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(UW icon)1900

In Storm and Stress--1854-1858.

A second land-grant--Reckless investment of fund--Attacks on the University--Reorganization favored--Professional schools on paper--Annual appropriations--University Hall built--Grounds of criticism--Case of the regents--Reorganization effected--Chancellor Barnard elected.

A second land-grant.

We have seen that from the disposal of the federal land-grant of seventy-two sections Wisconsin--desirous of attracting immigrants by cheap lands--had realized but $150,000; whereas Michigan, from a similar grant, obtained over $500,000. In 1848, Congress had also granted to Wisconsin seventy-two sections of "saline lands," like grants having been made to several other states.1 There were however, no such lands within this State, and Congress was petitioned by our legislature to substitute for them seventy-two additional sections of ordinary public lands, for the benefit of the University, thereby duplicating the original grant. This concession was made in 1854.2 Wisconsin having violated its trust by wasting and misappropriating the first grant, it might have been supposed that the second would receive especial care. The new sections were promptly selected in Pierce, Portage, and Kewaunee counties, from among the best in the State; and, although prevailing market prices ranged from $10 to $20 an acre, sales were immediately made upon the basis of the absurd $3 maximum established by the act of 1852. At this rate, the entire value of the second grant was only $138,240. It is surprising that the State should have been so short-sighted. There is no doubt that the management of these lands belonged of right to the board of regents; but, they were ignored, the gift of the general government being frittered away despite their earnest protests.

Reckless investment of fund.

To make a bad matter worse, the fund produced by the sale of both land-grants was recklessly invested. Loans were made by the school and University land commissioners--the secretary of state, state treasurer, and attorney general--to thousands of persons all over the State, many of them irresponsible, in sums not exceeding $500 each, upon real-estate mortgages; the loss to all the educational funds was considerable--how much, no one can now say.3 In 1861, there was an investigation of this wretched business by the land commissioners then in office; and an exposure of the matter was made in their annual report.4 The result, was, that in 1862 (and later, in 1864, 1867, and 1868), the commissioners were restricted in their investments of the educational funds to United States and State bonds, and loans to cities and counties.

Attacks on the University.

Meanwhile, the struggling University--obliged to erect buildings out of the fund given to it by Congress solely for support and maintenance, its endowment wasted, and the remaining pittance mismanaged--was not gaining in popularity. The regents, who were competent men, had apparently done their best in the difficult administration of the trust; but they were not able to prevent misinterpretation of their conduct, and of the fundamental purpose of the institution. They were charged with mismanagement; the University, it was said, failed to meet the needs of the people; it was alleged to be a burden to the taxpayers--yet not a dollar had thus far been appropriated to it from the funds of the State. In an unfortunate spirit of jealous rivalry, the various denominational colleges were not slow in seizing the opportunity to attack the commonwealth's unsectarian college. Early in 1855, they circulated, petitions to the legislature to abandon the University, and divide among them what remained of its depleted fund, and won to their side a considerable number of the newspapers of the State.

Reorganization favored.

March 19, a bill was introduced in the assembly, seeking to repeal the University's charter, and to distribute its income among the denominational colleges; but there appeared at the time to be so little popular demand for this drastic treatment that the measure was favored. Nevertheless, it was freely alleged by the members of both houses that the University was mismanaged, and that it failed to meet popular needs. Curiously enough, some of the regents were of the same opinion, as is evident from the passage of a resolution at a meeting of the board on the second of April, providing that a committee of three be appointed to devise, among other things, a plan for the more efficient organization of the State University, and report such plan at the semi-annual meeting of the board in the month of July next; and also to inquire into the expediency of suspending operations in the academic department for one year from the close of the present collegiate year, as a means to secure such more efficient organization." Nothing was done under this resolution; indeed, at the July meeting, two new professors, Carr and Read, were elected to the faculty, and they were inaugurated January 16th following.

Professional schools on paper.

The preceding February, in a futile attempt to meet popular demands for professional schools, the department of medicine had been established on paper, with seven chairs of instruction, this number being afterward enlarged to eight.5 But there were no funds for the payment of salaries, and of course nothing came of it. A similar fate awaited the attempted erection, somewhat later (January 29, 1857), of a department of law, with two chairs.6 The public still lacked sufficient confidence in the institution to vote it money to carry on this work.

Congress had granted lands to Wisconsin for the purpose of erecting a fund "for the use and support of a University * * * and for no other use or purpose whatsoever."7 Section 6 of article x of the State constitution provided that "The proceeds of all lands that have been or may hereafter be granted by the United States for the support of a University shall be and remain a perpetual fund, to be called the 'University Fund,' the interest of which shall be appropriated to the support of the State University." The administration of this trust was, by statute, placed in the hands of the board of regents.

Annual appropriations.

In 1854, the legislature decreed that thereafter no money shall be drawn from the treasury by the board of regents, except in pursuance of an express appropriation by law"--that is, compelling the regents to ask annually that money to carry on their work be drawn from the income of the fund established for this very purpose by the federal government. February 15, 1856, Charles Dunn, a senator and a regent, introduced in the upper house a bill seeking to break this precedent by giving to the regents continuous control over the University fund, holding the board only to a detailed annual accounting to the legislature of the manner in which the trust had been administered. Thirteen days later, the senate committee on education recommended its passage, saying in their report:

The provisions of the bill appear to your committee to be entirely reasonable, and in strict accordance with the original design of the State University as expressed in the terms of the grant by congress, and in the provisions of the constitution. The committee are fortified in this opinion by the fact that in the organic laws of other state universities--founded, like ours, on congressional bounty--there is not one state, as your committee are advised, which adopts the policy of requiring annual appropriations, by the legislature, of the income of the fund. * * * To adopt, therefore, in our State University, the usual policy of requiring yearly appropriations of the income would, in the judgment of your committee, expose the institution to casualties, against which it ought to be secure --subject our University Board to useless embarrassment in the administration of their trust--let down the general tone of confidence in the wisdom of its management, and perhaps deter independent men of conscious professional ability from its chairs of instruction.

Despite, however, this broad and liberal attitude of the committee, Mr. Dunn's measure met with disfavor from the rest of the senators; and there was promptly adopted a substitute bill, providing for the usual annual appropriation of the income. The temper of the majority was reflected in the report of a special committee thereon, of which two thousand copies were printed at public expense, and scattered broadcast over the State, as a campaign document against the University. In this report, the committee said:

All experience will show that educational institutions, either academic or collegiate, which are in some degree dependent on annual appropriations, do better work than those which, being removed from want and frequent accountability, relax in their efforts, and decline in their usefulness, from the very consciousness of being so removed from such want and accountability.

One of the enemies of the University was Senator Charles Clement, a Racine editor whose interests lay in bolstering Racine College (Episcopalian). On the twenty-seventh of March, Clements made a speech in the senate, in which he bitterly attacked and ridiculed the University and its management, which were compared with Racine College, to the disparagement of the former. His contention was, that the interest on the fund should be refused to the University. "This fund," he said, "should remain unappropriated and untouched, until the proper class of students for whom this munificence is designed shall knock at the door of the University;" or, better yet, "devote a part of this fund to those colleges in the State which are now offering instruction in proper collegiate studies,"--not "expend it for the instruction of boys in those studies which are or ought to be taught in every district school in the State." The honorable senator, with that cordial dislike of the seat of government which was aroused in the breasts of many politicians almost with the birth of Madison,--the like of which anti-capital sentiment can be found in nearly every State of the Union,--declares that this fund is "being annually devoured by the cormorants and harpies who are hovering around this capital and are ready to descend when they hear the click of the key in the lock of the treasury." That Mr. Clements's remarks touched a popular chord is proved by the fact that there were promptly ordered printed two thousand copies of his speech, "for the use of the senate."

University Hall built

At the succeeding session of the legislature (1857), the regents were granted permission to borrow $40,000 from the principal of the university fund, "for the construction of the main edifice"--which, the board reported, was "to contain all the public rooms required in an institution of learning of the first class." In its annual report for 1857, the board states that it "adopted a plan for the edifice, of the Roman Doric style of architecture, combining beauty of outline with convenience of internal arrangement. The drawings were provided by William Tinsley, Esq., of Indianapolis, an architect, of experience and distinction. The edifice will contain a chapel; a lecture room for each department, with study annexed for the use of the Professor; apartments for library, apparatus, cabinet and for collections in natural science, and in art." They hope to open the building in September, 1858, but fear delay from the possibility that the building fund may not all become available as rapidly as the construction progresses. As a matter of fact the "edifice" was not completed until 1859, when Ladies Hall was built, this time by the legislature--its first actual donation to the University.

The board further report that the following departments are "now in full operation:" Ethics, civil polity, and political economy (Chancellor Lathrop); Mental philosophy, logic, rhetoric, and English literature (Prof. Daniel and Tutor J. W. Smith); natural philosophy, and astronomy (Prof. J. W. Sterling and Tutor Smith); Chemistry and natural history (Prof. E. S. Carr); Ancient languages and literature (Prof. O. M. Conover and Tutor Smith); Modern languages and literature (Prof. Auguste Kursteiner); Art of teaching (Professor Read); Agricultural science (Professor Carr).8

At the meeting of the board in January, 1857, two new departments were created,--Theoretic and practical engineering, and Physics and astronomy,--but the election of professors to these chairs was deferred because of the cost of the main building. "The opening of the University schools of law and medicine have been also deferred by the Board, till after the erection of the main edifice." The regents are nevertheless hopeful, and write with confidence of their plans for expansion, and "a further division of instructional labor." These dreams will be realized, they feel confident, "after the income shall have been relieved from the burden of building and furnishing the necessary educational structures, and have discharged the debt incurred by this heavy outlay." The financial embarrassment to the institution was, however, destined to remain for many long years to come, and to lead almost to dissolution.



Grounds of criticism.

Meanwhile the long-gathering storm of dissatisfaction was coming to a head. Popular clamor of a most rancorous character began to invade the columns of the press and the lobbies of the legislature, No doubt there were some grounds for criticism of the results thus far obtained; the curriculum was too strictly academic to suit the public, it was not in touch with the latest methods of science, and it failed to meet the growing aspirations of youth for preparation for practical careers. Not sufficient time had elapsed to allow the few graduates to fully enter upon and influence the life of the commonwealth so it might well seem, to a people at that time suffering from financial stringency,9 that the results of all this energy and outlay were inadequate.

Case of the regents.

But there was much to be said on the other side. The resources of the institution were far too slight to support the ambitious superstructure which the regents had reared. There appears to be no doubt that the regents were doing their best with the means at hand. The lands had been sold for recklessly low figures, with an entire disregard of the high purposes of Congress in making the two grants, and the meagre fund itself had been carelessly loaned by unsympathetic State officials; the legislature had thus far not voted a penny to the institution, having compelled it to erect its buildings from loans made from its own fund, which Congress certainly meant should be used only for salaries, equipment, and maintenance; attempts by the board to introduce the "practical" schools of normal training, medicine, and law had aroused a popular outcry against the projected extravagance; and the board had been obliged to come on its knees to the legislature, each winter, to sue for an appropriation of the beggarly income which was now left to it. Not only this, but the regents were officially and personally abused in communications in the columns of the press, in speeches in the legislature, and in pamphlets; and the unjust charge was freely made against the University, that it was "an immense moneyed institution for the education of a few aristocratic young men."

To such a pitch had the public temper been strung, by the enemies of the University, that in 1858 a bill was introduced in the senate seeking to reorganize the institution. It sought practically to abolish the preparatory department (at least, for children under the age of sixteen); to admit women to all of the departments; to provide for a board of three commissioners to inspect the University, and suggest to the next legislature any changes that might occur to them as essential; and to establish nine departments of instruction--normal, agriculture, commerce, civil and mechanical engineering, natural science, philosophy, jurisprudence, and philology.

Reorganization effected.

This bill failed of passage, but only because the hour of final adjournment had arrived before a vote could be taken. The discussion, however, convinced the chancellor and the regents that radical measures on their part were essential. At their meeting in June, Dr. Lathrop presented a report in which he said:

The agitation of the University interest in the late legislature, developed two ideas connected with the administration of the institution, of sufficient importance in the opinion of several members to justify a call of the Board. The first is, that the time has arrived for a full development of the normal department of the University. As the Regents of Normal Schools indicate a disposition to cooperate with the Regents of the University in this behalf, I would recommend this subject to the favorable consideration and action of this Board. The other idea is, that in the administration of the department of 'science, literature, and the arts,' in the University, a more distinct bias should be given to its instructions in the direction of the several arts and avocations as they exist among men; that the practical should take rank of the theoretical in the forms as well as the substance of University culture.

At this meeting, the regents adopted an elaborate ordinance reorganizing the University, to take effect from and after the fourth Wednesday of September following. The preparatory department was retained, with instruction only in Latin, Greek, and Algebra, "and the department shall be entirely dispensed with after five years from September 1, 1858." The only other department was to be that of science, literature, and the arts, to consist of six schools: Philosophy, philology, natural science, civil and mechanical engineering, agriculture, and polity. "Each full Professorship shall have attached to it a salary not exceeding fifteen hundred dollars per annum. Each Instructorship and Tutorship shall have attached to it a salary not exceeding seven hundred and fifty dollars per annum."

Chancellor Barnard elected.

Chancellor Lathrop, as its chief, had, of course, to receive the brunt of the attack on the University; and there is much evidence to show that he felt deeply chagrined because of the personal character of much of the criticism. Upon the decision of the board to reorganize, he tendered his resignation, to take effect the third Wednesday of January, 1859. It was accepted, and he was chosen as professor of ethical and political science, but soon withdrew to his old college, the University of Missouri, of which he was reelected president, a position held by him until his death. The following staff was chosen, and, thus officered, the University of Wisconsin began work under the new ordinance:

  • Hon. Henry Barnard, LL. D., chancellor;10 salary, $2,500.
  • John H. Lathrop, LL. D., professor of ethical and political science; salary, $1,500.
  • Daniel Read, LL. D., professor of mental science, logic, rhetoric, and English literature; salary, $1,500.
  • John W. Sterling, A. M., professor of mathematics and natural philosophy; salary, $1,500.
  • Ezra S. Carr, M. D., professor of chemistry and natural history; salary, $1,500.
  • James D. Butler, A. M., professor of ancient languages and literature, and librarian;11 salary, $1,500.
  • Joseph C. Pickard, A. M., professor of modern languages and literature;12 salary, $1,000.
  • Thomas D. Coryell, A. M., instructor in civil and mechanical engineering;13 salary (one term), $250.
  • John F. Smith, A. B., tutor in Latin, Greek, and mathematics (preparatory); salary, $600.
  • David H. Tullis, instructor in commercial calculations and bookkeeping; fees for tuition.

1 This grant of "twelve salt springs, with six sections of land adjoining to each," was in the fourth clause of section seven of the act enabling the people of Wisconsin Territory to form a constitution and State government, approved August 6, 1846. The time for the selection of saline lands was extended by another act, approved May 4, 1852.

2 U. S. Session Laws of 1854, chap. 5, approved December 15.

3 The charge was freely made at the time, but never proven, that in making loans the commissioners favored personal friends, and that the losses were chiefly among borrowers of this class.

Governor Randall, in his message delivered to the legislature in January, 1861, says, concerning this matter: "By judicious legislation, proper safeguards may be placed around these important funds, which have been much diminished by careless investment in past years."

4 Say the commissioners: "The State government having assumed the management of a trust fund, ought, at least, to manage it as prudently and carefully as a man of ordinary judgment and discretion would manage his own affairs. Yet, would any prudent capitalist invest his own money in loans to men he did not know, taking security upon lands he never saw, with no better evidence of their value than the appraisement of two men of whom he knew nothing. * * * The people of Wisconsin received from the general government a most munificent grant, in trust, for the education of the children and youth of the state for all succeeding generations. It was a generous provision for the wisest and noblest of purposes. The State is bound for the preservation and faithful application of this trust by every sentiment of gratitude and honor, and moreover by the promptings of interest and of duty to the people of the State themselves, and to their posterity. Truth compels the confession that this trust has been, and is now, of necessity, most unfaithfully administered. The best of the school lands have been disposed of with eager haste and in disregard of the interest of the funds for which they were dedicated."--Report, Oct. 10, 1861, p. 3.

5 The catalogue for 1850 gives the following physicians as the faculty of the department of medicine: Alfred L. Castleman, theory and practice of medicine, and dean of the faculty; Ezra S. Carr, chemistry and pharmacy; D. C. Ayres, obstetrics, and diseases of women and children; George D. Wilber, materia medica and botany; Samuel W. Thayer, anatomy; Joseph Hobbins, surgery; Alexander Schue, institutes of medicine, and pathological anatomy; J. M. Lewis, demonstration of anatomy.

6 To be filled by Edward G. Ryan and Timothy O. Howe.

7 U. S. Session Laws of 1838, chap. 110, approved June 12.

8 The number of graduates in 1857 was five, and the total enrollment of students about 240.

9 In his message to the legislature of 1858, Governor Randall said that the secretary of state's report of the expenditures and revenues of the State for the current year "presents a gloomy prospect for the tax-payers of the State, especially in a time of financial distress." The treasury deficit was $70,345.06, exclusive of the deficiency of ex-Treasurer Janssen, about $30,000 more. The governor urges that the appropriations be kept down.

10 Dr. Barnard was born in Hartford, Conn.M, January 24, 1811. He graduated from Yale in 1830, being admitted to the bar in 1835. In 1837-39, he represented Hartford in the legislature, introducing and supporting the famous Education Act of 1838; on the completion of his term, he became secretary of the State board of commissioners of common schools. While holding this latter position (1839), he won national renown by writing an annual report which Chancellor Kent styled "a bold and startling document, founded on the most painstaking and critical inquiry, and containing a minute, accurate, comprehensive, and instructive exhibition of the practical condition and operation of the common-school system of education." During 1843-49, he was in charge of the public schools of Rhode Island; in 1850-54, at the head of the common-school system of Connecticut; and, in 1855, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Education. He was the founder and editor of the American Journal of Education, wrote a widely-quoted work on National Education in Europe, and was a prolific writer and lecturer on educational interests. Although elected chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in June, 1858, he was not installed until July 27, 1859, and on account of ill health resigned two years later. In 1866 he was elected president of St. John's College, Maryland, resigning the following year to take the position of first national commissioner of education, which he held until 1870. In his first report as commissioner, he "advocated nearly every educational reform that has since been introduced into the United States."

11 Dr. Butler was born in Rutland, Vt., March 15, 1815. He graduated front Middlebury (Vt.) College in 1836, and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1840. Two years later, he made a pedestrian tour through Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Great Britain, and met many distinguished savants, returning late in 1843; at that time, few Americans had made so leisurely and thorough a European trip. On his return, he served as Congregational pastor successively at Burlington and Wells River (Vt.), South Danvers (Mass.), and Cincinnati. In 1854 he became professor of Greek in Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Ind., being four years later summoned, as above, to the chair of ancient languages in Wisconsin University; after ten years service, he resigned (1868), and has since been in private life. Dr. Butler, has spent much of his time in world-wide travel, and has achieved an extensive reputation as lecturer, preacher, student, traveler, and explorer.

12 Professor Pickard was born in Rowley, Mass., in 1826, graduating from Bowdoin College in 1846. From 1852-56, he was a tutor in Illinois College, Jacksonville; after leaving Wisconsin, he served as professor of rhetoric and English literature in Illinois Industrial University, Urbana.

13 Mr. Coryell was given "leave of absence for the first two terms" of the college year of 1858-59, because the regents were not yet prepared to meet the expense of a full course.