[Marxism] Meet the Man Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Higher Ed

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 30 12:24:19 MDT 2015


(Longer than usual posting because it is behind a paywall. It is about a 
PhD thesis written long ago that anticipated the corporatization of 
higher ed.)

Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 29 2015
Meet the Man Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Higher Ed
By Kevin Carey

The old man sat naked and alone, the Pacific Ocean a few feet away. His 
skin was nut-brown, covered with diamond-shaped tattoos running down his 
left arm, shoulder, and torso. His nipples were pierced, long white 
beard a tangle, legs and feet caked with dirt. At the moment the camera 
shutter snapped, he smiled and remembered a Thomas Eakins portrait of 
Walt Whitman, another American wild and unafraid.

He owned a single piece of clothing, a filthy pair of denim shorts, 
which he wore reluctantly when he did his shopping at the Safeway or 
stopped at a roadside stand for rum-raisin ice cream. He would 
occasionally walk to the Instant Printing Company to send other train 
enthusiasts copies of a long, meticulously detailed catalog he had 
compiled of VHS videotapes featuring vintage streetcars. Most days he 
could be found on a flat pile of rocks a short hike from town, among the 
sugar-cane fields at the foot of the West Maui Forest Reserve, reading 
Victorian novels and baking nude in the sun.

To the locals in the Hawaiian town of Lahaina, Larry Veysey was just 
another eccentric washed up in paradise, good for a smile and nod but 
not much conversation. Visitors came occasionally to his condominium by 
the beach, fellow nudists mostly, or a few friends from another time. 
Nobody knew that this resting place was the end of a journey that had 
begun with death and tragedy in a different sort of utopia, gone east to 
rare heights of scholarship in the Ivy League, and returned to the 
redwood forests of California, where he was liberated, or driven mad, or 
both, by the cultural convulsions of the 20th century.

Or that 50 years ago, he produced what is arguably the greatest book 
ever written about the American university.

Laurence Russ Veysey (pronounced Vee-zee) was born in Los Angeles on 
August 12, 1932. His parents, Robert and Betty, moved from place to 
place with their only child until 1936, when they became deeply 
committed to the inward-focused mysticism espoused by a minor Hindu guru 
named Keskar. Robert bought an acre in the valley town of Ojai, 
northwest of Los Angeles, in preparation for his role as Keskar’s John 
the Baptist, and began recording his own poems, visions, and thoughts in 
a series of journals that grew to 27 volumes.

For a time, the family was happy. But Robert’s obsessions with 
astrology, numerology, and reincarnation grew increasingly deep. One day 
he sent Betty and Laurence out of the house with strict instructions to 
sit under a nearby oak tree. For hours mother and son watched smoke rise 
from the chimney. Robert was burning all his earthly possessions. Then 
the smoke stopped, and there was nothing for a long while, until the 
chimney produced one more lone puff. Finally, Betty rushed inside. 
Robert Veysey, age 36, was dead. He had fallen into the embers and his 
hair had caught fire, creating that final wisp.

The circumstances of Robert’s death were murky. There was no suicide 
note, and a coroner’s inquest was inconclusive. Decades later, Robert’s 
half-sister Constance confided, after much drink, her suspicion that 
Betty had murdered her husband. But Laurence discounted them, assuming 
that his father had suffered from the same debilitating heart condition 
that would cut short his own life.

Betty tried to stay on in Ojai, but life was hard for a widow at the end 
of the Great Depression. In 1939 she and Laurence moved back to Los 
Angeles into a home owned by her mother. With no men to support them, 
the two women went to work in factories as the nation armed for war.

The transition was hard for Laurence. Schooling in Ojai had been 
intermittent, and he had taught himself to read and write. He was 
restless, socially awkward, indifferent to authority. He had recurring 
dreams about running barefoot and was prone to nightmares and 
preoccupation. Betty took him to a doctor, who measured his I.Q. at 174. 
Laurence later recalled that, at age 6, he told the doctor that "he 
remembers what he tries to forget and forgets what he tries to remember."

At night, Laurence would lie in bed listening as the No. 9 train came 
rumbling down the middle of Griffin Avenue toward his house, veering at 
the last moment around the bend in the road, on its way downtown. He 
thrilled at the train’s energy and sleek design. Thus began his lifelong 
passion for streetcars. As he grew older, he split his time between 
school and a small band of enthusiasts who rode the rails even as the 
city’s clean, progressive transportation network was being steadily 
dismantled and replaced by freeways choked with cars.

Most of the American university's recent struggles can be traced back to 
the deep structural incoherence Veysey described. Eventually the family 
moved to one of the postwar tract homes of La Crescenta. It was supposed 
to be a suburban idyll, but Larry struggled to make friends. He also got 
lucky. At the time, Yale University and several other Ivies were 
struggling with the problem of too many highly qualified New York City 
Jews in applicant pools that had expanded in the wake of World War II. 
Their solution was to add qualifications like "character" and 
"geographic diversity." Every year, Yale gave a full scholarship to the 
best student from Glendale High. In 1949, that was Larry Veysey.
Yale’s student culture was less intellectual at the time, still 
dominated by the hard-partying sons of the East Coast aristocracy, and 
Larry didn’t fit in. He threw himself into his work, taping together 
three pieces of paper and typing out a meticulous class, study, and 
eating schedule for each day of the week, color-coded and broken into 
five-minute increments.

As a junior, Larry joined a 12-man group of "intensive" history majors 
who were taught in a seminar led by the eminent intellectual historian 
Leonard Krieger. One of the other students, Peter Stansky, recalls 
Veysey as a "dedicated and somewhat obsessed scholar" who famously wrote 
his senior thesis about the streetcars of Los Angeles, "a vivid and 
memorable personality, odd but intriguing, but not someone I knew well, 
and I suspect few if any did." Larry kept a handful photographs of his 
Yale years. He is alone in all of them, unsmiling in jacket and tie. He 
graduated 10th out of 863 students in the Yale Class of 1953.

The Korean War was still grinding on that summer, and there were no 
academic deferments. Larry enlisted in the United States Army Security 
Agency, hoping to learn new languages. Instead he was assigned to a base 
in Indianapolis and started training in shorthand to be a general’s 
secretary in Japan. He’d lie awake in the tightly packed barracks, night 
after night. Finally, overcome by sleep deprivation, he started 
screaming uncontrollably in the middle of class. The Army sent him to a 
mental ward in Fort Bragg, N.C., before granting him an honorable 
discharge in 1954.

Set on becoming a historian, Larry was also broke and unemployed. So he 
worked for the next two years as a secretary at a Los Angeles 
machine-tool company, taking shorthand by day and riding streetcars in 
his free time. He found himself intensely attracted to a co-worker, whom 
he invited home for dinner. Larry tried to express his feelings, but the 
man’s reaction was immediate and cruel. Larry was overcome with shame.

Special Collection, University Library, U. of California Santa Cruz In 
1956 he began graduate work at the University of Chicago, but he 
transferred to the University of California at Berkeley after a year. He 
was 25 years old and had spent nearly all his life in a lonely struggle 
with the expectations and circumstances of the world around him. Every 
new place had disappointed; every good thing seemed on the brink of ruin.

But at Berkeley, he was to find, for a time, something like contentment. 
It began with his adviser and mentor, Henry F. May, who was on his way 
to becoming a giant in the field of American religious and intellectual 
history. May pushed Veysey to expand his narrow interest in the history 
of theosophy, an esoteric philosophy with followers in Ojai, into a far 
wider survey of the crucial, formative decades of modern American higher 
education because "Ford money was available for fellowships in the 
history of higher education," Veysey later said. "Henry steered me away 
from anything reflecting my narrow California origins, and I am sure 
this was the right thing to do."

After his Ph.D. orals in the summer of 1959, Veysey dove into the 
research for what would become a classic history of organizational 
genesis: The Emergence of the American University.

He rented a second-floor room in a brown-shingle house on Hillegass 
Avenue, for a year to do nothing but read, working six days a week from 
morning to night. In late 1960, he visited the archives at Johns 
Hopkins, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Clark, Harvard, and Cornell 
Universities, then headed back west through the universities in Chicago, 
Wisconsin, and Michigan, hopping on doomed streetcar lines along the 
way. He returned to Berkeley at Christmas, having just received a 
three-year appointment as a junior instructor at Harvard, beginning the 
following fall. That meant he had nine months to write his thesis.

Still in print and widely assigned in graduate courses in history, 
education, and sociology, The Emergence of the American University is 
505 pages long. It is the short version of Veysey’s thesis, which runs 
1,169 pages, plus 119 pages of bibliography. Both are divided into two 
main parts: The first, most well-known, covering the period from the end 
of the Civil War to 1890, is an intellectual history of a battle among 
three ideas vying for the soul of academe.

Veysey began by sketching the alien, moribund world of antebellum 
colleges ruled by piety and discipline. Clergymen dominated the ranks of 
administration while professors received little status or pay. Both 
groups believed that suffering benefited the mind as well as the soul, 
and students built their mental faculties through painful recitation of 
long passages in ancient Greek.

But in Veysey’s telling, those faltering, marginal institutions were 
soon overcome by the demands of surging industrialization. Scholars 
began returning from Europe with tales of Humboldtian research 
universities in which the independent, credentialed professor reigned 
supreme. At the same time, land-grant universities were expanding and 
pursuing a utilitarian mission of mechanical arts and practical 
education. The third vision was liberal education, which the English 
theologian John Henry Newman had described as teaching students to 
understand "the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it 
rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and shades, its great points 
and its little …"

Determined to be many things at once, universities sprawled ever upward 
and outward, driven by a bottomless appetite for new functions and 
expenses. College administrators were less polite back then, and Veysey 
had a knack for finding the telling quotation. David Starr Jordan, the 
founding president of Stanford University, mistrusted the "doctors of 
philosophy turned out in such numbers from the great hothouses of 
university culture." After listening to a speech from the president of 
Yale about 13th-century European higher education, President Charles 
Eliot of Harvard was said to have stood up and declared: "The American 
university has nothing to learn from medieval universities, nor yet from 
those still in the medieval period."

Despite its length, Veysey’s original thesis is, in many ways, an easier 
read than The Emergence of the American University, which can grow heavy 
with concentrated ideas and information, while whole sections about 
19th-century student life were cut from the final manuscript. Apparently 
"one highly unpopular Yale tutor had both his living chambers and his 
recitation room shattered by bombs. A group of Harvard students blew up 
an entire building in 1870." Who knew?

Today, Veysey’s war-of-three-ideas framework remains vital to 
understanding the origins of modern higher education. Yet it represents 
only the first half of his dissertation and the book that would follow. 
The second is about what came next: Instead of choosing a single vision, 
universities adopted elements of all three organizational missions 
within a single institution, creating complicated — and often 
contradictory — organizations that endure to this day.

Veysey always saw the university as an enclave and a shelter for people 
like him, and he never stopped believing in the possibility of better 
worlds. But he also had a merciless intelligence and a steadfast 
unwillingness to sugarcoat the truth. The incoherence of the emergent 
university shocked him.

Few within higher education were satisfied with how the parts functioned 
together. Daniel Coit Gilman, first president of America’s first 
research university, Johns Hopkins, worried that the university might 
forget that its commitment was not just to knowledge but also to 
developing character. A society of "men who have cultivated to the 
extreme a single power, without simultaneously developing the various 
faculties of the mind," he said, "would be a miserable society of 
impractical pessimists, it would resemble a community of boys who can 
paint portraits with their toes …" The philosopher R.M. Wenley described 
the scholar as a "cyclops of sorts who perceives nothing but waste 
outside of his own Lilliputian grand duchy." Nonetheless, the isolation 
and specialization of research came to dominate faculty life in the new 
hybrid universities.

Yet the real power was quickly consolidated among university 
administrators, who gathered ever-larger amounts of money and social 
prestige for their institutions — and themselves. "Bureaucratic 
organization was the structural device which made possible the new epoch 
of institutional empire-building without recourse to specific shared 
values," wrote Veysey. "Thus while unity of purpose disintegrated, a 
uniformity of standard practices was coming into being." Veysey’s 
critique steadily increased in intensity:

The success of the American university, despite its internal 
incoherence, is best explained as the product of a working combination 
of interests, only one of which (the faculty’s) was inescapably linked 
to the values which the university could uniquely promise to realize. 
The combination of interests worked, it might be further hazarded, 
because the various participants were sufficiently unaware of the logic 
of the total situation in which they found themselves. The fact that 
students were frequently pawns of their parents’ ambitions was 
meliorated by the romantically gregarious tone of undergraduate life. 
The fact that professors were rarely taken as seriously by others as 
they took themselves was hidden by their rationalistic belief in the 
power of intellectual persuasion, direct or eventual, and was further 
concealed by all the barriers to frank dialogue which are stylized into 
courtesy. Those at the top, in their turn, were shielded by a hypnotic 
mode of ritualistic idealism. … Tacitly obeying the need to fail to 
communicate, each academic group normally refrained from too rude or 
brutal an unmasking of the rest. And in this manner, without major 
economic incentives and without a genuine sharing of ideals, men labored 
together in what became a diverse but fundamentally stable institution.

The university throve, as it were, on ignorance. Or, if this way of 
stating it seems unnecessarily paradoxical, the university throve on the 
patterned isolation of its component parts, and this isolation required 
that people continually talk past each other, failing to listen to what 
others were actually saying. This lack of comprehension, which 
safeguards one’s privacy and one’s illusions, doubtless occurs in many 
groups, but it may be of special importance in explaining the otherwise 
unfathomable behavior of a society’s most intelligent members.

Most of the American university’s recent struggles — rampant status 
competition, runaway costs and prices, declining academic standards, 
administrators and professors at war — can be traced back to the deep 
structural incoherence Veysey described. Determined to be many things at 
once and animated by the ambitions of the administrative class, 
universities sprawled ever upward and outward, driven by a bottomless 
appetite for new functions and expenses. At the same time, the 
educational mission was steadily subordinated to the demands of 
reputation and research, what Clark Kerr described as the "cruel paradox 
that a superior faculty results in an inferior concern for undergraduate 
teaching."

But Veysey was writing in the early 1960s, when the federal government 
was pouring billions of research dollars into the academy even as 
millions of new students were arriving from the burgeoning middle class. 
The tidal wave of resources was more than enough to sustain the academic 
enterprise, however illogical it might be.

In the meantime, having looked deep into the fractured heart of the 
modern university, Veysey set about making it is his professional home.

He turned in his thesis and left for Cambridge, Mass., to teach the 
lower-division Western Civ and political-philosophy courses that 
established Harvard faculty wanted to avoid. The pay was $6,500 per 
year, with no hope of tenure. Veysey couldn’t have been happier. He had 
public transportation and plenty of time to immerse himself in the books 
he taught his students. In the summer of 1962, he decided to rent a 
house in Ojai, less than a mile from where his father had died, to pare 
down his thesis into book form.

In 1965, The Emergence of the American University was published by the 
University of Chicago Press to immediate, stellar reviews. "Brilliant" 
and "a major contribution" said The Journal of American History. "A 
superb volume of historical analysis and narrative," raved Social 
Studies. "One of the most important and stimulating books published in 
American intellectual and cultural history within the last decade," 
declared the Journal of Higher Education. The book became the starting 
point for further discussion. When Christopher Jencks and David Riesman 
published their influential and widely read The Academic Revolution 
(Doubleday), in 1968, they began by citing Veysey’s "brilliant" book in 
the introduction and quoting its intellectual framing at length.
As Veysey returned to Berkeley to teach the summer session, he was 
credentialed, unencumbered, and a rising academic star. He was also, at 
age 32, a virgin. His shell of obsessive purpose was buffeted by other 
scholars forming families all around him. He ached for normalcy, and 
marriage to a woman was considered normal. A red-haired, blue-eyed 
British woman named Sheila struck up a conversation during a summer 
concert at Hertz Hall. Six weeks later, they were married at a friend’s 
house in Sausalito.

The book opened new opportunities, and the University of California at 
Los Angeles came calling. But that would have put Veysey too near his 
mother, whom he had grown to resent. Instead he accepted an offer from a 
brand-new, experimental institution: the University of California at 
Santa Cruz. UCSC was organized in a system of small, semi-autonomous 
residential colleges, with no formal academic departments or letter 
grades for students. Built in a redwood grove above the bay, it was 
gorgeous and unearthly, a collection of mid-century-modern buildings, in 
glass and concrete, connected by elevated wooden bridges crisscrossing 
an elven forest from Middle Earth. Larry and Sheila settled onto campus. 
John, their only child, was born in 1967. Veysey went about doing what 
young professors do: teach, travel, and publish.

One of the students accepted into the first class at Santa Cruz was a 
young man named John R. Thelin. He went to Brown University instead and 
then to Berkeley, working closely with Henry May. Thelin is now a 
professor at the University of Kentucky and author of A History of 
American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), which 
sits alongside Veysey’s book on the small shelf of standard texts on the 
subject. Looking back in the late 1980s on The Emergence of the American 
University, he described it as a "monumental work which endures in its 
influence and as a model of historical interpretation." He pointed out 
that "Veysey and his masterpiece have been claimed, respectively, for 
the history of education, for the history of ideas, for the history of 
institutions, and for social history. With the adulation and affection 
usually reserved for football heroes and prom queens, the various 
history factions vied for Veysey’s affiliation."

Thelin recalls a meeting of the History of Education Society at which a 
well-known Columbia historian gave a presentation that included numbers 
tracking a trend in higher education over time. "Veysey had never seen 
the numbers before," says Thelin. "He got up and showed how to 
reassemble the numbers a little bit differently, creating a completely 
different impression of what they meant. It completely knocked the legs 
out from under the argument. I’ve never seen such devastation. Veysey 
looked like he had no qualms about it. He gave no quarter, and he was a 
brilliant guy."

But as time went on, normalcy became harder for Veysey to maintain. His 
incompatibility with Sheila worsened, and he couldn’t help commenting on 
— when asked, and otherwise — the inadequacies and disappointments of 
the original utopian vision at Santa Cruz. Too many of the students and 
professors, he felt, were intellectually wanting, dilettantes and 
layabouts not committed to serious scholarship.

At the same time, he was living near the center of the dizzying cultural 
upheaval of Northern California in the late 1960s. The jacket-and-tie 
days of Yale just 15 years earlier had been replaced by anarchism, 
drugs, free love, and nudity. The latter in particular began to exert a 
powerful hold on Larry’s imagination. Intellectually, he believed in 
objectivity, complexity, and a pessimistic view of human nature. As his 
friend and another Santa Cruz historian Jonathan Beecher would later 
write, "The truth for him was never simple and rarely uplifting." But 
personally, he was drawn to the promise of radical social transformation 
and the acceptance it might bring.

These disparate impulses ultimately converged in Veysey’s second and 
last major book, published in 1973 by Harper & Row: The Communal 
Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America.

The book was Veysey’s attempt to place the radical ideas of his time and 
place in the context of American intellectual and social history, and, 
unavoidably, his personal history. The bulk comprises case studies of 
four utopian communities, two early 20th century and two modern, built 
around the distinct ideas of anarchism and religious mysticism. To 
research one, he spent five weeks living on a New Mexico commune led by 
a man to whom Veysey gave the pseudonym "Ezra." Veysey was attracted to 
the anarchist communal principles of personal choice and tolerance for 
sexual difference. He thought they might offer him a home.

But Ezra turned out to be a garden-variety cult leader, exerting 
psychological control over his followers through lengthy proselytizing, 
random berating, loyalty tests, and shame. Beecher came to visit. "It 
was clear that Larry was at war," he says. "He was trying very seriously 
to be a participant-observer and keep his mouth shut, but in fact he was 
at war with the guy who was running this place, who was really a space 
person. It was purportedly this anarchist commune, but in fact it was 
authoritarian." Ezra’s real name was John P. Allen, a self-styled 
metallurgist, businessman, scientist, Mars pioneer, poet, playwright, 
and savant who is best known as the creator of Biosphere 2. That 
controversial, possibly fraudulent, and failed experiment in wholly 
self-contained living under a glass dome in the Arizona desert was later 
reborn as a scientific research institute associated with Columbia 
University and now at the University of Arizona — and spoofed by the 
actor Pauly Shore in Bio-Dome.

Now, as institutions struggle with faculty-administration rancor and 
intractable financial problems, Veysey's analysis seems evermore acute. 
Veysey’s conclusions in his book were pessimistic. In America, he wrote, 
"radicalism is of little present value in helping the external forms of 
the social order to become more just or humane. The mainstream is simply 
too numerous, too powerful and too self-assured in its pursuit of the 
time-honored goals of accumulation and prestige." The only comfort he 
could find in the brief flowering and inevitable spoiling of the small 
communal places he described was their persistence through history. "If 
it is an illusion," he wrote, "it is at least a recurring one."

Veysey knew that The Communal Experience would end his chances of moving 
to a more prestigious university. The subject matter was too strange and 
unscholarly. Critical reaction was mixed, although the book was 
nominated for the National Book Award. In private correspondence, Henry 
May wrote to Veysey, "I think the book has its faults, and am not quite 
sure that it hangs together. Yet I think it is an important book, brave, 
innovating, and stimulating. … I wonder whether you didn’t expect, 
beginning the book, to come out less negative? This is part of what I 
mean about the book’s courage and originality. It is not, thank God, 
constructed to fit a thesis, or, worse, to refute somebody else’s thesis."

Larry and Sheila divorced in 1976. Veysey made only two real friends at 
UCSC: Beecher and a historian of Russia and Eastern Europe named Peter 
Kenez. When Kenez and his wife, Penelope, would have him over for 
dinner, Larry would give the meal a letter grade on an unforgiving 
scale. He liked to do the same with sunsets. He was, Penelope says, 
"arrogant and purposefully abrasive when he thought he was dealing with 
people who were either stupid or acting stupidly, which was, from his 
perspective, 98 or 99 percent of humankind. But he was also ready to be 
impressed, and he didn’t care about your politics or your education. He 
was a strange and troubled man, but we liked him. He was our friend."

Veysey began work on a book about the decline of religion in the 20th 
century, but never finished it. Instead, he spent years writing and 
rewriting a gay pornographic novel. Santa Cruz abandoned the innovative 
small-college model, an inevitable surrender to uniformity that Veysey 
had studied in The Emergence of the American University. He drank, 
sometimes to excess, and the sharp edge of his interactions with fellow 
faculty grew increasingly barbed. With students, he would sometimes 
cross the line into cruelty.

He also became obsessed with nudism, looking for opportunities to stay 
naked for days at a time. His first sexual encounter with a man didn’t 
happen until 1981. A new world opened up to him, which he began to 
explore eagerly. Then it was almost immediately transformed by the AIDS 
pandemic.

Veysey continued to teach and occasionally publish, but his academic 
ambition had all but vanished. In a 1981 essay, he looked back fondly on 
The Emergence of the American University. He readily acknowledged flaws 
that had been identified by later scholars, especially his inattention 
to the growing role of women in higher education and the book’s lack of 
contextual comparison to education systems in other countries. At the 
same time, he derided subsequent writers who portrayed the history of 
higher learning in overly congratulatory and simplistic terms.

He had a small heart attack in 1983 and then a major episode in 1986. 
Physically unable to handle a full course load and mentally distant from 
academe, he took early retirement at age 53. He was, he told Beecher, 
glad to give up history-department meetings. "It seemed I was always 
arguing for standards no one else believed in," he wrote, "and I could 
see why."

Giving away most of his possessions, he left his personal papers to the 
Santa Cruz archives, along with the unpublished pornographic novel. He 
included a cover note advising library personnel not to look at the 
latter. As a work of fiction, it is all but unreadable, more an exercise 
in exploring the limits of the author’s considerable transgressive 
imagination than a book meant for anyone else. The plot involves a man 
who stumbles upon an anarchist gay nudist commune hidden in the 
California valleys, where he lives for a time in bliss before the 
authorities destroy everything. It concludes with one character lying on 
a rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean, until he dies of exposure, naked 
to the last. Above that passage, in the margins, Larry wrote, "The last 
pages of this novel are so sad I have to force myself to write them."

With his pension and a small inheritance, he bought the condominium in 
Lahaina where he lived out his remaining days. His last published work 
appeared in 1996, in the magazine Nude & Natural. It was titled "Wearing 
Nothing and Doing Nothing in Lahaina." He included a photographic 
self-portrait, sitting nude in the style of Whitman.

"I realize that all this evolution in the final part of my life can be 
seen from more than one point of view," he had written a few months 
after his 1986 heart attack. "From an academic, mainstream perspective, 
I gradually succumbed to the California environment, especially as it 
was in the 1960s and 1970s, till I threw away a career and gave into my 
‘zany’ side, till I finally died in obscurity. I ended up nothing more 
than an eccentric or a crackpot. From the viewpoint I myself 
increasingly adopted, the academic years had been full of pedantry and 
sublimation, and I had finally found fulfillment in a version of the 
physical life, after a youth when I had tried to deny those needs."

When Peter Kenez visited his old friend in Lahaina, he saw a lonely man, 
someone who had searched for and thought about communities all his life, 
only to end up by himself most hours of the day, wandering, far from 
family and friends. But writing in 1996, Veysey expressed no regrets. "I 
can’t wait for the dawn to get out in the street in my bare feet, 
feeling my long, wild hair flapping on my bare shoulders. I now know 
what the ideal recipe for life is, at least for me."

His idyll was not to last. Weakened by further heart problems and 
strokes, Larry Veysey died on February 22, 2004, at Maui Memorial 
Medical Center. His obituary lists his only survivors as his son and a 
local caretaker. There was no service.

The Emergence of the American University, however, lives on. It is 
strange to say for a book immediately hailed as a classic, but it was 
decades ahead of its time. The full implications of Veysey’s critique 
were masked by the newness and prosperity of the modern university. Now, 
as institutions settled in century-old foundations struggle with 
faculty-administration rancor and intractable financial problems, 
Veysey’s analysis of their "unfathomable behavior" seems evermore acute. 
The book has been "dominant," in Thelin’s view, to the point of almost 
paralyzing the following generations of scholars. "Perhaps the biggest 
disappointment of The Emergence of the American University," wrote 
Thelin, "is that it did not inspire any monumental rivals … overwhelming 
in its research conception and execution, it persisted relatively 
unchallenged."

Fifty years later, the ideas Veysey developed in two years of white-hot 
scholarly intensity continue to shape our basic understanding of 
academe. In that brief window of contentment, the closest he ever came 
to finding utopia, he marked himself upon the world.

Kevin Carey is director of the education-policy program at New America. 
His most recent book is The End of College: Creating the Future of 
Learning and the University of Everywhere (Riverhead Books).




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