We Will Be in Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati approaches its bicentennial at a moment of high anxiety in higher education. The cost of a college degree and the excessive debts students carry upon graduation have put pressure on universities to seek efficiencies and defend their value to society. Around the nation, state support for higher education has fallen, and Ohio is no exception. State funding per student has shrunk consistently since the mid-1980s, with a growing percentage of the cost of
education being covered by tuition. In 2016, Ohio’s per-student spending was 15 percent lower than it had been before the Great Recession began in 2007. At the same time, universities have found it harder and harder to maintain their research budgets. Since 2010, federal spending on research has fallen, after sixty years of expansion, a trend that threatens funding paradigms from medicine to engineering.
In addition, parental and student demands for a practical education—one with direct and predictable implications for employment—have encouraged the continued movement away from the study of the humanities and toward business and engineering, a shift that has strained faculty and resources. Increasingly, the metric by which society assesses institutions of higher learning is “return on investment,” usually measured by comparing starting salaries with average debt loads upon graduation. State legislatures, including Ohio’s, have capped tuition increases on state universities and have sought ways to shorten the amount of time and money students need to spend on campus to earn a degree. High school students now routinely enter college with many requirements already fulfilled, through advanced placement exams and College Credit Plus courses. Designed to speed students toward degrees and control costs, these policies also diminish faculty control over curriculum, and in the long term they will no doubt change the meaning and value of an undergraduate degree.
Even beyond cost and return-on-investment concerns, the national discourse suggests the system is broken. From critics largely outside higher education, we hear that campuses are too politically charged, with teachers who are much more “liberal” than average Americans. And, some complain, faculties are too dedicated to research and spend too little time and effort on teaching. From within academia, critics condemn the size of athletics budgets and criticize the adoption of a corporate model of management, with centralized administrations setting new priorities, encouraging perpetual innovation, and demanding improved efficiency and growth through the development of new markets. As a result, institutional goals often sound strikingly like those of for-profit corporations, much to the dismay of faculty in traditional arts and sciences disciplines.
Perhaps the troubling national discourse about higher education would be less disquieting at UC if the university had stable leadership. After Nancy Zimpher left in 2009 to become chancellor of the State University of New York, UC witnessed five presidential transitions in less than a decade and experienced nearly as much turnover in the provost’s office. Many of the important players—including briefly serving presidents Gregory Williams and Santa Ono—came from outside Cincinnati and spent their short stays learning about the institution as much as leading it. Consider this: during the century from 1904, when Charles Dabney came to lead UC, through 2003, when Joseph Steger retired, UC had eight presidents—a remarkable period of stability at the helm. Steady leadership saw the university through changes wrought by two world wars, the Cold War, Vietnam protests, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights revolution, and dramatic shifts in the acceptance of the LGBTQ community, not to mention experiments with and adaptation to new communication technologies: radio, television, the Internet.
In the fifteen years after Steger retired, UC had five presidents. As had become the norm in higher education, corporate search firms brought in career administrators, often in expensive and not entirely public processes that resulted in hiring candidates who had no real connection to the institution and who didn’t stay long enough to develop one. When leaders serve for an average of just three years, concerns about mission and vision can become acute. At a meeting of administrators I attended in 2016, an associate dean indicated that colleagues in his college had become confused about the university’s identity. Some faculty and administrators behaved as though UC were a community college, thinking only about teaching undergraduate students, since enrollments were the primary driver in the budget model. At the same time, some faculty thought UC should function like MIT, where training graduate students and landing large research grants are paramount. With so little clarity or consistency in the articulation of the university’s mission, no wonder many faculty and administrators pondered the future with trepidation.
As Clark Kerr pointed out, however, there is “a tendency in higher education to view the future with alarm and the past with appreciation.” A vast literature describing a crisis in higher education has been accumulating since the 1960s, although the explanation of what is causing the crisis has shifted over time—from rapid growth to stagnation, from diffuse, chaotic management to concentrated power. One might even read the history of UC as two hundred years of near continuous crisis, given chronic budget concerns and the constant pressure to evolve to meet societal demands.
Yet despite the national discourse questioning the value of higher education and the accumulation of state and federal policies adverse to higher education, there is good reason to look to the future with hope, especially in Cincinnati. UC found great success in the early twenty-first century, particularly when measured by the number and quality of students it enrolled. And UC appears better prepared than many institutions to weather anticipated disruptions to higher education. Investments in the campus and in surrounding neighborhoods have paid off, the university’s debt notwithstanding. Just as important, a national trend toward urban living, especially in dense, walkable neighborhoods, has led to pockets of revitalization in long-declining neighborhoods in every direction from the university. The improved reputation of the central city and investments in new housing and retail can only help boost an urban university.
And there are many reasons to believe that higher education is healthier than the negative rhetoric from without and the hand-wringing within would have you believe. A variety of data reveal just how vital higher education remains in the United States. The income disparity between college graduates and those with only a high school diploma continued to widen in the early twenty-first century. A 2011 Georgetown University study estimated lifetime incomes at an average 84 percent higher for Americans with bachelor’s degrees. Add to this the remarkable research achievements coming out of American universities, from biomedical engineering to sustainable design, and the incredible value that institutions of higher education add to the national economy becomes clear. Each year colleges and universities in the United States attract hundreds of thousands of international students from all corners of the globe. In 2015 UC alone enrolled students from 114 countries. The accessibility and quality of higher education in the United States is the envy of the world.
Still, UC celebrates its bicentennial at a time when its administration feels pressure from the state—and society more broadly—to grow and generate profits in research and teaching. “What the state needs from the University of Cincinnati is to become even more productive as a driver of our state’s economy,” the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Eric Fingerhut, said in 2009. “I’m not saying UC hasn’t been doing this well,” Fingerhut assured the readers of the Enquirer. “But we’ve got to get to another level because the future of our economy is going to come out of the relationship between universities and the private sector.” We can hear in Fingerhut’s demand echoes of the nineteenth-century booster Daniel Drake, who well understood that institutions of higher learning provide more to their communities than an education to their citizens. As the history of UC makes clear, universities contribute to their localities in myriad ways, from enlightening political discourse to expanding cultural opportunities to offering solutions to social problems. But in the early twenty-first century the purely economic calculation—“as a driver of our state’s economy”—appeared to have overshadowed everything else.
Unfortunately, discussion of the broader purpose of higher education has fallen out of vogue. The national discourse scorns idealistic articulations of university missions. In an era focused on return-on-investment calculations, assertions about the essential role of higher education in nurturing democracy can seem quaint. Inspiring active and engaged citizens, improving the spiritual lives of students and the aesthetics of communities; these aspects of higher education are too vague and unquantifiable for today’s data-driven rankings. However, as philosopher Martha Nussbaum noted in an influential defense of the humanities, “[W]e are not forced to choose between a form of education that promotes profit and a form of education that promotes good citizenship.” We can have both. We just have to tell people this is the mission.
History is nonlinear, and one can easily imagine events that would spark national soul-searching about the health of our democracy and, inevitably, about what institutions of higher education might do to revive it. If the history of UC tells us anything, it’s that we’ve been here before, at a challenging moment for a nation in need of solutions supplied by its universities.
The University of Everywhere?
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing higher education in the early twenty-first century came from the disruptive force of the Internet. Smart technology and online communication threatened to upend entire sectors of employment—from journalism to retail to long-haul trucking—and in higher education administrators rushed to adopt new technologies, fearing competitors would beat them to it. In the short term, online classes and online degrees held out the promise of increasing access for students and increasing markets for institutions. In the long term, however, they may be laying the groundwork for a radical transformation of higher education.
For a relatively brief moment, massive, and free, online courses (called MOOCs) promised a path to a dramatic democratization of higher education and the possibility that only the very best institutions would survive to deliver content at scale. With ventures like Coursera and edX offering free or inexpensive courses in cooperation with some of the world’s leading universities, some observers of higher education predicted the revolution was near. In 2015, Kevin Carey predicted The End of College and the beginning of what he called “The University of Everywhere,” a future in which the disruptive power of the Internet has made higher education truly democratic—cheaper and available anywhere with telecommunications. But Carey’s predictions were based as much on his understanding of the flaws of the current system as on the advantages of online delivery. Carey claimed that research universities weren’t good at teaching undergraduates, because faculty aren’t trained to teach and don’t care for it. “All available evidence suggests undergraduates simply aren’t learning very much,” he concluded.
This doesn’t strike me as true in the least. Part of what Carey is missing, and part of what has slowed the revolution, despite the popularity of online classes, are the unquantifiable aspects of what higher education gives—has always given—to its students: the “college experience”—the very thing the Hargreaves plan hoped to accentuate on Cincinnati’s campus. At its heart, education is about human relationships created through the discovery, articulation, and debate of new knowledge and understanding, in class and out. As Abraham Flexner scolded in 1930 as Columbia University experimented with large correspondence courses, “The whole thing is business, not education.” Correspondence courses eventually found a niche market, as universities with good reputations shied away from “home study” courses. Similar experiences attended innovations in the use of radio and television to deliver content for college credit. That these technologies failed to disrupt the development of large, centralized research universities serves as a reminder that higher education is not mainly about transmitting information.
Online teaching and learning are in their infancy and may yet dramatically alter the landscape of higher education, but meanwhile applications to and attendance of traditional colleges and universities continue to rise. UC’s record enrollments, combined with the explosion of on- and off-campus housing, suggest an ongoing demand to be at college, to experience what it has to offer—in person. Certainly UC is building as if the campus will continue to draw students well into the future. In 2017, UC listed twelve major construction projects, from a new business college to a new dormitory. In total, over half a billion dollars in construction was under way or proposed. In other words, Carey’s University of Everywhere may eventually appear, but the university in Cincinnati will persist nonetheless.
Please Join In
On July 19, 2015, a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in Mount Auburn. The following months on campus were difficult, especially for African American students, staff, and faculty, who expressed grave concern for their own safety and for the safety of others in surrounding communities. Students formed a new group—the Irate8, the name capturing their mood while reminding everyone of the very small percentage of students on campus who were African American, a percentage that had actually declined since peaking in the late 1970s. The Black Faculty Association also became an important voice in the aftermath, taking the opportunity to teach about racism and white privilege while advocating for social justice on campus and off.
For everyone associated with the university, this was a time to assess the institution’s relationship to the African American community, its efforts to provide a safe, diverse learning environment, and the persistence of structural racism in the United States. Students organized protests and a teach-in; faculty organized public forums, in which panels of experts and community members discussed the issues; administrators, fearing lawsuits and bad publicity, engaged outside consultants to analyze the problem, hired additional administrators to implement the solutions, and created committees for oversight. In other words, everyone behaved as expected, in a city—and country—where racial inequality, concentrated poverty, and community–police relations seemed to be the only constants in a world otherwise in constant flux. The campus had been transformed, the surrounding neighborhoods improved, and the university’s mission updated, but suddenly it felt like 1968 again.
Ashley Nkadi, co-founder of the Irate8 (2016). In the fall of 2016, Nkadi led an Irate8 boot camp, training fellow students in the techniques of activism. Sparked by the shooting death of Samuel DuBose, student and community activism forced the university to make changes, much as it had in the 1960s and 1970s. Photo by N. C. Brown. Courtesy of The News Record.
The officer who shot DuBose lost his job soon thereafter. It took much longer for the UC police chief to lose his, even though data revealed a dramatic and inexplicable rise in traffic stops under his leadership, with much of the growth coming through an obvious tendency to target African Americans at a much higher rate than whites. In sum, the data revealed an unannounced effort to exert police influence in the neighborhoods around the university, especially Clifton Heights and Mount Auburn. In 2016, the outside consultants issued a major report and suggested a variety of reforms, most of them internal to police operations and reporting. The chair of the Board of Trustees, Rob Richardson Jr., announced satisfaction with the progress in the year after the shooting. “We want to be a world-class example for what policing is and how it should be done,” he said in a UC press release. Even police reform was to be spoken of in terms of international prestige.
The shooting of Sam DuBose was just one of a string of similar killings around the country that had heightened awareness of the unequal treatment of African American men by police. Many in the university community supported the growing Black Lives Matter movement, designed to keep attention focused on the problem and force changes to police training, encourage prosecution of bad actors, and heighten media coverage of violence involving black victims. The shooting also happened in a local context of university expansion by proxy. The university had gained permission from the city to police well beyond its campus, and it had done so with vigor. Policing had become another means by which the university could control space, with the ultimate goal of making students—at least white students—feel more secure in the surrounding neighborhoods.
On the one-year anniversary of DuBose’s death, the university came together for a prayer vigil on the Campus Green. Since it took place in the summer, when few students and faculty were around, the event was attended mostly by administrators, clergy, and the family of Sam Dubose. While several speakers spoke movingly about DuBose and the need for racial reconciliation and for social justice, the most moving words came from his mother, Audrey DuBose, who said she had been awakened to injustice by the killing of her son. She asked everyone: “Please join in.” Movements need heroes, and sometimes martyrs, but mostly they need commitment from a great number of people.
The Heart of This Region
On April 5, 2017, recently hired President Neville Pinto addressed an All-Faculty Meeting in the Great Hall of TUC. For more than twenty years, Pinto had been a faculty member in chemical engineering and then dean of the Graduate School at UC, but he had left to become the dean of Engineering at the University of Louisville in 2011. He then served as provost and interim president in Louisville before returning to the institution where his career began. Much had changed during his six-year absence, but as he addressed the faculty he looked out on many familiar faces. The faculty and staff had seen too much instability in recent years, Pinto knew. He also knew there had been plans and revised plans, visions and re-visions.
Sensing the exhaustion from transitions of all types, Pinto announced his theme would be continuity, reconnecting the university to its historical mission. UC’s third century will be much like its second, he said; UC will remain “student-centered, faculty-driven, and urban-serving.” Significantly, the continuity Pinto described centered on Cincinnati itself. “We are at the heart of this region,” he said. Engagement in the city would come through service and through research, and, he emphasized, it could be mutually beneficial. The future of the nation and the world would be urban, Pinto said, and then, sounding very much like Charles Dabney a century earlier, he hoped Cincinnati would define “the urban research university of the future.” The university has more than a teaching and research mission, however, and Pinto emphasized, “We must fulfill every aspect of our mission.” To fulfill its democratic mission, to provide access to education to the community it serves, UC must be inclusive. With more than a gesture toward the killing of Sam DuBose, Pinto affirmed that the university must work for social justice.
J. Martin Klotsche noted the potential of urban universities in the mid-1960s, when urban growth combined with urban problems positioned schools such as UC for important work. “If diversity is the dominant characteristic of American higher education,” he wrote, “then the urban university should embrace its special location. If it finds strength in its urban setting, and capitalizes on it, then its true mission can be accomplished.” Historian Thomas Bender has made the case that the city is the most likely location for the creation of a truly open, multicultural society, since it is in cities where diversity mingles. Clearly Cincinnati, like all American cities, has failed in fundamental ways, most evident in the consequences of racism, but one need only revisit Drake’s passage about Cincinnati’s diversity to be reminded that this city was built by and for a pluralistic population. Diversity has been part of our urban identity, and now we are challenged to create truly inclusive communities. The University of Cincinnati appears well positioned for the task.
President Pinto made no promises about growth or greatness or being world-class at this or that. Some things about the future we can only guess. However, he was certain of one thing: “We will be in Cincinnati for all of our third century.” This phrase seems a fitting way to end this story. I have written about the university and about Cincinnati, but mostly this book has concerned the preposition that unites them in the title University of Cincinnati. For some time the “of ” indicated ownership; UC was a municipally owned and operated university. But mostly it has indicated a service obligation, a mission to provide higher education to as broad a constituency as it could through as many avenues as necessary. Only time will tell precisely how this university will be of Cincinnati in its third century.
 Office of the Chief Financial Officer, “University Current Funds Budget Plan, 2005–2006” (June 28, 2005), 9–12; Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, and Kathleen Masterson, “Funding Down, Tuition Up,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 5, 2016. http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/funding-down-tuition-up.
 American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Historical Trends in Federal R&D,”
 Reliance on adjunct instructors has clearly increased, but this is a trend that reflects administration efforts to control costs more than research faculty lack of interest in teaching undergraduates.
 Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University (1963; rpt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 212. The literature about higher education in crisis includes The Embattled University, edited by Stephen R. Graubard and Geno A. Ballotti (New York: George Braziller, 1970), a collection of essays that appeared in Daedalus over the previous year. The theme of crisis at that point entailed a lack of autonomy among universities, which had become beholden to government and corporations in the era of growth. See also The Crisis in Higher Education, edited by Joseph Froomkin (New York: Academy of Political Science, 1983), a collection of essays that describes the new crisis resulting from declining enrollments, rising tuition, and decreased state support. Each generation has its own crisis—at least one. See The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), in which Bill Readings describes the collapse of universities, bested by the postmodern challenge.
 Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose, and Ban Cheah, The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, and Lifetime Earnings (Washington, DC: Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, n.d. [circa 2011]), https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/.
 “Trending: President’s Report on the University of Cincinnati,” November 5, 2015, http://issuu.com/uofcincy/docs/trending6?e=12227993/31151518.
 “What the Area Wants of UC,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 2009.
 Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 10, 124.
 Kevin Carey, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015), 241.
 Abraham Flexner, Universities: American, English, German (New York: Oxford University Press, 1930), 144. On the high hopes for the educational role of radio in the 1930s see Robert W. McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), esp. 38–62.
 The officer was also charged with manslaughter and murder, although after two hung juries those charges were dismissed. See “Charges against Ray Tensing Dismissed,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 24, 2017.
 Exiger, “Final Report for the Comprehensive Review of the University of Cincinnati Police Department,” June 1, 2016, https://www.uc.edu/content/dam/uc/publicsafety/docs/ Reform/documents/FINAL%20REPORT.pdf; Robin S. Engel and Murat Ozer, “University
of Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Stop Summary,” University of Cincinnati Institute of Crime Science, July 31, 2015, https://www.uc.edu/content/dam/uc/ucomm/docs/ucpdarrests- and-citations.pdf; Michele Ralston, “In Unprecedented Move, UC Board Approves Policy on Policing Standards; Hires Independent Monitor to Oversee Police Reforms,” UC News, September 21, 2016.
 Author’s notes from All-Faculty Meeting, Great Hall, April 5, 2017.
 J. Martin Klotsche, The Urban University: And the Future of Our Cities (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 30; Thomas Bender, “Scholarship, Local Life, and the Necessity of Worldliness,” in The Urban University and Its Identity: Roots, Locations, Roles, edited by Herman van der Wusten (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998), 27. As Bender phrased it, “By reorienting academic culture from the nation to the metropolis, and from national cultures to the metropolitan cultures in which universities are deeply implicated, one might thereby acquire important new resources for the making of the pluralized public culture that must be constructed in the coming generation—not only in the United States, but in every open, democratic society.”