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EVEN THOUGH the declaration of 1894 had put the University on record as favoring academic freedom, the principle and the practice were not guaranteed simply by a declaration. In 1910, and again in 1915, bitter battles were fought over the principle; in these struggles the Regents and the Class of 1910 were the chief combatants.

Political considerations were important in 1910. The dominant Republican party in Wisconsin was split into two factions: the Stalwarts and the Progressives. The Progressives, led by Robert M. La Follette, were also known to their opponents as Liberals, Radicals, Socialists and La Follette-ites. Stalwarts were awarded the uncomplimentary titles of Standpatters, Reactionaries, Monopolists and Tories; of these labels, that of Tory seemed most invidious. During the campaign these names were freely applied, adding to the intensity of feeling. When the ballots were counted, the Progressive faction emerged victorious.

Divisions within the Republican party were reflected in the University. Undergraduates, and especially the members of the Class of 1910, seem to have been overwhelmingly and ardently pro-La Follette. During the election year the Regents sensed that a "radical" element controlled class politics, while classmen felt that Stalwart sentiment predominated among the Regents. There is little doubt that political partisanship affected the contests between classmen and Regents.

All Regents11 on the board in January, 1910, either had been appointed or reappointed by Governor James O. Davidson, a leader of the Stalwarts after his split with La Follette in 1906. While no completely reliable check can be made now, available evidence suggests that of the fifteen members of the 1910 board, ten were Stalwarts and five Progressives. That partisanship was not unknown was amply testified to by the resignation of W. D. Hoard in 1911. In a letter of resignation, addressed to Governor Francis E. McGovern, Hoard wrote:

I hereby tender my resignation from the Board of University Regents to take effect at once. Failing health and an unwillingness to longer remain as a member of a body that has lately been reconstructed upon the basis and for the main purpose of political partisanship for the La Follette faction in politics are my chief reasons for resigning. I do not believe that a great state school like our University can be wisely, honestly or efficiently administered from so narrow a standpoint.12

This was the response of a Stalwart who disapproved the liberal reconstruction of the board after 1910.

Prior to 1910 the liberal press lost no opportunity to heckle and criticize the Regents. In 1908 the Milwaukee Journal reported that "There is considerable talk that reactionary members of the Board of Regents believe that teachings in some departments of the University are too liberal and that they propose to limit it even if they have to interfere with the pedagogical management ..." John R. Commons, Richard T. Ely and Edward A. Ross were the professors reported to be most eligible for the lash. The Journal alleged that President Van Hise, who was known to be close to La Follette, was having difficulties with the board. At the beginning of his regime Van Hise had laid great stress upon research as a basis for academic advancement. In a direct attack on this position the Regents were said to have adopted a promotion policy in which teaching counted as heavily as research. "Some claim," said the Journal, "that research work has resulted in the class of discussion to which a majority of the Regents object."13

Professor E. A. Gilmore of the law faculty was reputed to have courted Regent displeasure with his researches on the right of the state to control its water powers. Gilmore, who subsequently became vice-governor of the Philippines and later president of the University of Iowa, had prepared a brief favorable to state control, at the request of a legislative committee. Among the Regents were two who were interested in private exploitation of water power, and reportedly these gentlemen had censured the law professor for jeopardizing their interests. The alleged Gilmore censure was widely discussed, and did little to promote good feeling between students and faculty on the one hand and Regents on the other.

Conflicts within the University were sharpened by other episodes of the years 1909 and 1910. The first of these involved Lincoln Steffens, the muckraking journalist who had set out to expose La Follette. However, after conferences with La Follette, he not only experienced complete conversion, but became a militant advocate of La Follette's entire political philosophy. In February, 1909, Steffens published in the American Magazine an article captioned, "Sending a State to College." The article was highly complimentary to the University of Wisconsin, and to President Van Hise and his extension program in particular. However, in a paragraph on academic freedom, Steffens hurled a shaft at the Regents. "The conclusion I drew from talks with both sides," wrote Steffens, "both the Tory Regents and the 'radical' instructors, was that while there are no 'Socialists' on the faculty, there are several men who are more radical than they dare to teach. They do 'the best they can' they 'suggest' the truth, but as one of them put it, 'we have to smear it a little.'"14 Steffens' comments were not appreciated by the Regents.

Less than a year after Steffens had cast doubt on the board's devotion to academic freedom, an incident involving Emma Goldman, the anarchist, and Edward A. Ross, professor of sociology, seemed to lend confirmation to the doubt. Emma Goldman visited Madison between January 25 and 27, 1910. During this time she met with the student Socialist Club at the Y.M.C.A., and delivered an evening lecture downtown. For each appearance she had a goodly audience, which included many university students and members of the faculty. Professor Ross was accused of displaying undue friendship for the lecturer: he was charged with announcing her evening address to his classes, and of escorting her around the university campus. Much of the state press was furious at Ross, at the University, and at Emma Goldman.

The cries of the rabid were not completely justified. As a local newspaper reported, "Those who attended the lecture ... for the purpose of seeing bombs thrown or listening to inflammable utterances, were doomed to disappointment. The proceedings were entirely orderly and good-mannered to the last degree."15 As for Ross' part in the incident, he tells his own story best:

...About this time Emma Goldman cameto town to lecture on Anarchism and on my way to class I learned of infuriated patriots tearing down her posters. This struck me as not quite sportsmanlike and, since the topic of the day was Tolerance, I characterized such manifestations as anti-social and un-American, thereby calling attention to the Goldman lecture.

I did not attend it, but the next morning Miss Goldman called on me at my office, and I took her over the campus pointing out its beauties. Promptly the newspapers shrieked that I was an anarchist; and then certain financiers and capitalists on the Board of Regents (clever team-work!) solemnly shook their heads and gave it out to the newspapers as their pondered opinion that I was not fit to remain at Wisconsin. This was sheer pose, for President Van Hise told me my real offense was publishing Sin and Society, and that for more than two years certain Regents had been looking for a pretext to oust me.16

On January 31, four days after Emma Goldman's departure, Parker Sercombe of Chicago lectured in the classroom of Professor Ross, without prior approval of university authorities. For some time Sercombe had sought an invitation to address Ross' large sociology class; finally Ross permitted him to come to Madison to talk on "Education in a Democracy." Ross said Sercombe's educational theories were "not without merit," but this was lost sight of when word leaked out that Sercombe was an advocate of free love. Ross recalls:

Promptly Chicago sources supplied the Wisconsin capitalistic newspapers with certain half-baked proposals of his regarding marriage, which had not come to my attention, and their readers were told, "This is the sort of man Professor Ross allows to address his class! Your sons and daughters at the University of Wisconsin run the risk of being corrupted."17

Matters were made worse when Sercombe used his acceptance at the University to advertise himself as a lecturer. Again the press yielded to violent outbursts, and the Regents were furious at the unwarranted assumption of academic privilege by Ross.

When the board met on March 2, 1910, the greater part of their deliberations was taken up with the Goldman and Sercombe incidents. As a result of the discussions a resolution of censure was unanimously adopted by the board. The resolution declared:

WHEREAS, it has come to the knowledge of the Board of Regents that Professor E. A. Ross of the department of sociology in our University has invited to lecture in the University and under its auspices, persons whose record and expressed views are subversive of good morals, therefore be it

RESOLVED, by this Board of Regents that we strongly disapprove of such action, and that the President of the University is requested to inform Professor Ross of the censure of the board and their unanimous disapproval of his indiscretions.18

Without the support of courageous President Van Hise, Ross probably would have been ousted. When called upon to make a formal report on the Goldman and Sercombe incidents, Van Hise strongly opposed any summary action, and warned that the faculty would rise in defense of Ross if necessary. Said Van Hise: has been suggested that Professor Ross be removed from his professorship in the University. I do not know whether or not this suggestion is to be seriously considered; but it is clear to me that such an action would be wholly indefensible. In the first place it would be an injustice; for the mistakes which Professor Ross has made are not sufficiently grave to have more weight than years of service as a teacher highly appreciated by his students, including many of the higher grade; second the removal of a professor on the grounds considered would damage the University most seriously in the eyes of the academic world. The effects of such a drastic action as the removal of a professor holding a continuing appointment for so inadequate a cause would not be overcome for years.19

Ross was in China when his fate was decided. At Vancouver and Shanghai he had received cables from Van Hise warning him to expect the worst. He was worried, for he foresaw a return to America with no academic chair waiting for him. Two weeks after his arrival in China he attended a missionary service in Peking, where Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was sung:

As we sang I recalled his daring and compared what he faced with what I faced. Luther's fighting spirit rose in me, I worried no more but from then on gave my whole attention to studying the Chinese. In April a cable from the staunch Van Hise notified me that the motion to oust me failed. Playing for time he had been able to gather protests from so many liberals out in the state that some of the hostile Regents lost their nerve and an adverse majority was converted into a minority.20

How were these episodes viewed by the members of the Class of 1910? Did they see in the 1910 occurrences a resurgence of the unenlightened bigotry which in 1894 had placed in jeopardy the tenure of Richard T. Ely? The class leaders thought this was the case. Soon they would set in motion a project designed either to make unavoidable an official rededication of the University to the principle of academic freedom laid down in 1894, or, if that should fail, to expose the Regents to the peril of widespread public criticism.

11 At this time the Board of Regents comprised the following:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, ex-officio Chas. P. Cary
President of the University, ex-officio Charles R. Van Hise
Magnus Swenson Frederick C. Thwaits Mrs. Florence G. Buckstaff
W. D. Hoard James F. Trottman Gustave Keller
Pliny Norcross D. P. Lamoreux Granville D. Jones
Lucien S. Hanks Edward Evans A. P. Nelson
Enos L. Jones

12 Milwaukee Sentinel, April 1, 1911.

13 Milwaukee Journal, November 30, 1908. In this period Fred MacKenzie, U. W. 1906, a La Follette Progressive, was Madison correspondent for the Milwaukee Journal.

14 Lincoln Steffens, "Sending a State to College," American Magazine, 67 (February, 1909), 362.

15 Madison Democrat, January 27, 1910.

16 Edward A. Ross, Seventy Years of It (New York, 1986), 289-290.

17 Ibid., 289.

18 Madison Democrat, March 3, 1910.

19 Records of the Board of Regents, March 2, 1910.

20 Ross, Seventy Years of It, 290.