In returning this blog to matters academic, I offer a draft of the introduction to my dissertation. It is for information and entertainment, and not for citation without the permission of the author.
Universities are places of optimism. For much of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Americans have grafted their individual and collective dreams onto campus communities and the project of higher education. Social mobility, public health advancements, regional economic development, Cold War technological triumph, and racial integration and equalization—all of these were goals given to or embraced by the nation’s colleges and universities in addition to educating each succeeding generation in intellectual and professional pursuits. In so many of these endeavors, universities achieved measures of success that higher education has come to stand in for the American promise of progress and opportunity.
This optimism has manifested itself in many ways. At the turn of the century, civic boosters worked to attract and found post-secondary institutions in cities around the country—much as they recruited new factories and other commercial institutions in attempts to create new, robust local economies. In places like Muncie, Indiana, where sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd conducted their Middletown research, city leaders and average citizens alike expressed pride in the growth of their local college as it contributed to the development of the expanding city and introduced new ideas and cultural influences to Muncie residents. During the 1930s and 1940s, universities joined the efforts to survive the depression and to help preserve democracy. Institutions like the University of Texas expanded and constructed buildings, housed military recruits and trained them, while faculty at Texas and the University of Chicago, among many others, conducted military research projects to aid the fight against fascism. In the postwar era, UC administrators led a coalition of universities working to overcome the challenges of urban crisis and to create a new, revitalized conception of city life. In each case, institutions of higher education were seen as essential parts of a broader strategy to address and overcome national challenges.
[This optimism] has largely come to characterize scholarship, public policy, and popular conceptions of higher education. Universities, in particular, have had the luxury of writing their own histories. In many cases celebratory volumes produced on the anniversaries of the institution’s founding have adopted Whiggish perspectives on the progressive nature of educational history in general and individual institutions in particular. This utopian view of higher education has served a narrow set of interests. The most influential interpretation of post-WWII higher education, Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, was a manifesto written and delivered as lectures by a university president describing how important universities had become to the nation’s well-being. Even scholarly histories of higher education often emphasize the development of educational policy and institutional growth without examining the spatial and community implications, maintaining solely intellectual views of higher education and university communities. Much contemporary literature on higher education treats higher education in the same way, discussing access to education as though a college credential were a good in itself and advocating forceful policy intervention to expand the education sector. Criticisms of higher education fall into a similar set of treatments where the object is illustrating the co-opting of the research process or the deterioration of undergraduate education.
One form of scholarship that can be most helpful in understanding the consequences of university growth in the twentieth century is urban history. However, universities have seen surprisingly little attention from urban historians—just what the effects of university expansion, federal support, and changing institutional missions are on cities and metropolitan regions is largely unknown outside of a handful of studies. Understanding the growth of higher education throughout the twentieth century and its community consequences necessarily entails investigation into the urban contexts of universities. From small cities to massive metropolises, institutions are located in places and are inextricably linked to these surroundings—geographically, socially, economically, and politically. By the same token, universities are bound up in the key movements and events in American history, a set of historical agents in metropolitan settings on a par with urban politicians, grassroots homeowner associations, real estate developers, labor unions and immigrant groups. Like these other actors in American history, universities are implicated in racial segregation, radical politics, urban redevelopment, exacerbation of economic and spatial inequality, economic and political transformation, and even electoral politics.
To untangle this complicated history of university growth and its spatial implications, in this work I investigate three university-community relationships in overlapping periods in the twentieth century, instances that illustrate salient features and trends shared with other institutions and communities around the country. In chapter 2 I investigate Ball State Teachers College and Muncie, IN, in the Middletown era, 1917-1938; chapter 3 presents the University of Texas and Austin, TX, in the Depression, wartime, and immediate postwar years, 1930-1957; and chapter 4 illustrates the University of Chicago and the Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods in Chicago, IL, in the period of urban crisis, 1949-1975. In each of these cases, the institutions of higher education are central to the development of their cities, functionally if not geographically. With this structure I hope to demonstrate chronological development, taking into account both change and continuity in the physical and institutional growth of higher education. In particular, this work uses campus planning and university development as a lens for examining the politics, the economics, and the social implications of growth, as well as the specific design and planning processes associated with physical development. In selecting this arrangement I do not attempt to create a comprehensive history of campus planning in U.S. higher education that details the vast array of institutions and their planning choices. Instead, my aim is to provide a framework that, first, explains the major structures of change in university development, how those structures came about and their effect on the surrounding city; and, second, that can accommodate the variety of individual institutions and agents of change within a coherent narrative. Thus, this work represents a conscious attempt to re-periodize the history of American higher education, to intertwine this history with that of American urban history, and to bind these two strands with the threads of American architectural and planning history.
Locating universities at the center of urban concerns makes the history of American cities and the history of universities look very different from the ways we have come to think about these two types of institutions. Recognizing universities as taking part in a strategy of metropolitan development led by civic boosters, real estate speculators, and state politicians as happened in cities like Muncie, Indiana, recasts our vision of such institutions from the characterization as suburban or anti-urban that scholars have previously promoted. Likewise, recalling that before the NAACP targeted primary school districts in Topeka, Kansas, and Summerton, South Carolina, civil rights organizations contested segregation in higher education in places like Austin, Texas, and Norman, Oklahoma, causes us to reconsider the importance of universities and their facilities, a key feature of the case Sweatt v. Painter, at the intersection of urban geography, state budgets and constitutional law. Finally, understanding the willingness and the ability of institutions like the University of Chicago to power legislation through city councils, state legislatures, and the U.S. Congress gives an indication of the local and national political power that such universities were able to amass during the process of their growth in the twentieth century.
As part of these significant events and trends of the last century, universities have served as both actors and stages in the urban realm. Institutions of higher education are corporate bodies that function as legal persons, governed by boards and managed by administrators. In this role, they are able to borrow money and charge fees; buy, sell and develop real estate; and to lobby government to advance and protect their perceived interests. In addition, universities are places, forums where loose associations of people from many parts of society come together (or break apart) ostensibly to engage in, pursue, or facilitate the creation and attainment of knowledge. In the course of those activities, students, administrators, faculty members, and staff may individually or collectively act as political agents, as market participants, or as members of a broader metropolitan community in service of their ideals and interests. This work engages both of these perspectives and, in so doing, illustrates the role of both institutions and individual actors in shaping legislation and policy related to higher education as well as specific development projects, combining both a “top-down” and “bottom-up” perspective in addressing this history.
One particularly important and often neglected set of subjects in assessing this history is university students and their housing. Students, more than any other group, bridge the spatial, economic, political and intellectual divides between cities and universities. As consumers, as political actors, and as residents the student population serves as the chief intermediary between the spatial realms of cities and universities. Studying their actions and how political attitudes and market economics changed around them, within a broader historical context, as I do in this dissertation, represents an effective means of helping assess the changing relationships between cities and universities in the twentieth century.
This story begins in the second decade of the twentieth century when private industrialists collaborated with Indiana politicians to turn a thrice-failed investment in the nation’s heartland into a higher education appendage of the state. While it may be the most lopsided public-private partnership to bring higher education to a community, it was only one of many such booster efforts of the period featuring collaboration between business and government leaders. For the brothers of the Ball family, makers of popular glass canning jars, this rescue of an institution represented the fusion of philanthropic and entrepreneurial efforts that leveraged their economic and political power to promote the development of Muncie, Indiana in the first half of the twentieth century that also included a hospital and an airport. However, this investment and the Balls’ subsequent influence through governance and patronage of the college named for them held spatial implications, as well. The establishment of the private school—part of a speculative real estate gambit—helped establish the basis for a new racial, ethnic, and class geography of the burgeoning industrial city. The state assumption of responsibility for and investment in the private institution represented a socialization of risk and privatization of profit by resolving and creating real estate opportunities that the second generation of Balls exploited, part of an entrepreneurial form of philanthropy that dramatically altered the social and economic geography of the city.
In mid-century Austin, Texas, institutional growth and a boom in natural and human capital both created conflict and promoted collaboration centered on the University of Texas and campus development. Before the New Deal and a West Texas oil boom, Austin was a relatively minor southwestern city and through the 1920s was smaller than Muncie. The income from natural resource flows and the political economy of federal public investment in the New Deal and mid-century liberal programs poured significant resources into institutions like the University of Texas and southern cities and regions like Austin and central Texas. Marshaled by prominent politicians such as Lyndon Johnson, federal intervention enabled the dramatic expansion of both the University of Texas and the city of Austin. From Public Works Administration grants to wartime research and training funds, the university was able to expand its physical and intellectual capacity and leap to national stature. When wartime mobilization and postwar prosperity reached the once-impoverished state, enthusiasm for the New Deal waned and resurgent conservatives forced liberal retrenchment and abandonment of redistributionist policies that aided the poor and made tentative steps to address racial and ethnic inequality. Co-opted by this realignment, liberals such as Johnson walked a moderate line on domestic policy, physically and fiscally expanding liberal institutions and the state by redirecting them in service of Cold War defense. These development efforts resulted in the creation of spatially decentralizing institutions such as a university research campus and military institutions, including an airbase that would become Austin’s international airport.
However, this economic and educational expansion was not equitably distributed, prompting civil rights activists to challenge Jim Crow at the University of Texas. This conflict turned into a high stakes standoff for the state with implications for the state budget and the Permanent University Fund, the repository of oil revenues dedicated to campus expansion at the state’s key universities. The 1950 U.S. Supreme Court decision Sweatt vs. Painter broke the color barrier at the UT law school, representing both a national challenge to the segregationist doctrine of “separate but equal,” and a local contest over where the state would allocate oil revenues for campus construction.
The tensions of postwar society were laid bare by the Sweatt case and the Brown decision, as racial conservatives in South and North alike fought the expansion of access to higher education while the federal government continued pouring resources into education. These concerns about the liberality of the educational system were soon channeled into a broader critique of higher education and American society even as the federal government worked to incorporate universities more directly into the Cold War military-industrial complex. When then-Senator Lyndon Johnson navigated the National Defense Education Act through Congress after the launch of Sputnik in the fall of 1957, anti-communism was high and the race for technological and scientific superiority constituted part of a contest for global hegemony. The loyalty oaths required of students by the NDEA sparked controversy and protests on U.S. campuses, an artifact of the debates on academic freedom and a harbinger of the New Left critique of anti-communism that would follow in the succeeding decade. Ironically, the American cultural and political transformation from the New Deal to the New Left may have been more poignantly felt, and with greater consequences for the nation, deep in the heart of Texas.
On the South Side of Chicago, University of Chicago administrators faced a different challenge, marshalling institutional, community, and federal resources to combat a perceived urban crisis—racial transition resulting from the expansion of the Black Belt in postwar Chicago. The University of Chicago, like a number of universities that had benefited from mid-century expansion, had amassed local clout, federal support from politicians and funding agencies, and intellectual resources allowing it to direct dramatic changes in the built environment. While race liberals in Hyde Park advocated the creation of an integrated neighborhood, university technocrats used their political acumen and professional expertise to undermine racial integration in the community by creating legislation, intervening in the real estate market, and leading coalitions of higher education institutions in similar endeavors, protecting their perceived interests in a majority white, middle class community. Framing their efforts within the rhetoric of Cold War defense, the University of Chicago sought to maintain and expand a physical refuge from the South Side that would provide a training ground and experimentation laboratory for the next generation of Cold Warriors.
In communities around the United States, the complicity of university administrations with the corruption of liberal ideals such as internationalism and urban renewal provoked student outcry and protest. As the Port Huron Statement asserted in the Summer of 1962, the struggle for civil rights and the excesses of the Cold War prompted students to action. However, long before the most renowned episodes of the student movement, many University of Chicago students identified the contradictions of segregation and anti-communism in the liberal project of higher education. They opposed these practices at their institution by participating in community organizing to oppose university-led urban renewal and occupying the university’s administration building to protest racial segregation in university-owned real estate. However, their opposition [fragmented] the student body and faculty—at the UC and elsewhere—foreshadowing the controversy that would shatter and transform the student movement at the end of the decade. Amid these tensions, the northern civil rights struggle took shape as groups such as the Temporary Woodlawn Organization (TWO) formed on Chicago’s South Side to promote civic participation and assert political power, at times drawing energy from opposition to the university. Nonetheless, the university succeeded in its efforts at physical transformation, often employing the world’s leading architects in the process, and established a template that universities around the country would transfer to their communities.
As universities developed and expanded their agenda throughout the twentieth century, they embraced a contradictory ideal of isolation, the “ivory tower,” that was accompanied by a morally and politically ambiguous, if architecturally innovative, physical environment. The expansion of universities’ “pure” research agenda and prohibition of overt political activities meant that they came to be seen as intellectually remote from their urban and political contexts, even while they contributed to metropolitan development and urban renewal. I argue universities promoted this ideal of isolation for both pragmatic and ideological reasons, but this separation from their surroundings was more rhetoric than fact. As the political ideologies of students and faculty in universities around the country diverged from those of state politicians and business leaders, university leaders promoted the ideal of academic and political freedom from external influence in order to minimize controversy even while turning their institutions to ally with the aims of the Cold War. However, the purported neutrality of academic freedom, like similar movements such as the emerging ideal of objectivity in social science research, was in fact a value-laden, normative formulation that frequently resulted in marginalizing and limiting the agency of individuals within the academic system, preventing them from pursuing and achieving structural change in higher education and campus governance.
Thus, both the physical campus and the mid-century ideals of universities were fraught with contradictions. Universities were at once seemingly insulated from the governing values of the external world while in fact serving the inherently ideological interests of powerful actors—political leaders, business elites such as real estate developers, trading upon liberal ideals to serve conservative purposes, and even local individuals like designers, landlords, and policymakers who benefited from the denial of the interdependence between universities and their surrounding cities. Indeed, this denial of social responsibility served the status quo and worked to stifle dissent on racial inequality, cultural and Cold War politics, economic inequality, and sex and gender inequality up to and including the 1960s, when multiple strands of student activism began to coalesce in a broader political movement that engaged civil rights issues, anti-communist military intervention overseas, and women’s sexual and economic liberation.
In the pages that follow, I argue that the physical form of universities and their surrounding communities—the built environment—is both a product and a cause of these transformations. Thus an architectural and planning history is a particularly useful means of examining these issues of politics, economics, and culture. In scrutinizing the architectural history of higher education I work to examine critically the role of architects and planners in campus planning and university development. The result is an interpretation of architecture that embeds design in a complicated web of processes largely bounded by politics and planning on one side and finance and capitalism on the other. As Marxian theorists have written, buildings and landscapes are imbued with political, technocratic, and economic values that are reproduced in the development and inhabitation of the built environment, true of university campuses no less than company towns. Universities have worked to instill these same values into each succeeding generation of students and are key institutions in the maintenance and reproduction of American society. It is time to give these institutions and landscapes the respect they deserve by turning the critical eye of the historical profession upon them.