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Frank L. McVey and the University of Kentucky

Frank L. McVey and the University of Kentucky: A Progressive President and the Modernization of a Southern University

Eric A. Moyen
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    Frank L. McVey and the University of Kentucky
    Book Description:

    In 1917, fifty-two years after its founding, the University of Kentucky faced stagnation, financial troubles, and disturbing reports of nepotism, resulting in a leadership crisis. A special committee investigated the institution and issued a report calling for a massive transformation of the university, including the hiring of a new president who could execute the report's suggested initiatives. The Board of Trustees hired Frank L. McVey.

    McVey labored tirelessly for more than two decades to establish Kentucky as one of the nation's most respected institutions of higher learning, which brought him recognition as one of the leading progressive educators in the South. In Frank L. McVey and the University of Kentucky, Eric A. Moyen chronicles McVey's triumphs and challenges as the president sought to transform the university from a small state college into the state's flagship institution. McVey recruited an exceptional faculty, expanded graduate programs, promoted research, oversaw booming enrollments and campus construction, and defended academic freedom during the nation's first major antievolution controversy. Yet he faced challenges related to the development of modern collegiate athletics, a populace suspicious of his remarkable new conception of a state university, and the Great Depression. This authoritative biography not only details an important period in the history of the university and the commonwealth, but also tells the story of the advancement of education reform in early-twentieth-century America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2993-8
    Subjects: Education, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Editor’s Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Richard Angelo

    If anyone opposed the nomination of Frank L. McVey as the University of Kentucky’s new president in the summer of 1917, it has gone unrecorded. The Board of Trustees, like the search committee, was unanimous in its enthusiasm. And as Eric Moyen notes in this long-awaited and meticulously researched biography, once the offer was made official, the “normally prudent” McVey accepted “with uncharacteristic haste.” At forty-seven, he was already well-known in reform circles, his impressive credentials capped most recently by a successful six-year stint as president of the University of North Dakota. But the ambitious McVey had also been scouting...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: A Northern Progressive and a Southern University
    (pp. 1-8)

    Once a prominent figure in American higher education, Frank LeRond McVey has become a rarely remembered former president of an aspiring state university. At the University of Kentucky (UK) he is most often remembered as the husband of Frances Jewell McVey or as the president who guided the university through the Great Depression. McVey has largely been ignored by historians of American higher education. McVey’s relative obscurity, however, is not justified considering his significant influence among university leaders between the World Wars I and II.

    As a university president from 1909 to 1940, McVey increased the academic stature of two...

  6. Chapter 1 The Making of a Progressive President: 1869–1917
    (pp. 9-57)

    Frank LeRond McVey was an Ohio Buckeye by birth. His lengthy career as president of a southern state university and a nationally prominent figure in higher education would prove far more noteworthy than his birthplace and the events of his youth. However, his upbringing in a progressive Republican family in the Midwest left indelible marks upon his worldview. Furthermore, the personalities of both of his parents imprinted distinguishing characteristics on his disposition for the remainder of his personal life and professional career.

    Alfred Henry McVey and Priscilla Ann Holmes (Anna) of Ohio were married in January 1869, and the following...

  7. Chapter 2 A Southern University and a Northern Progressive: 1917–1920
    (pp. 58-99)

    The normally prudent Frank McVey accepted the presidency of the University of Kentucky with uncharacteristic haste, suggesting desperation on his part to extricate himself from an increasingly tense situation in North Dakota. On 25 July 1917 McVey received a telegram from Abraham Flexner, a Kentucky native serving as secretary of the General Education Board in New York. Flexner, who had gained prominence through his research and writing about higher education, had learned of the opening in his home state, recommended McVey to the presidential search committee, and personally contacted McVey in order to set up an interview.¹

    McVey was on...

  8. Chapter 3 McVey’s Darkest Days: 1920–1922
    (pp. 100-131)

    As the new decade began, Frank McVey’s influence was evident to concerned citizens in Kentucky and throughout American higher education. Nearly all his reforms, however, focused on internal renovations, restructuring, governance, faculty issues, and increased presence across the commonwealth. To be sure, the impact on the psyche of the state was apparent in the major newspapers. Enrollments continued to climb, yet not one significant structure had been built during McVey’s tenure (the university had utilized federal funds to build a shop during World War I). In 1920 McVey reported that of the 1,629 students attending the university, 700 lived off...

  9. Chapter 4 McVey’s Era of Great Aspirations: 1922–1931
    (pp. 132-186)

    The personal and professional low point McVey faced in 1922 could have been enough to lead him away from the University of Kentucky. Having struggled for years to pull the university forward, he had failed to capture the imagination of the commonwealth’s citizens or the legislature. Nevertheless, he remained at the University of Kentucky for both personal and professional reasons, the former probably outweighing the latter. Most important, the events of the 1920s would cause him to remain in Lexington for the rest of his professional career.

    Fittingly, the one bright spot for McVey and the university’s finances at the...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter 5 Surviving the Great Depression and Reforming the South: 1932–1936
    (pp. 187-234)

    As the 1932 Kentucky General Assembly neared, the nation’s economic crisis finally began to exert its full negative impact on the commonwealth’s already struggling agricultural-based economy. McVey desperately worked to assure that his university received its share from the depleted state coffers. The first day of January 1932 found McVey at Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel, not for a New Year’s party but for a meeting of the state’s college presidents and Kentucky’s superintendent of public instruction.

    They had a simple agenda. In view of the projected revenue shortfall, they hoped to devise a successful strategy for the legislature. McVey left the...

  12. Chapter 6 Building a Legacy: 1936–1940
    (pp. 235-286)

    The commonwealth required that all state employees retire by age seventy, and President McVey, who would reach that milestone in the fall of 1939, was no exception. He hoped that the worst of the Depression had passed, which would allow him to reach his goal of being the true builder of the University of Kentucky. His plans included expanded academic offerings, increased pay for professors, and release time for research. He wished to enhance services to a growing student body, place additional limitations on intercollegiate sports, and—most important to McVey—expand the university’s physical plant. Realizing that little time...

  13. Chapter 7 Turning the Page: 1940–1953
    (pp. 287-315)

    Turning the page meant leaving Maxwell Place, McVey’s home for nearly a quarter of a century. It was the home where he had raised his children; held his wife’s funeral; celebrated his second marriage; and entertained intellectuals, politicians, and celebrities from around the world. Frances McVey had made Maxwell Place ground zero for Lexington intellectual and social life. As he approached retirement, Frank McVey sometimes talked with Frances about how he would spend his time as president emeritus. He yearned to write, and he entertained thoughts of moving to California or Florida. Ultimately, however, he preferred to stay closer to...

  14. Conclusion: McVey in Retrospect
    (pp. 316-326)

    Frank L. McVey was a man of exceptional vision who possessed remarkable leadership capability. Commenting on the accomplishments of leaders like McVey, Thorstein Veblen quipped, “What such a man, so placed, will do with the powers and opportunities that so devolve on him is a difficult question that can be answered only in terms of the compulsion of the circumstances in which he is placed.” In a posthumous tribute UK historian Thomas Clark claimed that, despite McVey’s precarious position, his vision constituted the essential component of UK’s growth during the interwar years, and he argued that McVey’s accomplishments were “of...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 327-358)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-362)
  17. Index
    (pp. 363-384)