Paper pub. date
October 2017
ISBN 9780870718984 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870719257 (hardcover)
6 x 9, 416 pages. 24 B&W photos. Notes. 6 tables. Index.

The People's School

A History of Oregon State University

William G. Robbins

The People’s School is a comprehensive history of Oregon State University, placing the institution’s story in the context of state, regional, national, and international history. Rather than organizing the narrative around presidencies, historian William Robbins examines the broader context of events, such as wars and economic depressions, that affected life on the Corvallis campus. Agrarian revolts in the last quarter of the nineteenth century affected every Western state, including Oregon.  The Spanish-American War, the First World War, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Second World War disrupted institutional life, influencing enrollment, curricular strategies, and the number of faculty and staff. Peacetime events, such as Oregon’s tax policies, also circumscribed course offerings, hiring and firing, and the allocation of funds to departments, schools, and colleges. 


This contextual approach is not to suggest that university presidents are unimportant.  Benjamin Arnold (1872-1892), appointed president of Corvallis College by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, served well beyond the date (1885) when the State of Oregon assumed control of the agricultural college. Robbins uses central administration records and grassroots sources—local and state newspapers, student publications (The Barometer, The Beaver), and multiple and wide-ranging materials published in the university’s digitized ScholarsArchive@OSU, a source for the scholarly work of faculty, students, and materials related to the institution’s mission and research activities.  Other voices—extracurricular developments, local and state politics, campus reactions to national crises—provide intriguing and striking addendums to the university’s rich history.

About the author

William G. Robbins, a native of Connecticut, served four years in the US Navy before attending college.  He holds graduate degrees in history from the University of Oregon and taught at Oregon State University from 1971 to 2002. He retired as Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History. He has authored and edited many books, including A Man for all Seasons: Monroe Sweetland and the Liberal Paradox, The People's School: A History of Oregon State University, and A Place for Inquiry, A Place for Wonder: The Andrews Forest.

Read more about this author

"The People's School is a must-read history of Oregon State University...William G. Robbins succeeds where so many other writers fail. He has produced a first-rate engrossing, smoothly written and revealing contextual history of Oregon State University."

- Richard W. Etulain, The Oregonian

"For those of us who care deeply about OSU, as Robbins clearly does, reading this meticulously researched and precisely written book is like sitting down with a great-grandparent who has a sharp memory and a lot of love for the family, but is no longer worried about appearances. We get to learn all that stuff we've always wondered about the family stories, for better and for worse. Ah-ha moments, frowns and broad smiles abound."

- Kevin Miller, The Oregon Stater

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