Donald R. McNeil was born on July 5, 1923 in Spokane, Washington. He served as a field staff member of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1951-1957) and as its director (1957-1958). His administrative career in higher education included chancellorships of the University Extension Program at the University of Wisconsin (1965-1969) and of the University of Maine System (1969-1975). He also directed the California Postsecondary Education Commission (1975-1978) and served as President of the University of Mid-America (1979-1983) and as Provost of the American Open University at the New York Institute of Technology (1983-1987). McNeil served on the Board of the Public Broadcasting Service in 1973 and began work on establishing the National Public Broadcasting Archives (NPBA) in 1988. Finally, he served as NPBA's director from 1990-1993. Donald R. McNeil died on March 8, 1996.
Donald R. McNeil was born on July 5, 1923 in Spokane, Washington. His family moved to Portland, Oregon in 1927. McNeil attended Lents grade school and Commerce High School. After graduation, in 1940, McNeil joined the National Guard Medical Corps which was placed on active duty during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart for service in the Pacific Theater.
After his discharge in 1945, McNeil went to the University of Oregon on the GI Bill. He received his BA in history and journalism in 1949. McNeil earned his M.S.(1950) and Ph.D.(1956) in American history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
McNeil started his professional career as a field staff member of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin--a national repository for historical manuscripts--in 1951. He was appointed assistant director and, in 1957, acting director.
In 1958, McNeil left the SHSW and moved to Arizona to be a freelance writer. Between 1959 and 1963, McNeil received a $100,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation to study adult education in America. He published articles on adult education in several popular and scholarly journals.
McNeil returned to academia in 1963 as the Special Assistant to Fred Harrington, the President of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He implemented exchange programs between Madison and several southern colleges. That year, McNeil was the Chairman of the Big Ten Conference on "The Negro in Higher Education".
After two years as Special Assistant to the President, McNeil was made Chancellor of the University Extension Program at the University of Wisconsin--the first ever in the United States without an agricultural background. During his four year tenure in that position (1965-1968), McNeil wrote Title I of the Higher Education Act of 1965, lobbied for creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, and worked on racial integration of the University of Wisconsin. In 1968, McNeil received the first Emmy given to a public television station (WHA-TV) for his series, Pretty Soon Runs Out--a forum on integration and race relations.
From 1969 to 1975, Don McNeil served as Chancellor of the University of Maine System, in Portland, Maine. There he worked with the governor, legislature, and community in developing long term plans for the seven campus system.
During his Maine Years, McNeil participated in the early years of the Public Broadcasting Service and was elected to the board in 1973. He was also a member of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
The California legislature created the California Postsecondary Education Commission to oversee the administration of the state's nine University of California campuses, nineteen state colleges and universities, 104 community colleges and twelve-hundred private higher education institutions. Don McNeil left the University of Maine in 1975 to become its first director. He served in that capacity until 1978.
In 1979, McNeil left California to become the president of the University of Mid-America. UMA used electronic media to produce long distance learning courses marketed in eleven mid-west universities. McNeil administrated the institution and spent four years lobbying for grants with which to fund new projects. While working at UMA, McNeil envisioned the creation of a self supporting, fully accredited university for adults unable to attend classes in the "typical" university setting. Using the British Open University as a guideline, McNeil began to design and research an American Open University. Unlike the University of Mid-America, which issued no credit on its own and produced material as a supplement to regular university curricula, the American Open University would give credit and degrees based upon its own curriculum using technology as a classroom. When it became clear that the National Institute of Education, which had been supporting the University of Mid-America, would cut its funding in 1982, McNeil went in search of support for his new venture. When no industry would support the beginning phases of the American Open University, the New York Institute of Technology agreed to bring it on as a long distance arm of its college. AOU began enrolling students in 1983. From 1983 to 1987, Don McNeil served as the Provost of the American Open University at the New York Institute of Technology. As Provost, McNeil designed the programs at AOU, selected the faculty to teach the courses, and created policy to govern the institution.
McNeil began work on the National Public Broadcasting Archives in 1988. A committee of prominent members within the public broadcasting community chose the University of Maryland at College Park to house the facility which opened in 1990. McNeil served as its director until his retirement in 1993.
Donald McNeil died on March 8, 1996.