William Maehl Jr., Ph.D., a former president of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, died July 26 in Santa Fe, N.M., after an extended illness. He was 81.

William Maehl Jr.

William Maehl Jr.

Committed to liberal education, lifelong learning and social justice throughout his life, Dr. Maehl made many contributions to the communities in which he lived and worked, and to the fields of British history and adult education.

Born in Illinois to William and Marvel Maehl, he held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. He was also a Fulbright Scholar at King’s College, Durham University, England; a Carnegie Fellow at the University of Chicago; a Leverhulme Research Fellow at King’s College, University of Durham, England; and a Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University, England. He served in the U.S. Army from 1953-55.

He met his bride, Audrey, in Norman, Okla. They married in 1962 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and their daughter, Christine, was born in 1965. During their 49-year marriage, the Maehls lived in Oklahoma, California and, ultimately, New Mexico.

Maehl served in teaching roles at the University of Minnesota, Montclair (N.J.) State University, the University of Chicago, Washington College in Maryland and the University of Nebraska.

At the University of Oklahoma, he served as a professor of history, dean of the College of Liberal Studies and vice provost of Continuing Education and Public Service. His career culminated as the second president of The Fielding Institute (now Fielding Graduate University) in Santa Barbara, a graduate school for midlife and midcareer adults offering master’s and doctoral degree programs in psychology, human and organization development, and education.

In his tenure as president, he built Fielding’s organization and its reputation in the global academic community for its premier graduate programs designed for working adults. He remained active in the Fielding community throughout the remainder of his life as a member and valued colleague in its interdisciplinary New Mexico Salon.

Maehl also served as a board member for the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning and for Southwestern College in Santa Fe. He served as a consultant on humanities and/or liberal studies programs to Sonoma State University; Ohio University; the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; the University of Memphis; Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Louisiana State University, Shreveport; the University of North Carolina; Dartmouth College; Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio; the University of Colorado in Denver; and the University of Michigan in Flint.

Maehl’s honors and awards included Phi Beta Kappa, and presidency of the University of Oklahoma chapter; the University of Oklahoma Award for Excellence in Teaching; Danforth Faculty Associate; the University of Oklahoma Regents’ Award for Superior Teaching; and an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from The Fielding Institute.

In conferring that honorary degree, Dr. Harold “Bud” Hodgkinson noted that Maehl’s career had been “the personification of Emerson’s idea of the American scholar,” inextricably linking knowledge, inquiry and action. He noted that Maehl “had a dedication to the notion that adults have a particular need for educational opportunities that take advantage of their own knowledge and skills and build upon them. … True to his academic training as a 19th century British historian, (Dr. Maehl) always stressed looking for the linkages and commonalities between ideas and persons” to achieve meaningful consensus and action.”

Maehl also served as editor/publisher of Continuum, the journal of the National Council for Continuing Education, and as a founding editorial board member of the Journal of Transformative Education. His publications include The Reform Bill of 1832, among numerous works on 19th century British political and labor history, and many works on adult education, including Lifelong Learning at its Best: Innovative Practices in Adult Credit Programs; The Graduate Tradition and Experiential Learning, in Expanding the Missions of Graduate and Professional Education; and The Liberal Arts and the Lifelong Learner, in the journal Liberal Education.

Maehl is survived by his wife, Audrey, of Santa Fe; their daughter, Christine, and her husband, Peter Snow, of Alaska, and their children, Samuel, Benjamin and Thomas; his sister, Judith, and her husband, Robert Parmelee, of McKinney, Texas, and their daughter, Karen, her husband, John Meaders, and their two sons.

Cremation has already taken place. A memorial service to celebrate Maehl’s life and accomplishments is planned for early next year. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the William H. Maehl and Audrey Maehl Endowment for Faculty Research, Fielding Graduate University, 2112 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105, or 805.687.1099.

— Sylvia Williams is the director of communications for Fielding Graduate University.