People in higher education tend to think about the foundations of Bill and Melinda Gates and Lumina as relatively recent players in the world of academy. Actually, as described by Ethan W. Ris, they are part of a tradition that is 115 years old, of philanthropists who use foundations to reform higher education. He analyzes the origins of this movement and its success and failures in other people's universities: the origins of American higher education reform (University of Chicago Press).

RIS is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Nevada in Reno. He answered the questions about the book by email.

P: Many American educators seem to think that the efforts of the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and others today are surprisingly different from philanthropy in the past. How is that not the case?

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a: Specific programs advanced by Gates, Lumina and his philanthropic brothers can be new, but their ideology and tactics are certainly not. Large foundations have tried to reform postsecundaria education in the United States for more than 115 years. His theory of action has always been the same: hanging money and legitimacy in front of institutions to attract them to comply with the visions of the foundations and publicly embarrass those who do not have the hook.

One of the most amazing conclusions of other people's universities is that the institution that we call the philanthropic Foundation began with the cause of higher education reform, not the fight against diseases, poverty or war. Plutocrats like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Mr. poured the equivalent of billions of dollars today in this case, long before establishing the general purpose foundations for which they are better known. That fact shows us how elites in the foundations and the government have long perceived higher education as a critical field for US society and economy, but also one in the urgent need for reform. Were the main objectives of those who sought to reform higher education?

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a: The systemic reform of higher education began with a unique objective: reduce the number of schools and universities in the United States. The reformers, whom I called "academic engineers" were obsessed with the ideas that had borrowed from the fields of engineering and business, including efficiency, non -competence and vertical integration.

The abundance of postsecundaria institutions throughout the country seemed to interpose in the path of each of those ideas. Then, academic engineers focused on reductive programs. Fred Gates, who led the Rockefeller Reform Foundation, imagined only 100 universities that grant degree in the United States, extended geographically not to compete with each other. William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago and member of the Board of Rockefeller and Carnegie Board, came up with the idea of ​​the Junior University (now called Community College) and suggested that 50 percent of the institutions of four four years to this new model. Booker T. Washington, who was closely involved with both the bases and with Carnegie itself, promoted the idea of ​​industrial institutes such as the Tuskegee Institute, which he directed, and encouraged black schools and universities to resign vocational postsecundaria education.

Academic engineers also wanted to measure and qualify schools and universities. The objectives of the "era of responsibility" today are certainly not new, as described in the book, the

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