The model of the German research university spread rapidly in the United States in the decades after the Civil War, inaugurated by the founding of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 as our first institution organized around graduate research studies. The late scholar Edward Shils referred to this as "the most decisive single event in the history of learning in the Western hemisphere." This innovation, as Shils pointed out, put pressure on other institutions to establish their own programs of research and graduate study. Harvard soon created its own Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in order to keep pace with Johns Hopkins. Stanford University was established in 1891 along similar lines, which induced the University of California to follow suit. The University of Chicago, underwritten by John D. Rockefeller, was established in 1892 with research as the basis for faculty appointment and promotion. Other institutions in the Midwest, especially Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois, were then in the process of embracing the research model. Here, then, in the wake of the Hopkins innovation, occurred the first important competition among universities for rank and reputation; and here, through this competition, the modern American university was born.
Shils was certainly correct to emphasize the far-reaching consequences that followed in the United States from the adoption of the German university model. In the United States, as in Germany, the research model transformed the status of the professor from a teacher to an independent scholar and researcher. Professors would no longer pass along established truths and traditional moral ideals, but would subject these truths and ideals to scrutiny in the search for new knowledge. The faculty, as the new priesthood of the research enterprise, would shortly claim authority to decide all matters dealing with curriculum, new faculty appointments, and promotions. The modern doctrine of academic freedom, which gives professors wide latitude to teach and conduct research as they wish, also followed in due course as a consequence of these premises. Much as Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the law is what the judges say it is, the reformed university would henceforth be whatever the faculty decides it is.
As the modern university took shape, faculties began to organize themselves into specialized departments, or disciplines, with their own formal rules for study, research, and publication. It was in this period that the various academic associations were formed, including the American Historical Association (1884), the American Economic Association (1885), the American Physical Society (1899), the American Political Science Association (1903), and the American Sociological Association (1905). These were national membership associations that held annual conventions and published their own journals containing research studies representing authoritative work in the respective disciplines. These associations were, in a way, national communities that reoriented the attention of professors away from students at their own college and toward colleagues working in the same discipline at other institutions across the country. The status of professors in their various disciplines was based on their published research, which established in turn a new basis upon which to rank departments and entire institutions.
At the risk of burdening you with too many personal details, Johns Hopkins is the establishment from which I purchased my thoroughly useless undergraduate degree. It is a place of insidious evil. If the American collegiate landscape is DisneyWorld for adolescents--think of Harvard as Cinderella's Castle, the Florida schools as Space Mountain, and MIT as the Carousel of Progress--Hopkins would be Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. What starts out as childish adventure soon becomes a descent into Hell and eventually every student is made to feel as though they've been hit by an oncoming train.
What I find funny is that though Hopkins began the trend which has created the left university, today (or at least a few years ago when I was there) it is largely untouched by the political climate it created. Neither the students nor the faculty nor the administration care about multiculturalism or political correctness or radical politics or anything of the sort. The students care only for their GPA's, the faculty care only for their research, and the administrators--the good guys on campus--care about building the endowment and trying to keep the students from killing themselves (and each other).
But enough about me; the Piereson article is great stuff.