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Universities and Their Cities

, 192 pages

14 halftones

May 2017



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Universities and Their Cities

Urban Higher Education in America

Today, a majority of American college students attend school in cities. But throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, urban colleges and universities faced deep hostility from writers, intellectuals, government officials, and educators who were concerned about the impact of cities, immigrants, and commuter students on college education. In Universities and Their Cities, Steven J. Diner explores the roots of American colleges’ traditional rural bias. Why were so many people, including professors, uncomfortable with nonresident students? How were the missions and activities of urban universities influenced by their cities? And how, improbably, did much-maligned urban universities go on to profoundly shape contemporary higher education across the nation?

Surveying American higher education from the early nineteenth century to the present, Diner examines the various ways in which universities responded to the challenges offered by cities. In the years before World War II, municipal institutions struggled to "build character" in working class and immigrant students. In the postwar era, universities in cities grappled with massive expansion in enrollment, issues of racial equity, the problems of "disadvantaged" students, and the role of higher education in addressing the "urban crisis." Over the course of the twentieth century, urban higher education institutions greatly increased the use of the city for teaching, scholarly research on urban issues, and inculcating civic responsibility in students. In the final decades of the century, and moving into the twenty-first century, university location in urban areas became increasingly popular with both city-dwelling students and prospective resident students, altering the long tradition of anti-urbanism in American higher education.

Drawing on the archives and publications of higher education organizations and foundations, Universities and Their Cities argues that city universities brought about today’s commitment to universal college access by reaching out to marginalized populations. Diner shows how these institutions pioneered the development of professional schools and PhD programs. Finally, he considers how leaders of urban higher education continuously debated the definition and role of an urban university. Ultimately, this book is a considered and long overdue look at the symbiotic impact of these two great American institutions: the city and the university.

Steven J. Diner is a University Professor at Rutgers University–Newark, where he served as chancellor from 2002 to 2011. The former president of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, he is the author of A City and Its Universities: Public Policy in Chicago, 1892–1919, and A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era.

"Diner’s slim volume provides a good historical foundation for tracing the shifts in higher education and urban spaces in the United States... Diner’s synthetic yet expansive book deserves inclusion in courses grappling with the role of higher education in American life."

"Diner approaches these institutions with a deep sensitivity to the challenges and opportunities they have faced over the past century and an acute eye for opportunities missed and the forces of inertia that have occasionally held them back. For those who study higher education, as well as those employed in urban institutions, Diner's study will provide useful insights into the particular circumstances in which they work. Perhaps more important, this history charts the development of a set of ideas and institutional arrangements for anyone in higher education who objects to the view of academia as a remote ivory tower."

"Highly informative study of the relationship between higher education and the metropolis... Urban colleges and universities continue to defy a tidy definition, as they have for decades. For anyone seeking to better understand that complexity, Universities and Their Cities is an excellent place to start."

"A unique and focused book that traces, for the first time, the history of urban universities over nearly two centuries of American higher education. Diner brings outstanding credentials to the topic as a strong historian with practical and long leadership experience in urban institutions."

"Diner's superb scholarship documents how and where colleges and their communities have changed. Whereas a half century ago the "urban crisis" sounded an alarm of inner-city population decline, migration out to the suburbs, and the flourishing of traditional campuses, the situation in the twenty-first century is markedly different."

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