Portrait of Charles R. Adrian

Charles R. Adrian

July 2, 1998

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Charles Adrian, prominent Political Science professor, reflects on his philosophy of the discipline and the formative years of UC Riverside.
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Adrian: Mass educating is really a contradiction in terms. Education is a specialized thing for people who not only want to learn but can learn. The more you spread it out, the more you have to lower standards.

I think that politically that's necessary today. Probably a lot of people who are more liberal than I am say that that's the only fair way to do it. But at the same time, what we are doing is developing more and more specialization.

And this sharp peak in the middle of the distribution curve is, I think, a reflection of the fact that our society is more and more living a delusion. We talk in terms of more democracy, greater involvement of more people, people really equal, and all those sorts of things. But the people who really run the world are the people who are at the peaks of those distribution curves. They are the people who know these kinds of specialized knowledge. And that's just the way it's going to be.

Again, my feeling is it's pretty much inevitable. We want both goals. We want the advantages of high tech. You get that only one way, higher people who understand it. And at the same time, we want a broad egalitarian society. They are contradictions in terms. They are contradictions in goals. It seems to me that again, they are pretty much what we need. They are inevitable. We demand both of the goals and we kind of tend to not see what we don't want to see in the system.

I think that the goal of egalitarianism has to be separated from the goal of intense technical knowledge, which is what our society depends upon today. But we don't want to see an inconsistency in this kind of thing, so that what we get, of course, is very specialized graduate programs and very general undergraduate programs.

It works out all right as long as somebody doesn't point out that really it isn't egalitarian at all. I think that is a natural result of the developments in the two hundred years, almost three hundred years, since the industrial revolution. As soon as you began to develop a technology, you had to develop people who understood the technology, and that meant you had to have people to teach the experts on it.

Questions Regarding this Oral History Project should be directed to Jan Erickson at jan.erickson@ucr.edu.