An Assignment from Professor Barzun

In 1992 I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with Professor Barzun to discuss a new edition of his superb book The American University, originally published in 1968. We met at the Century Club in midtown, spending most of the luncheon discussing life at Columbia in the 1950Ⳡand changes in the structure of the Academy in the years that followed.

At the end of the conversation, J.B. asked if I would write the introduction to the soon to be republished volume. I was flattered. The chance to work with Jacques on any project is a distinct privilege.

However, I didnⴠknow what was entailed. My initial impression was that this would be a one thousand word statement. But that was certainly not what J.B. had in mind.

He said that an introduction should deal with the changes in university life since 1968, a far more daunting task than I anticipated. I agreed, noting that the work would be completed at the end of the summer months.

On September 1, I received a call from J.B. inquiring about the manuscript. I sheepishly noted that the work was not yet completed.

Unwilling to point out that it had barely begun, I promised to have it completed in two weeks. For the next fourteen days I did nothing but write and rewrite. I couldnⴠpossibly disappoint my former professor.

When it was completed, J.B. edited with his extraordinary flair for language, forcing me to justify every adjectival phrase. I felt as if the clock had been turned back forty-five years and I was seated in a Columbia classroom again.

This time, however, the class was a tutorial and I was being tutored by one of the great scholars of the century. To say I was in a unique and privileged position does not do justice to the experience. Having the opportunity to spend time with J.B. as a professor and then a colleague was formative in my adolescence and led to a deepening understanding of the human condition in my middle years.

Herb London
Hudson Institute

The Jacques Barzun Centennial