Ronald Reagan, Governer of California

Landon Lecture
October 26, 1967

Higher education: Its role in contemporary America

I am speaking here today neither as an academician nor as a politician. I do not have the training to be the first nor the aspiration to be the second. That leaves me the role of concerned citizen, and among my concerns is higher education and its place in contemporary America.

Listing the problems is easy - solutions are a little harder to come by. For example, there is the problem of financing the increasing cost of higher education. I have some first-hand experience with that one, but I cannot lay claim to having the answer. Nor do I think that university president has the answer who stated bluntly that the academic community's only responsibility was to tell government its needs and government's obligation was not to question but to simply come up with the money. This was higher education and contemporary America meeting eyeball to eyeball.

Limits of Government

Strange as it may seem, there is a limit to what government can extract from the body of the citizenry - a limit fixed, not by pity or unwillingness to wield the scalpel, but by the hard fact that unless that body of citizenry is able to function on a 9-to-5 basis, the schoolhouse door will not open at all.

Government's share of the wealth has to stop short of interfering with the production of wealth. Higher education explains it as having to do with the law of diminishing returns.

Then, of course, having decided on and collected its share, government must allocate. So much for roads - so much for protection against the law breaker - for help to those who must depend on the rest of us for sustenance - for health - and of course for education, elementary through college and university.

Never, according to those engaged in these various facets of government, is there sufficient funding for all that needs to be done. But when government is taking all the economy will bear, choices must be made and if education demands an increase in funds greater than the normal workload increase occasioned by growth and higher prices, then it must be taken from some other program.

Importance of Education

Now this should not be interpreted as minimizing the importance of education. No one denies the value of a higher education for all those able to assimilate one. Indeed, a vast network of institutions of higher learning, both public and private, is essential if we are to maintain our nation as the world's leader in science and technology, Nor does anyone deny the growing needs in our nation for teachers, for doctors, lawyers, economists and sociologists, and yes in these days, not only for a literate public, but also for a well-educated and knowledgeable populace.

Alfred Whitehead said, ''In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute; The race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed.''

There is no question but that Americans all over this land have assigned a high priority to education. It is also true that the cost of education is increasing faster than the increase in public funds. A more sophisticated answer is needed than just "come up with more money."

I suggested a partial answer in California based on the theory that good tax policy involves assessing at least a part of the charge for a service against those receiving the service. In a word, I proposed tuition at our state University and Colleges. The result was cataclysmic. I could not have branded myself as any more "anti-intellectual" if I had said ''Me Tarzan, you Jane.''

Actually, there was much more to my proposal than just a method for collecting revenue.

The students enjoying the benefits of public higher education in California come from the same income levels as those attending the private or independent schools such as Stanford and U.S.C. Very few from low income families can take advantage of the educational opportunities made available by the taxpayers of California.

With this in mind, half of the funds from the proposed tuition would go for a combination of loans and grants-in-aid to needy students.

And since another problem in our University is an exceptionally high dropout rate, we tried to cope with that. Our plan called for 75% loan and 25% grant the first year, 50-50 the second year, 75% grant and only 25% loan the third year, and 100% grant the fourth year. The loans, of course, would be repaid after graduation.

Another problem at our University is the unhappiness of students over lack of contact with professors engaged more in research than in teaching. To help meet this problem, one-fourth of the tuition money would provide for 250 new teaching chairs at the University and the remaining fourth could be applied to capital construction of needed facilities.

Since all of this could be accomplished with a tuition that amounted to less than 10% of the cost of the education, we did not think the proposal was punitive.

May I add that, if we adhere to the idea that everything adds to the educational experience, I believe there is some merit in the student accepting responsibility for a portion of the cost of his education-as long as no qualified student is denied an education because of lack of funds.

There are benefits and burdens that accrue both to the individual and to society, and the burdens, including the burden of cost, must be borne by both.

But if all the problems of finance could be solved tomorrow, there would still be cause for concern about the place of higher education in contemporary America.

Academic Freedom

What is our definition of academic freedom?

Those who teach, understandably enough, define it as the right to teach as they see fit without interference from administrators and certainly not from those who hold the public purse strings or who fill the public purse.

But those who pay for the education, students and taxpayers, also have a definition of academic freedom: their freedom to have some say in what they get for their money.

Those holding public office try to interpret the will of the people and pass it on to the university administration, conscious always that they must not appear to be exerting political control over education. Equally uncomfortable are the administrators who must interpret the educators' viewpoint to the crass politicians and vice versa - they can be likened to a prisoner in front of a cellophane wall being shouted at by both sides.

And the truth is - all the claims are legitimate and must be reconciled within a framework of mutual understanding and compromise.

The dictionary defines education as ''the impartation or acquisition of knowledge, skill, or the development of character as by study or discipline."

The taxpayer is wrong who ignores the great increase in things we know - knowledge acquired since he was in school - and who demands "no new-fangled courses. What was good enough then is good enough now."

But so is the student wrong who would eliminate all required courses and grades-who would make education a kind of four-year smorgasbord in which he would be the sole judge of how far and fast he ran in pursuit of knowledge.

And that educator is wrong who denies there are any absolutes - who sees no black and white of right or wrong, but just shades of gray in a world where discipline of any kind is an intolerable interference with the right of the individual. He rebels at the old-fashioned idea of ''loco parentis'' and claims he is there to impart knowledge, not to substitute for absentee parents. But he cannot escape a responsibility for the students' development of character and maturity.

Strangely and illogically, this is very often the same educator who interprets his academic freedom as the right to indoctrinate students with his view of things. Woe to the student who challenges his interpretation of history, or who questions the economic theory given as proven formula in what is at best, a very inexact science.

One thing we should all be agreed on is the university's obligation to teach, not indoctrinate.

Institutions of higher education are repositories of all the accumulated knowledge of man, but they must not be vending machines. Along with the dispensing of facts and figures must come the production of wisdom.

In our colleges today are undoubtedly more than one President of the United States, a number of Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members and many Legislators.

The Role of Higher Education

And this brings me to the part higher education plays in contemporary America.

These institutions were created and are presently maintained to insure perpetuation of a social structure - a nation, if you will.

Now don't put a narrow interpretation on this as some will and translate "social structure'' into "status quo'' or "social order'' or "preserve the aristocracy; keep the little bananas from becoming top banana."

Our country, unfortunately, has a lot of people who would turn the country back to the dark ages, or ahead to 1984. Some have a concept of government more akin to Frederick the Great than Thomas Jefferson.

Our nation is founded on a concern for the individual and his right to fulfillment, and this should be the preoccupation of our schools and colleges.

The graduate should go forth, literally starting on a lifetime of learning and growing and creativity that will in turn bring growth and innovation to our society.

And the truth is - never in history has there been such a need for men and women of wisdom and courage - to absorb the knowledge of the past and plan its application to the present and future and courage to make the hard decisions.

Unleashing Individual Genius

At Stanford University in 1906 William James said, "The wealth of a nation consists more than in anything else in the number of superior men that it harbors."

At the risk of great oversimplification may I suggest that the great ideological split dividing us on the world scene and here within our own borders has to do with the place of the individual.

Acceptance is given more and more to the concept of lifting men by mass movements and collective action, in spite of the fact that history is strangely barren of any record of advances made in this manner. By contrast, the road from the swamp to the stars is studded with the names of individuals who achieved fulfillment and lifted mankind another rung.

It is time we realized what we mean by "equality" and being "born equal''.

We are equal before God and the law and our society guarantees that no acquisition of property during our lifetime nor achievement, no matter how exemplary, should give us more protection than those of less prestige, nor should it exempt us from any of the restrictions and punishments imposed by law.

But let there be no misunderstanding about the right of man to achieve above the capacity of his fellows. The world is richer because of a Shakespeare and a Tennyson, a Beethoven and a Brahms. Certainly major league baseball would not be improved by letting every citizen who wanted to have a turn at playing Willie Mays' position.

We live (even many so-called poor) at a level above the wildest dreams of the kings of one hundred years ago-because some individual thought of a horseless carriage, an ice box and later a refrigerator, or machinery that lifted burdens from our backs. (I would have thrown in television if I were still appearing on Death Valley Days.)

Why did so much of this develop so far and fast in America? Other countries are blessed with natural resources and equable climate - yes, and energetic and talented people.

But here, to a degree unequalled any place in the world, we unleashed the individual genius of man, recognized his inherent dignity, and rewarded him commensurate with his ability and achievement.

Responsibilities of Students

Your generation is being wooed by many who charge this way we have known is inadequate to meet the challenges of our times. They point to the unsolved problems of poverty and prejudice as proof of the system's failure.

As students, you have a duty to research to find if the failure is one of system - or is it the inadequacy of human nature?

You should also inquire if those who would replace the system have anything to offer in exchange other than untried theory packaged as Utopia. It sometimes seems strange that what is so often described, as the brave new world of the future must be upheld by the collectivist philosophy of nineteenth century theorists like Rousseau, Fourier and Marx.

You have lived your entire lives in a governmental framework tending ever more toward the welfare state and centralism. We still have government of the people, by the people and for the people, but there seems to be a lot more of ''for'' the people and less ''of'' and ''by''. This is justified on the claim that society has grown so complex we can no longer afford too much individual freedom.

To invoke ''states' rights'' is to be suspect of wanting to deny ''human rights'', and similar charges of selfishness greet any attack on the tendency of government to grow, but more particularly when attention is called to failures by government in the field of human welfare.

But you are students and therefore engaged in a search for truth.

Has the idea of a federation of sovereign states been proven unworkable because here and there selfish individuals used state government to impose on the freedom of some? Isn't there something to be said for a system wherein people can vote with their feet if government becomes too oppressive? Let a state pile on taxes beyond a bearable limit and business and industry start moving out and the people follow.

Let us think very carefully before switching to a system in which these states become administrative districts enforcing uniform laws and regulations.

The "Creative Society"

If I may personalize here let me tell you some of what we have learned in California these past nine months.

California - that is where they give governors on-the-job training. Being totally inexperienced I had not learned all the things you cannot do, so I set out to keep my campaign promises. And once the people got over their shock they sort of took to the idea.

By every rule of reason, government "of" and "by” the people must be superior to any other kind.

No government could possibly muster a group capable of making the multitudinous decisions that must be made every day to keep a society like ours moving.

If a state is to be great it must call upon the greatness of the people. And the people must be prepared to give a portion of their time to public affairs because government is their business.

The only alternative to the people running government is government running the people.

We put together a blue ribbon citizens committee to recruit personnel for the administrative posts that had to be filled by appointment. They did not just screen applicants for public jobs; they persuaded top-level people in business and the professions to take jobs, which represented tremendous personal sacrifice in salary in almost every case.

Then we invited the most successful citizens of our state to lunch and locked the doors. We outlined a plan for bringing their knowledge to bear on government. They were asked to give up their own careers for a period of from four to six months to work full-time as members of task forces going into every agency and department of government to see how government could be made more efficient and economical by the use of modern business practices.

And we asked them to put up the $250,000 it would take for administrative overhead in this undertaking. They volunteered to a man and they have just completed more than six months full-time away from their own pursuits and even their families.

We are correlating their reports and putting their recommendations into operation. They range from methods of buying supplies to data processing, from rotating department heads to consolidating files.

By applying the floor space standards of private industry to our own office employees, we will reduce this year our need for office space by two million square feet. We have already cancelled construction of a four million dollar building.

On their recommendations our phone bill will be reduced by two million dollars a year. Our budget for out-of-state travel by state employees has been cut 78% and we have reduced the number of employees by 2.5% without a layoff or firing. We simply stopped hiring replacements for those who resigned or retired. Until this year the number of state employees had gone up each of the last eight years anywhere from 4 to 5.5%.

We have embarked on something we call the ''Creative Society". It is nothing more than a full-time effort to involve the independent sector in finding and solving problems before government comes rushing in with bureaus that always seem to multiply like wire coat hangers in a closet.

Already we have thousands of industries - 2,6oo in Los Angeles, 1,500 in San Francisco and so on throughout the state - organized and working in cooperation with our state employment service to match the hard-core unemployed in our poverty-pockets with jobs they can do or can be trained to do. The man in charge is working for no salary and the cost of the program is borne by the industries.

Contrast this with the proposed poverty program I vetoed several weeks ago. It, too, was aimed at the hard-core unemployed. It was going to put seventeen of them to work clearing park land, but half the funds went for seven administrators to oversee the seventeen unemployed.

Answers Needed

We need you-but we need you not just with a head full of packaged information marching in the ranks.

We need you asking why, if we are so prosperous, should the numbers of those on welfare increase each year? Shouldn't welfare, if it is successful, be reducing the need for itself? Will we consider it a success when all of us are on public subsistence or should we judge its success on how many people it rescues from the dole?

We need answers to crime and why it has reached a critical point. Just blaming it on poverty will not do, because in the poverty of the great depression crime was at its lowest level and now in prosperity it has reached its peak.

Higher education in contemporary America has a sacred obligation to instill attitudes toward growth and learning that will in turn shape society. You are here to find yourselves as individuals to at least have a chance to realize your potential.

The world is full of people who believe men need masters. Our society was founded on a different premise, but continuation of this way of ours is not inevitable. It will persist only if we care enough. We must care too much to settle for a non-competitive mediocrity. Only the best that is in each of us will do.

If it has seemed that we have left your generation with no cause to believe in, no banner to follow - you do have a cause here in this land.

For one tick of history's clock we gave the world a shining golden hope. Mankind looked to us. Now the door is closing on that hope and it could be your destiny to keep it open.

Ronald Reagan
Landon Lecture
September 9, 1982


Landon Lecture
October 26, 1967