Education: Posts

Routledge Education March Author of the Month: John Thelin

We are pleased to announce that our March author of the month is John Thelin! Author of the recently released American Higher Education (new in the Core Concepts in Higher Education Series), Professor Thelin took the time out of his busy schedule to answer our Q&A below!

John R. Thelin is an historian who seeks to combine past and present in the study of higher education. A professor at the University of Kentucky, he is a member of the Educational Policy Studies Department and holds a joint appointment in the Martin School of Public Policy.He has been named a University Research Professor, received the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the Sturgill Award for Outstanding Faculty contribution to Graduate Studies

An alumnus of Brown University, he concentrated in European History, graduated cum laude was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, worked as a student waiter and was a letterman on the varsity wrestling team.At the University of California, Berkeley he received an M.A. in American History, a Ph.D. in the History of Education, and was named a Regents Fellow.

Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Kentucky John was Chancellor Professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, where he received the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Outstanding Faculty Scholarship, served as Liaison to the Board of Visitors, and was President of the Faculty Assembly.He was Professor of Higher Education & Philanthropy at Indiana University.In addition to university teaching, John served as Research Director for the Association of Independent California Colleges & Universities and was Assistant Dean for Admissions and College Relations at Pomona College.

John’s affiliation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education started when he was a charter member at its founding in 1976.Over forty years it includes having served as President and as recipient of the Outstanding Research Award.He is author of numerous books and articles on history and higher education.He has received national awards for outstanding research from the American Educational Research Association, the National Education Association, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.In 2008 he received Omicron Delta Kappa’s Meritorious Service Award.

Bringing the topic of intercollegiate athletics into the serious study of higher education has been one of John’s longtime commitments.He was an expert witness on the economics of higher education at the Knight Commission’s inaugural hearings held in Washington, D.C. in 1989 and then again at their symposium in 2009.The President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association invited him to be a charter member of the NCAA Research Advisory Board in 2010.In 2006 he was selected for the Ivy League’s 50th anniversary gallery of outstanding scholar-athlete alumni.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I wanted to provide a guide for readers to join me in exploring the fascinating issues and institutions of American higher education.I find colleges and universities to be enduring and endearing. I like the creativity and challenge of critically analyzing the full complexity of American higher education to a diverse, large audience.The campus is a fascinating stage for a drama involving a cast of players, ranging from students to donors, faculty to presidents and provosts.In writing this book I wish to show that colleges can thrive if they receive thoughtful criticism as well as celebration, praise and, of course,major gifts and generous funding.

Are there any common misconceptions about this topic that you would like to clarify for readers

Over the years I have been asked numerous times at receptions and gatherings, “Why can’t a college be run like a business?” In response I like to point out that colleges are among our oldest chartered corporations.In the United States, many businesses have borrowed models of organization and boards from colleges.Besides, businesses have a much higher failure rate than do colleges.Colleges and universities are deceptively resilient and innovative. So, I think it also is fair to ask, “Why can’t a business be run like a college?”

Discuss one important takeaway you’d like to highlight for readers

I hope my writing and teaching about higher education will break down misleading and erroneous stereotypes about barriers between crucial constituencies.I regret that discussions about colleges and universities often presume that administration must be at odds with faculty; or, that there is a split between academics and athletics that cannot be resolved.

Tell us a story about why you got into the field of Education

When I was a junior at Brown University in Fall 1967 a professor of European History announced to our class of about 60 students that for the first time in his career he was going to suspend his scheduled lecture and, instead, devote the class period to reading a student paper. As he started reading aloud I was pleasantly surprised that he had selected my essay about the waning of the Middle Ages and the early signs of a Renaissance, including some discussion of the distinctive legacy of universities. Afterward, I received both congratulations and critiques from fellow students and the professor.This was the moment when I felt I was welcomed into the academic community – and then dedicated myself to a genuine vocation or calling as work as a writer, scholar and teacher.Since then I’ve attempted to draw from rich historical works and sources as an essayist who writes about the story of higher education.