Professional News

Educational policy scholar John Thelin receives Medallion for Intellectual Achievement

 John Thelin

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 11, 2023) — University of Kentucky Libraries is proud to honor John R. Thelin, UK professor emeritus of educational policy studies and evaluation, as the 2023 recipient of the UK Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement. Thelin will be recognized at the UK Libraries Spring Celebration on May 11.

“John Thelin embodies all of the qualities that the medallion is meant to honor: a dedication to scholarship, a commitment to his community, and academic achievements of the highest order,” said Doug Way, dean of UK Libraries. “His writing, his teaching, and his ability to connect his scholarship to his community have had a profound impact on the lives of countless Kentuckians as well as scholars and students across the country and around the world.”

Thelin began teaching at the University of Kentucky in 1996. He was named a University Research Professor in 2001. His teaching and research interests focus on the history of higher education, public policy and philanthropy. His writing emphasizes the history of colleges and universities, and campus life in particular, as part of American popular culture.

The winner of numerous awards for teaching excellence, including the William B. Sturgill Award for outstanding contributions to graduate education and the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, Thelin is also recognized for his exemplary research and engaging writing. Among his several books are "Going to College in the Sixties" (2018) and A History of American Higher Education (2004), published in three editions and has become the standard work in the field.

Throughout his career Thelin has demonstrated an abiding interest in joining his scholarship to his community, with entrances into the public forum that range from guest columns in the Lexington Herald-Leader to testimony at Congressional briefings on higher education legislation. Following his book on college sports scandals, "Games Colleges Play" (1996), Thelin was one of six historians invited to write an amicus brief about the commercial exploitation of college student-athletes. The brief was awarded the Education Law Association’s Gus Steinhilber Award for the best legal brief of the year and was influential in the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of student-athletes in the 2021 case NCAA v. Alston. "Games Colleges Play" is cited frequently in the decision written by Justice Gorsuch.

Thelin has greatly enjoyed being a part of the campus community. He continues to keep in close touch with former graduate students, many of whom have excelled as leaders and scholars at institutions in Kentucky and nationwide. Since retiring in 2022, he continues to write books and journal articles, as well as op-eds for the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed.

A 1969 alumnus of Brown University, Thelin concentrated in European history, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was a varsity wrestler. He earned a master's degree in American history and a Ph,D, in the history of education, and was a Regents Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

One of UK’s most prestigious awards, the UK Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement is awarded annually to a Kentucky resident whose accomplishments in the fields of science, literature, art or philanthropy have made a profound impact on the Commonwealth and represent the pinnacle of creative or scholarly thought.

“I am grateful the UK Libraries Advisory Board for having selected me for the award this year. It’s an honor to be included in the company of the previous recipients whose works have made the Commonwealth a distinctive home for intellectual pursuits,” said Thelin.

Selections are determined by the UK Libraries National Advisory Board, who take great pride in recognizing high intellectual achievement by Kentuckians and encouraging creative thought across the Commonwealth.

Thelin will be recognized among several other award winners, including the recipients of the Dean's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship, the Paul A. Willis Award for Outstanding Libraries Faculty and the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Staff Performance.

The Spring Celebration will be held Thursday, May 11, at William T. Young Library on UK’s campus. The awards presentation will begin at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a reception with cocktails and heavy hors d'oeuvres. 

About UK Libraries

As the premier research library in the Commonwealth, UK Libraries empowers lifelong learners to discover, create and connect by providing ever-expanding access to quality information and collaborating with academic and creative communities worldwide to advance knowledge, enhance scholarship and preserve the history and culture of the Commonwealth. More information about UK Libraries can be found on its website.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.