A Centennial View
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Harper's University was its faculty. Like John D. Rockefeller, who often acknowledged his dependence on men of unusual intellectual strength and good will, Harper trusted accomplishment, encouraged individual achievement, and promised the support that he knew great scholarship required. Eschewing sectarian narrowness, he sought and obtained Rockefeller's approval for a broad approach to all knowledge; there would be no tests of doctrinal correctness at Chicago. "The question before us is how to become one in spirit, not necessarily in opinion," he told his new faculty at their first meeting on Saturday afternoon, October 1st, 1892.
Harper's two years of faculty recruiting had made him a national figure in the academic world, as well as the periodic subject of newspaper cartoons (one such drawing called the still embryonic university "Harper's Bazaar"). The association with Rockefeller's gifts, then the largest ever made to an institution, helped establish the thirty-five year old president-to-be as something of a managerial Svengali as he traversed the country in his effort to realize both Rockefeller's ambitions and his own.
Harper wanted stars. Utilizing not only the financial resources at his disposal but promises of libraries and laboratories as well as reduced teaching loads, Harper could compete with older private institutions and state institutions in providing support for the kind of scholarship to which he himself was committed. There were no traditions to restrict him, no trustees attached to their own image of an old institution, no governors or state legislators determined to look into what some of them considered a too generous gift of summer time and other vacations. Research was a new idea for many such people, and support for it questionable. Unencumbered by inherited restraints, Harper could establish a tradition of his own, one that has, for a century, been associated with the University of Chicago. It places research at the front of its image of itself and scholarship at the center of research.
Nor did Harper ignore younger scholars, whose presence on the faculty insured the continuing development of work of quality in all fields. Teaching loads for junior faculty were often heavy, but the opportunity to share research interests with a small but significant assembly of "greats" made Chicago the place to be, the center for new ideas to which teachers around the country would send their best students for graduate work and their best new PhDs for places on the junior faculty. It was also a good place from which to move to other institutions, and in the years before tenure assured faculty stability at the upper levels, that was an important consideration.
Rockefeller trusted Harper to manage the academic affairs of the new university. Not willing to be the sole source of support for Harper's ambitions, no matter how much he shared them, he pressed Harper to find other sources of funding from the local elite, some of it for construction of buildings, but also for the support of individual faculty members whose work the donor might find significant. The placing of the University in the Hyde Park- Kenwood neighborhood had a salutary effect on this pattern of fundraising as faculty members married into wealthy local families. Harper's successful appeals to Chicago women's clubs and the city's Jewish community were brilliant steps, as was his ability to convince Mrs. Emmons Blaine to fund the bringing together of Francis W. Parker and John Dewey to form the Laboratory Schools of the University of Chicago.
Whatever the reason faculty members came to Chicago - relatively higher salaries, the promise of free time for research and new research facilities, the opportunity to be part of a new educational venture, or the persuasiveness of Harper's charismatic urgings - their impact on American education was immediate. Within the constraints placed upon them by budgets and administrative realities, the faculty at the University of Chicago responded to the challenge placed before them by Harper and quickly established their authority in a broad range of academic disciplines. Beginning a trend that continues today, most published prolifically and were recognized as leaders in their fields.
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