The Day the Purpose of College Changed

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tags: higher education, college, Reagan



Dan Berrett writes about teaching, learning, the curriculum, and educational quality. Follow him on Twitter @danberrett, or write to him at dan.berrett@chronicle.com.


The governor had bad news: The state budget was in crisis, and everyone needed to tighten their belts.

High taxes threatened "economic ruin," said the newly elected Ronald Reagan. Welfare stood to be curbed, the highway patrol had fat to trim. Everything would be pared down; he’d start with his own office.

California still boasted a system of public higher education that was the envy of the world. And on February 28, 1967, a month into his term, the Republican governor assured people that he wouldn’t do anything to harm it. "But," he added, "we do believe that there are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without," for a little while at least.

"Governor," a reporter asked, "what is an intellectual luxury?"

Reagan described a four-credit course at the University of California at Davis on organizing demonstrations. "I figure that carrying a picket sign is sort of like, oh, a lot of things you pick up naturally," he said, "like learning how to swim by falling off the end of a dock."




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