Finding Visions for the Future of the UC by Looking to the Past

Cristina González’s timely talk last Wednesday, January 18th – the latest in the Humanities Institute’s series of “Conversations in the Humanities” — suggested that the University of California might find a vision for the future by looking to the past. A professor of Spanish and Education, González challenged faculty to articulate a strong vision for the future of the University of California that considers historical forces of globalization and privatization, while also better addressing the diversity of the state.

González began her talk entitled “Universities Cannot Escape History, But Can They Make It?” by sharing the metaphor of the fox and the hedgehog. Originally a reference to ancient Greek culture, Clark Kerr used the analogy to explain leadership trends within the UC in his book, The Uses of the University (1963, 2001).

Following Kerr’s lead, González described two very different leadership styles. Foxes know many things, have good peripheral vision, and focus on the current geography. In terms of leadership, this means that they are good short-term strategists, fundraisers, and negotiators. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, tend to look far into the future and the past, value the role of history, and create long-term visions.

While González noted that the fox style of leadership has dominated the UC administration since Kerr’s time, she believes that we are now suffering from “fox fatigue” and need to cultivate the vision of the hedgehog. Particularly in this moment of crisis, a vision for the future that does more than keep the UC system afloat is imperative.

Looking forward, González called upon faculty to help create a new vision for the future. Administration is now overburdened by the day-to-day maneuverings of keeping the UC system afloat and needs the faculty to forge a new vision for the future of the University of California.

González argued that we must follow the advice of Clark Kerr: to remember that we cannot escape history, though perhaps we can make history. More specifically, Gonzalez, in response to a question about what a new vision for the university might take from the 1960 Master Plan, suggested that we must maintain the systemic excellence of the 1960 Master Plan, while also addressing the current segregation across California’s higher educational system. We must continue to demand proper funding from the state to educate a specific percentage of the state’s students, not just who we can afford.

To learn more about Cristina González’s research on the history of the University of California, see her new book, Clark Kerr’s University of California: Leadership, Diversity and Planning (Transaction Publishers, 2011). Her research and teaching focus on Hispanic literature and culture, as well as on education policy and governance, educational leadership, history of higher education, history of University of California and issues of diversity and inclusiveness.