Nearly twelve years ago, while completing my dissertation, I was seated next to Hanna Holborn Gray at a conference dinner. The Renaissance historian, who served as the president of the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1993, told me about the changes she had witnessed in higher education during a long career, and described many of the émigré scholars whose works occupied my time and whom she had known—Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Henry Kissinger, to name a few. Gray’s sonorous voice and matter-of-fact approach to education mesmerized this eager graduate student. I resolved to learn more about her, and a few weeks later sought her permission to write her biography. She politely declined my request.

In retrospect, it was Gray’s no-nonsense approach to higher education that I found most enthralling.

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