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(sifting icon)1949


AT THE TIME of the plaque's rejection classmen suspected that the defacement of buildings and grounds had little to do with the board's adverse decision, though this was the announced basis of the action. In 1942 ex-Regent C. P. Cary, who had participated in the 1910 decision, was asked whether the Regents were primarily interested in discouraging graduating classes from thinking that whatever memorials they might tender would necessarily be accepted and erected by the board. "It is quite possible that such was the minor purpose in the minds of some Regents," replied Cary, "but that was not the chief reason for the rejection."

As seen by Cary, how did the board view the 1910 situation? Were the Regents distressed by the attentions paid Emma Goldman, and did they assume that a considerable number of students had radical inclinations? "Yes, beyond question," said Cary. "The dominating element in the Class of 1910 might have presented such a plaque if there had been no Emma Goldman visit to Madison, but it is highly improbable." The Regents also knew there were some radicals among the students and faculty, but "like the humorist who thought a reasonable number of fleas were good for a dog, the Regents did not bother about it. In fact, most of them were pleased to have it so; they did not desire a dead sameness of views."

Did the Regents believe that the Class of 1910 was under the influence of some radical political element which made acceptance of the tablet undesirable? "There was a suspicion that such might be the case," said Cary. "The student radicals may have been stimulated to activity by politicians, at least encouraged by the general political upheaval. In fact I think they were."

Did the Regents assume that in tendering the plaque the class was aiming an unmerited thrust at the board, one which implied that the Regents were ultra-conservative industrialists and politicians opposed to academic freedom? "To this question my answer is yes," replied Cary. "No single Regent was opposed to the wording or sentiment of the plaque--except the gratuitous fling in the opening sentence at other institutions that might be cramped in their instruction--but they were opposed to being slapped in the face without occasion for it." Cary recalled that "It was the entire situation and spirit of it all that was resented. The spirit as the Regents interpreted it was something like this: There, dern ye, take that dose and swallow it. You don't dare refuse it even if it gags you, and it probably will."

What induced the board to accept the tablet, but not erect it, in 1912? Cary's recollection was that "The representatives of the class of 1910 came back in 1912 to the Regents in a chastened spirit; admitted mistakes on their part, as I recall it. Politics had settled down in the meantime. As before stated, the board unanimously approved, in the abstract, the principle of freedom in the university classrooms."31

The Class of 1910 looked upon Granville D. Jones as the Regent who most strongly opposed the acceptance and erection of the tablet. As Francis R. Duffy informed a Regent in 1915, "Regent Jones of Wausau has been the backbone of the opposition and has really constituted practically the only opposition to the acceptance of this memorial. You are aware that Mr. Jones has been closely identified with the water-power interests in his section of the state. In fact, he told me himself."32 A man strong in opinion and forthright in expression, Jones never wearied of resisting affronts to the Regents, and never abandoned the opinion that the memorial tablet was intended as an affront. Hiding behind the plaque he saw the figures of Lincoln Steffens, Fred MacKenzie of La Follette's Magazine, and Richard Lloyd Jones, Progressive editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. "I know that the inspiration of this memorial tablet was vile," Jones told his fellow board members. "I believe the class was duped and made use of for the purpose of discrediting the Regents."33 To class president Duffy he wrote, "I have always considered that the attempt of a lot of malicious and vicious pups to use your class as a 'cat's paw' for their own selfish purposes was monstrous."34

According to Jones, the students had never known the truth about the Ross and Gilmore incidents. "They were incited by mischievous persons and with the enthusiasm and loyalty of youth, reached the conclusion that the Regents of the University, or at least some of them, were endeavoring to interfere with academic freedom and the search for truth ..." Jones assured the misinformed that there was "no Regent action that school year which interfered or attempted to interfere in any way with reasonable academic freedom." When the memorial was rejected he "anticipated there would be a good deal of magazine and newspaper discussion of the matter, in which Mr. Lincoln Steffens of evil memory would participate."35

Regent Jones had no special regard for the noble phrases of the memorial tablet. "So far as the words on your tablet are concerned," he wrote to Duffy, "they are only objectionable in connection with the time and manner of their application."36 To his brethren on the board he confided, "The sentiment on this tablet, though somewhat dogmatic, is harmless and inoffensive. So, for that matter, is the multiplication table and all the axioms. This, however, does not justify inscribing them on monuments and posing them on the university buildings and grounds. The purpose of this tablet was to wantonly insult the then Regents."37

Had the class intended to insult the Regents? According to one classman who should have known, "The motive was simply to commit the University to a policy of academic freedom which seemed to have been infringed by the Goldman and other incidents."38 Never did the Regents win any admission that insults were intended.

In view of the testimony offered by the Regents themselves, it is evident that the 1910 board did not reject the plaque primarily because it threatened to deface university buildings. They rejected it because they despised Lincoln Steffens, who fathered the project. They rejected it because they saw in it an attempt of Wisconsin Progressives and student radicals to embarrass a Stalwart board. They rejected it because they could not agree that the board's behavior in the Ross episode constituted a violation of academic freedom.

31 The above quotations are excerpts taken from Cary's written answers to a questionnaire prepared by the author in 1942.

32 Duffy to Regent Theodore Hammond, May 26, 1915.

33 Jones to the Regents, May 25, 1915.

34 Jones to Duffy, May 13, 1915.

35 Jones to Duffy, June 9, 1915. According to the late M. E. McCaffrey, for many years secretary to the Board of Regents, the 1910 board customarily referred to Lincoln Steffens as "Stinkin' Leffens."

36 Jones to Duffy, May 13, 1915.

37 Jones to the Regents, May 25, 1915.

38 The quotation is taken from Milton J. Blair's answer to a questionnaire prepared by the author in 1942.