The regents must have known that they could not put off a decision. In opposing Fairfield the reformers had deliberately thrown down the gauntlet, and the Board responded by voting three to one to discontinue the services of Church, Woodberry, and Emerson. Interestingly enough, Professor Howard, who frequently had been the most outspoken of the group, escaped the fate of his fellows. We may assume that he did not consciously disengage himself from the controversy, for throughout his long career he fought for accademic freedom; but though he was involved in the campaign for academic reform, he held aloof from the religious dispute. Probably he escaped punishment because his name had not been associated with the charges of freethinking and beer drinking; and perhaps, too, since he was a native Nebraskan and a graduate of the University, he was considered less of an iconclast than the easterners.
The Reformers Under Attack
Press reaction to the firing of Church, Woodberry, and Emerson was im
mediate and prolonged, but it is plain that the implications of this latest manifes
tation of the conflict at the University was not understood. It was not recognized
that Church, Woodberry, Emerson, and Howard were advocating a new philos
ophy of higher education, nor was it perceived that the decision to combine the
college faculties gave Chancellor Fairfield the conservative votes he needed to
check the reformers. Without the votes of the men in the Industrial College, the
University apparently would have been controlled by the reform element; hence
the Chancellor's move.
Editor Brooks of the Omaha Republican, who was Emerson's father-in-law,
assailed the regents' decision. He denied that the men were freethinkers and
said that their dismissal would "not bear the test of reason, truth or justice."
The editor of the Omaha Bee concluded that the religious issue was at the root
of the conflict, and interpreted the firing of the three controversial professors as a
victory for Fairfield and the narrow-gauge regents, who wanted only orthodox
men on the faculty. On January 31, 1882, the State Journal published a letter
written by "citizens and tax payers of the state and patrons of the University,"
which purported to describe the tactics that Chancellor Fairfield had used in
building his case against the professors. It alleged that a rump session of the
Board of Regents, attended by only the four conservative members, had met in a
Lincoln hotel on January 25. Working through the officers of the Students Chris
tian Association, a forerunner of the campus YMCA, Fairfield had produced a
number of students who testified against the professors in question. Most of
these witnesses were "callow youths, either unacquainted with the professors or
known to be hostile to them," who possessed "neither the information nor ex
perience required to the formation of an opinion." Moreover, the Students
Christian Association was being used as an instrument "to convert the University
from a purely secular institution of learning into a school from which persons
entertaining certain religious opinions shall be excluded." The evidence obtained
in this session, the letter concluded, provided the substance for the bulk of Fair-field's charges at the regents' meeting the next day, when he asked that the pro
fessors be fired.
On February 3, the Omaha Herald characterized the conflict within the
University as "semi-religious in character," but, so far as this Democratic news
paper was concerned, the most serious charge against Fairfield was that he had
turned the University into a Republican stronghold. The Herald urged that
Fairfield, the champion rooster of the theological cockpit, be fired immediately.
On February 5, the Republican published an interview with Professor Woodberry
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