a lecture published in 1963:

Flexner thought of a university as an “organism.” In an organism, the parts and the whole are inextricably bound together. Not so the multiversity—many parts can be added and subtracted with little effect on the whole or even little notice taken or any blood spilled. It is more a mechanism—a series of proc-esses producing a series of results—a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money.

Hutchins once described the modern university as a series of separate schools and departments held together by a central heating system. In an area where heating is less important and the automobile more, I have sometimes thought of it as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.

Kerr coined the term Multiversity as a pun on “university” to make the point that while older universities were animated by a central set of principles and mission, modern universities were more like city-states, an expression not of an idea, but a collection of activities in a geographic location under a certain name.


A full copy of the speech (and the book it comes from) is available online (pdf)


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