Wilson Smith and Thomas Bender: Updating Hofstadter, they produce a new collection of documents on higher ed





The history of American higher education since 1940 is full of dramatic changes — the growth of the modern scientific enterprise, desegregation, the impact of the GI bill, the campus unrest of the 60s, and so forth. Wilson Smith and Thomas Bender set out to tell that story with documents — from both establishment figures and their critics — in American Higher Education Transformed, 1940-2005, just published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. The book is a sequel to earlier work by Smith and Richard Hofstadter examining earlier periods in the history of American higher education. The new volume includes the Supreme Court decisions that upheld affirmative action and that dealt blows to faculty and graduate student unions; essays by Adrienne Rich and Lani Guinier; the Port Huron Statement; Allan Bloom and his critics; and the presidential report that led to the growth of community colleges.

The documents were selected and are each introduced by Smith, professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Davis, and Bender, professor of history at New York University. Bender responded via e-mail to questions about the new collection.

Q: Your documentary history follows the work of Hofstadter and Smith. Did you aim for a similar approach, or did the more modern era call for a different strategy at selecting documents?

A: The idea was indeed to work within the earlier framework, both in format and in the kind of documents selected, which we largely did. But starting with that frame impressed upon us the magnitude of the revolution in higher education in the postwar years. It was easily equivalent to the late 19th century transformation that Hofstadter had called “the revolution in higher education,” but it was more widely ramifying. We had to incorporate those new dimensions of the higher education discourse, which meant attending to the more diversified constituency for higher education and the multitude of voices participating in the discourse.

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