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Fulfilling the Promise

Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009
John T. Kneebone and Eugene P. Trani

BUY Cloth · 432 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813944821 · $35.00 · Sep 2020
BUY Ebook · 432 pp. · ISBN 9780813944838 · $35.00 · Sep 2020

Founded in Richmond in 1968, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) began with a mission to build a university to serve a city emerging from the era of urban crisis—desegregation, white flight, political conflict, and economic decline. With the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and the Richmond Professional Institute into the single state-mandated institution of VCU, the two entities were able to embrace their mission and work together productively.

In Fulfilling the Promise, John Kneebone and Eugene Trani tell the intriguing story of VCU and the context in which the university was forged and eventually thrived. Although VCU’s history is necessarily unique, Kneebone and Trani show how the issues shaping it are common to many urban institutions, from engaging with two-party politics in Virginia and African American political leadership in Richmond, to fraught neighborhood relations, the complexities of providing public health care at an academic health center, and an increasingly diverse student body. As a result, Fulfilling the Promise offers far more than a stale institutional saga. Rather, this definitive history of one urban-setting state university illuminates the past and future of American public higher education in the post-1960s era.


The large, diverse urban university revealed in this saga has all the upstart optimism, grit, and ambition the nation came to know through the 2011 Final Four run. This compelling account will help define and secure VCU’s distinctive legacy for years to come.

Shaka Smart, VCU Men’s Basketball Head Coach, 2009–2015

Simultaneously affected by and influencing such forces as politics, economic development, social change, and the media, the mission of education access is not for the fainthearted. It is noble work accomplished by dedicated leaders who surmount the challenges of the day by demonstrating unwavering commitment to fundamental purpose. Kneebone and Trani deliver an outstanding book that is a must read to deeply understand university-community interdependence.

Dr. Susan T. Gooden, Dean and Professor, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, VCU; Past President, American Society for Public Administration

The story told in Fulfilling the Promise is one that I lived in many respects. It is a tale of a historic city in decline looking for a miracle of reversal and an upstart academic center searching for an identity and roots that did not belong to an antebellum past. It is a history rife with as many twists and turns as any first-rate thriller and where the stakes were sky-high. It is also a blueprint for what can go right when good people keep trying to make something work where nothing really had before. Fulfilling the Promise more than lives up to its title.

David Baldacci, VCU ’82 graduate and best-selling novelist

Gene Trani and John Kneebone have gifted readers a brilliant narrative of how two very different and unevenly yoked parent institutions of higher education--through strategy, sacrifice, and struggle--gave birth to Virginia Commonwealth University. The book adeptly explains the alchemy of the birthing crucible and then sensitively expounds upon VCU’s essential role in the travails and triumphs of Richmond’s journey toward social and economic progress. The authors have wrought an inspiring saga of VCU--a unique and ubiquitous institution that has unapologetically infused "urban" into its DNA, unwaveringly committed to "democratizing’’ educational opportunity, and uncompromisingly conscripted the character and courage to be excellent.

Roger L. Gregory, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and former Rector, VCU Board of Visitors

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