Faculty of the Geology, Geography and Paleontology departments
Faculty of the Geology, Geography and Paleontology departments, 1912.
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.

Contrary to mythology that has persisted, Harper did not reject undergraduate education, even if he did insulate many of his senior faculty from the responsibility of tending to it. His own experience and the example he continued to provide even from the President's office had shown him the role that undergraduate education would have to play in the ongoing supply of the very scholars he himself was recruiting to the University. While it was obvious that all undergraduates would not enter the world of academia, the presence of sizeable graduate programs could not help but affect collegiate life at the University, as it indeed has continued to. Harper sought to establish a distinction between the first two years of college, which would be devoted to classical education, and the last two, which would move students into preprofessional or preacademic programs. One can see at least the shadow of the Hutchins College in Harper's University.

As Harper acknowledged in his opening day remarks, the pursuit of knowledge might not lead to unity. Harper wanted productive faculty members committed to the full range of ideas in modern intellectual life. Supported by a solid financial base and remaining free of all close affiliation with either a religious body or a governmental agency, the University of Chicago faculty benefited from an unusual degree of freedom in teaching and publishing.

The University's comparatively liberal policies also made it possible for the faculty and the administration to avoid some of the doctrinal battles that had characterized the development of sectarian schools and the ideological battles that were beginning to influence higher education. Harper's fixation on uninhibited research and his reluctance to curb work in areas sensitive to the University's public image fostered a spirit of independent inquiry. When Robert Herrick's thinly disguised novels and plays criticized the Chicago elite who were important University supporters and caused concern among some who felt Herrick had stepped too far, Harper sent Herrick a note of praise and encouragement.

Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class was an open critique of the spending habits of precisely the kind of people whose support Harper sought. Nor was Veblen alone in attracting attention. At a time when the debates over gold and silver were dividing economic, banking, business, and political communities, Chicago was not immune from conflict. Even Harper's tolerance had its limits, although as in the case of Thorstein Veblen, it was usually a scholar's personal life, not his ideas that most aroused Harper's concern. It was not until after Harper had died that the new President, Harry Pratt Judson, asked for Veblen's resignation.

By any standard, some of those included in this exhibition were difficult people. A few were eccentric, others simply had neither the time nor desire to develop the social graces required by general society but often considered unnecessary in an academic setting. The University provided a stimulating environment in which thought and reflection were encouraged. While not all conventions were discarded, as Thorstein Veblen and a few others discovered, the level of tolerance was high. In most cases, those who thought deeply and clearly and articulated with precision survived and flourished.

Finding a common theme among the twenty-eight faculty members represented in this exhibition is an elusive quest. However, the scholars and careers outlined here reflect the historic patterns of strengths and diversity as they have developed within the University.

The natural sciences played an immediate and central role during the formative years, while the humanities developed somewhat more slowly, as they did throughout the country. The study of classical languages quickly became a strong field, as did philosophy. In the years before American literature had become a field and the idea of "modern" scarcely existed in an academic setting, Chicago's strength in early English literature made it one of the country's centers. The University became a leader in the study and production of dictionaries, including the reverse index of Greek and Latin nouns by Carl Darling Buck, two dictionaries of American English, and the major present-day project designed to produce a dictionary of Assyrian.

Although the arts received little attention, the social sciences matured rapidly as an interrelated group of disciplines. Law and medicine came later, and some dreams, such as a school of engineering, remained only dreams. In many respects, the outlines of these early trends can be discerned today as reflected in the strong emphasis on the natural and social sciences and the relatively less central position of the arts.

In other respects, the University has changed: medicine, business, and law have overcome early neglect and emerged as important, widely renowned professional schools. Other departments, such as anthropology and sociology, evolved from disciplines of collection, classification, and observation to assume a more critical, analytical role, an evolution that both paralleled and contributed to broader changes within academia. It is nonetheless the case that in both anthropology and sociology, the University provided major leadership, a trend which continues. The University was committed not only to the singling out of faculty of distinction but to the establishment of disciplines. The University had the first department of sociology and the first professor of sociology. It had the first department of political science that did not emerge out of a department of history or political economy, and the first department of geography.

From its earliest days, the spirit of intellectual inquiry was lively and robust. Teaching and other relationships between students and faculty took a variety of forms. Robert Herrick taught only sparingly, devoting most of his time to his writing. George Ellery Hale never gave a lecture and took on only the very brightest and most promising graduate students.

Others thrived on contact with their students. Robert Redfield carried on an extensive correspondence with his former students which sometimes lasted long after they left the University. Henry Cowles led field trips all over the United States and Canada, instilling in his students a love for nature and ecology. As evidence that fame, recognition as a research scientist, and excellence in teaching are not mutually exclusive categories, Enrico Fermi won the admiration of students and colleagues alike for his ability to lecture and teach. A. J. Carlson turned physiology lectures into an effective performance theater that caught students' attention. In spite of his heavy administrative load, William Rainey Harper relished the opportunity to teach and lecture and filled classrooms with students of Hebrew.

While some faculty members derived great satisfaction from their academic pursuits, others relished opportunities to become involved in matters beyond their own discipline. To varying degrees, social scientists actively engaged the larger society as a natural, and even essential, extension of their academic interests. Professors such as Edith Abbott and Charles Merriam saw their work as critical for understanding societal ills. Skilled in social analysis, they and other progressives who were their contemporaries promoted intervention to alleviate problems of poverty, corruption, and racism. Frank Knight seems to have gained as much satisfaction from his forays into the worlds of philosophy, ethics, and educational theory as he did from his work in economics. A proponent of what would today be called "conservative economics," he lived through the interventionist years of the New Deal not knowing that his ideas would eventually find their way back into public policy.

John Dewey's pioneering and influential work in education represented an outgrowth of his work in philosophy. Dewey's colleague and friend, George Herbert Mead, supported the efforts of Jane Addams as treasurer of Hull House and served on Chicago educational committees. Marion Talbot fought to make education accessible to women and minorities during the administrations of three different University presidents. Franklin McLean organized fellowship programs to assist aspiring black medical students and was directly involved in efforts to provide medical care in the rapidly expanding black community near the University of Chicago.

Faculty served in both world wars, applying their expertise in fields like communications, propaganda, and languages in World War I and their research on nuclear physics in World War II. The University's involvement in the Manhattan Project placed it in the forefront of both pathbreaking science and the moral and ethical dilemmas that soon followed. The careers and lives of Enrico Fermi and James Franck illustrate how scientists of different backgrounds faced this new and unfamiliar terrain. Having crossed the threshold of political involvement, faculty members encountered increasingly difficult questions. By 1968, University President Edward H. Levi noted that while support for freedom was stronger than before, the "propriety of the corporate neutrality of the university on public policy issues having moral aspects has been seriously challenged."

The century we are celebrating has been a revolutionary one in the history of ideas. Much of what we know of the world has been reshaped, sometimes in disturbing ways. The University remains at the center of that change; but it is also responsible for the institutional stability that makes change possible and gives successive generations the courage to face it.