The One University Idea and its Futures by Patricia A. Pelfrey


The University of California, the nation’s first multicampus system, is unique in its central organizing principle, known as the one-university idea.  Its premise is simple: that a large and decentralized system of campuses, which share the same mission but differ in size, interests, aspirations, and stage of development, can nevertheless be governed as a single university.  Long regarded as a major structural reason for the UC system’s rise to pre-eminence among public research universities, the one-university model has been a unifying administrative and cultural ethos within UC for more than 80 years.  Today it represents a striking counterpoint to current theories of multicampus university governance that argue for ever-greater campus independence and hybrid public-private models to address the serious financial plight facing public research universities.  Does it have a future in the era of disruptive innovation?  The story of its origin and evolution suggests several points about governance and organizational reform in universities.  Institutional redesign is rarely an impartial contest among rational alternatives.  It is the product not only of financial and other external pressures but also of institutional conflicts, personal rivalries, temporary interests, and the irresistible urge to rectify the mistakes of predecessors.  Actual reform in universities comes with a history, and UC’s experience offers its own context for today’s national debate about multicampus systems and new paradigms of university governance and organization.

Publication date: 
June 1, 2016
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
THE ONE- UNIVERSITY IDEA AND ITS FUTURES By Patricia A. Pelfrey CSHE 6.16 (June 2016)