One of the most interesting boards on which I have had the privilege of serving during my career was that of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Usually in a community there are a few boards with prestige possibly exceeding the responsibilities that the members of the board discharge. So it is with boards in the professional world and particularly in the world of education. There was a mystique about the Carnegie board that gave it extraordinary prestige. The mystique arose in part, I imagine, from the Carnegie name and from this, America’s first major foundation, created by Andrew Carnegie; in part from the central mission of the foundation—furnishing pensions to faculty members—which was of critical significance to the world of higher education; and in no small part from the prominence of the original board members selected by Andrew Carnegie.
In 1941, when I was invited to join the Carnegie board, its membership included some of the most distinguished university presidents in America. Its reputation was unparalleled in the world of academia, making an invitation to serve on its board a prized recognition. My membership on this board automatically opened many doors in the educational world to me. What was possibly more important for me was the impression it made on my faculty colleagues. I was still regarded then with skepticism by some members of the faculty because of my youth and nontraditional academic background. However, they held the Carnegie board in high esteem, if not in awe, and my appointment to it helped reassure many of them that I would be able to represent them properly in the academic world.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was not Andrew Carnegie’s first major philanthropy, but years were to prove it to be one of the most significant and best known of his many generous benefactions. Carnegie, as is well known, was a business and financial genius who started as a poor boy in Scotland and emigrated to the United States. Eventually he was able to build a great steel corporation, which he sold to J. P. Morgan and which became the basis of the United States Steel Corporation. He made the sale when he was sixty-five and thereafter devoted himself wholly to his philanthropies. An articulate and energetic man, he wrote and spoke frequently on the subject of the responsible trusteeship of great wealth. He did not create the first philanthropic organization either in America or in the world, but perhaps no other man by precept and example has done so much as he to promote the idea of the importance of private philanthropy and what he called the “gospel of wealth,” enunciated in part thus:
This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: First to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community. . . .
Carnegie practiced the gospel he preached. Retiring with a great fortune of $350,000,000, he devoted the remainder of his life to philanthropy and to the intelligent dispensing of his means. He was the benefactor of his native town and of his adopted city; he financed many causes in which he believed; he was the donor of thousands of free public library buildings and church organs, the patron of hundreds of colleges and schools; and there were many other individual benefactions. In addition, he created a number of foundations.
In 1905 he made the first gift to endow the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It was the beginning of a philanthropy the principal purpose of which was to provide retirement annuities for the faculty of certain selected universities and colleges. At that time very few institutions had any means of pensioning their retired faculty members, a fact that disturbed Carnegie greatly because he believed the academic profession was underpaid and not only needed but also deserved a pension system. In establishing his original endowment he arrived at the amount after considerable calculation and thought it sufficient to provide pensions in perpetuity for the majority of teachers in the colleges and universities selected. The fact that his calculations were wrong in no way diminishes the significance of his initiative, for that initiative eventually helped solve the pension problem for most teachers in higher education, as I shall explain in a moment.
Advising Carnegie as he studied the feasibility of providing this pension system were Frank Vanderlip, then the famous head of the National City Bank of New York, and especially Henry S. Pritchett, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, one of the towering figures in education of that era. Carnegie, who had a wide acquaintanceship in the field of education, with the help of Pritchett and Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University, picked for his first board of trustees, in addition to Pritchett, Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, Arthur T. Hadley of Yale, William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago, David Starr Jordan of Stanford, Jacob Gould Schurman of Cornell, Woodrow Wilson of Princeton, and others similarly distinguished although maybe not quite so well known.
Carnegie was able to persuade Pritchett to be the first president of the foundation’s board, in which post he served for twenty-five years. With such distinguished leadership, with so important a mission as the provision of pensions for professors, and with a blue ribbon membership, it is small wonder that the board after a few years was characterized as perhaps the most exclusive educational club in the world, certainly one of the most influential. Henry Pritchett was succeeded by Henry Suzzallo, who died at the end of three years, and then by Walter Jessup, an alumnus of Indiana University, with whom I had counseled when I was acting president. An additional function of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was to conduct studies for the improvement of educational practice, and this purpose was realized brilliantly from almost the beginning. One of the first studies initiated by the foundation was the study of medical education in the United States by a staff associate, Abraham Flexner. The Flexner Report (1910) was destined to revolutionize medical education in the United States within a decade and to have a profound influence upon other types of professional education. Through the years the Carnegie reports have continued to be of a very high order, and many of them have had an important bearing on the direction of higher education in America.
Although, with the growth of higher education, it was soon discovered that Carnegie’s original endowment would be inadequate to carry out his great dream of a pension system, the experience gained by the foundation and the studies that it sponsored concerning the pension problem were responsible for bringing into being the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, which is now the principal instrument for funding the retirement income of personnel of higher educational and philanthropic institutions.
Carnegie believed in establishing his foundations in perpetuity. Thus, when the responsibility of providing pensions for American higher education was no longer a primary function of the foundation—the foundation has continued to take care of those originally pensioned throughout their lifetimes—the preparation and issuance of reports in higher education became the dominant feature of the foundation. Carnegie left the major part of his fortune to the Carnegie Corporation, which has made grants to the foundation through the years and which uses the foundation as a vehicle for sponsoring studies that continue to be of great significance to higher education, the latest of major importance being a study of the curriculum.
William Lowe Bryan was invited to join the Carnegie Foundation board in 1910 and accepted, considering it a very important assignment. Typically the full board met only once a year. Bryan’s trip to New York for this meeting was a major event in his annual schedule and nothing was allowed to interfere with it. He usually was accompanied by Mrs. Bryan. He stayed for some days, not only to attend the meetings of the Carnegie board, but also to meet with leading Indiana University alumni, to transact business on behalf of the university in New York, and to allow the Bryans to avail themselves of the social and cultural opportunities in the city.
I was surprised and delighted to be asked to join the board of the Carnegie Foundation in 1941. I accorded it the same high priority that Dr. Bryan had and found it a source of stimulation, exceptional information, and several new and valuable acquaintances. The membership of the board at that time was still distinguished and studded with vital personalities. Jessup was president. He was a dynamic and provocative individual who gave the board great leadership for ten years until his untimely death. The year I was elected to membership Henry Wriston, then president of Brown University, was chairman, and other notable members who welcomed me to the board were Frank Aydelotte of Swarthmore; Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia; Samuel Paul Capen of Buffalo, who had earlier been the principal architect of the American Council on Education; Oliver Cromwell Carmichael of Vanderbilt;James Bryant Conant, whose presidential career at Harvard was nearing a decade; the lovable George Hutcheson Denny, president of Alabama, one of the original trustees of the foundation, along with Butler, when Denny was president at Washington and Lee University; Frank Porter Graham, the beloved statesman of higher education in the South, then president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; William Allan Neilson, a sparkling, witty Scotsman who was the president of Smith; Charles Seymour, the president of Yale; California’s one and only Robert Gordon Sproul; the inimitable Casey (Kenneth Charles Morton) Sills of Bowdoin; and others of a similar quality. Two of the most interesting men on the board were not academicians: Thomas William Lamont, member of the banking firm of J.P. Morgan and Company, and Robert Abercrombie Lovett. Lamont was a Harvard graduate, a former Harvard trustee, and a man of wide-ranging intellectual interests who could hold his own with any academician. Lovett, already a noted banker, was to have even greater success in the profession before embarking on a remarkable public career.
At the very beginning Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie had established a pleasant social custom in connection with the annual meeting of the board. On the evening before the meeting, the Carnegies received the members of the board for dinner and, following the meeting the next day, the board members reciprocated with a luncheon in Mr. Carnegie’s honor at which they drank a toast of appreciation to him for his benefactions. The luncheons were first held at Delmonico’s and then were transferred to the Century, where they continued for most of the years of my membership on the board. After Carnegie’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Lamont adopted the custom of entertaining the board at dinner on the night before the meeting and, of course, the luncheons were continued, with a toast offered to Andrew Carnegie’s memory.
The Lamonts were a delightful couple. He was a truly cultivated man, the very quintessence of all that is best in the eastern intellectual establishment, including a deep sense of civic responsibility. She was a witty, gracious, lovely lady who was active in academic affairs and, as I remember, was a trustee of Smith. Their dinners were notable affairs that typically included one or two other outstanding people in addition to the members of the board. Frequently the ambassador to the United States from the United Kingdom would make the trip from Washington to join us as a house guest of Mr. and Mrs. Lamont.
At these dinner parties, one guest was invariably Russell Leffingwell, who was also a member of the Morgan firm. He had operated for many years at the very highest level of economic and political decision making, both in this country and abroad. He was the architect of the first Liberty Loan in 1917 and, in the years following the Treaty of Versailles, was a collaborator with Mr. Morgan and Mr. Lamont in negotiating the many reconstruction loans and credits designed to aid the European economy in its recovery from the effect of World War I. He was a founder, member, and long-term chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Such a man, naturally, brought to any discussion of international developments—political, economic, or military—rare background and insight. In addition, he was a delightful and sparkling conversationalist. He was, as I remember, also a member of the board of the Carnegie Corporation at that time.
It was a black-tie dinner, and the members of the board, without exception, arrived in New York in time to attend. Mr. and Mrs. Lamont lived in a great New York townhouse that had the usual arrangement of a cloakroom and dining room on the ground floor, living room and library on the second floor, and the bedrooms on the floors above. As I recall, we were invited for 7:15 and, after leaving our coats at the ground floor, we were ushered to the second floor, where Mr. and Mrs. Lamont greeted us for cocktails. At 7:45 the gentlemen descended to the dining room and had a delightful dinner served with all the style characteristic of such a house: delicious food, good wine, and impeccable service, with a footman in attendance behind every three or four guests. After dinner we went to the library for brandy and engaged in conversation led by some of the most brilliant practitioners of the art I have ever heard. Someone said it was the best conversation possible on this side of the Atlantic. Customarily, the distinguished, specially invited guest would lead off by giving us some inside view of current international events of significance, and, with that for a start, the members of the board would join in what was a remarkably informative and scintillating conversation lasting an hour or so. The honor guests were normally men of eminence and global perspective. These were stirring times, first the war years and then the period immediately following, and frequently we learned of the possibility of future international initiatives not yet generally anticipated. I began to learn here also that much in the field of diplomacy is rarely reported in the mass media, and when it does appear it is often inaccurate. The meetings also would give insights into as yet not generally discernible intellectual, political, and economic currents abroad in the world. This was very exciting for me. To a small-town lad from Indiana it opened undreamed-of vistas.
Incidentally, it was my custom when I returned to the campus to share with my colleagues some of the insights into the world as seen through the eyes of these distinguished visitors and fellow board members. These reports seemed to interest my colleagues, especially my valued associate, Ross Bartley, who had worked at a top level in government and who was sensitive to international shifts before they became apparent. During the war years in particular we were given perceptions by people such as the British ambassador that we could not have learned otherwise, thereby considerably expanding our understanding of what was happening and what was likely to happen. (In addition, I often brought back some suggestions from the menu for my cook!) It was my first glimpse of that stratum of American society, and I was fortunate to have had that first glimpse in a household of the highest intellectual and social quality rather than in one merely rich and elegant.
The meetings of the board on the following morning were presided over by the president, who first disposed of such routine business of the organization as miscellaneous matters of financial import. Then the major part of the meeting was devoted to the discussion of some educational problem then current; the sense of the discussion was later recorded in the annual report of the president. Sometimes we authorized the making and funding of special studies.
Following the meeting we adjourned to the Century, and there in the fourth-floor private dining room enjoyed an excellent luncheon in the delightful ambience of the club. The luncheon had as its purpose observance of the traditional tribute to Andrew Carnegie. For many years, a senior surviving member of the board appointed by Mr. Carnegie himself, Nicholas Murray Butler, gave the toast at the conclusion of the luncheon, a toast to Mr. Carnegie. By the time I knew him, Mr. Butler had grown blind and was accompanied always by a male secretary, but he was still the active and vigorous head of Columbia University and retained his skill as a remarkable speaker. He would stand at the end of these luncheons and for ten or twelve minutes, maybe fifteen, give an eloquent toast. His toasts were models of well-arranged, beautifully phrased, and effectively delivered thoughts, at the conclusion of which we raised our glasses to the memory of Mr. Carnegie. It was always a moving, nostalgic occasion.
After Mr. Butler’s death, it then became the custom to ask the board member who was senior in service and chairing the board to give the toast. In due course, my turn came to perform this function. I must say that I regarded the task with a good deal of trepidation in view of the high standards that had been set by Mr. Butler and by the two or three who had succeeded him. I was still relatively inexperienced in this kind of speaking, since formal toasts were not then offered very often at Indiana gatherings, but I was determined to be worthy of the occasion if at all possible, regardless of the amount of effort and thought that it required to be so.
The spring before I was to deliver the toast at the fall meeting, I had occasion to go to Europe and routed myself so that I could go through Scotland. I had deplaned at Glasgow, gone to Dunfermline, Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace, and visited the simple shoemaker’s cottage in which he had been born and from which he had migrated to the United States. From Dunfermline I then made a pilgrimage to Skibo Castle at Dornoch Firth in northern Scotland, which Carnegie had built on the foundations of an ancient palace of the bishops of Dornoch and where he generally spent his summers after he became wealthy. The property is owned and still used by the Carnegie heirs. I had made arrangements in advance through the Carnegie office to be received by the estate agent, or manager, at the castle. I drove from Dunfermline up through Inverness and then into the beautiful area where the castle is located, on the northeast coast of Scotland. The Gulf Stream keeps the area verdant in the winter, and in March I found the grass green, the golf course playable, and the flowers in bloom. The estate agent graciously received me and took me through the castle and grounds.
The castle itself was a revelation—a magnificent structure, beautifully furnished, with a huge pipe organ in the central salon where Carnegie used to entertain his friends. One of the traditions of the castle was the awakening of guests each morning to the shrill notes of a bagpiper marching around the castle. I observed the beautiful greenhouses filled with flowers and fruit trees. Fruit could not be grown in the open in that climate, which, although pleasant in the wintertime, was not much warmer in the summertime.
The visual contrast between the simple cottage in which Andrew Carnegie was born and the magnificence of his summer home dramatically illustrated to me the social and economic distance that he had traveled in his lifetime. It helped to bring into perspective the significance of the man who had accomplished so much toward the economic development of America, yet also had become noted for his benefactions: the man who, by his own daring and unselfish philanthropies, had become known as the father of American philanthropy, that is, of the type we associate with foundations and endowments. And with this perspective I prepared my remarks for the toast, which I hoped would prove adequate for the occasion. Upon the death of Walter Jessup, the foundation presidency passed to Oliver C. Carmichael, Sr., who had a notable record as a college president, particularly in building Vanderbilt University to a position of preeminence. He gave the board continuing vigorous leadership, but, when the likelihood of forced racial integration at the University of Alabama became strong, he resigned to become president of Alabama, his alma mater, thinking that perhaps because of his prestige and wide experience, he might succeed in the peaceful integration of that university, notwithstanding the militant opposition of Governor George Wallace and others of that ilk. He felt that if he were to succeed at Alabama, it would be a major step for integration nationally and thus worth his sacrificial effort. Unfortunately, even with his great tact, wisdom, and skill, the task was beyond him, and he finally gave up the fight and retired. He came to visit me in Bloomington shortly thereafter and told of his disappointment and frustration. I was greatly moved by his story because he had so invested his heart and mind in this effort that he cried as he recounted his failure.
Following Carmichael, John Gardner became the president of the board. He brought an originality, creativity, and vigorous intellect to bear upon our agendas and upon our discussions. Under his aegis the annual report of the president, reflecting the consensus of the discussions of the members of the board, gained even increased prestige and influence in the world of education.
During this period a tradition was sacrificed. The headquarters of both the corporation and the foundation were moved to a new building on Fifth Avenue, and thereafter our annual luncheons were held in the boardroom of the corporation. They were simple business luncheons for the most part, without the delightful ambience of the Century, and the toast to Andrew Carnegie was given with a few words and a glass of sherry at the end of the luncheon. I have often wondered whether the original board members would have approved of such a spartan observance of a once delightful custom. During my years on the board I served as vice chairman, 1952–53, and as chairman, 1953–54. Then from 1956 until my retirement I was a member of the executive committee, which transacted much of the business of the board and met as required. Since it had become customary for those board members, other than the founding group, who resigned or retired from their university presidencies to retire voluntarily from the Carnegie board to make way for new blood, I honored that tradition in 1962.
My years on the Carnegie Foundation board, especially the early years, were a great opportunity. The experience opened up new intellectual, as well as social and cultural, vistas. It was a rare privilege. All in all, service on this board was an extraordinary advantage for which I shall ever be grateful and from which I gained far more than I was able to contribute. I am confident that these meetings elevated my sights and ambitions for Indiana University.