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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Federal, State, and Local Governments: University Patrons, Partners, or Protagonists?


Charles Vest gave the first of three Clark Kerr Lectures on the Role of Higher Education in Society on April 19, 2005 on the Berkeley campus. This essay argues that research-intensive public and private universities increasingly have far more similarities than differences in missions, structures, and even financial support. For both, the federal government, despite numerous tensions, remains our indispensable partner. At the same time, the role of state governments toward their public universities has evolved from that of patron to that of partner - sometimes a minor partner financially. Yet at every level - federal, state, and local - governments and universities each consider themselves to be the protagonist having the central role, moral authority, and last word in setting the objective and the course. Despite its complexities and tensions, out of this stew (with philanthropists and the private sector thrown in for good measure), we have forged the greatest system of higher education in the world and we must work hard and effectively to sustain and continuously improve it. We must strive for innovation and excellence, but also nurture broad access to this system and stay true to our fundamental mission of creating opportunity.

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