“What is the trouble with the private institutions?  It is that they are after money.  If you are after money, you have to appeal to the people who have got it, and the way to appeal to the people who have got it to represent to them that you are going to do what they would like to have done.”
-Robert Maynard Hutchins

This blog post was written by Meghan, one of our summer interns from the MLIS program at Dominican University.

Robert Maynard Hutchins’ time at the University of Chicago coincided with Studs Terkel’s education there, providing a platform for the interview.  Hutchins shared his views on the American educational system, particularly the system of higher education in the U.S., which he believed had departed from its original intended purpose.  Universities should serve as, what he referred to as “centers of independent thought,” or “centers of intellectual illumination.”  However, they changed course, catering to the “LaSalle Street” inhabitants, in other words, bankers and financial institutions.

Hutchins’ thoughts and beliefs about the ways in which universities strayed from their goals were direct and truthful, but, he did not believe that universities should necessarily be condemned for their choices.  He himself began the process of developing “centers of independent thought” outside of the university setting so as to keep alive the need in this country for individuals to participate in a community that thinks critically in the interest of serving the country as a whole.

I say it may be necessary simply to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the American university is so far gone in this direction that nothing can be done about it, but if this is so, then what we have to do is to set about establishing new institutions that will perform this function.

Robert Maynard Hutchins founded the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions to help support his goal of providing scholars with a venue where their ideas could be freely examined and discussed.  This brief interview is densely packed with criticisms of the American higher educational system, while also attempting to provide a lifeboat for “eggheads” who are not destined for LaSalle Street.

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