Hunter R. Rawlings III *70, President of the Association of American Universities, notes that, while American research universities are considered today the best in the world and are emulated, envied and entertained by other countries eager to catch up with our success in building such strong institutions, our universities have never been so hard pressed to make their "value proposition" in the face of such strong public criticismsfor everything from high cost and student debt to curricular sclerosis, administrative bloat and failure to change traditional paradigms in the face of the digital revolution. How, Rawlings asks, do we make sense of this paradox at the heart of the critique? He outlines how the history of the American higher education system and the more recent trends answer this question. He concludes with three reasons to be an optimist about the future. Rawlings was the Madison Medalist, Alumni Day 2014.