Ellen SchreckerMay 23, 2022
The Lost Promise
American Universities in the 1960s
University of Chicago Press 2021
The Lost Promise: American Universities in the 1960s (University of Chicago Press, 2021) is a magisterial examination of the turmoil that rocked American universities in the 1960s, with a unique focus on the complex roles played by professors as well as students.
The 1950s through the early 1970s are widely seen as American academia’s golden age, when universities—well funded and viewed as essential for national security, economic growth, and social mobility—embraced an egalitarian mission. Swelling in size, schools attracted new types of students and professors, including radicals who challenged their institutions’ calcified traditions. But that halcyon moment soon came to a painful and confusing end, with consequences that still afflict the halls of ivy. In The Lost Promise, Ellen Schrecker—our foremost historian of both the McCarthy era and the modern American university—delivers a far-reaching examination of how and why it happened.
Schrecker illuminates how US universities’ explosive growth intersected with the turmoil of the 1960s, fomenting an unprecedented crisis where dissent over racial inequality and the Vietnam War erupted into direct action. Torn by internal power struggles and demonized by conservative voices, higher education never fully recovered, resulting in decades of underfunding and today’s woefully inequitable system. As Schrecker’s magisterial history makes blazingly clear, the complex blend of troubles that disrupted the university in that pivotal period haunts the ivory tower to this day.
Ellen Schrecker is a retired professor of history at Yeshiva University and the author of numerous books, including No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, and The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University.
Catriona Gold is a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London, researching security, subjectivity and mobility in the 20-21st century United States. Her current work concerns the US Passport Office's role in the Cold War. She can be reached by email or on Twitter.