Higher Education History

California's Affirmative Action Fight: Power Politics and the University of California by John Aubrey Douglass

John Aubrey Douglass

This essay discusses the contentious events leading to the decision by the University of California’s Board of Regents to end affirmative action in admissions, hiring and contracting at the university in July 1995. This controversial decision provided momentum for California’s passage of Proposition 209 the following year ending “racial preferences” for all of the state’s public agencies. In virtually any other state, the debate over university admissions would have bled beyond the confines of a university’s governing board. The board would have deferred to lawmakers and an even more...

One University: The Evolution of an Idea, by Patricia A. Pelfrey

Patricia A. Pelfrey

The one-university idea—that the University of California is a single institution whose campuses are united in the pursuit of a common mission and common standards of quality—has been a guiding organizational principle since UC President Robert Gordon Sproul first articulated it in the 1930s. This paper examines the origins of the one-university idea in the Sproul era, the role it has played in UC’s institutional development through waves of decentralization and campus expansion, and whether it remains relevant today.

In Praise of Weakness: Chartering, the University of the United States, and Dartmouth College, by Martin Trow

Martin Trow

This paper explores the proposition that if American higher education has been broadly successful in serving its society, it is in large part because American colleges and universities, and the system of which they are part, were created under conditions of weakness, both academic and financial.

Thoughts on the History of University Systems in the U.S., by Robert Berdahl

Robert Berdahl

Beginning in earnest in the 1950s, most state governments began a process of creating public university systems with a governing board and intended to coordinate and manage usually a range of institutional types and including a major public flagship university. By the late 1980s, enthusiasm for more centralized structures and state-wide “superboards” began to wane, in part because of the opposition of flagship campuses fearful of the “leveling” result they had seen in Wisconsin. The two decades after 1990 were marked both by austerity and limited growth and...

A University in the Wilderness: Building a Community and Culture at the New University of California by Karen Merritt

Karen Merritt

When the University of California moved to a permanent campus site in Berkeley, many described what they found there as a wilderness. Early faculty and students proceeded to build a campus and community, creating clubs, musical groups, fraternities, and athletics. This experience is brought to life in this essay through contemporary memoirs and campus publications, notably, the papers of a leading university family, Joseph Le Conte with his son, J.N. Le Conte, and youngest daughter, Carrie Le Conte. Through these sources, we can glimpse student life between 1880, when Carrie matriculated,...

The Rise of the Publics: American Democracy, the Public University Ideal, and the University of California by John Aubrey Douglass

John Aubrey Douglass

In the post-Revolutionary War era, private institutions dominated America’s emerging higher education landscape, all tied to sectarian communities and often with limited forms of public financing. The United States could have sustained that dominance, essentially differing to the private sector in expanding access, and delaying the “rise of the publics.” This did not happen. A major turning point came in the mid-1800s. Private colleges seemed incapable or simply not interested in serving the broader needs of American society. Institutions such as the University of Virginia, and the new...

History's Coils: The UC Nuclear Weapons Laboratories by Patricia A. Pelfrey

Patricia A. Pelfrey

Early in the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt appealed to the nation’s elite universities to join in the quest for powerful new technological weapons to counter the Nazi threat. Urged on by Nobelist Ernest O. Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron and director of the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, the University of California responded to Roosevelt’s call in 1943 by lending its scientific leadership to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The goal: to design and build the world’s first atomic bomb. UC president Robert Gordon Sproul intended from the outset that the University’...

The Cold War, Technology and the American University, by John Aubrey Douglass

John Aubrey Douglass

The translation of Sputnik from a scientific into a political event changed the dynamics of federal science and technology policy, and elevated to new heights the American research university as a pivotal tool for winning the Cold War. This paper discusses this significant shift in federal policy, its impact on America's research universities and scientific community, and its influence on the contemporary economy. Sputnik prompted a significant expansion in the training of scientists and engineers, and acted as a catalyst for large-scale federal funding for higher education. It also...

Biology at Berkeley, by Martin A. Trow

Martin A. Trow

This paper is concerned with the reorganization of biology at Berkeley, begun in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and now well along. Key to the initiation of change was the appointment of a Chancellor and Vice-chancellor who were committed to the changes, and the enlistment of outstanding biologists already at Berkeley to design the reform and carry it through. The paper raises the following questions: what led to the momentous changes in this leading research university; what actually happened as a result of the reform; what the key forces were that made the reform possible; and...