Christopher Newfield

“New Roles for Academia? The American University and the Knowledge Economy”


The US federal government, along with all state governments, is pressuring universities to prove and enhance their direct contribution to the national economy. This generally means that universities must show that their teaching is focused on workforce training and that their research produces commercializable technology. This paper argues that putting these functions ahead of everything else is the educational equivalent of fighting the last war. Today’s university will enjoy public support and real social impact only if it has the two additional effects of spreading social cohesion and developing individual creative capabilities across the broad population. The paper will draw on two disparate fields – literary theory and innovation economics – to show the limits of near-term functionalism and to argue for an updated version of over-the-horizon enlightenment as the university’s public purpose.

Christopher Newfield (Ph.D. Cornell 1988) is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he teaches American literature and culture in the Department of English. His main areas of research are Innovation Theory and Critical University Studies, a field that he helped to found. His writing and teaching also covers American political psychology, race relations, science studies, the future of solar energy, and humanities-based approaches to economics. Professor Newfield’s books include Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard UP, 2008), Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880–1980 (Duke UP, 2003), and The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America (Chicago UP, 1996). He has (co-)edited special issues on the crisis of the public university for Representations, Academe, and the South Atlantic Quarterly (all 2011); he also regularly blogs on these matters, e.g., for the Huffington Post, and reviews for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Currently, he is completing a book entitled Drive Through College: What to Do About Our Downsized Future.

Personal website at the Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara

Profile on “Investigative Humanties” page

“Remaking the University” (Blog w/ Michael Meranze)