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Academia's Golden AgeUniversities in Massachusetts, 1945-1970$
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Richard M. Freeland

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780195054644

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195054644.001.0001

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(p.3) Introduction
Title Pages

Richard M. Freeland

Oxford University Press

This book began as an exploration of a paradox in the history of American universities. In the twenty-five years following World War II, the student population served by these institutions became more diverse and the societal purposes they served became more varied. Yet, during the same period, universities themselves became more alike. The contradictions were easy to observe. It was obvious that the academic and social backgrounds of students—and consequently their needs, skills, and interests—became more heterogeneous in the postwar years, yet the undergraduate curricula of universities increasingly stressed highly academic subjects, especially the arts and sciences. Similarly, universities pursued a well-documented trend toward greater involvement in practical affairs and social problem solving in the 1950s and 1960s, while also adhering to a narrowing focus on doctoral programs and research in the basic disciplines. I wanted to understand the forces, both internal and external to campuses, that promoted this puzzling conjunction of converging characteristics and expanding functions. I also wanted to assess the academic and social consequences of this pattern. The decline of institutional diversity was only the most startling of a number of apparently inconsistent developments associated with an era of historic growth among universities. Almost as curious was the fact that, while expansion occurred mostly to accommodate increased demand for college education, institutional attention to teaching diminished, as did concern about the undergraduate curriculum. Meanwhile, graduate programs, whose chief function was to train college teachers, tended to slight preparation for instructional work and to nurture research skills. Indeed, as growth intensified academia’s role in socializing the nation’s youth, universities dismantled the programs of general education that were the primary vehicles they had created for that purpose. More broadly, the active involvement of universities in the definition and resolution of social problems went hand in hand with the consolidation of an academic value system quite remote from most Americans. Even the increasing heterogeneity of the student population was not free of contradiction. Academic leaders claimed credit for making their institutions more democratic during the postwar years by reducing traditional barriers to admission—including those of income and race.

Keywords:   Vietnam War, Accreditation, Civil rights movement, Presidents, Research: applied

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