Essential University

Essential University

Not a book, but may turn into one.

Welcome to Essential University.

At this time we are not looking to raise money, hire faculty, or admit students.

In a period in which the country’s first-line universities admit under 10% of all applicants, there is clearly an opportunity to advance the United States by creating additional elite-rank technical universities. Here we propose Essential University, focused on research and teaching, with a minimal and strictly limited administrative overhead.

Essential University is a draft proposal. There is discussion at The objective is to provide a contrast with the way other American universities are run. We expect that in putting this proposal into operation there would need to be an adjustment process targeted at reducing administrative costs further.

Essential University will provide a focused scientific education of the highest quality. The university will provide courses of study leading to the Bachelor of Science and the Doctor of Science degrees in mathematics and in the exact and biological sciences and, at some future date, the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctor’s degrees in engineering.

Diversity in opinion is a fundamental part of the university. Just as members of the academic community have the right to express their opinions, so other persons have the right to listen or not to listen. There is, however, no right to prevent other members of the academic community from expressing their opinions or listening to the opinion of others.


Students are admitted based on their record of academic performance. Primary weight on admissions will be placed on performance in standardized examinations. Prior to application, students may have played musical instruments, participated in high school extracurricular events, been members of athletic teams, or the like; these non-academic activities are not considered in the admissions process.

Performance prior to admission in Advanced-Placement courses, and in University-level courses not offered by Essential University, will be viewed favorably. We welcome applications from students who passed through non-traditional academic paths and are prepared for our programs. English is the language of instruction; students are required be entirely fluent in standard edited English. The TOEFL is not a useful test for this purpose.

Corresponding to these high requirements, the academic program leading to each degree is expected to be more demanding than the academic programs at the best technical universities in the United States, notably MIT, CalTech, and Stanford. Academic schedules will be arranged to ensure standard three-hour written mid-term and final examinations, including a pre-final reading period. Programs will include significant research requirements based on individual projects. The faculty of each department is required to perform an annual review comparing technical courses at each of the schools with technical courses at Essential University.

Unlike many other American Universities, Essential University does not have a ‘general education’ requirement. Instead, Essential University students are expected to take full loads of technical courses, just as seen at first-line English Universities. Correspondingly, Essential University does not offer degrees or have departments in humanities, arts, or so-called ‘soft’ sciences. Students are required to take courses in editing, learning how to polish one’s written English. Students with literary or humane interests are encouraged to form special interest clubs that, for example, perform the plays of Marlowe or the compositions of Telemann.

Every student is required to pass through training in the experimental arts, such as machine shop, glassblowing, carpentry, electrical shop, computer programming, and general maintenance, this to be done via courses for academic credit.

Essential University does not offer remedial courses for students whose academic background was not up to par. If you are good enough for an Essential University degree, you are good enough to make up those deficiencies before you enter.

A sound mind in a sound body is a sound expectation for every student. For some students, medical issues may create limitations. Essential University does not maintain varsity athletic teams, but does encourage students to organize club sports and competition events between dormitories and other residence arrangements.

Essential University exists to provide academic programs, not to coddle students who are not prepared to function as adults. Universities exist to expose students to dangerous thoughts. We do not supply ‘safe spaces’. We do recognize that some students have physical limitations and will do what we can to accommodate them.

As part of our policy of minimal administrative burden, in that great resources are needed to process visas, we do not supply these services. Essential University rejects condemning students to a lifetime of wage slavery and does not support participation in student loan programs. On the other hand, by minimizing the administrative burden, we expect to charge a considerably lower tuition than our competitors do.

Admissions Standards

Admissions are administered in a strictly race-blind, sex-blind, nationality-blind, political orientation-blind, religion-blind, etc.-blind, manner. Primary emphasis is on a record of high academic performance. In making admissions, Essential University does not consider a student’s ability to pay tuition or other expenses. Because we run an extremely low-cost operation, we give limited financial aid. Scholarships are often based on academic performance, not on a claim of financial need. Some members of the Board of Patrons may choose to offer financial support to particular students as part of their giving. The faculty exerts quality control over admissions decisions.


All Faculty members are required to have a doctorate in their own or a related field of study. Writing is a significant part of course work, so Faculty members at time of hire are required to be totally fluent in standard edited English. Faculty members are required to have and maintain during their careers an active program of research. An active program of research is demonstrated by publications in journals, publication of textbooks or research monographs, and in all cases by an annual lecture reporting on research progress during the past year. The enforcement procedure for this rule is simple: There is a teaching requirement, a research requirement, and a requirement for participation in Faculty Governance. Teaching is good for 1/3 of your salary. Doing both of these is good for your full salary. Retirement funds will be provided by guaranteed-contribution plans at conventional American university rates.

Because resources are, at least initially, likely to be limited, initial hires in the exact sciences will largely be limited to scientific theory, including computer simulations. All hires are made by search committees of the department’s senior faculty, each search committee including one non-departmental senior faculty member, the Chancellor having the right to reject a hire. Until the Chancellor is presented with the final decision of the search committee, he is to receive no information as to the pool of possible hires.

Contact with faculty active in research is a fundamental part of undergraduate education. All classes, including lectures and conference sections, are taught by faculty. Essential University does not hire ‘adjunct’ or ‘teaching’ faculty who do not perform research. Graduate teaching assistants may supervise laboratories. Correspondingly, all faculty are required to teach one course or several conference sections in every semester, except when they are on leave.

Our most important courses are the freshman courses, because they set the platform for all future work and, more important, study habits. All faculty are rotated on a regular basis through teaching courses at the freshman and sophomore levels. Essential University Faculty shall teach by direct instruction and the assignment of a heavy homework load.

Administrative Support Group

Until the University is in operation, there will be an ad hoc administrative group provided by the Board of Patrons.

The purpose of the administrative support services, called “the administration” elsewhere, is to serve the needs of the faculty and the student body by providing support of facilities, resources, and other related topics needed for the functioning of the University. There will be a Finance Board, a third of whose members are provided by the Faculty, a third by the Administrative Support Services, and a third by the Board of Patrons. The objective of the Finance Board is to cast a jaundiced eye on proposals to expand the administrative support services.

There will be a Chancellor, who must be qualified by normal standards to be a tenured member of the faculty, selected by the Board of Patrons from a short list of candidates recommended by the Faculty. The Chancellor is expected to encourage excellence in research and teaching via example and admonishment. The salary of the Chancellor is the average of the salaries of the ten best-paid members of the Faculty. No member of the administrative support services is paid more than the Chancellor. The Faculty may with a sufficient vote remove the Chancellor.

There will be support persons in charge of key operations, such as a librarian, a personnel and payroll director, an admissions application monitor, a physical plant director, a computational services director, an accounting office, a resource development office, a grant administration office, and a legal compliance office. When practical, e.g., payroll, operations will be outsourced. Particularly in the early stages, some of these offices may as appropriate be filled by faculty members.

There will not be a President, Vice President, or Deans. Essential University is not an industrial firm. The use of C-suite titles, such as ‘Chief Financial Officer’, is forbidden.

Tenure and promotion are under the strict control of the Faculty, including tenure and promotion reviews within the program and separately by faculty members outside the program, positive recommendations for tenure by both being required. The internal evaluation committees are to see all referee reports on all submitted papers and grants. The Chancellor may after reviewing a tenure or promotion recommendation direct that a reconsideration be made.

The expectations for tenure are an active research program as judged by publications and evaluation by outside persons, and adequate performance in teaching as judged by evaluation by faculty and external peers. Essential University will not have the lunatics running the asylum. Student evaluations of teaching are confidential matters between individual faculty members and their students, and may not be used as part of tenure or promotion decisions. Success or lack of success in raising external funds in support of research may not be considered in the tenure decision.

Each department will have a faculty member serving as administrative and program development officer, to see that the necessary departmental functions are performed. This person has no role in approving tenure decisions, theses, or dissertations, beyond his or her responsibilities as an individual faculty member.

There is a Board of Patrons. They are honored for their giving.


Essential University recognizes that some students will reach the University, work through a semester or two, and realize that our academic program does not match their interests or needs. We vigorously encourage those students to transfer to other universities, and provide such support as we can to facilitate those transfers.

About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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1 Response to Essential University

  1. Fred Mora says:

    I would have jumped on an opportunity to enroll in such a university. It sounds very close to a European engineering school.

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