Distributed for Vesto Books
An Accidental Triumph
The Improbable History of American Higher Education
“Hardly a day passes without reference to some scandal, fraud, intellectual or moral failure, or other ill associated with American academic institutions,” writes Sol Gittleman in his bracing new book, An Accidental Triumph. “If American higher education is such a failure, why are students and scholars from all over the world still so eager to secure a place in one of these institutions? Is American higher education a disaster or the envy of the world?”
Gittleman confronts this contradiction in this dynamic mix of history, analysis, and personal reflection. An Accidental Triumph tells the engaging story of how American higher education evolved from a patchwork of seminaries in the early nineteenth century into the world’s leader in research by the middle of the twentieth. Gittleman links this fascinating story to his own fifty-year academic career, which coincided with an explosive rise in enrollment, spurred by the GI Bill, and an unparalleled postwar boom in faculty hiring, prompted by massive new federal support for academic research from organizations such as the National Science Foundation.
Writing with authority, frankness, and unfailing wry good humor, Gittleman surveys the triumphs, tragedies, and tensions of the history of American higher education. Despite the relentless criticism, Gittleman finds good reason to remain optimistic about the future of teaching and research at the college and university level in the United States.
Sol Gittleman is the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor Emeritus at Tufts University, where he taught from 1964 until his retirement in 2015. He served as provost from 1981 to 2002 and has received many awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees for his teaching and service. He is the author of six books, including An Entrepreneurial University.
“An Accidental Triumph, Sol Gittleman’s fast-paced, highly personal history of American higher education, reflects his many years of leadership at Tufts University and his ability to weave together the relevant literature, from scholarly work to journalistic commentary. All who know Gittleman will recognize his distinctive voice and strongly held views. And all who care about academia will benefit from his sharp insights and passion as an educator.”
Richard Freeland, author of Academia’s Golden Age: Universities in Massachusetts, 1945–1970 and former President of Northeastern University
“A brief, spirited, thoroughly engaging account of the evolution of American higher education from its earliest origins in the fledging seminaries of the colonies to its world pre-eminence in the 21st century. Sol Gittleman crafts his account on the basis of deep immersion in the literature on higher education, liberally laced with his own perspectives from a half century of experience as a faculty member and provost at Tufts University. He is both a cheerleader for American colleges and universities and a realist about the ways in which American higher education has opened itself to a raft of critiques about its efficacy and integrity. Well worth a careful read.”
Nancy Weiss Malkiel, author of “Keep the Damned Women Out” : The Struggle for Coeducation and professor of history emeritus at Princeton University
“Sol Gittleman is a gifted scholar, professor, and academic leader whose graceful book tells the many stories of continuity and conflict in the long history of American higher education. His critical eye and good humor are an effective combination to provide insightful accounts of exclusion and inequities along with an American consensus in creating our remarkable colleges and universities.”
John Thelin, author of A History of American Higher Education and university research professor at the University of Kentucky
“An Accidental Triumph has charm. Sol Gittleman is a great storyteller and his book carries a personal touch. He has genuine affection for the institutions of which he writes and in which he has lived his life, even as he is clear-eyed about its checkered past.”
Peter J. Dougherty, former Director, Princeton University Press