Centennnial History of the University of Nebraska, by Robert Manley

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The First Chancellor and the First Years

While the storm raged over Governor Butler and University Hall, the regents had been working to secure a chancellor to direct the fortunes of the University. In September, 1869, they had formed a committee to round up candidates, and by the beginning of 1871 a slate of prospects had been prepared. At their meeting on January 7, after discussing the five men on the list, the regents proceeded to vote. On the first formal ballot a majority cast their votes for Allen R. Benton, president of Mount Union College in Ohio. Governor Butler, as president of the Board, immediately wired an offer to Benton, who wired his acceptance two days later. Benton was born in Cayuga County, New York, on October 1, 1822. As a young man he was an earnest student, and on several occasions his rigorous application to his studies threatened his health. After obtaining his bachelor's degree from Bethany College in Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1847, he opened a private local academy in Fairview, Indiana. As was customary then, Benton had received academic and theological training simultaneously, and he was an ordained minister in the Christian Church as well as a scholar in the field of ancient languages. During the academic year 1854-1855 he pursued postgraduate studies at Rochester University; then in 1855 he joined the faculty of Northwest ern Christian University (now Butler University) in Indiana, and in 1861 was named president of the institution. He resigned in 1867, reportedly because of his wife's health, and accepted an appointment at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, where again he followed the path from professor of ancient languages to college presidency. Benton's name had been proposed by Regent Dungan, who, like Benton, was a minister of the Christian Church and who undoubtedly had heard of him through his church connections. In time Benton's religious affiliation would be come a major source of difficulty to him, but those who opposed his appointment did so, not because he was an ordained minister, but because he was, as the Omaha Herald called him, "the great Unknown of Indiana." In the Herald's view, the regents should have secured a man of wider reputation. Moreover, grumbled the Herald, the regents had offered Benton a salary of five thousand dollars, then a princely sum, "for playing the role of Chancellor over an empty building in Lincoln." Thanks in part to Benton himself, by the time the University opened much of the criticism had ceased. On his first visit to Lincoln, in February, 1871, the Brownville paper reported that Benton had made "an exceedingly favorable impression" upon the people in the capital city. When he returned in June, he


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sought out the University's most outspoken critics, including Omaha editors, and talked with them. Apparently this was the right approach. The Herald editor assured his readers that the Chancellor would do his utmost "to put the University on the right path." Since it was not easy to lure an easterner to the frontier, it may be asked why Benton decided to take the post at Nebraska. In part, the answer is money. Although the regents struck a thousand dollars from Benton's salary before he arrived in Lincoln, still four thousand dollars represented a substantial increase over the twelve hundred he had received as president of Mount Christian. Ben ton's letters to his father reveal him as a typical American of the nineteenth century; a modest speculator eager to invest in land and property; a man not ashamed to accumulate material wealth as an indication of his industry and strength of character. He came to Nebraska in debt to his father as a result of heavy investments in Indianapolis real estate. With his increased income, Benton expected to repay the debt immediately and have something left over for invest ment in Nebraska property. But all his good intentions fell by the way; he postponed repaying his father and plunged into Lincoln real estate. His new surroundings captivated him. In the first letter to his father from Lincoln, Ben ton wrote:

Now you want to know how we like Lincoln. In short, first-rate. All the family are pleased, and the climate is charming. We have had a day or two of intensely hot weather but it is over now. A fresh breeze is stirring almost constantly during the day, and the nights are perfectly delightful. It is always cool enough, no matter how warm the day, for a coverlet at night. It is the best summer night weathe I ever saw.

During the summer of 1871, Benton energetically addressed himself to the tasks of organizing the University and enlisting the support of the people of the state. He traveled widely, speaking at local celebrations, church meetings, and teachers' institutes--he accepted any opportunity to present the University's case. Like the executives of all new institutions of higher learning, Benton acted as chief recruiter of students. In November, looking back upon his first few months in Nebraska, he wrote: "I believe it may be said without boasting that my success here is very marked. I have the confidence and good-will of all parties and sects so far as I know, and am so extending my acquaintance as to be known pretty well throughout the state."

The First Faculty

Although the Charter provided for fifty professors in the six authorized col leges, the plans for the first faculty were far more modest. Benton needed to recruit four qualified men well versed in the traditional liberal arts. In addition, he would need a principal for the preparatory department, called the Latin School, in which students not qualified for university work could remedy their deficiences. This department, which had been approved by the Board of Regents in June, 1871, was to be discontinued "as soon as practicable." Benton himself expected to teach classes in "Intellectual and Moral Sciences"; the other faculty members would teach ancient and modern languages, mathematics, English literature, and natural science. We do not know how Benton and the regents went about locating teachers, but we may assume that the method was somewhat different from that used to unearth candidates for the post of chancellor. According to the minutes of the regents' meeting of April 4, 1871, each of the four regents present proposed a man


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for a faculty position carrying a salary of two thousand dollars. Regent Maxfield nominated S. H. Manley for the chair of ancient and modern languages; Regent Dungan proposed H. E. Hitchcock for the chair of mathematics;^1 Regent Chase suggested O. C. Dake for the chair of English literature; and Regent Bruner moved the nomination of C. H. Kuhns for the chair of natural sciences. The nominees typified the status of American higher education in the post-Civil War period. All had graduated from and taught in denominational liberal arts colleges and all met the test of religious orthodoxy. S. H. Manley, an ordained Methodist minister, belonged to a famous Methodist family of Ohio, his father, so tradition said, having preached the first sermon in the old Northwest Territory. Orsamus C. Dake had taken Episcopalian orders. Prior to his acceptance of the University position, he had founded Brownell Hall, an Episcopalian academy in Omaha. Kuhns, who had been offered the chair of natural sciences, was a Lutheran minister; when he declined the appointement the regents accepted as substitute another Lutheran pastor, Samuel H. Aughey. In fact, the only noncleric on the first faculty was George E. Church, who was engaged as principal of the Latin School.

Benton, Manley, Dake, Aughey, and Church were men completely acceptable to the people of Nebraska. They represented traditional values and attachment to the tried and true methods of liberal arts education. George E. Howard, an early graduate of the University and later a distinguished teacher there, wrote of these first faculty members: "They were not men of wide national repute. . . . Not one was of transcendant ability. Most of them were persons of strong character and high ideals. The dominant conservatism of the group was a real safeguard in undertaking the then bold experiment of determining the methods, planning the curriculum, and starting the traditions of a secular, a public, University for a pioneer society." Howard Caldwell, also a Nebraska alumnus who joined the University for a lengthy stay, made a similar estimate of this first faculty. Caldwell wrote: "It may be said in general that although not men of genius, they were all good workers and fully abreast with the development of the young State, and better prepared, perhaps, to do the work then needed than men of more brilliancy and more erudition would have been."

"Dedicated to Letters and All the Arts"

The University Announcement for 1871, the first year of operation, indicated that the institution would begin its existance with both a traditional faculty and a traditional curriculum. The preponderance of work i nthe preparatory Latin School was in mathematics and Latin, but it also offered "English analysis," United States history, geography, physiology, Greek, German, ancient history, zoology, and Roman history. In the university course of study, students could choose from three courses - the Classical, the Scientific, and the Selected. The Classical Course included work in languages, literature, mathematics, science, ancient history, and philosophy. The Scientific Course followed essentially the same pattern, omitting the courses in Greek and Latin. The Selected Course was for special students who could choose "from the general course such studies as they may prefer, with the advice and under the directionof the Faculty." The first University Announce


1: Hitchcock, who was at Know College in 1871, declined the invitation. The Announcement listing the first faculty included a note that "the Professor of Mathematics has not yet been elected, but suitable provision will be made for that department, by the opening of the University." When the regents approached Hitchcock again in December, 1871, he accepted the position and joined the University facutly in time to teach during the second year of operation.


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ment indicated the faculty preference in unmistakable language: "The classical course...is earnestly recommended by the Faculty, as that which experience and the practice of the best Institutions have sown to be best suited to secure a sound and systematic education." Judged by the faculty and curricula, the University of Nebraska was not attuned to the spirit of the Morrill Act. The philosophy of education implicit within the University completely circumvented the aims of the framers of the land-grant college concept. Few educators understood the intention and philo sophical implications of the Morrill Act, and some completely disagreed with these assumptions. Many complained that there had not been enough discussion among leaders of higher education about the appropriate form of federal aid to education. Traditional educationists would have nothing to do with courses in mechanics and agriculture, even though the Morrill Act required that the land grant colleges should offer such courses. College presidents gave lip service only to the new ideas and exerted every effort to retain the tested principles of a liberal, classical education. In September, 1871, Nebraska had its university; the university building had a roof; the foundation, already beginning to crumble, had been braced to with stand the weight of the first rush of students; and a chancellor and faculty stood ready to begin work. All this had come about in a brief span of time and under difficult circumstances. No wonder, then, that University leaders had found little time for a discussion of the proper educational goals of the school. Practical questions consistently outweighed philosophical ones. The idea of making higher education available to all young people seemed appropriate, but beyond this vague sentiment little consideration had been given to determining the direction which the University should take. Inattention to long-range goals was the style of the frontier; more than that, it was and is the style of American higher educa tion. Experience and immediate pressures would answer the pertinent questions: What is the purpose of a state university? What is the relation of the University to the State? Should courses in agriculture and mechanical arts be offered? In many public speeches, the University was hailed as the capstone of the state's educational system, as a place where democratic ideals would be perpetu ated, where free education would combat any tendency toward aristocracy, where the cultural heritage of America might be transmitted to a raw frontier region. The majority of the speakers felt that practical education should be emphasized. But beyond such general statements and platitudes there were almost no specific statements concerning the University's goals and objectives. Although the Uni versity of Nebraska originated in a period when searching questions concerning the philosophy and purpose of American higher education were being asked, these questions were avoided or ignored by the men responsible for getting the University into operation. To Chancellor Benton fell the task of determining the University's immedi ate course. In his acceptance letter to the regents, he said: "While I am not insensible to the responsibilities of this position, as well as to the honor attached to it, with harmony in our plans, cordial cooperation in work and with the bless ing of Heaven on our labors, we may reasonably hope to achieve a grand work for the cause of sound education, and social Christian culture in Nebraska." These were the words of a man who cherished traditional educational values; and yet as he became involved in the work of the University, Benton showed an awareness of the need for reform. His speeches stamped him as one who had begun to understand that a state university should be different from a private, denominational college. Yet, like other educators of his generation, Benton never successfully reconciled the old with the new. He realized that a chancellor of the


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University of Nebraska had to be a traditionalist, since he was first and foremost a public relations man. His position in the state would have been untenable had he paraded as the purveyor of new and daring ideas in education. While frontiersmen might upon occasion embrace radical political and economic ideas, their educational philosphy was notably conservative. Benton was not one to go against their preferences. Late in the summer of 1871, just a few weeks before classes began in the University, Benton went on a trip to the East. During the tedious railroad journey, the Chancellor, according to a frequently repeated story, mused over the University and its philosophical basis. Finally he drew a piece of paper from his coat pocket and began to sketch a seal for the University which would embody his educational ideals and objectives. In the center of the seal he drew an open book, symoblic of the library arts. Around it he lettered a Latin phrase, Literis dedicata et omnibus artibus (Dedicated to Letters and All the Arts). Around this central figure Benton placed the symbols of the colleges and schools which he hoped the University would in time include: a sheaf of wheat for the College of Agriculturel; a locomotivve for the College of Mechanical Engineering; the scales of justice for the College of Law; surveyors' instruments for the College of Civil Engineering; the American flag for the military department; a mortar and pestle for the College of Medicine; and an artist's palette for the Fine Arts. In this dramatic and permanent form Benton set down the basic structure of the University of Nebraska.

Finances and Administration The most pressing of the problems confronting the regents and the Chancellor were the need to determine the University's financial base and to devise a reational administrative system. The financfial situation in particular caused grievous trouble, and much of the University's history, then as later, is told in the perpetual battle of the budget. Under the terms of the Charter, the University received an annual income derived from a one-mill levy against property in the state, but many believed that


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