Thomas D. Clark, in the second volume of his history, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, states that whereas I may have borne the title “acting president” I never really cast myself in that role. He went on to say, “Clearly, he acted like a president from the start.” While Dr. Clark was writing this volume he made similar remarks to me. At the time they seemed farfetched, almost preposterous. I remembered little of what took place from July 1, 1937, to June 30, 1938. Throughout my life I have tended to think infrequently about the past, concentrating rather on the future. I have that habit even now. The story of an incident that occurred long ago might illustrate the point.
At the death of Val Nolan, a trustee of the university, it was of course the sad duty of the trustees and officers of the university to attend the funeral. The transportation from Bloomington to Evansville was organized by Ward Biddle, the university comptroller. President Emeritus Bryan was to take his Buick, driven by his old chauffeur, Rocky, and Mr. Biddle assigned Trustee Paul Feltus and me to go with him. Feltus approached Ward Biddle privately, I heard later, and objected to his assignment, saying, “Can’t you put me in another car? I don’t want to ride 120 miles to Evansville and 120 miles back with two men who don’t smoke and don’t even know they live in the present. Bryan talks only about the past and Wells is somewhere off in the future.”
What little memory I have of that period centers on the incident, of which I have already written, when I told Judge Wildermuth that I would undertake the acting presidency if he would promise not to consider me for the position of president. I also recall a great sense of inadequacy in undertaking the office. In other words, I was just plain frightened at the prospect of stepping into the position that William Lowe Bryan had held with great distinction for thirty-five years. Thus I discounted Dr. Clark’s comments almost wholly. Much to my surprise, however, when I began to read the minutes of the Board of Trustees’ meetings for the fall of 1937 and the spring of 1938, reviewed my correspondence files for that period, and read some of the contemporary accounts of the events of the year in Alumni Association publications and in newspapers, I came to understand the basis for Dr. Clark’s conclusion. From the record, one can easily gather the impression that he had.
My interpretation of that record is something like this: When I began as acting president I had been a dean for two years, had had many contacts with President Bryan, and had been active in university-wide administrative affairs. I was already familiar with the university’s current problems and opportunities. It seemed to me that in the final years of his presidency Dr. Bryan had grown even more vigorous and had accelerated the pace of his leadership. Several new members had joined the Board of Trustees in the previous two or three years. They were youthful, vigorous, ambitious for the progress of the university, and quite imaginative and courageous in their outlook. In the period just prior to 1937 a building program had become possible because of the availability of federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Public Works Administration (PWA) grants, which encouraged the state either to appropriate matching funds or to provide them by a general-purpose bond issue. These federal funds had been appropriated to help states alleviate their unemployment. The state legislature wished to get its share of these funds to stimulate the economy of Indiana, which was still sluggish after the Great Depression. Further, the General Assembly in the spring of 1937 had authorized and funded a pension system for the faculty in the state universities. This provision had been long sought because a large number of our faculty had grown old in the service of the university without any state provision having been made for pensions and thereby for a dignified retirement. The only choice faculty members had under such circumstances, if they were not independently wealthy, was to teach as long as they lived, even though their health might be failing or they might have grown weary after so many years of worthy service. In other words, a fluid and dynamic period had arrived in the life of Indiana University; much work was to be done, and the record seems to indicate that the university community, faculty, trustees, and administrators were eager for action even though they had an acting president. I was caught up in the mood.
Immediately in July, 1937, we began to address problems that needed answers and to take actions upon which there seemed to be a general consensus already. Also, we began rather promptly to discuss the possibility of creating a mechanism to study the more profound problems that needed research and analysis. These problems were soon delegated for consideration to the Self-Survey Committee created for this purpose. I had first discussed the creation of such a committee with the Board of Trustees and gained their consent to proceed with securing a pledge that all records and reports of actions would be made available to the survey team. The proposal for a self-study committee was then discussed with the deans of the professional schools and the College of Arts and Sciences, who gave it their enthusiastic backing. Next, approval was sought and received from the general faculty. Of course, these steps brought forth many suggestions about needed areas of study, which were later made available to the members of the committee when work began. The faculty was then canvassed for opinions as to the makeup of the committee. Armed with suggestions from these various parties, I recommended and on January 15, 1938, the trustees appointed three men who agreed to undertake this arduous task: Herman T. Briscoe, Professor of Chemistry; Wendell W. Wright, Professor of Education; and Fowler Harper, Professor of Law. These men had differing viewpoints and to a remarkable degree had had the type of experience that enabled them to interpret fully the ideas of the various constituencies of the university. Wright possessed a comprehensive knowledge of the public school system and an awareness of the attitudes of the state’s teachers, as well as a sense of the university’s responsibility to offer whenever possible, calling upon our expert faculty, practical assistance to the school system and to the state in general. He was a man of courage and strong opinions. Briscoe was a trusted, major figure of the liberal arts college and of course knew the world of science both as a teacher and as a scholar. He had been a high school teacher of Latin so he had a feeling for the humanities as well. Briscoe was a man of wisdom, tact, and patience, with an understanding of the importance of good teaching alongside good scholarship. For chairman of the committee I picked Harper, one of the university’s brilliant young law professors, who not only was a representative of the older professional schools of the university but also was familiar with academic thinking in the leading schools of the country at that time. In their points of view, Wright was conservative, Briscoe was moderate, and Harper was liberal. Therefore they provided a good balance with which to look at our problems.
The committee sought the views of students, faculty, alumni, the general public, and educators beyond our campus. They involved many members of the faculty in service on subcommittees to effective action. In the course of the succeeding years all major recommendations were implemented, except in those few instances and a large number of recommendations for the restructuring of and in active deliberation. Before they finished they brought forth the university. Reflected in the report were the votes of faculty where passage of time brought new circumstances that made them unnecessary or inapplicable, and they had a far-reaching influence upon the direction of the university. It was a highly successful venture. Although Harper left the university after a few years, Briscoe and Wright spent all of their professional careers here and became in due course stalwarts of the administration, Briscoe as vice president and dean of the faculties and Wright first as director of the Junior Division, then later as vice president.
Whereas the most optimistic long-term dreams for the study were realized over a period of time, the appointment of the Self-Survey Committee and the beginning of its work also served an immediate purpose. As I have mentioned, the faculty, the student body, and even alumni were teeming with ideas for change and were in no mood to have a long period of stagnation while an acting president sat on his hands in the chair. Yet many of the kinds of changes being suggested were not of the type that should be taken during an interim administration. The existence of the committee, which are filed away to gather dust and be forgotten, this one led members on each relevant recommendation. Unlike many surveys, on March 21, 1939, a report that presented a searching analysis, however, gave the members of the faculty an opportunity to air their views and to have them seriously considered. This outlet relieved the pressure for immediate action, enabling us to take care of problems that were appropriate to be solved during and just after the interim period. I shall always be profoundly grateful for the superb work of the survey team and to all of those who helped them. Their efforts and their report represented a very important milestone in the development of Indiana University.
Throughout the year Ward Biddle, the members of the Self-Survey Committee, the deans, and I also spent considerable time trying to devise ways and means of improving our long-term financial situation. We came to the conclusion that the university must reach for money from private donors or from government agencies other than the state much more vigorously than we had in the past. To work on this rather long-range project, two new committees of the faculty were formed. One committee, comprised of the academic deans, was charged with compiling a list of every need the university had, together with its cost. The list was then to be published and could be used in approaching private donors for gifts, ranging from a few hundred dollars for certain items to several hundred thousand dollars for others. A second committee, the Faculty Committee on Grants-in-Aid, was appointed to explore new sources of income. Since we had great need for money to support the scientific work of individual faculty members, large foundations seemed to offer one of the best sources, as this period was prior to the federal government’s immense activity in research and education. The grants-in-aid committee was charged with the task of studying the functioning of the great foundations to determine the fields in which they were interested and the principles that guided and directed their grants. This committee was asked also to make a study of projects then in progress at the university or about to be launched, or which could be started if funds were available. In other words, it was to determine what the foundations could offer us and what we had to offer the foundations in the way of manpower, skill, and equipment.
Those two committees began to lay the foundation for a vigorous search for outside funding, a search that has gone on from that time to this one and that has yielded many, many millions of dollars in support of the university’s scientific and professional activities. In fact, outside funds through the last thirty-five years have made it possible for us to achieve peaks of excellence that otherwise would not have been possible. In chapter 11 I comment on the special role of the Indiana University Foundation in this effort during the days of my administration.
My first Board of Trustees meeting was held on July 12, 1937. In that meeting and in two subsequent executive committee meetings of the board, held in July, we dealt with something over one hundred items. Some were routine administrative and housekeeping items, but a remarkable number of others were substantive matters such as the complaints of Butler University about our low fees for extension services in Indianapolis, an effort to secure new PWA grants for additional buildings, a proposed survey of the water system of the university, the appropriation of a special fund of $20,000 for additional library purchases, and the possibility of buying the Smithwood property on East Third Street, the tract of land on which now are located Read Hall, University Apartments, and Forest Quadrangle—in fact, the area extending east from Jordan Avenue to Rose Avenue and south from Seventh Street to Third Street, a major expansion.1
One interesting pattern began to develop. We made minor adjustments in salaries in the first board meeting as well as many others in the two July executive meetings. We also made small appropriations for needed research equipment and for the remodeling of various areas to enable faculty members to carry on special kinds of assignments. We had inherited a welcome unallocated reserve and early adopted the philosophy that money entrusted to us was to be spent wisely and economically but to be put to work, not hoarded merely for the sake of providing the administrative and financial officers comfortable reserves that would protect them against every contingency. Apparently there were believed to be certain salary inequities that had been discussed for some time until the need for adjustment had won consensus. So, in response, we moved rather actively to make individual salary adjustments and departmental budget adjustments within the limits of the funds available. I have long believed that the only way to make any kind of bureaucratic organization tolerable is to have at some point an administrative mechanism for making exceptions and to have administrators operating that mechanism willing to make the exceptions, even though such decisions may create the kinds of problems that result from an otherwise rigid adherence to a set of rules that cannot possibly meet all situations.
Another major move was the organization of a group to recommend priorities for a ten-year building program. There had been only one classroom building constructed on the Bloomington campus with state funds during the period from 1910 to 1930 when other state universities were actively developing their physical plants. The lag would have become even more exaggerated had we not started immediately to plan a building program. At the same time, we began an expanded residence-hall construction program that, once begun, never ceased during my administration. A miscellany of other physical plant items also required our action. We made several property purchases, looking toward enlargement of the campus. We launched a campaign for an armory. We gave some consideration to the landscaping of the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses and sought an appropriate location for the Thomas Hart Benton murals, most of which were later placed in the lobby of the Indiana University Auditorium. And we spent an immoderate amount of time not only on change orders for the building to house the laboratory school of the School of Education, the Service and Stores Building, the Medical Building (now Myers Hall), and the Clinical Building in Indianapolis—all then under construction—but also on additions to the Indiana Memorial Union and on the correction of faults in the women’s swimming pool in the Student Building.
Among other administrative matters that concerned us during that first year were the creation of the University News Bureau, the inauguration of a weekly luncheon of the academic deans as an administrative and communications mechanism, the exploration of the possibility of increasing train service to Bloomington, and a study of the university’s police, and water and light systems. Other, academic items ranged from exploring the possibility of closer relationships with the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis to launching a summer-session camp at McCormick’s Creek State Park. Of more significance, perhaps, was the consideration of establishing a fine arts school and a library school, extending police training, and authorizing Alfred Kinsey to offer a course on marriage—the course that led indirectly to his famous research.
But throughout all this time, our major thrust was the search for new faculty. Dean Fernandus Payne helped search for men in science, and Dean Henry L. Smith for people in education and in other fields, but I carried much of the load myself, traveling an inordinate amount of time all over the country. It seems to me that during this period I must have spent about 40 percent of my nights in sleeping cars. I could not travel by air very much because in that day air service was slow and infrequent, and a limited number of cities were served by the airlines. My correspondence files indicate the itineraries that I followed, two of which will serve to illustrate our strenuous travel schedule.
One trip during that year began in Louisville, continued to Paducah, from there to Memphis, then to Little Rock, from Little Rock to New Orleans, from New Orleans to Atlanta, from Atlanta to Daytona Beach, from Daytona Beach to Orlando, Orlando back to Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach to Atlanta, Atlanta to Spartanburg, South Carolina, from Spartanburg to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and from there to Washington, D.C., and then home. In the course of that trip I traveled by Illinois Central and Missouri Pacific railroads and by Eastern and National airlines. Another trip included the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Cornell College at Mount Vernon, Iowa, Kansas State University at Manhattan, another stop at the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of Missouri, back to the University of Iowa, Iowa State Teachers College at Cedar Falls, Illinois-Wesleyan at Bloomington, Illinois, the University of Kansas, and MacMurray College at Jacksonville, Illinois. Looking back on such schedules, which had to be jammed in between all of the busy activity carried on at the university every day, I am grateful for the stamina and the recuperative powers of youth that blessed me then.
Those are only examples of the many trips that were taken during that first, exacting year. We were determined to make an exhaustive search for highly qualified, available faculty prospects and, whenever possible, to interview them first in their home situations. By doing so we expected to learn how they measured up in the institution where they had been and later to bring to Bloomington those who seemed worthy, to see how they would measure up when seen on our campus. This method of selection had proven effective when I was dean of the business school. I believed then as I believe now that the quality of the faculty is the most important ingredient in the success of the university. Many things can be done to help members of the faculty, but the greatest laboratories, the finest buildings, and the largest salaries will mean little without men of absolutely top quality to use them. And so the recruitment and retention of superior faculty members must be the first objective of any administration and must have top priority in the use of the administrator’s energy, mind, and body. With the great help of Dean Payne, Dean Smith, and many others, this was our first priority during that hectic first year.
At the end of the year I could say in a general summary to the Board of Trustees that we were ready to make recommendations for many important appointments, and I related the following:
These appointments came as a culmination of the past year’s intensive search for new men, a search which involved 33,414 miles of travel and interviews with 190 persons suggested for the positions, besides numerous conferences with approximately 50 advisers. The search has been extensive and it has been difficult; yet I think we have every reason to believe that the results will justify the effort.
. . . The principal discussions in the Board meetings concerning new men have centered on the persons recommended for the headships.2 It is proper that this should be so; yet I want to call attention to the fact that, in my opinion, the majority of the persons appointed to secondary positions are men of exceptional background and promise. No person has been appointed to any position during the past few months who has not won the right to that appointment by the competitive process of selection.
Thirty-three thousand miles may not seem a great distance under today’s conditions of four-lane highways and nonstop jets that move at great speed, not only about the continental United States, but also throughout the world; in 1937, however, that much of a trip represented real effort and a substantial coverage of territory. Searching, searching, searching for top men, wherever they might be found and, after finding them, using all the powers of persuasion we had to interest them in our positions. Sometimes we had persuasion as our only weapon because our resources frequently were not competitive. We early determined that when an exceptional man was available we would breach our scales and schedules in order to hire him, believing as we did that occasional breaches would in turn help raise the salary level as a whole and result eventually in a faculty of greater distinction.
Of course, at the very beginning of the year I had to discuss with the men who were then past retirement age whether they should continue or not. Since it was a high-priority matter, I interviewed every member of the faculty who was seventy or older during my first two weeks as acting president. In some instances it was determined by an advisory committee, wisely provided for me by the Board of Trustees, which of these men were to remain for a semester or year in an acting capacity and which were to have retirement at once. Such a procedure involved a great deal of individual discussion, as much tact as possible, and as much kindness and compassion as we could summon, since some of the men who had spent their lives building the university felt that they should be allowed to continue indefinitely. It was our job—the job of those in administration during that transitional period—to make retirement as palatable as possible for these great and good colleagues and to assist them in every way to move into a dignified and happy retirement. This effort took no small amount of time.
To me, the climax of the year came before its end, when in a special meeting on March 22, 1938, I was elected president of Indiana University.3 The Board of Trustees had been in executive session, and at the conclusion of its meeting I was summoned to appear before it. The president of the board, Judge Wildermuth, made the following statement to me:
The Trustees of Indiana University have come to a decision on the most momentous question that has come before the Board in thirty-five years. We have by unanimous ballot elected you President of Indiana University. In so doing we have brought very great honor to you. But, we have also given you equally great responsibilities. Your responsibilities are great because of the footprints that have been made by the giants whom you succeed. Remember that you follow in the steps of Dr. David Starr Jordan, Dr. Joseph Swain, and Dr. William Lowe Bryan, three of the greatest educational administrators of this country. They made Indiana University a great university, respected and revered by her sister schools and educators everywhere. These colossal figures who marched across this campus have cut a pattern that will not be easy to fill.
No university in America ever had three succeeding presidents that stood higher in their fields than these three men. So your responsibility is great—greater, perhaps, than if you were to become the president of almost any other university. It seems to us that you have the qualifications to carry on the important functions of this office. You have youth, ambition, courage, ability, and intelligence of a high order, and with these qualities you cannot fail. You must, you will succeed.
The members of the Board have interviewed in the last year the leading educators of the country, from Maine to California, in an effort to find the very best man possible to be found to assume the leadership of this great University. We have interviewed a great many men who have been recommended to us, some of them repeatedly. We have made a study of their fitness, character, ability and qualifications. This election of yours did not come by default, but came as the result of an extensive study. After having examined all of these men from everywhere in the country, and after comparing their qualifications with yours, we were satisfied with your superiority. We have picked one of our own sons, a native Hoosier, in whom we place our trust and hopes.
I am sure that you will have the cooperation of the Board. I know you will have mine to the fullest extent in carrying on these responsibilities and upholding the University, and keeping it in that high place which it achieved under these three great men, and making it still an even greater University.
We pledge to you our entire support, feeble though it may be. I stand ready to do everything I can to help you succeed in this important position.
According to the minutes, I then replied as follows:
Judge and Members of the Board:
I deeply appreciate the compliment you have paid me. I think I am more impressed, however, by a realization of the responsibility of the position than by any other feeling. In fact, to be altogether frank, I feel wholly inadequate to undertake this important task. I told Dr. Bryan as much when I talked with him in my office this morning. He assured me, however, that he was frightened by the responsibility when he was called upon thirty-five years ago to accept the office. I hope the decision made here today will prove in the years to come to be at least in a small part as wise as was the decision made by that earlier Board. There is a great opportunity here. To meet it, I shall need your cooperation very much. I shall do my best—I shall give all my thought and energy to this work. And I pray that that will be enough.
When these formalities were over the trustees issued a statement as follows:
Herman B Wells is this day elected President of Indiana University. With great expectations, we invite him to great responsibilities. His observed experience, practical wisdom, admirable temperament, and high ideals give conspicuous assurance of enduring achievement. With trust in him, we have confidence in the future.
Throughout the year, whenever the board members had spoken to me about a permanent appointment I had urged them not to consider it since I wished to return to the business school. However, I was persuaded finally to accept because it seemed to me further delay would be detrimental to the university. Dr. Bryan’s resignation had been long contemplated. Then there had been great excitement over the selection of a new president, and the board members had interviewed many candidates, had themselves traveled extensively talking to people, all of which had given rise to many rumors, often disturbing the university morale. When the board came to the end of their list of candidates, unable to agree upon anyone outside, and turned to me, I realized that if I declined the board would have to start the whole selection process over again, a process that would have taken an indefinite number of months. It seemed to me that the welfare of the university demanded that the matter be settled without further delay. Of course, my friends rejoiced over the decision. I received a shower of well-wishing in flowers, telegrams, and letters, and there was a considerable amount of hubbub and excitement. (I am well aware that there was also skepticism about my selection on the part of some faculty, alumni, and other citizens of the state.) However, the minutes of the meeting indicate that, after the trustees had taken their action and issued their rather dramatic statement, we immediately sat down and started transacting business. We approved the minutes of the last board meeting and then moved to considering a lounge addition to the Union Building and such earthshaking matters as key and locker deposits, and diploma and Alumni Association fees. We also considered in that meeting investment recommendations, the possibility of building a golf course, real estate matters, the settlement of will cases, and many other items requisite but routine. The board had met at ten o’clock in the morning and by noon had not only elected the president but also had transacted its usual quota of items of business. One event in the early summer of 1938 offered a great opportunity, but it was not one that a beginning president would have sought so early in his career. A special session of the legislature was called by the governor to consider a number of problems dealing with the recession. This seemed to President Edward Elliott of Purdue University and to me an opportune time to make a joint request for auditoriums, and with the consent of our boards we made such a request to the special session. After long and strenuous discussion that lasted for more than a month, finally in the very closing hours of the session we were successful in getting an appropriation for Indiana and Purdue each to build a long-needed auditorium. In addition the bill authorized us to accept PWA money that was available for that purpose and issue fee bonds (paid off by funds from student fees) for the remainder. The present magnificent Indiana University Auditorium came from that legislative session of the first summer. It was paid for by a $300,000 cash appropriation from the state legislature, $450,000 from PWA, and $350,000 from the bond issue. The funding enabled us to build one of the outstanding auditoriums in the country, noted from coast to coast as the home of many superior cultural attractions, and to provide the Little Theatre and classrooms for our Department of Speech and Theatre. It likewise, as is still the case, provided a home for the University Band.
In planning the building we decided to locate it as near as possible to what we envisioned as the future center of the campus—the place where an auditorium should be. We reserved in our own minds a space for a library nearby, now occupying that space. As a consequence of that planning, the Auditorium and the Library both are near the center of the greater university campus of today. At the time the Auditorium was built it was at the outer edge of the campus. We also at that time began dreaming of a fine arts center, which has been realized with the Fine Arts Building, the Lilly Library, and the Radio and Television building, and the complex will continue to develop with the new art museum now under construction. (See Appendix [C] for an early interview on the arts.) These buildings, grouped around the beautiful Showalter Fountain, are truly the aesthetic as well as the physical center of the greater campus. Ironically during this first year we seem to have dealt with several matters that continued to reappear throughout the twenty-five years of my presidency. For instance, there was the omnipresent problem of budget. In addition we were concerned with the many administrative decisions that had to be made to install our retirement system, to provide for security in retirement, and, through the years, to continue to improve the staff and faculty benefits. The whole matter of faculty replacements was never far from our minds. During that first year the Sheppard Bill (see chapter 6) continued to be an active issue, and I made trips to Washington on its behalf. Building programs, expansion of the extension division, the development of a university radio system and securing an outlet for it through WIRE, a Purdue-Indiana joint curriculum in engineering and business that we adopted in the first year, the stimulation of our research, the improvement of our legislative relations and our public image, and concern for the aesthetic and physical quality of the campus—all required our careful attention.
Understandably, traditional procedures and organizational patterns that had grown inadequate or outmoded came under scrutiny with the beginning of the new administration. One of these was the College of Arts and Sciences, whose departments up to this time had dealt directly with the president’s office, leaving the dean of the college and his staff with few functions and little or no opportunity for leadership. By the end of the year this pattern was to be changed, and Dean Stout accepted an expanded role as a true dean of a discrete college, comparable to the School of Business, School of Education, School of Law, and School of Medicine in organization and relationship with central administration.
Our regular staff in the president’s office during the initial year of the acting presidency and the first few months of the presidency was quite small. If my memory is correct, it consisted in the beginning of only Ruth McNutt, who had been both executive and social secretary to President Bryan, and Mary Ellen Cook (Woods), who had been his secretary. I brought from the business school Bernita Gwaltney as an additional secretary. As I have noted, the volume of work during this year was enormous. I am still amazed that these three could have handled it and handled it excellently. That they did so is a tremendous tribute to their skill, dedication, and efficiency.4
Several members of the faculty and administrative staff gave willingly of their time to assist in every way possible. One of these was Ward Biddle, who of course had heavy responsibilities of his own as the university comptroller but who, in the role of wise and indispensable counselor, readily helped tackle many presidential problems. The service of Edward E. Edwards was invaluable during this period. Although he was only in the second year of his appointment in the business school, he spent time as my administrative assistant in addition to carrying out his other duties. He worked without title but with his usual effectiveness.
Throughout this first year the Advisory Committee, consisting of Ward Biddle, Dean Payne, Dean Smith, and W. A. Alexander, members of the Self-Survey Committee, and I spent a major part of our time exploring our immediate financial problems to determine the most acute needs, where if possible we might alleviate them, and what could be eliminated to save money and increase efficiency. Near the end of the year, on Founders Day, May 4, 1938, I spoke to the Indianapolis Alumni Club and characterized the period as one of intense activity at the university, a period of experimentation, exploration, and self-analysis in an attempt to discover the raw materials of a worthy future program. It had been an exciting, exhilarating year. I explained that the exploration and the self-analysis were in the main centered in three major problems, problems as old as the university itself, yet ever new in an institution that is eager to go forward, that is sensitive to the impact of a dynamic world in which change and the necessity of adaptation to change are constant factors of existence. The three problems are personnel, the budget, and the reorganization of an academic and pedagogical administration.
I ended my remarks to the alumni with the following words, words that attempted to express the special nature of the first year and the enthusiasm that was present with the beginning of dreams for the future:
Our problems are many and great, it is true. But they need not overwhelm us, for our resources are likewise great: a forward looking Board of Trustees; a large, enthusiastic, vigorous group of alumni; an excellent faculty—sincere, loyal, distinguished; a student body composed of healthy, wholesome American youth second to none in the country. With the cooperation of these four groups, anything can be accomplished.
In his classes, Dr. Weatherly frequently spoke of the efflorescent period that men and institutions sometimes enjoy. An efflorescent period—a period of glorious blossoming as a tribute to the intelligent husbandry of the past. The roots are strong and deep. The plant is a sturdy perennial, its strength preserved by the judicious pruning of unhealthy and unnecessary branches. Surely we may look forward to the blossoming period with confidence and expectation.
VIGNETTE OF WILLIAM LOWE BRYAN
My predecessor as president of Indiana University was William Lowe Bryan, a Monroe County native and member of the class of 1884. His father was an itinerant preacher, but, from all accounts, his mother was the driving force in the family. The family occupied a small farm about two and one-half miles from the courthouse square. The farm was operated for the subsistence of the family. Dr. Bryan never forgot his farm upbringing and always enjoyed the vegetable garden in the rear of the President’s House. Each year he personally oversaw the crop of fruits and vegetables that were canned, dried, or otherwise preserved or frozen. Although he had an epicure’s delight in food, he also enjoyed simple food, the food of his boyhood. He once said to me that, after a big noon meal, he enjoyed having only a very light evening meal—especially mush and milk or cornbread and milk, two staples of a pioneer farm family.
Dr. Bryan was president of the university when I was an undergraduate. I did not know him personally then, but, as was the case with most students, I admired him from afar. I listened to his inspirational speeches and read his delightful columns in the Daily Student in which he discussed whatever was on his mind for the benefit of the students, faculty, and other readers of the paper. He was a masterful speaker. His delivery was deliberate, forceful, and effective. His word choices were beautiful and appropriate. With his ability to hold an audience he could make even the commonplace seem profound. His decision to become a scholar-teacher administrator deprived the stage of a man who would have been a remarkable interpreter of Shakespeare and other classical dramatists.
Dr. Bryan was a man of more than average height with a face whose expressive features one did not forget. His physique was trim like an athlete’s, bringing to mind his baseball prowess and I-Man award. Mother often spoke of the time when she and my father brought my grandmother to Bloomington for my Commencement in 1924. On a stroll through the campus before the ceremony, I suddenly saw Dr. Bryan and proudly drew their attention to the awesome figure: “Look! There’s Prexy!” My grandmother turned too quickly and twisted her ankle painfully, a misfortune that later turned Dr. Woodburn’s almost two-hour-long Commencement address (his swan song) into an ordeal as the ankle swelled and throbbed, to Mother’s great concern.
During Dr. Bryan’s active years, an occasional person belittled him as provincial. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was a well-educated man, a master of his own fields of scholarship—psychology and philosophy—and also well versed in poetry and the great works of literature. His training was enhanced by study abroad, principally in psychology, under the tutelage of faculties at Berlin, Wiirzburg, and Paris. He read constantly and continued to grow intellectually throughout his lifetime. Of his early work in philosophy and psychology, David Starr Jordan said it was “the best I have ever seen done anywhere” and added that Dr. Bryan was “one of the most gifted teachers in the state.” 5
Because he held to a rigid moral code and believed fervently in his ideals of personal conduct, he appeared intolerant to some. However, he was not intolerant of others, at least not that I was able to observe. His lifestyle and my lifestyle were poles apart, and yet he was a warm, understanding, and sympathetic administrator during the days when I reported on the School of Business Administration to him as president, and that relationship was unchanging through the years in which he lived on the campus after his retirement. We had frequent and sometimes daily discussions of the issues and problems of the university, during which he would freely draw upon his background to make clear the reasons for the adoption of certain established policies, a practice which was extremely useful to me. The historian Thomas D. Clark calls him a Puritan. Perhaps Dr. Bryan’s code of personal conduct was Puritan in some respects, but he did not eschew gracious living. A skillful host, he—and Mrs. Bryan when her health permitted—delighted to entertain. He gave attention to the minutest details of his luncheon or dinner parties, hoping to have them as nearly perfect as possible for the pleasure of his guests. For example, although he did not serve wine (it would have been unusual for a president of Indiana University to have done so in his day), Poland Springs or other bottled spring water was always provided for guests. The menu was excellent and the cooking superb. He loved good beef, particularly porterhouse steaks, and he had an arrangement by which Charlie’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis would sell him a number of porterhouse steaks from their cooler—steaks of top quality.
He adored his wife, Charlotte Lowe Bryan. She collaborated with him on his first book, Plato the Teacher. As she was in frail health much of their life together, he could use this as an acceptable excuse for not attending many of the multitudinous evening functions that characterize a campus community. Instead, with the gain of these precious hours, he would stay at home and read.
President Bryan had an unusual style of administration but an efficient one. Before going to his office in the morning, he did his reading or his writing in his study. Then by ten o’clock he was in his office, devoting the first hour to correspondence, telephone calls, and the minutia of administration. For the next hour he had appointments with members of the faculty and staff and with his administrative associates. While a dean I discovered that his appointments rarely lasted more than ten minutes and I therefore went to them well prepared. Also, it was the custom in those days to come to him with two matters in mind, one of which was unimportant and the other important. Shrewd administrators attempted to explore his mood in the opening minute of the conversation and, on the basis of that, to decide which matter to bring forth, the unimportant or the important one. After the presentation, Dr. Bryan would ask such questions as he wished, and, by the end of the ten minutes, he had given his decision from which, as the university was then organized, there was no appeal. I must add that so far as I was concerned the decisions were on the whole fair, wise, and appropriate. I have never known a more efficient administrator than President Bryan. I admire enormously the fact that he could take care of the routine of the day in two hours of a morning. After lunch he returned to his study, remaining until four o’clock, when he went back to the president’s office to sign the mail and handle any pressing items that had arisen since noon.
There are those who allege that he was an ineffective leader. With them I disagree. Had he done nothing but secure the medical school for Indiana University, a step necessary to make the institution a true university, he would have achieved more than most university presidents do during their tenures. Moreover, he was the architect of an academic framework so broad, comprehensive, and wise that for the whole twenty-five years of my administration, with rare exceptions, we found it quite adequate as a blueprint for the university’s development; in fact, it took the entire twenty-five years to complete the structure President Bryan had charted.
I consider him one of the three greatest presidents of the university along with Wylie and Jordan. He was a man of extraordinarily high ideals—the only man his equal that I know was my own father—and Dr. Bryan was in many ways like a father to me. And so he, too, may have felt when he addressed me at my inaugural:
President Wells: Thirty-six years ago you and I were beginners. I was beginning what was thought to be a difficult and sometimes dangerous enterprise. You were beginning what is known to be a more difficult and more dangerous enterprise. I began with very little experience and very little idea of what I should have to live through. At the same date you had no experience and no idea of what you would have to live through. I took my risk and somehow lived through it. You took your risk and here you are at thirty-six, eleventh president of Indiana University, and more than that, my son, a man.
I shall ever be grateful to William Lowe Bryan for his friendship, his sponsorship, and his aid.
1. George Ball of Muncie, president of the Board of Trustees, counseled the board to acquire every piece of land adjacent to the campus whenever it became available. He thought that the university would have an ever-expanding need for real estate.
2. Department administrators were then called “heads.”
3. My formal inauguration took place on December 1, 1938. For the text of my address, see Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, vol. 4, Historical Documents Since 1816 (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1977), pp. 376–84.
4. Ruth Correll, who had worked in the University Archives for almost a decade, gave invaluable aid in supplying records and documents for our use.
5. Burton Dorr Myers, History of Indiana University, 1902–1937, vol. 2 (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1952), p. 483n.