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As part of Mountaineer Week at West Virginia University, WVU’s Festival of Ideas lecture series will host the author of a new book about WVU’s history over the last six decades.
Ronald Lewis is Professor Emeritus of history at WVU and the author of the new book, “Aspiring to Greatness: West Virginia University since World War II.” In the book, Lewis focuses on three significant factors that influenced the university and others like it across the nation:
“These are actually transformative periods of higher education,” said Lewis. “Where after them, higher education is no longer the same than the period before.”
In his book, Lewis explains that federal programs after World War II, such as the GI Bill, allowed millions of people to attend college and led to WVU’s expansion.
The expansion forced WVU and other schools across the nation to expand facilities, create programs and hire more faculty. But Lewis says the usual pipeline of middle class white males who went to college dried up in the 1960’s and diversification of WVU’s student body came into play.
“I mean the United States was transformed by the civil rights movement,” Lewis said. “…the university has changed but I think it is because the country has changed profoundly.”
This expansion and diversification happened so dramatically that it revolutionized WVU’s infrastructure and ideology. Lewis also explains how one trend led to another, and that’s where we come to his third theme: commercialization. As public funding for public institutions, including WVU, has decreased in recent years, universities are looking at other sources for revenue, including grants, tuition and fundraising. Lewis also says this time period has universities thinking more like a business.
“It’s not really a business even though it kind of has to run like one. We don’t manufacture things, we generate knowledge and technology through research so that’s why we have to find a way for it to work for us,” said Lewis.
But according to Lewis, there is a fourth influential factor to WVU’s aspirations to be a great university. The struggle for self-governance is the focus of Lewis’s Festival of Ideas lecture Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“Self-governance is recognized by most higher education experts as one of the key ingredients in becoming a great university, that distinguishes a great university,” Lewis said.
According to Lewis, WVU struggled to govern itself in the 1970’s when the Board of Regents in Charleston controlled some of the university’s operations. Lewis will discuss more past and present-day issues that impact WVU’s quest to be among the great universities in the country at the Festival of Ideas lecture in the Mountainlair Ballrooms at 7:30 p.m.
Diane Jeanty is a Journalism Student at West Virginia University.