Remembering Ernest Lynton
By R. Eugene Rice, Senior Scholar
Association of American Colleges and Universities
In 1983, Ernest Lynton began writing and speaking about the “crisis of purpose” in the America university. He was one of the first to focus attention on the lack of alignment between the priorities established for faculty work and the central missions of our academic institutions. Particularly striking was his contention that many universities are striving to be what they are not, and “falling short of being what they could be”. His special concern was with the disconnection developing between academic knowledge generated by faculty in the university and the critical needs for applied knowledge in a growing, diverse democracy increasingly dependent on the intellectual capital of its citizens.
Ernest Lynton was unusually gifted at seeing the larger picture and doing what he called on others to do—relating theory to practice and the wisdom of practice to theory. Because of his rich background as a scientist, a faculty member, a dean, and an academic systems administrator, he could address the work of the individual scholar and how that scholarship might be recognized and rewarded, and then move to the institutional level and re-envision how the mission of a particular group of institutions complemented the rich mosaic of colleges and universities that make up American higher education. He could frame new, imaginative approaches to complex problems, but was also willing to do the nitty-gritty, detailed work required to launch an initiative and generate support. Ernie was an extraordinary leader and valued colleague working with everyday challenges.
After receiving degrees from Carnegie Mellon and Yale, Ernest Lynton began his academic career as a member of the physics faculty at Rutgers in 1952. His strong commitment to socially responsible teaching, research, and service led to his becoming the founding dean of Livingston College, an innovative school at Rutgers dedicated to student learning through engagement in the serious problems of a changing society. The Ernest Lynton Towers are named in honor of his stellar contributions. He went on to serve as senior vice president of academic affairs for the University of Massachusetts’ system from 1973 until 1980, and later was Commonwealth Professor at the university’s Boston campus. His book New Priorities for the University: Meeting Society’s Needs for Applied Knowledge and Competent Individuals, co-authored with Sandra Elman, was published in 1987. That book sketched out the vision that was going to shape Ernest’s professional work for the rest of his life.
Ernest Lynton led the way in recognizing that to reconnect the generation of academic knowledge to the needs of a knowledge-dependent society we would have to broaden our understanding of what counts as scholarly work for faculty and what is rewarded. Ernest was a major contributor to the development of the Carnegie Report Scholarship Reconsidered, and even more, to the basic thrust of the following volume, Scholarship Assessed. He played a key role in launching the Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards sponsored by the American Association for Higher Education and resolutely devoted the latter part of his life to one critical aspect of the scholarly role of faculty—the recognition and rewarding of professional service. His Making the Case for Professional Service (1995) and the guide Making Outreach Visible (1999) [completed by Amy Driscoll after his passing] served as the inspiration for what is now referred to as the “scholarship of engagement”.
Ernest’s national leadership extended well beyond enabling the individual scholar-practitioner; he orchestrated the emergence of a new breed of American universities, the Metropolitan University. A distinctive group of institutions dedicated to working with their surrounding regions and forging effective links between campus, community, and commerce emerged from Lynton’s editorial work and forceful collaborative efforts to form the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU).
CUMU has joined with NERCHE in granting annually the Ernest A. Lynton Faculty Award for the Scholarship of Engagement. This award is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to making a place for engaged scholarship and to shaping colleges and universities committed to the common good.
In a 1929 address inaugurating the new campus of the Harvard School of Business, Alfred North Whitehead reminded his audience,
Imagination is not to be divorced from facts: it is a way of illuminating the facts … The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but slight experience, and those who have experience have feeble imaginations.
American higher education and those committed to connecting academic knowledge to the needs of the larger society are fortunate that in Ernest A. Lynton experience and imagination came together in a special way and time.