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

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Frank L. McVey and the University of Kentucky: A Progressive President and the Modernization of a Southern University. By Eric A. Moyen. Thomas D. Clark Studies in Education, Public Policy, and Social Change. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c. 2011. Pp. [xvi], 382. $35.00, ISBN 978-08131-2983-9.)

Eric A. Moyen examines the life of Frank LeRond McVey (1869-1953), the University of Kentucky's third president, a man who possessed "exceptional vision" and "remarkable leadership capability" (p. 316). McVey struggled with limited resources, the essential conservatism and provincialism of the commonwealth's predominantly rural population, and serious tensions between supporters of the university's academics and athletics.

McVey graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1893 and earned his Ph.D. in economics at Yale University in 1895. After teaching at Columbia University, he joined the University of Minnesota's faculty in 1896, also serving as president of Minneapolis/St. Paul Associated Charities (1898-1907), as director of the Twin Cities' exhibit at the 1904 world's fair in St. Louis, and as chair of the Minnesota tax commission. Early on he demonstrated administrative acumen, boundless energy, and progressive views toward education, politics, and social questions. In 1909 McVey assumed the presidency of the seriously underfunded University of North Dakota, leaving there to become president of the University of Kentucky (UK) in 1917.

McVey believed that state universities had a special mission to foster progress, democracy, and the scientific method. According to Moyen, "McVey integrated these qualities with a liberal Protestantism guided by science and focused on service" (p. 56). He underscored the importance of the liberal arts as well as professional study to prepare leaders for modern America.

The University of Kentucky turned out to be in worse shape than the University of North Dakota. Decades of poor leadership left UK "lack[ing] financial stability, clear academic organization, an adequate physical plant, plans for growth, and sufficient faculty resources" (p. 60). …


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