Hanna Holborn Gray has lived her entire life in the world of higher education. The daughter of academics, she fled Hitler’s Germany with her parents in the 1930s, emigrating to New Haven, where her father was a professor at Yale University. She has studied and taught at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. She was the first woman to serve as provost of Yale. In 1978, she became the first woman president of a major research university when she was appointed to lead the University of Chicago, a position she held for fifteen years. In 1991, Gray was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to education.
An Academic Life is a candid self-portrait by one of academia’s most respected trailblazers. Gray describes what it was like to grow up as a child of refugee parents, and reflects on the changing status of women in the academic world. She discusses the migration of intellectuals from Nazi-held Europe and the transformative role these exiles played in American higher education—and how the émigré experience in America transformed their own lives and work. She sheds light on the character of university communities, how they are structured and administered, and the balance they seek between tradition and innovation, teaching and research, and undergraduate and professional learning.
An Academic Life speaks to the fundamental issues of purpose, academic freedom, and governance that arise time and again in higher education, and that pose sharp challenges to the independence and scholarly integrity of each new generation.
Hanna Holborn Gray is the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Early Modern European History at the University of Chicago, where she served as president from 1978 to 1993. She is the author of Searching for Utopia: Universities and Their Histories. She lives in Chicago.
"Readers interested in academic administration or the history of American universities would do well to spend a couple hours in Gray’s edifying company."—Kirkus
"An engaging recounting of Gray’s impressive academic and managerial skills that contributed to the advancement of American higher education through the second half of the 20th century."—Elizabeth Hayford, Library Journal
"[An Academic Life] presents the eccentric, and often comedic, charm of the collegiate world. . . . Gray’s declarative style provides a frank portrayal of academic culture and a refreshing acknowledgment of the constant, changing tensions faced by universities in contemporary society. . . . [D]uring an era when levels of public distrust in universities are high, and the confidence of university leaders is low, her honest narrative reminds us of the importance of the scholarly enterprise—warts and all."—Justin Zaremby, New Criterion
"[An Academic Life] contains magisterial reflections but is also sprightly, often playful, and chockful of entertaining anecdotes."—Robert E. Lerner, National Interest
"Hanna Holborn Gray’s life journey is inspiring and her passion for academic excellence uplifting. Born in Europe, raised in the United States, she is a pioneer among distinguished American academics who propelled the University of Chicago to global eminence. This book is a joy—warm, witty, and thoughtful, piercing, shrewd, and smart."—Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania
"Hanna Holborn Gray has written a marvelous book that is at once a rich, warm, and vivid memoir of an astonishing life and a sharp, lively, and informative account of what it is like to run America’s greatest universities. An Academic Life is for anyone who wants to understand how universities have changed, and what they stand for."—Anthony Grafton, author of Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West
"An Academic Life is a brilliant and captivating book. By any measure, Hanna Holborn Gray is a star—deeply learned, immensely wise in the ways of academic institutions, a leader and problem solver of the first rank."—Nancy Weiss Malkiel, author of "Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation
"A richly detailed autobiography about an exceptionally full life in higher education. Gray's writing is extremely clear, graceful, and spiced with wry humor and candid observations."—Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University and author of The Struggle to Reform Our Colleges