Born in Illinois, 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 1953-1955.
Maehl joined the OU faculty as a history professor in 1959, and he became active in the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program in 1963 when he directed a BLS seminar. In 1966, he became a member of the College of Continuing Education’s Executive Committee, and from then on, he served regularly as an adviser and seminar leader.
During his tenure at OU, Maehl received an Award for Excellence in Teaching and a Regents’ Award for Superior Teaching. He served as chairman of the OU Faculty Senate in 1974, and he established OU’s Oxford Seminar Program.
He served as dean of the College of Liberal Studies from 1976-1987. In 1981, CLS launched the Master of Liberal Studies with Museum Emphasis program. Additionally, the first Feaver-MacMinn seminar was held in 1984.
Maehl retired from OU in 1987 when he was named president of the Fielding Institute. There, he built the organization’s global reputation for its graduate programs designed for working adults. He was a board member of the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning, editor/publisher of the journal of the National Continuing Education Association, consultant to many universities, and author of numerous works on adult education and on 19th century British political and labor history. His work earned Phi Beta Kappa membership, several teaching excellence awards, and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Fielding.
He served as principal investigator of the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners. In 1999, he published a book, Lifelong Learning at Its Best: Innovative Practices in Adult Credit Programs.
Maehl and his wife Audrey eventually settled in Santa Fe, N.M., where 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.
Memorial contributions may be made to the William H. Maehl and Audrey Maehl Endowment for Faculty Research, Fielding Graduate University, 2112 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105.