Forget the big screen or the stage – for real drama, University of Kentucky College of Education professor John Thelin prefers to observe life on the American college campus.
“The campus is a fascinating stage … involving a cast of players, ranging from students to donors, faculty to presidents and provosts,” Thelin said.
That fascination is what drove Thelin to his life’s work as a college professor and historian, and to write his latest book, American Higher Education, published by Routledge in February as part of the Core Concepts in Higher Education series. The publisher also named Thelin its March author of the month in celebration of his work.
In the book, Thelin, a professor in the Educational Policy Studies department, with a joint appointment in the Martin School of Public Policy, focuses on a buffet of issues affecting higher education, such as governance, organization, teaching and learning, student life, faculty, college sports, public policy, fundraising, and innovations among colleges and universities.
“In writing this book I wish to show that colleges can thrive if they receive thoughtful criticism as well as celebration, praise and, of course, major gifts and generous funding,” Thelin said. He also hopes to show the resiliency and innovation of colleges and universities, and in doing so, debunk the idea that higher education institutions should be run like a business.
“Colleges are among our oldest chartered corporations. In the United States, many businesses have borrowed models of organization and boards from colleges. Besides, businesses have a much higher failure rate than do colleges. … So, I think it is also fair to ask, ‘Why can’t a business be run like a college?’” Thelin observed.
As in any drama, at its core are the relationships between the players. Thelin hopes to show that those relationships need not be contentious.
“I hope that my writing and teaching about higher education will break down misleading and erroneous stereotypes about barriers between crucial constituencies,” Thelin said. “I regret that discussions about colleges and universities often presume that administration must be at odds with faculty or that there is a split between academics and athletics that cannot be resolved.”