Education: Reincarnation

"You'll die laughing," said lean, modest Gus Turbeville, 30, to his wife. An obscure University of Minnesota sociologist, Turbeville had just become the youngest U.S. liberal-arts college president. That was six years ago. Joanne Turbeville had something else to laugh about when she arrived at Northland College in remote Ashland, Wis. (pop. 10,000) on the shores of Lake Superior. Northland (enrollment: 175) was almost a ghost college.

Founded in 1892 at the height of the Wisconsin timber boom, Northland began as a flourishing Congregationalist secondary school. When pines and people dwindled, it became a fading nonsectarian college. Gus Turbeville inherited a huddle...

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