Before the first year of the war was out, Hutchins realized that he had to quit teaching the honors course for freshmen, which he had been teaching with Mortimer Adler for ten years. He would never again have a close association with the young—never again come as close to having a good time. It wasn't that he thought the young were the hope of the world. He thought they were brands to be snatched from the burning. On those rare occasions when he had seen them outside the classroom—he once addressed a campus meeting for the purpose, he said, of "dispelling the rumor that I do not exist"—he was rejuvenated.
Convocation 1942, with five hundred students receiving their dip-lomas—bachelor, master, doctor—from the hand of the president in Rockefeller Chapel. The name of Wilbur Jerger is called, and Jerger, in uniform, comes forward to receive his law degree. One of the most argumentative of Hutchins' students, graduate and undergraduate, he reached for the outstretched parchment. But the president holds on to it. "Gimme that," says Jerger, tugging away. "What for?" says Hutchins. "You won't need it where you're going." "Gimme," says Jerger, "I earned it." "You did?" says Hutchins, and lets go of it. Jerger falls back and hits the national flag, which teeters on its pediment. The chapel roars. Forty years later Jerger recalled it, as did all who were there that day. Just as Attorney Clarissa Hutchins Bronson remembered her law school graduation at the University of California at Davis and the opening words of the commencement orator: "I have journeyed here from my jasmine-scented bower in Santa Barbara because I wanted to talk to my daughter when she could not interrupt me."
Year after year he gave the departing graduates an unrousing send-off with his ice-cold charisma, just as year after year he gave the entering
freshmen an unhearty welcome: "Let me direct your attention to a fact which may have escaped your notice: this is an educational institution." And after the graduate and undergraduate deans had sounded off on the subject of "these hallowed quadrangles," he rose before the bemused freshmen and said, "I hope you will not disgrace these hallowed quadrangles," and sat down.
A bright freshman in his honors course who at one moment was warmed by his magnetism would, at the next, be frozen stiff when Hutch-ins said, "You have favored us with a stirring oration. Would you mind telling us what it means? . . . But don't let me intimidate you, Mr. Smith."
Students were in some sense unawed by his combination of Olympian loftiness and postadolescent sass. He kidded the things they kidded and mocked the things they mocked. "If we should ask you in the final examination in this course whether you would rather have Aristotle's Politics or the Boy Scout Manual on a desert island, which would you say you would rather have and why would you say you would rather have the Politics? " He scorned what they scorned, and honored what they honored, intent on sending them forth (he was quoting Woodrow Wilson) "as unlike their fathers as possible."
Talking neither up nor down to them, what he tried to teach them was to be seriously disputatious, exemplifying the characteristic word and deed. A dean—not a Hutchins appointee—ordered a splinter-party Communist group off campus during one of the Red hunts across the country, on the technical ground that it did not meet the university's minimum membership requirement; Hutchins arbitrarily reinstated the group. He looked at the world the way the best of the young looked at it: normatively, "judgmentally." His nonchalance transparently covered a passionate concern with personal and social agonies. The young knew it, felt it, and they knew that this university was an involved man.
"It is literally true," said Bob Bork, '48, who became U.S. Solicitor General, "that in the dormitories, with bull sessions all the time, I can't remember a single session about girls or sex or sports. There was a lot of girl-chasing and drinking, of course, but the talk was serious. In the student body people were terribly serious about ideas. They may make some difference in later life—how quickly you sell out your ideas. Exposure to that life tends to make you more resistant to other people when you think their ideas aren't as good as yours."
"The atmosphere on campus"—this is University of Illinois Professor Bernard R. Kogan, of the Chicago class of '41—"was feverish. Students debated Plato versus Aristotle, Stalin versus Trotsky, Freud versus Jung endlessly and heatedly. Hutchins and his ideas, too, were argued at length
and freely. Expression was untrammeled, and this freedom, too, was part of the Hutchins plan in its largest sense."
The idea of stirring students to life brought to the campus, for short or long stints, a steady succession of credentialed and uncredentialed visitors such as Sinclair Lewis, Artur Schnabel, Thomas Mann, Thornton Wilder, Alexander Woollcott, Carl Sandburg, Socialist Norman Thomas, Communist Earl Browder. Always casting about for exciting teachings, Hutchins brought G.A. Borgese from Italy, Bruno Bettelheim from Germany, exiled president Eduard Benes from Czechoslovakia. He tried to get President Conant to leave Harvard and take over the natural sciences at Chicago. He held Gertrude Stein to her promise to return to the university and take on the freshman honors class: "And then I went to take over their class with them. So we all sat around a long table and . . . I began to talk and they not Hutchins and Adler but the others began to talk and pretty soon we were all talking about epic poetry and what it was it was exciting we found out a good deal some of it I used in one of the four lectures I wrote for the course I came back to give them. . . . Well we all came out and they liked it and I liked it and Hutchins said to me as he and I were walking, you did make them all talk more than we can make them and a number of them talked who never talked before and it was very nice of him to say it . . . and then I said you see why they talk to me is that I do not know the answer, you say you do not know but you do know if you did not know the answer you could not spend your life in teaching but I really do not know, I really do not, I do not even know whether there is a question let alone having an answer for a question. To me when a thing is really interesting it is when there is no question and no answer, if there is then already the subject is not interesting and it is so, that is the reason that anything for which there is a solution is not interesting, that is the trouble with governments and Utopias and teaching, the things not that can be learnt but that can be taught are not interesting. Well anyway we went away."
That was the idea, all over the campus and even in a few graduate areas such as the law school. The Daily Maroon must have been the only student newspaper in the country in which the curriculum was debated on the front page day after day. Associate Professor James Redfield (BA '54) recalled twenty years afterward: "The only time I ever took part in a student demonstration was on behalf of the College curriculum. That was the sort of thing we demonstrated about in those days at Chicago. For the first time in my life, I had actually come alive."
For several years a student group maintained an "Aquinas House," whose central preoccupation was the intellectual reconciliation of St.
Thomas Aquinas with Karl Marx. (This largely Catholic undertaking probably sparked the jocular canard that Chicago was "a Baptist institution where Marxist professors taught Catholic philosophy to Jewish students.") Chicago was a big-city "street-car school" for half of its students, and under Hutchins it had the instant and persistent reputation for religious (and racial) tolerance. The entrance requirements were stiff; the scholastic average of the entering freshmen was above 90. Most of the undergraduates were non-"collegiate." They were overwhelmingly with Hutchins in his campaign to get rid of big-time-big-money football. Some 65 percent had part-time jobs on or off campus. They weren't grinds. What they were was excited.
Shirley Shapiro was a street-car kid, whose West Side ghetto parents had scraped to send her to college to get the education they had never got. Mama and Papa Shapiro were Old Country Jews, who sighed more than they spoke. But their Shirley was full of beans, and on her way home after the Hutchins-Adler freshman honors class on Tuesday afternoons she would be so engrossed (and exalted) in revolving the four causes of things (first, formal, efficient, final), the divisibility of sovereignty (one world or none), or the nature of the passions (the rock covets the center of the earth), that she sometimes forgot to change street cars. She would eventually come bounding up the stairs to the little apartment above the Shapiro tailor shop, to share her fresh-paint perceptions with her parents. They had invariably finished supper by the time she got home, but they were still at the table waiting for her. She kissed her father—her mother, hearing her on the stairs, had gone to the kitchen to reheat the soup—and began talking a blue streak. Her mother brought the soup, and Shirley kissed her as she bent over and went right on talking. "And what," one of her friends asked her, "did they say?" "All they ever said," said Shirley, "was 'Eat, Shirley."'
"The whole business about education in a university," said Hutchins a quarter-century afterward, "can be summed up in a question: Has the institution any vitality? Is anything going on? Is there anything exciting about it? Young people understand. They know whether or not a teacher is simply earning a salary. They know whether he is trying to win the Nobel Prize or trying to contribute to their education. At Chicago the students did have the impression that we were trying to do something about their education, and that a big fight about a fundamental issue was underway.
"This awareness spread throughout the whole place. Everybody was involved in it, even the lowliest freshman. I think the reason for some recent difficulties in higher education"—this was at the time of the student
turmoil at the end of the 1960s—"is that the students feel that though they may be the basis for legislative appropriations, or the basis of tuition fees, the place does not exist for them and the administration and the trustees don't care about doing anything for them. I don't think the attitude of the students at the University of Chicago had anything to do with me. It was simply that there was no other place in the United States at that time where you could get the same kind of educational experience."
The young faculty determined the content of the course sequences. "Since the large staffs"—of the collegiate divisions—"brought together persons of diverse backgrounds and trainings," Professor Daniel Bell of Columbia wrote in The Reforming of General Education , "the courses, as I can testify from personal experience, were extraordinary intellectual adventures for the teaching staff; and perhaps this was its prize, if unintended, virtue, for what a teacher finds exciting he can communicate best to his students. Whether in the end the courses had the intellectual unity or theoretical clarity claimed for them is moot."
The intellectual adventure, for teachers and students alike, was supposedly on ice for the duration of the World War. But Hutchins chaffed increasingly after giving up the freshman honors course. Temperamentally he needed another kind of war than the one the country was fighting. In early 1944 there was one event that placed him at the head of a charge that led to victory. He won the Battle of Fifty-seventh Street.
The battle took place at the Quadrangle Club, the Georgian edifice on the campus that served as a faculty association—and wasn't one. It enjoyed free rent and utilities from the university, but it was independently incorporated and as many as a quarter of its members were non-university-connected gentlemen (most of them alumni) of the neighborhood. (Some years before, the Illinois Board of Tax Appeals had rejected its claim to tax exemption as a profssional, rather than a social, organization.) Half the faculty—and most of the senior professors—had lunch there regularly. Faculty and nonfaculty members used the three tennis courts, the periodical library, and the billiard and card rooms. Its private dining rooms served faculty committees for meetings at lunch or otherwise. The club was a stroll from their offices. All in all a most agreeable place.
In 1943 a tall young man named Gordon Dupee, who had been head waiter at the club, resigned that post to take a job in the university radio office. Dupee was not in uniform. He had a heart condition he'd tried unsuccessfully to conceal from his draft board; he was a conscientious objector to war and had wanted to be so classified. His pacifism was known on the campus and among the faculty. That wasn't all that was
held against him at the club. As a student employee he wasn't expected to be subservient, but he was expected to be a bit deferential. And Dupee—you couldn't put a finger on it—somehow wasn't. Instead, his manner had been stiff and distant enough to be annoying. Now, as a newly hired university staff member, he was eligible for membership in the club. He applied, and he was blackballed.
The word of the Dupee blackball spread inexorably in the club and on the campus. Among the younger members—more rarely among the older—were sympathizers here and there with conscientious objection or, at least, with its being covered by the principle of academic freedom. Among the older members, and not just here and there, Dupee's dim view of the war in progress was a reminder of Hutchins' dim view of the world war in prospect. It was, to be sure, a social club, but it was also a faculty club, and the only faculty club in the university. But the membership as a whole hadn't known that the club was possessed of a blackball process. It was generally assumed that any faculty or staff member who applied was categorically accepted. Not so, it seemed.
Dupee's application for membership had been presented by Acting Dean Ralph W. Tyler of the Social Science Division and Professor Stephen N. Corey of Education. His name had been duly posted for two weeks on the club bulletin board and then acted upon by the membership committee. It came out later that the vote had been five to one against him. A delegation of a half-dozen members waited on Hutchins to ask him what should be done about the Quadrangle Club. He indicated that their visit was not entirely unexpected. He had, he said, written Professor Tom Peete Cross, the club president, asking him if Dupee had been blackballed because he was a pacifist, and Professor Cross had replied that it was for "purely personal reasons." Further, Hutchins wrote Cross, he had just been notified by the grapevine that the club had instituted the blackball only three years before, when a Hutchins faculty appointee, a Negro professor of education named Allison Davis, had applied for membership and then withdrawn his application. He had also, he went on, just been notified that Physics Professor Henry Gordon Gale had some time back requested the removal of a chair from the club because the distinguished Indian astronomer Chandrasekar had sat in it. He had further, he said, just been notified that the Quadrangle Club did not admit women. Under the circumstances just come to light, he thought, he said, that honorable men could do no less than fight and win, or, alternatively, fight, lose, and resign.
"I am a member of the Quadrangle Club because it is convenient for my colleagues and me to meet there to transact university business. I did not
join on principle, and I shall not resign on principle. If, however, any of my colleagues resign on principle, and I can not, therefore meet them at the club on university business, I shall have to ask that they meet me elsewhere. Do I make myself clear?"
They thought he did. They asked him how many of his colleagues would have to resign before he would decline to enter the club. He was able to refer them to the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis (where the Lord agreed to spare Sodom if as few as ten righteous men should be found in it).
The half-dozen righteous members then mobilized an opposition and demanded a meeting of the membership to review the by-laws. Three hundred of the five hundred members attended a closed meeting on the evening of June 11, 1945, and the discussion was genteelly acrimonious. The effective blackball of the Negro professor was answered by the bland assertion that the gentleman in question had withdrawn his application. The exclusion of women—there had always been many on the faculty—went unchallenged. The nature of the "purely personal reasons" was ruled out of order. A leading history professor said that the opposition ringleader was a friend of Hutchins in the habit of taking two desserts from the buffet table at lunch. But the burden of the defense was that the club was social in nature and the sole judge of its membership. The by-laws were upheld by a vote reported to have been 182 to 85.
The Chicago Sun quoted unnamed faculty members as saying that the whole affair "was confused by the injection of feelings for and against President Robert M. Hutchins." Neither at the June meeting nor later was the "Hutchins issue" ever given voice. But the Sun had reported correctly.
Ten righteous men (half non-university connected) at once resigned, and the next day Hutchins excused himself from a committee meeting at the club because some of his colleagues were not members; the meeting, and every subsequent meeting of the sort, was transferred to the nearest hotel, and guests could reach it from the campus only by rounding up transportation. (Hutchins attended in a chauffeur-driven livery car.) The drop of water was eroding the stone. But it was only a drop of water. The flood came not from the ten righteous colleagues, but from the students who admired the president who would not enter the club.
The day after the membership meeting the seventeen student employees of the club went on strike against what they called "discrimination against certain members of the faculty on the basis of race, sex, or political convictions." They called a student mass meeting and invited the club's officers to attend. (None did.) The meeting was advised of the results of the previous evening's events—the closed proceedings having been thoroughly dis-
closed by the strikers who had been on duty. Then they set up a picket line in front of the club, with fifty students carrying signs like, "Look Who Writes Our Textbooks." Hutchins rode by the picket line in his liveried limousine, and did not deign to turn his head to notice it.
Three months later a faculty group announced the organization of a new club "for educational and professional purposes, to enable every member of the University to join, regardless of his financial ability and regardless of color, religion, race, or opinion." It would be called the Faculty Club and would apply to the university administration for support. No word from the university administration, and the liveried limousine continued to drive by, followed by faculty committee members who wished to meet with the president. Three months still later, another membership meeting of the Quadrangle Club was called, to liberalize its admission policy to admit members by a majority vote of the club's council (the membership committee which had rejected Dupee). The blackball process was thus amended, but retained. The club's status as a social organization, judging the admissibility of its members, was reasserted. Still no word from the university administration.
But fewer and fewer faculty members went to the club, even among those who hadn't resigned. And one by one there were more resignations. And student help was progressively harder to get.
In March of 1946 a new set of officers of the beleaguered Quadrangle Club waited on Hutchins. The club, they informed him, was in some difficulty. He expressed his regret. Would the university administration consider helping it financially? Hutchins thought that it would be glad to and he referred them to Vice-president W.C. Munnecke. Mr. Munnecke took the matter under advisement for five minutes, then informed the club that the university would be happy to assume its financial responsibilities providing that membership was open to all faculty and staff members on a scale of dues within the means of the lowest paid member of the university.
It was the Quadrangle Club's Canossa, and it had come about through the connivance of president and students against resistant members of the faculty. The striking students had known they had the support of the president, who never turned his head to look upon them as he whisked by their picket line. It had been Hutchins' way of enjoying himself, impudently associated once more, if only episodically, with the impudent young.
With the Quadrangle Club incident, all the freshmen he had taught—and all those he hadn't—had another chapter to add to the Hutchins legend. It didn't take many myths to make a mythological creature of him. Any least encounter was enough.
One afternoon he was en route home—in the block along Harper Li-
brary between the president's office and the president's house—and a small group of students made way for him on the sidewalk, falling silent and covertly looking at him as he approached. As he went by them he said, without looking at them, "Tip your hat when the president passes." By the following day the story had fanned out across the campus, and it continued to be told for many a day and many a decade.
Many a year—and a decade or two—afterward, novelist Noel Gerson was having lunch at "21" in New York, and there was the idol of his undergraduate youth at Chicago. "He was standing at the bar with a couple of other guys, and he was looking and behaving like a normal human being, not like the great Greek god I had imagined him to be. That was the first inkling I ever had that he was other than an enormous figure. Many people came in and out and totally ignored him, to my astonishment and consternation."
The students he brought to life kept him alive, and after he decided that he had to quit teaching, with some possible premonition that he would never teach the young again, the Battle of Fifty-seventh Street briefly restored him. But only briefly. He once said that he could not think of a time during his Chicago presidency when he wasn't frustrated and furious. After Pearl Harbor he would confine his energies to the deadly and deadening business of the war. He kept his word for six miserable months, and his enemies smugly assumed that he would let things—and them—be, until it was over over there. But as the war went on, and as he thought he saw his gloomiest prophecies materializing and the prospective victory turning to ashes even before it was won; as the war went on and his administrative duties had less and less to do with the liberal arts, and more and more to do with the martial; as the war went on and he had less and less to do with fitting the rising generation to be free and more and more to do with fitting them to fight, he grew ever more furious.