Most Hilltoppers believe that Western Kentucky University is unique. They take pride in its lovely campus, its friendly spirit, the loyalty of its alumni, and its academic and athletic achievements. But Western's development also illustrates a major trend in American higher education during the past century. Scores of other institutions have followed the Western pattern, growing from private normal school to state normal school, to teachers college, to general college, finally emerging as an important state university.
Historian Lowell Harrison traces the Western story from the school's origin in 1875 to the January 1986 election of its seventh president. For much of its history, Western has been led by paternalistic presidents whose major battles have been with other state schools and parsimonious legislatures. In recent years the presidents have been challenged by students and faculty who have demanded more active roles in university governance, and by a Board of Regents and the Council on Higher Education, which have raised challenging new issues.
Harrison's account of the institution's development is laced with anecdotes and vignettes of some of the school's interesting personalities: President Henry Hardin Cherry, whose chapel talks convinced countless students that "the Spirit Makes the Master"; "Uncle Ed" Diddle, whose flying towel and winning teams earned national basketball fame; "Daddy" Bur-ton who could catch flies while lecturing; Miss Gabie Robertson, who held students into the next class period; the lone Japanese student who was on campus during World War II.
Harrison also recalls steamboat excursions, the Great Depression and the Second World War, the astounding boom in enrollment and buildings in the 1960s, the period of student unrest, and the numerous fiscal crises that have beset the school.
This is the story of an institution proud of its past and seeking to chart its course into the twenty-first century.