History of American Higher Education

Contact: Ralph Derickson

 

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Among the heroes and heroines of higher education in American, Thelin includes one of UK’s own, Sarah Blanding, for whom several residence halls at UK are named. A former faculty member and dean at UK who later became a dean at Cornell University in New York and then president of Vassar College, Blanding was the only woman on Harry Truman’s Presidential Commission on the Future of American Higher Education in 1947.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 25, 2004) -- John Thelin, a professor of educational policy studies in the University of Kentucky College of Education, has written a new book titled “A History of American Higher Education.”

Published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, the 421-page book by Thelin is rapidly becoming known as the definitive work on such American higher education topics as the history of college and university development, past and present diversity of campuses, and the state of higher education financing in America.

Thelin, a 2001-2002 University Research Professor who has taught at UK since 1994, is also a recognized expert on the topic of organized sports in higher education. He received a UK Great Teacher Award in February. He will participate in a book signing ceremony from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at Black Swan Books, 505 East Maxwell St., in Lexington.

A 1969 graduate of Brown University with a master’s degree in American history and a doctorate in educational studies from the University of California, Berkeley, Thelin also is a past president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. He will be the keynote speaker at the Institute of Higher Education meeting Sept. 9vat the University of Georgia.

He received two major research grants from the Spencer Foundation, one of a handful of professors nationwide to be so honored.

Thelin said he was encouraged to “try his own hand” at writing a history of higher education by Frederick Rudolph, a professor emeritus of Williams College, who wrote a similar book in 1961 that was “really a classic book.”

Rudolph’s work “has just been a staple work,” Thelin said. “And I was honored when he asked me to write the introduction to the re-release of the book in 1990.”

Discussing his own new book, Thelin said, “My whole approach is that, by having some lively knowledge of the past, present-day presidents, deans, governors, and members of the boards can make better decisions and better deliberations about the present and the future.”

He concludes that American higher education has really made great strides, but “is probably like the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team. We’re the marvel of the world. We’re on top, but we can get a little overextended and a little sloppy at times.”

One of the big challenges facing higher education in the near future, Thelin said, “is how to replace a retiring generation of faculty who have essentially been on board for close to a half century.”

Among the heroes and heroines of higher education in American, Thelin includes one of UK’s own, Sarah Blanding, for whom several residence halls at UK are named. A former faculty member and dean at UK who later became a dean at Cornell University in New York and then president of Vassar College, Blanding was the only woman on Harry Truman’s Presidential Commission on the Future of American Higher Education in 1947. That commission, Thelin said, “essentially wrote the blueprint for the future of American higher education in the half century after World War II.”

Thelin, who is on faculty sabbatical this semester, said one of his future projects that is being supported by the Kentucky Humanities Council will be an examination of town/gown relationships throughout Kentucky. He also plans to write a new book about the history of research universities in the south.


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