Blame Thomas Jefferson: Anti-intellectualism and Vocationalism in American Higher Education

Public Seminar

Room G01
Elisabeth Murdoch Building


More Information

Cathleen Benevento

Presented by the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education

Thomas Jefferson was well-known for his support for education as the founder of the University of Virginia in 1819.  He had a crucial role in defining the U. S. Constitution, however, he and the other founding fathers were silent on matters regarding education in this most important document.  The 10th Amendment decrees that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution…are reserved to the States respectively” a provision that has left the issue of education entirely up to 50 separate entities.   Although the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to guarantee access to K-12 education to all people, it provides no guidance as to the quality or contents of education.

The structure of the federal government has a direct impact on the role of higher education. Since the founding of Harvard College in 1636, despite the illuminating ideas of John Henry Newman and John Dewey, Americans have struggled with the purpose of higher education.  The lack of a coordinated national role in K-12 education has produced significant disparities, known as “achievement gaps” among college-age young adults along the racial and socio-economic lines of the American society, where the white students have far better proficiency scores and an alarming percentage of minority students perform under the proficiency scores.

Rising college costs have led many minority students to choose lower-ranked regional institutions or community colleges.  The national research universities, on the other hand, have risen to be global players attracting talented faculty and students from the world, and they are being blamed for not serving the needs for local economic development.

The challenges facing accessibility and affordability exacerbated by the divisive political debates on the value of higher education have caused many Americans to ask: “Is college for everyone?” This seminar wishes to provoke the participants to engage in discussions for the question:  Is today’s American higher education structure shaped by the U. S. constitution? If so, why has the lack of federal and state coordination of higher education become the obstacle for a coherent national model for post-secondary education, by pitting knowledge and critical thinking development against career development?

Dr Yuhang Rong transitioned to the role of Assistant Vice Provost for Global Affairs on July 1, 2014, after eight years of service as Assistant Dean for the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. Dr Rong was then appointed as Assistant Vice President in February 2016, and subsequently Associate Vice President in July 2017. He represents the University as a Senior Leader to Universitas 21, a global research university network. He is a member of the network’s steering committee for student experiences.  He also holds the position of Associate Professor in Residence in Educational Leadership at the University of Connecticut.

Dr Rong earned his B.A. in English from East China Normal University (华东师范大学), his M.A. in Education Administration from West Virginia University, and his Ph.D. in Professional Higher Education Administration from the University of Connecticut.

He has worked in the fields of student affairs, international affairs, and academic affairs in higher education, as well as in the area of teacher quality enhancement in K-12 education. He has authored and/or administered grants from the United States Department of Education. He is the recipient of the American College Personnel Association Annuit Coeptis Award and the Manuscript of the Year Award by the Journal of College and University Student Housing.

In 2003, the Governor of the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut General Assembly recognized Dr Rong for his professional and civic contribution to the state as a first-generation immigrant. In the 2005-2006 academic year, he was selected and served as one of the Ford Foundation supported associates for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Since 2007, he has chaired accreditation visiting teams to numerous institutions around the world. From 2010 to 2013, he served on the Global Diversity Committee (and chair of the committee from 2012-2013) for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). In 2015, he was appointed as a Councilor of the Accreditation Council at the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).