- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Anyone interested in the history of American conservatism must respect the work of Lee Edwards. A Heritage Foundation fellow and a senior editor at The World and I, Mr. Edwards has spent much of the past decade chronicling the history of the conservative movement. His books are always filled with new information based on firsthand interviews and extensive archival research.
Having written histories of American conservatism and the Heritage Foundation and biographies of Barry Goldwater, Walter Judd and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Edwards has now produced the authorized history of Grove City College: Freedom's College: The History of Grove City College. Mr. Edward's book is important not just for what it tells us about the college, but for the light it sheds on Grove City's most important donor, J. Howard Pew.
Grove City College is best known for being one of the two American colleges (along with Hillsdale College) that retains its independence from federal regulation by refusing to allow its students to accept any sort of federal aid, including student loans. But Grove City's story is an interesting one, which Mr. Edwards tells well.
Located in northwestern Pennsylvania, the school was founded in 1876 to provide teacher training, and a high school for those students who wanted to prepare for college. By 1884, it had shed its other functions and become a college.
From the start, the story of Grove City is intertwined with that of the Pew family. Its first president, Isaac Ketler, thought his most inspiring high school teacher was Joseph Newton Pew. As Pew abandoned education for the oil business, he and Ketler remained in contact. And when it came time for Pew's son, J. Howard Pew (1882-1971) to go to college, he went to Grove City, where he graduated with the class of 1900.
The Pews began as some of the few oil men not to be bought out by John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. But their fortune was made after the Spindletop oil strike in Texas in 1901. The Pews realized that someone needed to ship the Texas crude to east coast ports and to refine it. This decision ensured that their company, Sun Oil, would become an industry giant.
As president of Sun Oil in the 1930s and 1940s, J. Howard Pew was one of the foremost critics of the New Deal. But he was also an active alumnus, serving as chairman of Grove City's board of trustees until his death. Pew had a substantial say in picking presidents who ran the institution between 1913 and 1985. Pew also made sure that Grove City lived within its means, ensuring that the school did not spend money excessively. According to longtime trustee Heath Larry, Pew wanted to ensure that Grove City "would be operated frugally so that the average candidate for college could afford it." The result was that Grove City College's tuition was (and is) far lower than other private schools of comparable quality.
J. Howard Pew was one of America's greatest philanthropists, but he's also quite obscure. Pew's old-fashioned reticence ensured that he has no biographer. Thus the new information Mr. Edwards has uncovered about Pew's life and ideas is valuable and important.
Mr. Edwards is also good at explaining Grove City College vs. Bell, the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case that ended an eight-year battle between the school and the Department of Education about whether Grove City College would remain exempt from federal sex-discrimination laws if its students received federal financial aid.
Ultimately the Supreme Court ruled against Grove City, and it was forced to withdraw from all federal aid programs, even grants sent directly to students. But the battle strengthened the school's resolve; it organized the alumni, whose generosity eventually ensured the creation of private grants and loans equal to the government ones. The result, Mr. Edwards writes, is that the decision "was a very real victory in the school's century-long struggle to defend faith and freedom, regardless of the cost."
"Freedom's College" supplements the Grove City story with a more general history of American education, though this additional material could have been trimmed. Some of it is interesting, such as an explanation of how the Supreme Court makes its decisions. But the many pages Mr. Edwards spends summarizing the views of such conservative critics of higher education as Thomas Sowell and Martin Anderson are not necessary. Nor need he have interrupted his account of Grove City during World War II to describe every item in the typical soldier's backpack.
Thanks in large part to federal subsidies, America's colleges are becoming lumbering giants that are increasingly alike. Students who want a sound education will find they can't go to big cities, but to little schools with deeply rooted traditions that can't be swayed by fads or bureaucrats. As Mr. Edwards' book conclusively shows, Grove City College's decades-long struggle to preserve its financial, intellectual and spiritual independence ensures that it is a vital and necessary part of American higher education.

Martin Morse Wooster explores J. Howard Pew's ideas in "The Foundation Builders," published by the Philanthropy Roundtable.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide