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But its splendid brick facade concealed structural weaknesses. Like many other
state buildings, University Hall went up hastily and the materials used were
frequently of inferior quality. The historian Albert Watkins has written that all
the public buildings in pioneer Nebraska "were remarkable in being of a uniform
structural type, all of them had to be propped up or burned down to keep them
from falling down." So it is not surprising that in the spring of 1871, even before
the building was completed, it was widely rumored that University Hall was
unsafe for occupancy. The regents said that "from actual and repeated [personal]
examinations" they were fully satisfied that the building was "perfectly safe and
substantially constructed"; but to satisfy the people of the state they engaged three
professional builders to examine it. The inspectors reported that the building
"is entirely safe for the present as it now stands. It will probably continue to be
safe for many years to come." The probability could be made a certainty by
repairs to the foundation, including replacement of "imperfect materials." The
cost of these repairs was $747.
With the question of the structural soundness of University Hall momen
tarily resolved, the regents expected public criticism to cease, but Robert Furnas
chose this moment to launch another attack upon Governor Butler's management
of University affairs. The Governor, he charged, had tried to extort ten thousand
dollars in cash from Mr. Silver, the contractor, and a like sum from the archi
tects. The accusations received a generous play in the state's press, and in 1871
the legislature ordered an investigation of Butler's activities as governor. The Omaha Herald, a Democratic newspaper violently opposed to him, said that the
investigation was throwing some light upon the machinations of "Butler and his
forty thieves" and revealing the "utter inefficiency, lawlessness and total deprav
ity" which had marked Butler's administration. The Herald maintained that
every state institution, including the University, had suffered because the Gover
nor had not selected the state lands. When the investigation into Butler's conduct
in office resulted in impeachment proceedings against him, several references were
made in the articles of impeachment to his alleged mishandling of University
While Butler's political foes were trying to remove him from office, matters
of the utmost urgency pertaining to the University were ignored. This was called
to the attention of the legislature by Charles H. Gere, who urged its members to
forget partisan politics long enough to attend to several items of business that
should not wait. As yet no provision had been made to select the ninety thousand
acres of land due Nebraska under the Morrill Act, and meanwhile the best lands
in the state were being taken up. With every passing day the prospect of a mag
nificent endowment for the University faded. When his words went unheeded
and the attack on Butler intensified, Gere reproved some legislators for their
single-mindedness in bringing the Governor to justice when the legislature itself
had flouted the law by authorizing the expenditure of seventeen thousand dollars
from the University fund for other state purposes.
Throughout all the wild political dispute the question of University Hall
continued to come up. Periodically cries arose that the building had been found
to be unsafe, and invariably they were followed by the demand that the University
be permanently closed. Funds which were needed for faculty salaries and for
equipment had to be diverted to finance repairs. As a result of a poorly con
structed building, in the words of one writer, "the growth of the University was
retarded, and its enemies given a weapon of attack in their assaults upon it."


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