Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University

Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University

Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University

Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University

Synopsis

Energetic, shrewd, and charming, Herman B Wells was the driving force behind the transformation of Indiana University--which became a model for American public higher education in the 20th century. A person of unusual sensitivity and a skilled and empathetic communicator, his character and vision shaped the structure, ethos, and spirit of the institution in countless ways. Wells articulated a persuasive vision of the place of the university in the modern world. Under his leadership, Indiana University would grow in size and stature, establishing strong connections to the state, the nation, and the world. His dedication to the arts, to academic freedom, and to international education remained hallmarks of his 63-year tenure as President and University Chancellor. Wells lavished particular attention on the flagship campus at Bloomington, expanding its footprint tenfold in size and maintaining its woodland landscape as new buildings and facilities were constructed. Gracefully aging in place, he became a beloved paterfamilias to the IU clan. Wells built an institution, and, in the process, became one himself.

Excerpt

As I left our first meeting in 1977, I knew at once Herman B Wells was an extraordinary human being. Mindfully present to others, he projected a radiant savoir faire. Fortune had smiled on me and given me the opportunity to learn from this remarkable individual. I labored as a lowly houseboy in the Chancellor’s residence. in exchange for a few hours of pleasant work every week, I was provided a room, full board, and the complete run of the house. I also started my study of his personal character and his work at Indiana University, trying to fathom the secret to his effectiveness. This volume is one fruit of that continuing study.

I soon figured out that Wells existed at the center of a massive social network revolving around Indiana University. His devotion to its welfare and his inspired leadership were already legendary. His relationship to the institution stretched back to his college days in the early 1920s, and since that time he had enveloped generations in his warm embrace. He drew me inexorably into that network and made me feel that I had special status as a member of what I would later term his elective family.

After two years, when I graduated and left his employ, I was still amazed at his personal beneficence and institutional charisma. Over the next decade I pursued higher education on the East Coast and he reluctantly accepted the process that threatened to turn him into an icon. in 1990, I happily accepted a faculty position at iu, and joined the university that he did so much to build. Instead of letters and the occasional visit, now we could resume our face-to-face meetings, where we talked about nearly everything under the sun. But it always led back to this place, his beloved iu. When I broached the idea of writing about . . .

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