Corbin Gwaltney, Chronicle of Higher Education Founder, Dies at 97


Corbin Gwaltney, whose groundbreaking newspaper The Chronicle of Higher Education penetrated the nation’s ivory towers and even turned a profit, died on Monday at his home in Potomac, Md. He was 97.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Pamela. The couple shared the title of chairman of The Chronicle of Higher Education Inc., a company that also publishes The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Based in Washington, The Chronicle of Higher Education, which began in 1966 with a few thousand subscribers, today has a paid print circulation of about 44,000 and estimates that it draws two million online visitors a month. In the early 1990s it was a trailblazer in publishing online and in erecting a paywall to protect its content.

The Chronicle’s roots go back to 1957, when Mr. Gwaltney, the editor of the Johns Hopkins University alumni magazine at the time, met in New York with fellow editors from 10 other campus publications.

Their goal was to collaborate on a journal that would serve as a supplement to individual college alumni publications but explore higher education more broadly. The meeting took place the same day that the Soviet satellite Sputnik first circled the Earth.

“They’re shooting for the moon,” one editor was said to have remarked.

“So are we,” Mr. Gwaltney replied.

That publication — a precursor to The Chronicle called American Higher Education, 1958 — sold nearly 1.4 million copies to 16 colleges and universities.

Mr. Gwaltney left Johns Hopkins in 1959 and incorporated the collaborative under the name Editorial Projects for Education. Its name was later changed to Editorial Projects in Education, and it now publishes Education Week, which covers high school and below.

In 1965, with support from the Carnegie Corporation, he and his E.P.E. colleagues began publishing The 15-Minute Report, a brief newsletter for college trustees. A year later he produced the first edition of The Chronicle, comprising eight pages; it had a circulation of 5,000.

As the languor on campuses of the 1950s was giving way to the turmoil and uncertainty on those of the ′60s, The Chronicle broadened its mission, applying its coverage to civil rights, free speech, the Vietnam War, academic freedom, apartheid, the federal role in education, Supreme Court rulings, financing of athletic programs, scholarships, hiring, scientific breakthroughs, new books, intellectual ferment and comparative pay.

To maintain its independence, the newspaper did not print editorials, but it later added a separate section of contributed opinions, The Chronicle Review. It also created Arts & Letters Daily, a website with links to recommended articles, and special supplements.

The Chronicle began accepting classified advertisements for academic posts in 1970. They turned into a bonanza two years later, when institutions that received federal funds were required under affirmative-action rules to advertise for job vacancies. The newspaper is now believed to be consistently profitable.

Mr. Gwaltney and John A. Crowl, his partner in founding The Chronicle, bought the publication in 1978 from Editorial Projects for $2 million in cash (the equivalent of more than $8 million today) and other considerations. Mr. Crowl sold his share to Mr. Gwaltney in 1990.

The Chronicle has had its stylistic idiosyncrasies. It refuses, for example, to identify anyone other than medical doctors by the honorific Dr., a convention that displeased many professors and others who had earned Ph.Ds.

Mr. Gwaltney saw the rule as one way to puncture the pomposity he found on campuses — as illustrated by a Harvard legend he liked to invoke: In the 1910s a visitor to the campus asked to see the university’s president, Charles W. Eliot. “The president is in Washington seeing Mr. Wilson,” Eliot’s secretary replied, leaving no doubt about the pecking order.

Howell Corbin Gwaltney Jr. was born in Baltimore on April 16, 1922. His father was a lawyer, his mother, Margaret (Bell) Gwaltney, a homemaker.

He embraced journalism early, publishing a local version of National Geographic when he was 8 years old, using a Royal 10 typewriter that his grandfather had given him when he was 5. After reading the Horatio Alger-type book “Ritchie of the News” when he was 12, he became hooked on newspapering as a career.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins in 1943, worked briefly for The Baltimore News-Post, served in the Army and in December 1944 was captured at the start of the Battle of the Bulge.

As a prisoner of war, he recalled, he “dreamed at night about food, cigarettes and newspaper work.” His hair turned white prematurely.

Mr. Gwaltney rekindled his passion for journalism after the war. He withdrew the last $100 from his savings account to produce a livelier Life magazine-like mock-up of what the typically stodgy Johns Hopkins alumni publication could become.

He then persuaded P. Stewart Macaulay, the university provost and a former newspaperman himself, to adopt the format and name him the editor. The first issue of what became a trendsetting and award-winning magazine appeared in April 1950.

Mr. Gwaltney is survived by three children from his first marriage, Jean, Margaret and Thomas Gwaltney; his wife, Pamela (Stokes) Gwaltney; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His first two wives, Doris Jean Kell and Jean Caryl Wyckoff, died.

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