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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Vol. 70, Number 2 (Nov. 1968)

Moyer, Harriett
"Government . . . shall vest in a board . . . ",   pp. 12-16

Page 15

   Other actions by the board came -under fire from
 Bascom. He said, "regents do not understand the funda-
 mental principle, that the success of those , who rule
 lies in freely availing themselves of the skill of others.
 They have ventured in the most uncalled-for way, to
 interfere directly with the discipline of the institution;
 an interference that has resulted in the most ignominious
 failure. They have passed, without consultation, rules of
 conduct demanded by no breach of good order. These
 sober, grave men, jealous of their own authority, have
 failed to understand how young men should be equally
 jealous of their liberties. The demure and bearded goats
 are thus no wiser than the skipping kids." (It was the
 regents who wore the beards in Bascom's day.)
   Ezra Carr, who served as a regent for one year and
resigned from the board to become a University pro-
fessor, eventually left Wisconsin in an uproar in 1867.
A natural history professor, Carr had sold part of his
geological collections to the University. When he left
the University, the board could not determine whether
the items he claimed were his or the University's. It
offered him twenty-five dollars for his interest in the
collection. Carr indignantly refused. The eventual solu-
tion is not in the records, but when Carr left he
"sweetly offered the regents his 'active sympathies and
SSUES OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM                 and freedom
   of speech have involved the regents at various times
since the University was started. In fact, one such con-
troversy led to Wisconsin's well known "sifting and
winnowing" philosophy. In 1894 Oliver E. Wells, then
superintendent of public instruction, launched a violent
attack on economics professor Richard T. Ely, who
allegedly believed in strikes and boycotts. Publications
throughout the country carried stories about the contro-
versy. The board, after much discussion, decided that
economics professor Ely was entitled to write and say
what he thought about economic issues. It issued the
following statement: "Whatever may be the limitations
which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great
state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that
continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which
alone the truth can be found." Historians Curti and
Carstensen concluded over this affair that the Board of
Regents had deliberately chosen to meet the issue of
academic freedom "directly and gallantly."
   But the issue was not put to rest forever and in 1910
President Van Hise felt compelled to speak out in his
commencement address. His speech followed closely on
a series of incidents involving the issue and preceded
the final decision of the regents to accept formally from
the class of 1910 the plaque inscribed with the famous
statement which now hangs on Bascom Hall.
  Board of Regent members have, over the years, tried
sincerely to further the interests of the University, be-
lieves Clarke Smith. Regent President Gelatt expressed
November, 1968
the same view when he stated at Freshman Forum last
year, "You would be surprised at the change that comes
over people when they assume membership on the
board. It isn't a sudden transformation; but gradually
their loyalties to other groups and activities diminish
and their dedication to building a better University
dominates their thinking-I personally have seen a re-
gent, fresh in his appointment to the board, return to
the office of the governor who appointed him and pound
the desk demanding better financial support." Another
regent drove several hundred miles in the evening to
see the chairman of the State Joint Finance committee
to ask and receive approval to use surplus funds for
faculty salary increases.
   A majority of the regents have been lawyers, but such
other -occupations- as educator, farmer, _phiysician, indus-
trialist, and editor are well represented. Natives of
Wisconsin are in the majority, but New York State has
provided 58 board members. Vermont has contributed
15; Connecticut and Ohio, eight each. Foreign nations
have also been represented: with six each having come
from England and Germany.
W     OMEN did not appear on the Board of Regents
      until the 20th century, and only 14 have served.
The majority were housewives, although the first, Miss
Almah J. Frisby, was a physician. Miss Elizabeth Wa-
ters was an educator and a board member from 1911 to
   Facts about some of the early regents read like the
American dream. Simeon Mills arrived on foot in Madi-
son in 1837 with only a few possessions in a carpetbag.
He opened a combination general store and post office,
and carried the post on forest trails between Madison
and Milwaukee. He eventually became a state senator,
introduced the bill which became the charter of the
University of Wisconsin, and served on the first Board
of Regents.
   Representative of many of the regents who combined
successful careers in several fields was Hamilton Gray.
At 13 he left home to seek work; by sixteen he was a
lead miner. He later studied law, operated two stores at
Beloit, engaged in the milling business, and, at Darling-
ton, edited two newspapers politically opposed to each
   Sketches of all the University regents have been re-
searched and written-with four copies extant-by Ro-
bert Foss of the University news service. Foss said, "It
is my belief that the regents as individuals have been,
over the years, very important members of the Univer-
sity's family; .they have played influential, and at times
most significant, parts in the development and progress
of the University. An understanding of them as indi-
viduals in our democracy inevitably helps one to under-
stand more completely and clearly the development and
the progress of the University of Wisconsin as a great
institution of our democratic form of government." *

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