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September-October 2010

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Plus Ça Change In Perpetual Crisis

2010. “From the moment I was sworn into office, I've spoken about the urgent need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy and for our future. And two pillars of that foundation are health care and education, and each has long suffered from problems that we chose to kick down the road.… With this bill, and other steps we've pursued over the last year, we are finally undertaking meaningful reform in our higher education system.”

             President Barack Obama

2006. “History is littered with examples of industries that, at their peril, failed to respond to—or even to notice—changes in the world around them, from railroads to steel manufacturers. Without serious self-examination and reform, institutions of higher education risk falling into the same trap, seeing their market share substantially reduced and their services increasingly characterized by obsolescence. Already, troubling signs are abundant.”

             Commission on the Future of Higher Education, (The “Spellings Commission”)

1994. “Business is coming to bear the major responsibility for the kind of education that is necessary for any country to remain competitive in the new economy. …Those who cannot or will not see this unfolding historical process will be its victims.”

             Stan Davis and Jim Botkin

1984. “American higher education has the sniffles. It might come down with a bad cold or even pneumonia if we don't do something about it.”

             Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell

1977. “In the last few years, the value of higher education has been under attack as seldom before in American history.”

             Clark Kerr, Chairman, Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education

1972. “A combination of crises has convinced many educational leaders and spokesmen that higher education as it existed in the sixties is no longer adequate for the changing demands of the seventies and eighties. Implicit in almost all the reports is the belief that unless reform and renewal are forthcoming, our colleges and universities cannot survive.”

             Cameron Fincher, Professor and Director of the Institute of Higher Education, University of Georgia

1969. “Reforming the American university is rapidly turning into a national pastime, a not unexpected by-product of living in a glass cage.… The time has come for some straight talk about what may and may not be worth preserving in higher education.”

             George W. Bonham, Editor, Change magazine

1946. “The happiest thing to me is the fact that these returned soldiers and sailors, marines, Wacs and Waves, and so forth, are giving you such a headache on education. I hope they will continue to do that. And if they do, I think the country is perfectly safe.”

             President Harry Truman, Remarks to the Members of the Conference on Emergency Problems in Higher Education


1. (October 23 1984) Lakeland Ledger, Bell Says Higher Education Has Sniffles. May Get Cold pp. 12A.

2. Bonham, G. W. (1969) The courage to say no.. Change in Higher Education March–April, pp. 5.

3. Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006) A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education, pp. xii. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC. Available at

4. Davis, S. and Botkin, J. (1994) The monster under the bed, pp. 15. Touchstone, New York, NY. 171

5. Fincher, C. (1972) The need for reform and renewal in higher education, Paper initially presented in the Cullon Lecture Series, Augusta College, September 11, 1972 University of Georgia, Institute of Higher Education, Page 6. National Archives and Records Administration II, Record Group 220, Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards. Records of the National Commission on Financing Postsecondary Education, 1966–1974. Box 5, File “Materials Sent to Commissioners. I.”

6. Kerr, C. Bowen, H. R. (ed) (1977) Foreword. Investment in learning, pp. xi. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

7. Obama, B. (2010) Remarks by the President and Dr. Jill Biden at signing of Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria, Virginia. March 30, 2010. Available at

8. Truman, H. S. (1946) Remarks to the members of the Conference on Emergency Problems in Higher Education, Santa Barbara, CA. July 11, 1946. J.T. Woolley and G. Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Available at

Lara K. Couturier is a PhD candidate in history at Brown University and a consultant specializing in higher education policy. She previously served as the interim principal investigator and director of research for the Futures Project: Policy for Higher Education in a Changing World.

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