|Freed's book showcases ISU history|
|Written by Tim Crisp, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Sunday, 22 February 2009 18:00|
This past Founders Day marked the unveiling of "Educating Illinois," a comprehensive history of ISU written by John Freed.
A medieval historian, Freed began teaching at ISU in 1969. Though he retired in 2005, Freed still teaches part-time.
Upon retirement, Freed took on the task of writing a comprehensive history of ISU.
"ISU has always been historically conscious," Freed said. "There was always a sense that we were doing something unique and special."
Several books have been published concerning ISU's history, but Freed sought to provide a more complete volume on the university within the context of American history and the history of higher education.
However, Freed quickly found the scope of his task shift as he began his research.
"The history of the university had in a sense been covered up and deliberately distorted," Freed said. "There was a totally different history out there and that was the big surprise."
The first of these truths that Freed stumbled upon was the assumption that ISU was founded strictly as a normal school, one that trains teachers.
"There is no other normal school in the United States which was called a university," Freed said. "A normal school wasn't a collegiate institution."
The reason for this discrepancy turned out to be the fact that the school's founders had larger plans.
"It was intended to be the state university of Illinois," Freed said. "And that was all covered up."
Freed also found that ISU was intended to be a university open to everyone, a radical move within pre-Civil War America.
"The people connected with this founding were abolitionists and they believed in [a university open to everyone]."
These truths, until the publication of Freed's text, have been absent from ISU's history.
Freed speculates post-Civil War racial relations as the reason behind the cover up of ISU's abolitionist roots.
However, a greater question lies in why the intent for ISU to be Illinois' state university was also withheld from the historical record.
"In the 1950s all the other state universities made the transformation to higher institutions. The one that balks is ISU," Freed said. "We insisted that we were just a teacher's school."
"There was an absolute attempt to withhold from transforming into a multi-purpose university."
The transformation did take place, however, and according to ISU president Al Bowman, Freed's book highlights this very well.
"I think [Freed] has done a wonderful job of describing the transformation of Illinois State into a selective, prestigious institution," Bowman said.
"This book is a very thorough review of our early history, and he uncovered some things that had not been exposed until this work was published."
Bowman, who wrote the book's foreword, was very enthusiastic with the contributions the book and Freed have made in changing the internal perceptions of the ISU community.
"[In the foreword] I wanted to thank Dr. Freed for taking on this enormous task," Bowman said. "I wanted to describe the book's contribution to our historical record."
For Freed, this is a book that will hopefully teach community members about ISU, as well as help students, faculty and alumni feel more proud about the university.
In the book, Freed quotes former ISU president John Boschini who said, "If I have a proudest accomplishment it's having some small part in making people on campus realize that they are too good not to be better."
Freed added, "I hope readers will learn that lesson from reading this history."
Copies of "Educating Illinois" can be ordered through the President's Office by contacting Jackie Snelling at (309) 438-5677.