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

William H. McNeill, Author University of Chicago Press $48 (204p) ISBN 978-0-226-56170-7
This slim volume explains better than any other recent study the myths and realities behind the renowned educator Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899-1977) and the university he ran for more than 20 years. A student at the University of Chicago during Hutchins's glory days and until recently a professor of history there, McNeill offers an insider's account of Hutchins's efforts to transform an institution devoted primarily to research--``a completely new phenomenon in the 1890s,'' when the University of Chicago opened its doors--into a teacher-driven hotbed of discussion, centered on an undergraduate college ``so wonderful and vibrant'' that it ``always hovered on the edge of the absurd.'' The wonder becomes clear in the author's detailed descriptions of Hutchins's fierce battles with faculty to improve the state of liberal education and establish an atmosphere of ``intellectual stimulation.'' The absurdity is evident in his portrait of Hutchins as a ``quixotic character'' whose early success (he became president of the university at age 30) was overshadowed by a failure to specify ``what the metaphysical and moral principles or the detailed content of what such an education would be.'' Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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