An Independent Scholar in Twentieth Century America
Historian and scholar Vaughn Bornet has written a book that students of higher education interested in faculty lives and careers will want to read. An Independent Scholar in Twentieth Century America is an autobiographical portrait of Bornet's life and career as a "independent scholar" over three quarters of a century, beginning with his birth in 1917 and continuing through his education, his military service, his career as a college teacher and administrator, and as a research historian for such organizations as Encyclopedia Britannica, the American Medical Association, and the Rand Corporation. But Bornet provides more than just a reconstruction of events in a long and busy life. For anyone interested in academic careers, he provides a glimpse into possible childhood origins of one career as well as an understanding of how that career unfolded and developed over time, and the meaning that it held for the author.
Bornet, by his own account, is, as the title indicates, "an independent scholar." He spent his early working years as a researcher, author, and editor outside of the formal structure of the academy. But Bornet is also independent of mind, and it is this characteristic, the author suggests, that contributed to his leaning toward interdisciplinary learning and research and to his willingness to create opportunities for community and academic service as he took on various positions and moved on to retirement.
Some readers may find portions of Bornet's narrative self-serving. The author devotes a lot of text to reminding the reader of his scholarly contributions. He takes jabs at his reviewers, including graduate student reviewers, and is persistently critical of academic liberals and Vietnam-era students. Nevertheless, he writes well and succeeds in telling a story that is both believable and informative. I particularly enjoyed and recommend his chapters on undergraduate life at Emory (1935–1941), his graduate training at Stanford (1948–1951), his "idyllic life" as an administrator at the Rand Corporation in the 1960s, and the trials and tribulations of work in an evolving public college, the Southern University of Oregon, in the 1960s and 1970s.