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UC Berkeley Press Release

Martin Trow, leading scholar in higher education studies, dies at 80

– Martin Trow, professor emeritus of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and an internationally recognized leader in higher education studies, has died. He was 80.

Trow died at his home on Saturday, Feb. 24, seven months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Martin Trow
Martin Trow (Michael Burrage photo)

Print-quality image available for download

Trow is credited with being the first scholar to describe the transition in higher education from elite to mass to universal student access in a seminal paper written in 1973 for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a coalition of 30 countries that aims to address the challenges and opportunities of globalization.

"It was controversial at the time, but the change in higher education over the years has largely happened the way Marty described it," said Burton Clark, a professor emeritus of higher education at UCLA who shared an office with Trow when they were both young professors at UC Berkeley. "Countries still use that paper today to see where they are on the trend line."

Clark worked closely with Trow on a number of projects, including some of this country's earliest typologies of student and faculty cultures.

"For more than four decades, Martin Trow and Burton Clark were regarded as the undisputed doyens of social science research on higher education," said Neil Smelser, University Professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley and a close colleague of Trow's. "Their collaborative essays on student cultures, published in 1966 and 1972, still stand as a landmark contribution to the understanding of student life."

Trow began his career at UC Berkeley as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in 1957, the same year that the Center for Studies in Higher Education was established on campus. In 1958, Trow joined the center, which was the first academic research institute in the United States to focus on higher education policy issues.

As a researcher at the center, Trow took a scholarly approach to such topics as faculty recruitment, undergraduate peer influence, and gender and ethnic diversity in academia.

"Always with a comparative eye toward countries like Great Britain, Sweden and Japan, he crafted essay after essay on the economic, political and social class implications of the development of mass education," said Smelser. "His voice on this core feature of twentieth-century education could not be ignored by either scholars or political leaders."

Trow served as director of the center from 1977 to 1988. During his tenure as director, he was credited with increasing the interdisciplinary nature of the center and with encouraging more studies and seminars on graduate education, undergraduate curriculum and new modes of instruction.

"I have been constantly impressed with the very high esteem in which Martin has been held by colleagues in many countries around the world," said C. Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education and former provost for the UC system. "He and his prolific writings have had enormous impact on higher education everywhere. Through his own long-term efforts and intellect, Martin Trow made Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education what it is today and established its international stature."

Trow was born in New York City on June 21, 1926, and grew up in Brooklyn. His undergraduate studies were interrupted in 1943 by his service in the U.S. Navy. He left the military in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant.

The following year, Trow earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He worked briefly as an engineer before beginning his graduate studies in sociology in 1948 at Columbia University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1956.

Trow taught and did research at Bennington College in Vermont from 1953 until he joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1957. On campus the following year, he met his wife, Katherine Bernhardi, whom he married in 1960.

Trow was promoted to associate professor in 1962, and to full professor in 1968. In 1969, he moved to the campus's Graduate (now the Goldman) School of Public Policy.

Although Trow is most recognized for his research in comparative higher education, he also published influential research on labor and populist movements. In "Union Democracy," a book he co-authored in 1956 with Seymour Lipset and James Coleman, Trow explained the lively internal political life of a printers' union.

"Similarly, he wrote one of the earliest and best articles on the social basis of Joseph McCarthy's right-wing populist movement," said Harold Wilensky, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of political science and a colleague and friend of Trow's for 50 years.

That paper, "Small Business, Tolerance and Support for McCarthy," was published in 1958 in the American Journal of Sociology.

"Trow found that prominent among the supporters of this demagogue were self-employed entrepreneurs," said Wilensky. "The small businessman, whether well off or barely squeaking by, lives in a chaotic world and is often faced with the threat of bankruptcy."

McCarthyism was attractive because this unstable, unpredictable life of small business owners fosters a tendency in them to find scapegoats for problems, according to the paper. Since then, many similar protest politicians, including George Wallace, Ross Perot and David Duke, have found core support from small business owners, Wilensky added.

Throughout his career, Trow chaired or served on several national and international commissions and advisory committees at the U.S. Department of Education, the National Research Council, the National Institute of Education, the College Entrance Examination Board and the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education.

Trow was also a member or fellow of numerous professional societies and organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Education, the Society for Research in Higher Education in Great Britain, and the Swedish Center for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences.

At UC Berkeley, Trow held many offices with the Academic Senate, including a term as chairman of its Berkeley Division from 1980 to 1982. He chaired the Academic Council of UC's systemwide Academic Senate from 1991 to 1992.

In 1997, he was awarded the Berkeley Citation for Distinguished Achievement and Notable Service to the University, the campus's highest award.

In November 2006, he was awarded the Howard Bowen Distinguished Career Award by the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Trow has been a distinguished visiting scholar at Nuffield College in Oxford, the London School of Economics, and the Institute for Studies in Higher Education at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. He had also been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Stockholm, the University of Sussex, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, the University of Warwick, the University of Lancaster, and Carleton College, where he was a trustee for many years.

He has written more than 150 articles and 11 books.

Upon his retirement in 1993, Trow became an emeritus professor at the Graduate School for Public Policy at UC Berkeley.

Trow is survived by his wife, Katherine Bernhardi Trow of Kensington, Calif.; sons, Paul Trow of Natick, Mass., and Peter Trow of Santa Barbara, Calif.; daughter, Sarah Eydam, of Antioch, Calif.; and grandson, Daniel Trow of Franklin, Tenn.

Plans for a campus memorial are pending.