The convulsion precipitated by Hutchins' speech at the trustees' dinner in January 1944 did not subside in a day or two, or a week or two, or a month or two. It mounted in ungloved intensity during the whole of what was, after all, a year in which people might well have had more cataclysmic things to think about. To read that year's record of the Battle of the Midway—the Chicago Midway—with its increasingly impolite exchange of charges and countercharges, is to lose track (as the contending parties themselves appeared to have lost track) of the rising climax in Europe, Asia, and Africa of history's most stupendous and devastating conflagration.
The rank and salary proposals of the trustees' dinner speech certainly struck bellicosity, if not terror, in the hearts of the faculty opposition, but neither proposal was so much as mentioned during the controversy the speech engendered. The struggle turned on the loftier points the speaker had made with reference to the structure of the university, the character of the degrees it offered, and the power of the president. None of these issues was new. Maybe it was the long weariness and tension of the war, maybe it was a widespread feeling that the campus had simply had enough of the president's cannonading. In any case, the speech served to consolidate the camps of the enemy—camps, not camp, for there were all sorts of reasons why people loved or hated the man.
"Loved" and "hated" were, in general, much too strong to be said. As he himself observed in retrospect, there was no indication, not even when the opposing forces were most ferociously engaged, that there was a substantial movement in the faculty to get rid of him. Few colleagues disliked him unqualifiedly. A colleague who deplored his medievalism applauded his uncompromising fight for academic freedom; a colleague who resented
his prewar isolationism admired his ardor as a war plant manager; a colleague who disliked his deprecation of science lauded his scientific appointments; a colleague who disliked his philosophy of teaching liked the higher student standards his administration had achieved. What his consolidated opponents wanted to do—were at last determined to do—in 1944 was to stop him.
And stop him they did.
The twenty-year Battle of the Midway ended when the board, in response to the gathered clamor of his enemies, was at last forced to step in a year after the trustees' dinner speech and put an end to the finish fight by making a Solomonic award to the two sides. The award was an actual defeat for the perpetual revolutionary, a defeat that effectively ended his campaign to transform the institution into an exemplary university. But the board's decision was framed in evenhanded terms.
It could not have been otherwise. The contending forces were too evenly divided. By January 1944 Hutchins seemed to see that a showdown could no longer be deferred. Some sort of united front was said to be in the making, with a committee of senior professors at its head. The time had come for the Stop Hutchins movement to take on a formal character.
He decided to carry the fight to the enemy, and a month after his January speech he broke his restricted speaking schedule to accept a local invitation from the Northwestern University chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Attacking "the colossal frivolity" of higher education in America, he added that "the existing higher educational structure of the country could be closed without affecting liberal education in any way." He elaborated on his full-time service proposal of a month before, saying, in that connection, that a university was a "consecrated community," in which all distinctions of faculty rank should be abolished as inimical to comradeship and cooperation. The president should have full responsibility for generating the program of the university. He should be the responsible executive of a high-tension democracy. He should be fired "if he starts to go to the dogs."
This elaboration of his January proposals was put forward as the recipe not for one university, but for all. He was issuing a nationwide indictment and making a nationwide demand. He was calling for reorganization and reconstitution—and "consecration"—everywhere in the land. This was news, formidable news even at the height of the world war. The press picked it up nationally and the Chicago papers gave it front-page billing. He had done what he did with his Saturday Evening Post series five years earlier: he had gone to the country at large, using a shotgun attack on his own constituency. If anything, the offense in the use of such a technique
was greater, since he lumped his own institution with all the rest. Faculty members were interviewed extensively; and the respected Chicago Daily News began its column-and-a-half story by its leading reporter, with the headline: U. OF C. FACULTY IN UPROAR —Fear Recent Proposals to "Communize" Staff Are Power Grab.
"There is a large measure of both mystification and suspicion on the University of Chicago campus. Few faculty members below the rank of dean profess fully to understand their president's motives and objectives. Others profess to see in them implications that they find profoundly disturbing. . . . Dr. Hutchins, they assert, is a master of alluring generality; but when one attempts to pin him down to a definition, he invokes the Roosevelt technique and turns the query aside with a wise-crack. . . . These terms—'a consecrated community,' 'the basis of need,' 'high tension democracy,' 'authority commensurate with responsibility,' 'a very short term,'—are susceptible to varying interpretations. They may mean much or they may mean little. Some faculty members feel that they add up to something approximating the pattern that Sinclair Lewis had in mind when he wrote It Can't Happen Here . Some, recalling Huey Long's seizure of Louisiana State University, profess to see a danger of the University of Chicago coming under absolute control of a man whom they regard as no less ambitious than Huey and far abler and more subtle."
The Hutchins rhetoric had at last hit the fan. The rhetoric had been exasperating people for fifteen years—people who didn't adore him and didn't like his sass. He reveled—no mistaking it—in riling up the animals by kidding them; but the kidding had an edge to it. Of course he didn't mean that "the faculty isn't much good , but the President and the students are wonderful"—or did he, maybe? Of course he didn't mean that "business men may have ideals, but a professor will do anything for money "—or did he, maybe? Older professors weren't used to being talked to that way, certainly not by a university president. They didn't—couldn't—cotton to his leprechaun humor. It had a touch of scorn in it; it had arrogance, it had contempt. His opponents didn't hate him; but they resented the purposively elfin terms in which he offered his views as deeply as they resented the views themselves.
The muted conversations in the Quadrangle Club dining room and corridors culminated a few weeks after the trustees' dinner speech in the formation of a spearhead group of six senior scholars, of considerably riper years than Hutchins', representing, among them, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the humanities. They were designated by one of their number "the Burghers of Calais" (after the fourteenth-century incident, portrayed by Rodin, in which six citizens of the besieged city offered
their lives to the English king in a petition for clemency toward the rest). In the first of their "letters" to Hutchins—the whole exchange was public—they said they had become "aware of a deep and widespread feeling of alarm concerning the present and future course of affairs in the University."
"Toward the close of your speech of January 12 you state that 'the purpose of the University is nothing less than to procure a moral, spiritual, and intellectual revolution throughout the world' and you refer later to 'the crusade to which we are called' and 'the revolution which must come if men are to live together in peace,' a revolution which you say must involve 'a reversal of the whole scale of values by which our society lives.'" It seemed to the burghers that these words implied a conception of the university which conflicted basically with the function of "advancing knowledge by freely determined research and teaching . . . [demanding] some kind of common institutional adherence to a particular analysis of what is wrong with the world and hence to a particular hierarchy of moral and intellectual values."
They were all the more seriously concerned, they said, because of his suggestions that the PhD "might well be so redefined as to make it a degree primarily for the teachers you think are needed to discover and introduce liberal education for all," that the PhD thus redefined be awarded through a new Institute of Liberal Studies, and that the university be reorganized to provide for electing the president for a very short term, requiring him to ask the faculty's advice ("but not its consent") and to make decisions and take the consequences. This last proposal, linked with the suggestion that the senate be reduced in size and made elective by and from all members of the faculty, seemed to the six burghers to have "profound implications for the intellectual as well as political future of the University as a free republic of scholars and teachers."
Hutchins replied, a few days later, that he did not plan to impose a program upon the university, first because he didn't want to, and second, because he couldn't do it if he did. But "I have long since made it plain that I do not regard 'the advancement of knowledge by freely determined research and teaching' as an adequate statement of the purposes of the University." He had given his reasons, he said, as long ago as 1936 in The Higher Learning in America . As for the proposed creation of a new Institute of Liberal Studies, the creation of such an institute lay wholly within the prerogatives of the trustees, to whom he could have gone any time during the past fifteen years to propose the foundation of any new department, institute, or school without reference to the faculty. With regard to presidential powers, he had recommended to the board that the senate be
asked to elect a committee to advise the board on his suggestions that the president should become either chairman of the faculty or a responsible executive.
Two weeks later the six burghers replied, saying that they were "unable to see how such a revolutionary crusade" as Hutchins appeared to have in mind "could become effective without committing the University, as an institution, to a particular doctrine." They continued to be disturbed, they said, by his announcement of a unifying mission for the university "which could so easily be incompatible with our essential function of advancing knowledge by responsible research and teaching unhampered by any official ideology or philosophical dogma." If, as they inferred, he meant to use his present powers, and such further powers as the trustees might give him, to promote the series of changes he had outlined, they thought the faculty should know it.
He answered them a week later, repeating that he had no plan to impose his personal views on the institution: "If the University is ever committed to a particular doctrine, it will be because the faculty has agreed upon it." The faculty would be consulted, as it had been in the past, on any measures to be taken toward the realization of a general educational plan; but, he added, many of their colleagues felt that the senate, its membership confined to the full professors, did not fairly represent the faculty. His suggestion for reorganizing the administration—either to drop the president and have a chairman of the faculty, or to make the president a responsible executive—"would increase the participation of the faculty in the formation and execution of educational policy."
The controversy was getting nowhere, and bad temper, less and less effectively veiled, continued to rise on both sides. The exchange of letters ended with Hutchins' of March 25, but the campus continued to seethe. The burghers were unmollified, and the insouciant king (to whom they were not surrendering the keys to the city) had conceded nothing and offered them an unsatisfactory sort of bland, indeed, amiable reassurance that they had nothing to worry about. Deciding on open warfare, they asked for a meeting of the university senate—which had not met for more than a year. The meeting was held on May 22, with uniformed police barring the doors and windows and admitting senators by special pass. It was attended by some 135 of the 195 senators, a monstrous turnout. The three-hour meeting, from which the press was excluded, was reported via the grapevine to have been stormy; but Vice-president Will Munnecke, who was present ex officio, recalled thirty years later that Hutchins conducted it "without any visible show of emotion or anything more than passing interest." The principal item on the agenda—the only item of
consequence—was a "memorial" to the board of trustees setting forth the grievances of the opposition.
The 120 signers of the memorial were close to two-thirds of the university's senators, including the overwhelming preponderance of the natural scientists. Hutchins was proposing an elected presidency, with the president removable by a senate vote of no confidence; he had not got the presidency he suggested, but he had already got the vote of no confidence (by, to be sure, a senate representing a small minority of the faculty). A noncommital statement issued by the senate after the meeting recorded the fact that there had been a proposal tabled to reorganize the senate to include associate and assistant professors. There was, of course, no knowing how such a body would have voted; but its age would have averaged some fifteen years younger.
The senate vote to adopt the memorial was reported to have been 94 to 42. It is doubtful if the 42 nays were all pro-Hutchins men; some of them may simply have objected to the adversarial procedure. With some statistical confusion between the signers, an additional thirty or thirty-five anti-Hutchins senators didn't sign because they didn't like "trouble." On balance, there may not have been more than thirty or forty of the university's 195 full professors who were actually Hutchins supporters. In any case the fifteen years' war had reached its climax. His enemies had gone over his head to address their case directly to the men who constituted the legal university, and to address them on such matters as administrative reorganization and the creation of the new Institute of Liberal Studies, which were strictly board business, in which the board might be expected to consult the faculty—but not the faculty to lay a case before the board.
The men who prepared and lobbied the memorial in the senate were attentive to Hutchins' strength in the board. Their language was as temperate as their injury permitted. Though they may have felt otherwise, they insisted that they "could not believe that the President would not attend to the friendly advice, on matters of educational principle and policy, of the men upon whom he must rely for the execution of his plan, or that he would be reluctant to reveal his purposes in detail to those who would be called upon to fulfill them. . . . The Senate, recognizing the authority and responsibility of the Board of Trustees and believing that the Board would share its concern at the difficulties the University now faces if it were fully cognizant of them, appeals to the Board for its active assistance, with the President and the Faculty, in developing a comprehensive plan which . . . would explicitly safeguard those basic principles . . . without which . . . the University cannot continue great or free." But the memorialists—speaking as the senate—were sticking to their guns, re-
questing that the university "not be committed to any 'purpose' which would tend to subordinate. . . the free choice of principles and methods of research or teaching, to any particular formulation of moral, social philosophical, or scientific values."
Accepting the memorial, the trustees noted that the president "has no intention of committing the University to any particular philosophy." Chairman Swift added an expression of the board's confidence in Hutchins and a recognition of "the educational achievements of the University during the fifteen years of his leadership"; with what might be read as a gently ominous overtone, the chairman added that the board "expects him to continue to administer the affairs of the University in accordance with the existing Constitution and Statutes, until they are changed." Asked about the memorial, Hutchins observed that the organization of the university, "which is neither efficient nor democratic, has been under study since January 1943, by a committee of the Board and a Committee of the Senate. . . . It is the duty of the president of a university to formulate and state his conception of the purposes of the institution. Nobody has to agree with the president's statements. The imposition of a particular doctrine would be a violation of the perfect academic freedom which the administration of the University of Chicago has always guaranteed."
Everybody was publicly polite, but the strain was visible in all three parties—now that the board was fully involved—to the dispute. A majority of the board, some of whom certainly did not see what the shouting was all about, was disposed to support Hutchins both on the educational and the administrative issues. The first did not appear to be all that critical, and his position on the second reflected the mental set of most of the trustees. But here were the full professors of the university—all the greats, with a handful of exceptions—putting the board's feet to the fire. While the horrors that aroused the memorialists may not in themselves have aroused many members of the board, a majority of trustees (so informal polls indicated) had always found the Hutchins rhetoric much too high-flown; there was in all probability not one of them who saw the need of a moral, spiritual, and intellectual revolution in the world, or of a new purpose for the university whose faculty members had been following the gleam (or the dozens or hundreds of vagrant gleams) contentedly until the young president had come charging along.
There did not appear, after the submission of the memorial, any way in which Hutchins' and the senate's terms could really be accommodated, any way in which Hutchins could accept the "free choice of principles and methods of research or teaching," any way in which the senate could accept the university as a revolutionary crusader. What the board would
have to do—if it could—was fudge the issue. And Hutchins appeared to be convinced that it would. He was now in a frame of mind that the board had not seen before, not once in those fifteen years they'd known him.
The board had had the senate memorial before it for less than a week when Hutchins handed Swift a memorandum enigmatically headed, "Personal Aspects," with the request, so Swift informed the appropriate board members, that it be distributed to the members of the board committee that had been meeting, on and off, with a senate committee for the past year and a half to consider Hutchins' proposals. The memorandum read:
Omitting minor absurdities, like the claim that I did not call a Senate meeting and declined to consult the faculty, and passing over the systematic campaign of character assassination which has been carried on in the Quadrangle Club for the last four months [since his trustees' dinner speech of January] the principal charges are:
1. That I am seeking to impose a particular philosophy upon the University.
a. I have denied this in writing.
b. The record shows I mean it.
c. It is my duty to have and state a purpose for the University.
2. That I am threatening academic freedom.
a. No university president has done more for it.
3. That I am seeking a dictatorship.
a. From the beginning I have stated that I would resign if the theory of organization upon which I was elected were changed.
b. Neither of the two plans I have proposed resembles a dictatorship in the slightest degree.
4. That I am exceeding my powers.
a. Everything I have done has been approved by the Board, or the Senate, or both.
5. That I have sacrificed research to teaching.
a. Research has never been as well supported as it has during my administration and is nowhere as well supported as at the University of Chicago.
One of Hutchins' characteristically wry remarks, which his friends ascribed to his supposedly unhappy domestic situation, was, "I'm so busy feeling sorry for myself that I haven't time to feel sorry for anybody else." In his memorandum to the board committee he was feeling so sorry for himself that he wrote in an angrily uncharacteristic way. He had never accused his opponents of offenses ranging from minor absurdities to character assassination. (He could scarcely have been imagined using the latter expression on his own behalf.) He defended himself by a combination of
flat denial—"Not guilty"—and unsupported declarations which, unsupported, sounded like braggadocio. The claims that he made in items 2 and 5 were classics of overstatement by a man who was justly famous for classic and consistent understatement. After fifteen years of being urbane, Robert Maynard Hutchins was reduced to a crude outburst. He had often said he was "frustrated and furious"; at last he plainly was.
The memorandum called for no reply and received none. But the frustrated and furious president asked for the opportunity—in spite of the press of war work—to address the faculty and students of the truncated summer quarter on the subject of the organization and purpose of the university. The date of the convocation was put at July 20—sixty days away. The address was a very long one, its tone one of carefully modulated anger, but anger still. It began, "During recent discussions . . . I have had to remain silent. But in view of the misconceptions of my position scattered abroad during these discussions it now seems desirable, as well as proper, for me to try to state what my position is."
He went on to a Hutchinsesque apology to his audience, lightly concealing its bellicosity under a matter-of-fact cloak: "I am afraid that I shall be saying nothing that is new. But I have to admit that I have not for many years said anything in that category." He then proceeded to a full-scale review of each of his proposals and the faculty charges they inspired. On a hot summer's day, relieved by the shadowed cool of the university chapel, and before an audience of his own choosing on his and their own grounds, he was obviously speaking for the purpose of making a record. He could only have supposed that, if he replied in painstaking detail to everything that had been said against his proposals and his actions, the enemy would come penitently forward and respond to the altar call. But the address was as solidly packed as it was energetic, as elegant as it was precise. It turned out to be his last hard try. The date of that last hard try, July 20, 1944, was seven whole years before he resigned from the university.
Ignoring the possibility, indeed, the likelihood, given the sweltering weather, that his audience might grow restless, he plunged ahead, taking up the issues point by point and presenting their analysis and his own case. By way of supporting the board's power to establish new institutes, schools, and departments without reference to the faculty, he reminded his hearers that there were developments in education "now universally regarded as desirable [which] could not have taken place if the professors whose particular interests were involved had had the decisive voice as to whether these developments should have been started"—a polite way of saying (as he had once said) that the great achievements in American education had been made over the dead bodies of countless professors. He
referred in passing to the Chicago board's elimination of the Rush Medical School in favor of the salaried faculty integrated with the university's division of biological sciences.
Then he rolled up his sleeves and went solemnly, patiently, and thoroughly to work on the issue that most persistently galled both him and his opponents. "I have lately heard"—he had been hearing it for fifteen years—"that I am seeking to impose a particular philosophy on the University. This is in a sense a highly complimentary suggestion, because it implies that I have a philosophy. I suppose everybody has a philosophy, in a way. We are all metaphysicians"—he couldn't resist it—"whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not. For we all act all the time on certain basic assumptions in regard to the nature of the world and of man. To say that freely determined teaching and research are the object of the University is to state a philosophy for the University. To say that no other philosophy is possible is to seek to impose it on the University.
". . . I could plausibly say that the particular philosophy which the majority of the senior members of the faculty share has therefore been imposed by them upon the University.
"I do not say that this is so. I say that it is much more nearly so than the charge that I am seeking to impose my philosophy. If I have not in fifteen years succeeded in moving the established philosophy an inch, it would seem likely that I am not trying to move it, but am merely endeavoring to prevent the established philosophy from being imposed on me, on those members of the faculty who may agree with me, and on all new appointees. . . .
"Is the call for a moral, spiritual, and intellectual revolution throughout the world the statement of a particular doctrine? I should call it the statement of a very general doctrine indeed. Wherever I have said this I have been attacking materialism, the view that wealth and power are the aim of human life and human organization. Since almost every philosophy and every religion take the same position, this hardly seems the statement of a particular doctrine. This general doctrine should, moreover, be very popular in a university, for men who regard wealth and power as the aim of life seldom select a university as the field for their ambition. . . .
"I suppose that a university could be unified through the imposition of an official dogma. I repudiated that method long ago. The university must find a way to be an agent of harmony and unification without suppressing the vagrant intellect or violating the claims of freedom. The way to do this is through a common training and a common purpose. A university becomes an understood diversity through a common training by virtue of
which the members of the community may at last make themselves intelligible to one another. . . .
"The university cannot fashion the intellect of the modern world if it proclaims that the fundamental disorder of the modern world is indifferent to it as a university. . . . To fashion the intellect of the modern world is to raise insistently the great issues and to press urgently for answers to them. It is to hold before the people of the world a vision of what the world might be. To argue that this is no concern of a university and even that it is contrary to its purpose is to reject responsibility for the decisions which must be made as to the use of the knowledge and power accumulated by a university.
"To say let us gain knowledge and power and our ends will take care of themselves is not to fashion the intellect of the modern world, but to submit to it, for this is what the modern world is saying. Here the university abandons the task of intellectual leadership and mirrors, symbolizes, and justifies the great reversal of ends and means which is the underlying disorder of our society. And it does so at a time when all we have to do is to look around us to see that the growth of knowledge and power gives us no hint as to how to use them; for the world has reached at one and the same moment the zenith of its information, technology, and power over nature, and the nadir of its moral and political life. . . .
"In the moral, intellectual, and spiritual conflict which I foresee the university may take whichever side it pleases. It may endorse the scale of values by which our society lives; or it may join in the effort to reverse them. The only thing it can not do, as it seems to me, is to stand apart from the conflict on the theory that its function places it above it. This is to doom the University to sterility. It is to renounce the task of intellectual leadership. It is to deny at a great crisis in history our responsibility to mankind."
He had said at the opening of his address that he would be glad to answer questions. There were none. There were none because his hearers either accepted what he said—this segment of the audience might include most of the students present and some of the younger faculty—or rejected it. The older men and women could not help but reject it. They could not help but reject the view that the university had the obligation to fashion the intellect of the world or place itself in the vanguard of a moral, intellectual, and spiritual revolution. They did not, indeed, see what was meant by "the university" in this unified, purposive, consecrated sense at all. The university—any university—was not a community. It was an aggregation of men and women whose only object was (as the Six Burghers of Calais
said) freely determined teaching and research. Beyond this airy objective, which did not unite its myriad votaries housed in the same quadrangles, it had, and could have, in their view, no other. The practitioners of freely determined teaching and research in those quadrangles did not know one another; likely a majority did not even know one another by sight. How could the university take "whichever side in pleases" in the moral, intellectual, and spiritual contest for the world? There was, in that sense, no such thing as the university .
He could not have been sanguine about the effect of that address; it contained nothing that was new except a great many flourishes of sculptured elegance. But there it was—all of it. It was indeed his hardest try. It was indeed his last one. He had spoken for a solid hour. He had spoken for the record. But as far as effectiveness was concerned, after five, ten, or fifteen years of the same thing, he had spoken to the wind. The University of Chicago, to the extent that there was a University of Chicago, was neither going to endorse the scale of values by which our society lives nor join in the effort to reverse them. What it was going to do, then and thereafter, like every other free university, was exactly what he said it couldn't do; stand apart from the conflict.