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