It went (as it had always gone) without saying that his resignation was on the table. ("The administrator must be in a perpetual mood of resignation, by which I do not mean mournful acceptance of the universe. I mean he must be perpetually prepared to get out.") His board knew it, and he knew it. Hutchins spelled it out when he first submitted his two alternative proposals for presidential powers; should either of them be accepted, the administrative officers of the university would resign in a body, so that the new role of the president could be implemented de novo. He, at least, took the offer seriously; and in the next few months, while the board and senate committees met regularly in response to the senate memorial, he considered quitting in any case. He had gone all out in his speech of July 20, 1944; there was nothing more he could do; he was palpably tired of perpetual pushing. He had often discussed resigning and discussed it over a period of years. He had discussed it with a few of his friends—and with his father (who was, as usual, worried about his impetuosity and urged him to wait and see what the board did).
On December 1, 1944, he sent a note to Chairman Laird Bell of the Board Committee on Instruction and Research. "I can not emphasize too strongly," he wrote (somewhat prayerfully), "the effect on the faculty of a definite, clear-cut decision by the Board. The faculty should not be asked; it should be told. It has leaked out"—the leak proved to be inaccurate, its inaccuracy indicating that Hutchins and the senate were both left in the dark on the state of the board's sentiments—"that the Board has decided to have a small, representative Senate. The bitterest members of the opposition are now busily engaged in formulating its constitution. They are Adjusting themselves to their Environment!" He was being blithe,
complete with an exclamation mark. It wasn't too much like him. Was he whistling in the dark?
Whether or not he was whistling, he was in the dark. The board, as of the date of that note, had already completed its work and made its decisions. They were announced three days later by Chairman Swift, in the form of six points:
1. The University Senate will be broadened to include associate and assistant professors who have been on the campus for at least three years. This will mean that the roster will be increased from 195 full professors now comprising the Senate to a total of 350.
2. A council of forty members will be elected to act on educational issues which will meet at least quarterly.
3. An executive committee of seven will be elected which will be continuously in touch with the president.
4. The council will take affirmative action on educational matters and has the right to disapprove of proposals of the presidents, but the president can veto the council's action. In case of a stalemate, the decision will be up to the Board of Trustees.
5. The president may recommend faculty appointments to the Board without the approval of department heads.
6. The Board can create or discontinue departments and divisions at its own discretion.
So Hutchins would get his more democratic senate, but it would be even more cumbersome than it had been, with its membership almost doubled. The council and executive committee might—or might not, if they reached a stalemate—facilitate decision-making, without the president's having new powers. Point 5 was a modest Hutchins victory, actually a reaffirmation of traditional procedure. Point 6 simply confirmed the university's established practice.
The new program was presented as a device to "establish a better exchange of ideas and information than present procedures permit." It provided clarification, but provided it at a much lower level than Hutchins had sought. The real differences between the president and the opposition were simply ignored. No choice was made between his alternative proposals of the presidency as a faculty chairmanship, on the one hand, and as the responsible repository of power on the other. No mention was made of his repeated and insistent call for a moral, intellectual, and spiritual revolution with the university in its vanguard. This call underlay his educational reforms, and he had been making it with increasing emphasis ever since he had come to the university. Ignoring it, the trustees were in effect saying
that they regarded it as unworthy of notice. They were slapping him down and handing the opposition its validation.
True, he had moved the board to make decisions in areas such boards had always avoided; the senate had raised educational issues that college and university governors were unaccustomed to, and this body of governors faced at least the secondary, if not the primary, issues. Ordinarily the solemn custodians of conservatism, the Chicago board had issued (said the Chicago Daily News ) a "declaration against the old fogeyism which had been the badge of trusteehood for two hundred years." It wasn't all that aggressive, but there was a real sense in which, where nobody traditionally ran a university, Hutchins had forced somebody to make a few gestures in running this one; and the faculty had, going with him to the board, awakened the board to responsibilities that were traditionally considered the professors'—or nobody's—prerogatives.
The University of Chicago would never again be quite the institution it had been before his advent. But its resemblance to the institution he wanted would be very slightly increased. He had fought hard for fifteen years and more, and had now been beaten. He had got his college at the very outset of his administration, and perhaps a fourth of all the courses offered at all levels bore his stamp, however lightly, as regards content and method. (Their twin hallmarks were the Socratic discussion format and the use of original writings instead of textbooks.) In the twelfth year of his administration he had got the award of the bachelor's degree at the end of the sophomore year of the college (a scheme that would be rescinded when he left the university). But the place was fundamentally the same, for all his fulmination, all his unrelenting effort at home and abroad. The divisional organization had not diminished the power and independence of the departments. The old anarchy abode. There wasn't—nor would there be—any community of scholars, at Chicago or anywhere else.
How much did the fact that the protagonist was Hutchins—that rarest of presidential birds—have to do with his failure to effect any fundamental and durable change in the character of the University of Chicago and of the higher learning in America? Probably very little. Probably nothing at all. He had neither the temper nor the posture of the classic reformer, alternately glowering, shouting, threatening, pleading. He came through as a phenomenally frisky man of phenomenal lineaments who endeared himself in the first instance to men who themselves were frisky, who found friskiness (and lineaments) attractive. But he came through, too, as a thoroughly serious man who meant—underneath the friskiness—what he said, who did his homework and stuck by his guns. His opponents nearly all
respected him or in time came to. But after fifteen or twenty years they were not to be dazzled by his splendor (including the splendor of his rhetoric) or, alternatively, repelled. It is impossible to go on being astonishing, outrageous, or enchanting to people you have to higgle and haggle and huckster with again and again, year in, year out. The charm and the annoyance both wore off, giving way to considered support or considered resistance.
His opponents came to understand him, by and large; to understand that he was not a bundle of whimsical contradictions and elevating or denigrating wisecracks, but a man with direction who wanted a change (however radical) of emphasis, not of educational principle. He was arguing about method, content, structure, not about the purpose or meaning of education. Again and again he insisted: "We are discussing a question of emphasis. . . . If you are running a steel company, you may run railroads and coal mines. You may have an extensive plant and an investment portfolio to look after. Yet your principal business is manufacturing and distributing steel." Again and again he insisted that he was not insisting on a particular method, structure, or body of materials, as long as the student mastered the liberal arts and the great tradition. "If he can do it by going fishing and taking the general examinations whenever he is ready to, that's just peachy." Again and again he insisted that he was arguing only that "there are other means of obtaining knowledge than scientific experimentation." But his academic listeners would not listen to his insistence that he was not insisting, and his depreciation of the mythology of science kept persuading them that he would consign empirical investigation to the playpen, along with the pragmatic achievements with which it had changed the face of the world. His insistence that he was not antiscientific, antiquarian, medieval, dogmatic, reactionary, and authoritarian was invariably couched in such provocative terms that his enemies could get away with scouting his claim that the issue was only an issue of emphasis.
He was an unyielding absolutist, not on method, material, or structure, but on one point: that there were such things as changeless, universal values—"courage, justice, temperance, these are still the virtues"—whose investigation commanded the adherence of a university committed, as a university must be, to the moral, intellectual, and spiritual renewal of society. And his opponents drew from this uncompromising absolutism an across-the-board adherence to everything they rejected. In the climactic debate of 1944 the redoubtable Quincy Wright wrote that "the values for which universities stand are so long run and so general that they can not be stated except in terms of process and methods. Truth itself is a process which can not be circumscribed in a formula or imagined in a Utopia.
Recognition of the limitations of all truths, of the fallibility of all formulations, of the relativity of all values is the characteristic which distinguishes a living civilization." This comforting view of a world in flux, with every opinion as well entitled to adherence as every other, and all of them teetering, invariably included, as it did in Wright's case, a snide or condescending lip service to undefined, indefinable, and ephemeral values—or at least to the term. Chancellor Harry Woodburn Chase of the University of New York firmly asserted that "we need a keener sense of values. All knowledge is not of the same worth"—and at once leaped to the pleasant, popular highland of infirmity: "But again, values vary with individuals and with environment. By what universally valid criteria can we judge?" —By none that Chancellor Chase went on to suggest; he rested his case right there.
So deaf to the Hutchins claim of emphasis was—and remained—John Dewey that at the age of eighty-five, in the same climactic summer of 1944, he wrote in Fortune magazine that "we are familiar with [Hutchins' view] from early childhood. It is a conventionally established part of a large portion of our training in family and Sunday school. Nevertheless, it is the expression of a provincial and conventional point of view, of a culture that is prescientific in the sense that science bears today." The problem of making "this and that definite factory and field operation . . . contribute to the educative release and growth of human capacities, as well as to production of a large and reasonably cheap supply of material goods . . . is one that, by its own terms, can be dealt with only by the continuous application of the scientific method of experimental observation and test" —as if Hutchins had been saying or suggesting that factory and field operations be submitted to Aristotle or Aquinas for explication or validation. In the last venerable months of his life Dewey was still (in the phrase of Sean O'Casey) "'arpin' on me dotter," and Hutchins was supposedly still condemning the rising generation to the provincial, conventional, and prescientific horrors of family and Sunday school.
Emphasis was what Hutchins was talking about, but the magnitude and complexity of the emphasis were too much for most of his colleagues. It came down to the thought-through substitution of one set of profound predilections—nothing more than predilections—for another. Most academics were not all that interested in thinking through predilections or in asking themselves what was scientific and what was prescientific. For teachers generally, at whatever level, being a teacher is a grinding occupation that wants a steady man or woman of the incurious sort. Hutchins was a stirrer-up of people who had no great interest in being stirred or in stirring, most of whom began the school year just sufficiently refreshed and ended it very tired, and had no great zest for an unrelenting succession of
challenges. Being a teacher is a hard living, and a living that is not generally highly enough paid to free the practitioner from the financial problems that nag most people and divert them their life long from the contemplation of the verities. As it does to most people, the teacher's personal life usually means a great deal more to him than his job. His job, if he teaches in a university, is first of all research; and if he is susceptible to being excited by his job, it is his research that excites him. The routine of teaching and the grip of research pretty much exhaust his professional energies. The faculty at Chicago—like the faculty of any solidly established institution—could not and would not be kept at the incessant ready to do something about Education with a capital E , except for that minority (mostly the younger and least influential of them) who felt themselves called to crusade with the Boy President. By 1944, at forty-five, he had pretty well run out of boyishness.
Looking back at it all, Hutchins would insist that he might have done much better than he did at Chicago, that, with patience (which he ridiculed in the first years of his administration) he might, he thought, have done a great deal more to achieve a consensus—"that unfortunate word"—instead of relying on getting a mere majority, "which I constantly got and constantly relied on. This is not the spirit of an intellectual community, to proceed by majority votes, particularly by narrow votes, to say nothing of proceeding by tie votes."
"I think that one has to say, on the other side, that the kind of patience that is required is almost superhuman. You have very little effective power. That is, you can't tell anybody to do anything. You can't threaten anybody, if only for the practical reason that in a university environment that would be a boomerang. If it became known that I threatened a professor, it would have had catastrophic results. By the same token, you can't reward anybody. That is, you can't reward anybody for being in sympathy with you. You can reward him within the limits of your budget and the approval of your board and the concurrence of his department, for his distinction in his field. But if I left a faculty meeting and recommended an increase in salary of a man who had done something to put through a program that I was interested in, this also would have been a dreadful boomerang. . . . [A university president] must rely entirely, therefore, on his powers of persuasion.
"Well, if you set out to try to persuade the same people over and over and over again, year after year, the charm of your personality, and even the fluency of your words, is likely to diminish. And this was another reason, of course, that I finally resigned. I felt that somebody else could come in and give the place a new and certainly a different impetus. I simply
felt that I was losing what a university president who takes his position seriously has to have, namely, the power, the endurance constantly to keep at the job of persuading people."
The power, the endurance—and the appetite. He tried, half-heartedly, to display the appetite to persuade. He recalled what seemed to him, years later, to have been an infinity of what he called hand-holding sessions. "You see one man after another. You talk to groups, you talk to anybody you can get hold of because you . . . have no power. . . . If anybody were to ask me how to run a university, I would—at least as far as the board and the public were concerned; this may not be necessary with the faculty—I would reply with one five-letter word: LUNCH . You've got to keep on having lunch with people. You get indigestion in the process, but you can sometimes do better missionary work under these circumstances than any other."
Might he have been able to do more, or to do things more durably, if he had had more lunches, if his rhetoric had been less combustible, if his patience had been less easily exhausted, if he had made even more compromises than he claimed he did? Probably not; "the problem of time is insoluble."—This in 1945, while he was still on the job.—"The administrator should never do anything he does not have to do, because the things he will have to do are so numerous that he can not possibly have time to do them. He should never do today what he can put off till tomorrow. He should never do anything he can get anybody to do for him. He should have the largest number of good associates he can find; for they may be able to substitute for him. But he should be under no illusions here. The better his associates are, the more things they will think of for him to do."
Ten years later, with Chicago five years behind him, he asserted his conviction that "the existing structure [of the university generally] is impossible. . . . Administration by persuasion and agreement, which is the only kind that brings lasting results, can not be conducted in the vast chaos of the American university. If I had it to do over again I might have begun in 1929 with a proposal more basic than any I ever advanced. I should have proposed the reorganization of the University of Chicago along the lines of Oxford and Cambridge. The University should have been reconstituted into a federation of colleges, each representing among its students and teachers the major fields of learning. These colleges should have begun their work with the junior year, resting on the foundation of the College of the University, which terminated its work at the end of the sophomore year. That college was intended to be the equivalent of the humanistic gymnasium or the lycee or the British public school. The change could
have meant that basic liberal education would have been followed by compulsory communication with the representatives of disciplines other than one's own throughout the whole educational process, and, in the case of teachers, throughout their lives. Such colleges, with 250 students and 25 faculty members, would be of manageable size. Each one could have an administrative officer who could be expected to lead the way to improvements both numerous and lasting. The University as a whole should not have a permanent, full-time head. The ceremonial, representative functions of the university president could be performed, as at Oxford and Cambridge, by a temporary official."
There was the pipe dream of all Hutchins pipe dreams for you. In the light of his failure to get the modest changes he fought for at Chicago for twenty years, it is not difficult to imagine what would have happened—and what would have happened to him—had he made any such totally radical proposal as this for the dismemberment of the university and its reconstitution as a collection of small colleges with "compulsory communication with the representatives of disciplines other than one's own throughout the whole educational process, and, in the case of teachers, throughout their lives." What would have happened to so mad a proposal would have been its instant and outraged dismissal along with the fiery resignation, within a few months of its being made, of its mad proponent. He would have made a point, but a point of no wide or durable interest; and not one of the things he did achieve over those two decades (in however inadequate and evanescent a form) would have come to pass or have even reached any considerable nationwide or worldwide attention.
They did. They came to be known, and imitated, in most of the nation's universities and many of its colleges, peripherally, to be sure, and transitorily, to be surer. They were argued all through the higher learning, not only in America but in Europe and in Asia. The name of Hutchins was universally heard, and some comprehension of his position expressed at every level of education over that twenty-year period. And it would remain the one name—after Dewey's—to be known at every level of education in the decades that followed. Fifty years after he came to Chicago, the collapse of the whole schooling process, elementary, secondary, and collegiate, aroused a great clamor to return—as if they had ever been there—to "basics," and in the 1980s there were still, in every university, faculty members and faculty movements tracing their heredity to Hutchins. And there were no end of teachers everywhere who, though they might only know his name, were his disciples via that animate heredity.
He maintained privately, and broadly implied in public, that he had failed as an educator. Of course he had failed. He had failed to change
American education for the better. So had everybody else. American education had changed, all right, but it had changed for the worse. So had a great many other things in the general demoralization and disintegration of the social order. The presidents, premiers, and packagers all failed of their ambitions, President Hutchins among them. Sinners innocent of some sins, including some cardinal sins, but guilty of the cardinal sin of pride. Bob Hutchins had read Faust (in German) in a pup tent on the Italian front in 1918. In the introduction to Faust he had read that the Lord asked Mephistopheles how His favorite creature on earth was getting along, and the Devil replied, "Der Mensch bleibt Mensch "—"He's still the same old man."