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Big Man on Campus

A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education


An eye-opening and at times controversial insider's look at the current state of higher education in America, from one of the nation's most distinguished and down-to-earth university presidents.

At a time when daily news headlines scream of competitive college enrollments, skyrocketing tuition, campus violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and other campus scandals, the former president of The George Washington University tells it like it really is.

Educated at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard universities, with a membership in Phi Beta Kappa, more than fifteen honorary doctorates, four books, and numerous published articles, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is one of the leading voices in American higher education. Here he brings his thirty years of experience, wisdom, and wit to reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the difficult and rewarding challenge of running a university. Using wonderful anecdotes from his own life, Trachtenberg explains with compassion and his trademark humor the insight he has gained from the halls of learning.

For parents who will write big checks to send their sons and daughters to college, for businesspeople of all kinds looking for leadership lessons, and for anyone invested in America's system of higher education, this book is a major work about the importance of sustaining our nation's natural brain trust.

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Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is University Professor of Public Service and president emeritus of The George Washington University, after serving nineteen years as the fifteenth president of the university. He arrived at GW in 1988 from the University of Hartford, where he served as president for eleven years. Prior to that, he was at Boston University for eight years, as dean of arts and sciences and vice president. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Washington, D.C.

"Big Man on Campus is an engaging, wise, and candid memoir -- the story of a successful leader whose love for his job infused his career at every point. It is hard to imagine a better picture of the daily life of a university president or a more telling examination of the challenges facing higher education." -- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Time and Team of Rivals

"There are few university presidents like Stephen Joel Trachtenberg -- at once knowledgeable, creative, commonsensical, likable, and aggressive (indeed, relentless, even outrageous) in the pursuit of institutional uplift and excellence. There is nothing here remotely akin to the platitudinous outpourings of the usual suspects described as 'statesmen of higher education.' Big Man on Campus is a refreshingly candid, humorous, and readable portrait of American higher education and its discontents." -- Jose A. Cabranes, U.S. Circuit Judge (New York) and trustee of Columbia University; former trustee of Yale University and Colgate University

"The least sheepish man ever to hand out a sheepskin serves up a prescriptive memoir that is everything most higher education books never manage to be: brash, confessional, thought provoking, and fun." -- Thomas Mallon, author of Henry and Clara and Fellow Traveler

"Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is not only among the wisest of university presidents, he is clearly among the most amusing and readable of writers about academia. There is nothing stuffy about this big man on campus. Trachtenberg educates, criticizes, prods, complains, and tickles the funny bone all at the same time. If you have a kid in college or contribute to one, you must read this book. Even if you don't, just read it for fun." -- Professor Alan M. Dershowitz, author of Reversal of Fortune and Finding Jefferson