Press Release

AAC&U Announces Winner of the 2021 Frederic W. Ness Book Award

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today the winner of the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom, published by Princeton University Press. The Ness award is given to the book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education, and will be formally presented to the author, Eddie R. Cole, at AAC&U’s annual meeting, on January 20, 2022, in Washington, DC.

Although it is commonly known that college students and other activists, as well as politicians, actively participated in the fight for and against civil rights in the middle decades of the twentieth century, historical accounts have not adequately focused on the roles that the nation’s college presidents played in the debates concerning racism. Based on archival research conducted at a range of colleges and universities across the United States, author Eddie R. Cole, associate professor of higher education and organizational change at the University of California, Los Angeles, sheds light on the important place of college presidents in the struggle for racial parity. The Campus Color Line illuminates how the legacy of academic leaders’ actions continues to influence the unfinished struggle for Black freedom and racial equity in education and beyond.

“The racial challenges faced by colleges and universities today are not new. These are old issues that have been significantly influenced and shaped by past academic leaders’ decisions,” Cole said. “There are lessons to be learned from looking at the long history of racial policies and practices. Therefore, as a scholar of higher education history, it is especially meaningful to be recognized by one of the most influential national higher education associations of the last century because AAC&U has been at the forefront of advancing many of the very topics explored in The Campus Color Line.”

This year’s Ness award winner was selected by a committee of higher education leaders, including Kathleen Woodward (committee chair), Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, professor of English, and director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington; Brooke Barnett, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Butler University; Eduardo Ochoa, president of California State University, Monterey Bay; and Lynn Pasquerella, president of AAC&U.

“Out of a robust pool of nominations, the selection committee noted that Dr. Cole’s book is the product of a mammoth undertaking, worthy of significant praise for its scope and depth,” Pasquerella said. “The Campus Color Line is compelling and timely, with both practical anecdotes to inform the daily work of college and university presidents and wider social significance.”

Established in 1979 to honor AAC&U’s ninth president, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the understanding and improvement of liberal education. Recent award winners include Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order by Joy Ann Williamson-Lott; The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux by Cathy N. Davidson; Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work by Matthew T. Hora with Ross J. Benbow and Amanda K. Oleson; The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice, edited by Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson; and Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael S. Roth.

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,000 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges. For more information, visit