American universities changed profoundly during the twentieth century. For one thing, these institutions became more functionally pertinent—or instrumental—in their relationships with other social and political entities. Such is the argument that Shrum undertakes in his book, which examines a handful of leading universities since the 1920s.

As the book’s subtitle suggests, it seeks to identify institutions serving a national agenda following World War II, but much of the action precedes the war. Wisconsin made the commitment of university resources to public service famous in the early twentieth century, but Schrum suggests that other institutions acted similarly later, notably the University of California. Most of his account focuses on particular campuses and various individuals associated with them, starting with the striving Clark Kerr.

Taking a largely biographical approach to his topic, Schrum devotes an entire chapter to Kerr’s growth as an instrumentally oriented scholar and institutional leader. He eventually became famous...

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