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Martin Trow


Martin Trow

Professor of Public Policy, Emeritus

UC Berkeley

1926 – 2007


Martin Trow died on February 24, 2007 at his home in Kensington, seven months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was 80 years of age and had spent more than half his life on the University of California, Berkeley faculty: 36 years on the regular faculty and 14 years as a professor in the Graduate School.


Trow was born in New York on June 21, 1926, and attended primary and secondary schools in New York City. He served in the U.S. Navy for three years, separating with officer rank, before matriculating at the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1947. He practiced briefly as a mechanical engineer before entering Columbia University as a graduate student in sociology in 1948.


He completed his doctoral degree in 1956. He taught at Bennington College from 1953 to 1957, when he was appointed assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley. He was a member of Berkeley’s Department of Sociology for 12 years before moving to the Graduate School of Public Policy in 1969, shortly after it was established. He was affiliated with the school until his retirement in 1993.


His first book, Union Democracy, in collaboration with James Coleman and Seymour Martin Lipset, became a classic in the sociology of organizations. The book analyzed the governance of the International Typographical Union and examined the organization’s success in adopting democratic rather than oligarchic methods of governance.


But it was his analyses of higher education in the United States and elsewhere that led to his enduring influence in the academy. In 10 other books, and countless essays and articles, he examined the U.S. educational system, the comparative nature of educational systems, the intellectual problem of teaching (and learning), and the nature of academic freedom in the modern university. He also took on the challenge of assessing quality–the quality of teaching and research by faculty, and assessments of the aptitudes and abilities of students.


In a major report for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1973, and in an equally important report for the Carnegie Corporation in 1974, Trow analyzed the movement in the U.S. towards universal higher education. He documented the trends that made the presence of students in higher education “increasingly involuntary,” as college attendance became widespread and more or less obligatory for success in the marketplace. These trends in increasing human capital investment yielded many by-products, according to Trow, including problems of student motivation and the maintenance of good order.


Trow applied this analysis to British universities, suggesting that the coming expansion to mass higher education in the U.K. could not be sustained alongside the traditional elitist model of teaching and research. The amenities of the upper-class academy were doomed by the democratization of higher education. Trow’s book, The British Academics, was widely read on both sides of the Atlantic, and its central prophecies were borne out over the next quarter century.


Trow’s scholarship and study of higher education naturally led to demands for his expertise in service to these institutions. At Berkeley, he chaired the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate and later served as chairman of the systemwide Academic Council. In this capacity, he served ex officio as a regent of the University. He also chaired Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education during the 1977-1988 period.


Partly because of his influence, the center became known throughout the world as a lively interdisciplinary institution with seminars and speakers, as well as analyses of graduate education, undergraduate curricula, and modes of instruction.


His political views were well-formed, and he contributed his share to the diversity of the Berkeley campus. He was a cogent critic of affirmative action, quotas, and much that became fashionable after the Free Speech Movement, whose “incivility” he decried. In a celebrated interview in 2004, Trow suggested that conservative academics were discriminated against because liberals were wont to confuse their own ideology with “what decent, intelligent human beings believe.” His distinct perspective (and his wit) are already missed at the regular Monday lunches at the Goldman School of Public Policy.


Trow’s influence was felt far beyond the Berkeley campus. In the U.S., he served on advisory committees of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute of Education and the National Research Council. He was vice president of the U.K. Society for Research in Higher Education. He was chairman of the International Advisory Committee to the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education and served regularly as consultant to the chancellor of the Swedish university system. He was a member of the S. Neaman Working Group on the Future of the Research University of Israel, and he was associated with the Research Institute for Independent Higher Education in Japan.


He lectured widely and consulted broadly. He was a lively speaker and a shrewd observer of higher education, its challenges and successes.


Trow was a gifted teacher. By example, he showed students how to cultivate their own curiosity, and he encouraged them to ask the basic questions that can lead to a deep understanding of complex institutions. He believed that effective education included developing respect and affection between students and teachers; he therefore regarded his students as colleagues and also as friends. As these students pursued their own careers, many in higher education, Trow never hesitated to extend his unwavering personal support, even while challenging their most strongly-held positions.


Martin’s wife, Katherine Bernhardi Trow, counted research on higher education among her career interests. She is the author of a well-known monograph on the Experimental College Program (the Tussman experiment) on the Berkeley campus in the 1960s.


Trow received many honors in his long and distinguished career. Among other honors, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the National Academy of Education, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was awarded six honorary degrees by universities in three countries.


In 1997, Trow was awarded the Berkeley Citation. The Berkeley Citation is the highest honor awarded by the Berkeley campus and is reserved to honor those who have rendered “distinguished and extraordinary service to the University.” This award was richly deserved.


Besides his wife Katherine, Martin is survived by his two sons, Paul, of Natick, Massachusetts, and Peter, of Santa Barbara, California, and by his daughter, Sarah Eydam, of Antioch, California.



John M. Quigley

Patrick Hayashi

Neil J. Smelser