The Evolving American University

  • Christopher J. Lucas


Michigan president James B. Angell, speaking on the occasion of his 1871 inaugural address, was moved to observe, “The public mind is now in a plastic, impressionable state, and every vigorous college, nay, every capable worker, may help to shape its decisions upon education.” Surveying the collegiate scene of his time, Angell concluded, “In this day of unparalleled activity in college life, the institution which is not steadily advancing is certainly falling behind.”1 A more quintessential encapsulation of the situation in American higher education in the post-Civil War period is difficult to imagine. The “unparalleled activity” he spoke of was both real and palpable. It was an era in which, as never before, institutions of higher learning were scrutinizing themselves and reexamining their basic purposes and goals. Although prognostications of the future of higher education differed greatly, the prospect of major change ahead was widely commented upon. Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others, was keenly aware that institutions of higher learning in the latter half of the nineteenth century would likely bear little resemblance to their antebellum predecessors. “The treatises that are written on University reform may be acute or not,” he recorded in his journal in 1867, “but their chief value to the observer is the showing that a cleavage is occurring in the hitherto granite of the past, and a new era is nearly arrived.”2


High Learning Black College Bryn Mawr AMERICAN High Education Inaugural Address 
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© Christopher J. Lucas 2006

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  • Christopher J. Lucas

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