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Hutchins' University: A Memoir of the University of Chicago, 1929-1950

by William McNeill University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 204 pages
AU$57.99 NZ$60.86
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The inauguration of Robert Maynard Hutchins as the fifth
President of the University of Chicago in 1929 coincided with
a drastically changed social and economic climate throughout
the world. And Hutchins himself opened an era of tumultuous
reform and debate within the University. In the midst of the
changes Hutchins started and the intense feelings they
stirred, William H. McNeill arrived at the University to
pursue his education. In Hutchins' University he tells
what it was like to come of age as a undergraduate in those
heady times.

Hutchins' scathing opposition to the departmentalization
of learning and his resounding call for reforms in general
education sparked controversy and fueled debate on campus and
off. It became a struggle for the heart and soul of higher
education—and McNeill, as a student and then as an
instructor, was a participant. His account of the
university's history is laced with personal reminiscences,
encounters with influential fellow scholars such as Richard
McKeon, R. S. Crane, and David Daiches, and details drawn
from Hutchins' papers and other archives.

McNeill sketches the interplay of personalities with
changing circumstances of the Depression, war, and postwar
eras. But his central concern is with the institutional life
of the University, showing how student behavior, staff and
faculty activity and even the Hyde Park neighborhood all
revolved around the charismatic figure of Robert Maynard
Hutchins—shaped by him and in reaction against him.

Successive transformations of the College, and the
tribulations of the ideal of general or liberal education are
central to much of the story; but the memoir also explores
how the University was affected by such events as Red scares,
the remarkably successful Round Table radio broadcasts, the
abolition of big time football, and the inauguration of the
nuclear age under the west stands of Stagg Field in 1942.

In short, Hutchins' University sketches an
extraordinarily vibrant period for the University of Chicago
and for American higher education. It will revive old
controversies among veterans from those times, and may
provoke others to reflect anew about the proper role of
higher education in American society.
William H. McNeill received his BA and MA degrees from the University of Chicago, where he taught from 1947 until his retirement. His books include Mythistory and Other Essays, The Pursuit of Power, and The Rise of the West, all published by the University of Chicago Press.