3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have played an important role in shaping American society by providing opportunities to African Americans, especially before the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, and Kamala Harris are a few of their notable alumni. Their relevance to the current United States has been continuously questioned, however, and they face significantly high rates of accreditation sanctions. Many of them have either closed or remained open in name only. Each case is unique and involves several factors, but Robert M. Dixon's Death of a College grants us insight into a falling institution, its struggles, and the interests surrounding it.
The book, written as a play, is divided into four acts. It follows Stonewood College during the 1980s as Dr. Jason E. Hammer, the recently appointed president, tries to prevent its downfall and loss of accreditation. He soon finds himself in a massive web of conspiracies and corruption from both within and outside the institution. Despite being a fictional account, the story is informed by the author's experience in higher education; this is evident by the richness in detail when it comes to the administrative proceedings and complex politics.
Though the story is predominantly plot-centered with minimal individual focus on the characters, you can follow and enjoy it even without any knowledge or interest in the inner workings of colleges. At its core, the book is a spectacle of human drama where loyalty and hard work compete with intrigue, manipulation, and incompetence.
While it would have been easy to paint a simplistic scenario of good versus evil, the plot thrives in its wide, sophisticated web of motivations. There are those with ambiguous intentions, selfish individuals who have even fooled themselves into thinking they are virtuous, well-meaning people blinded by shortsightedness, and many other interesting characters. Dr. Hammer is a particularly fascinating protagonist: competent and devoted to the cause but prone to making mistakes due to inexperience and fear.
The author employs an interesting narrative device in the form of Waverly Bennings, who served as dean of the faculty from 1920 to 1960. Despite being dead, he shows up as a commentator from time to time to unveil hidden details, provide a different perspective, and highlight Stonewood's history and principles, making the reader more invested in the college. His sparse appearances enhance his impact; indeed, he is absent from many of the more engaging moments near the climax, allowing the story to speak for itself.
Death of a College is a masterful drama that will appeal to readers who enjoy complex character dynamics. It is also a great read for those interested in higher education, especially HBCUs. Due to the several errors and instances of awkward comma usage I found, however, I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars. I don't recommend the story if you prefer character-driven narratives with deep psychological exploration. There are only a few borderline profanities and no mature content, so the book is suitable for many audiences.
Death of a College
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon