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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


History of Cornell
Chapter IX.
THE UNIVERSITY AS ESTABLISHED.

The university may be regarded as especially fortunate in the choice of the first professors elected. They were, in general, young men whose reputation and scholarship were such as to promise high success in the administration of the departments of instruction to which they were called. Professor Evan W. EVANS, the first professor nominated, was born in Wales. He had graduated with high honor at Yale, and been instructor in mathematics in that institution, and afterward a professor in Marietta College, Ohio. He had contributed to Silliman's Journal, and was the author of a text book in mathematics. His interest in the language of his native country led him to pursue studies the Cymric literature and philology, in which he had no superior in the United States. The editor of the leading foreign review of Welsh literature has stated that Professor EVANS was the only American scholar, whose researches in that language had received distinguished recognition abroad. Students of those early days will bear him in grateful memory. His instruction was marked by admirable clearness, and left the impression that the form in which it had been presented was almost the final form of definite and precise statement. Although a silent man, his judgment upon all questions of organization in those early days of the university, was of great value; that loyalty to conviction and to friendship, which is characteristic of his nation, made Professor EVANS's association valued by all his colleagues.

Dr. George C. CALDWELL had been an early student of scientific agriculture, whose works upon agricultural chemistry had already won recognition. He had studied the methods of agricultural instruction abroad, especially at the famous Agricultural College of Cirencester, England, and had afterward received his degree at the University of Göttingen. A scholar of excellent judgment, careful and exact in all his work, his studies have contributed to the reputation of the university in his department.

Professor Eli W. BLAKE had graduated both in the academic and scientific departments of Yale University, and later, studied at the University of Heidelberg. He had been professor of physics in the University of Vermont and, at the time of his election, was acting professor in Columbia College. While his residence here was confined to two years, his work bore the impression of a versatile and enthusiastic scholar.

Professor James M. CRAFTS, professor of general and analytical chemistry, was a graduate of the Harvard Scientific School, and had studied afterward in France and Germany. Some of his original investigations had already been published in the Proceedings of the French Academy of Sciences, and in Silliman's Journal. At the time of his election he was an assistant in the Lawrence Scientific School. Although his connection with the university was limited on account of ill health, the private investigations which he has since pursued in France and in this country, have made him one of the most eminent chemists that America has produced. He is at the present time a professor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Burt G. WILDER was a graduate of the Lawrence Scientific School and a favorite pupil of Professor AGASSIZ. He had already won reputation as a contributor to various scientific and popular journals, and had published some extremely curious and interesting investigations upon the silk-spinning spiders of the south which had attracted attention. He had also served as an assistant surgeon in the army. During his residence in the university he has trained some of the ablest and most devoted scientists of this country. In investigations in the structure of the brain and the nervous structure of men and animals, and in the effort to promote a uniform system of nomenclature in anatomy, he has been one of the most active and influential representatives.

Professor Albert N. PRENTISS was one of the first graduates of the Michigan Agricultural College-the first institution of the kind in the United States. His scientific investigations had been of high merit, and he possessed unusual ability as an organizer. To his taste and skill as a landscape gardener much of the beauty of the university grounds is due. Few botanists in this country have trained so many eminent scholars.

Mr. Lebbeus H. MITCHELL, whose name appears in the early announcements as professor of mining and metallurgy, never entered upon his duties. His life has since been prominent for his explorations in Abyssinia, and later, for service as Vice Consul-General in London.

Professor LAW had already become eminent by his writings; Professor WHEELER was known as an admirable classical teacher, and Professor MORRIS's training had fitted him to organize instruction in the new field of practical mechanics.

The university thus inaugurated, and accompanied by the enthusiastic hopes of the friends of modern education, entered a period of stern limitation and embarrassment, from its restricted resources. Its wealth was in the future, in the national lands, the value of which would rise with the development of the industrial prosperity of the States in which they were located. An attempt to realize at once the proceeds of these lands would have destroyed the benefits which were to spring from Mr. CORNELL's far-reaching purpose. The support of the university was based on the income of Mr. CORNELL's gift of $500,000 and of the college land scrip fund and the Cornell endowment fund. The separate funds last mentioned amounted to about $405,000. Funds for the erection of buildings had to be derived from the interest on the endowment. Thus the university, embodying so vast a scheme of universal education, was limited from the beginning in carrying out the scheme of its founders. The university grounds were those of a country farm and rough in the extreme. Cattle roved over the campus and were supplied with water from a spring in front of the site of McGraw Hall. Anything like landscape gardening was almost beyond the wildest dream of any friend of order and beauty. From the funds which had accumulated in three years all the necessary buildings had to be erected, and chemical and physical apparatus, collections and books acquired. The funds of the university were all needed for its current expenses without this additional cost, while it aimed to embody great departments of instruction and courses of study which did not exist in other institutions, and obliged at the same time to make provision for recognized and established branches of study. The faculty, from whom everything was expected, did not at first exceed in numbers that of smaller institutions with a limited course of study. Growth seemed impossible, and to maintain upon the original scale that for which provision had already been made, doubtful. In addition to this, the cost of non-resident lecturers impaired still further the available funds for regular departments of work. A single building had been erected mainly for a dormitory. No provision had been made for a university building with lecture rooms, museums and general offices. At the same time, the cost of new buildings had to be taken from the regular annual income, all of which was needed for the support of an organized institution in full operation. The limitations and discouragements of those first years can scarcely be overestimated. The only hope of relief was in sacrificing the land upon which the future of the university depended. To have done so would have reduced the university at once to the scale of one of the smaller colleges. Mr. CORNELL maintained with a tenacity begotten of a lofty purpose his position that the lands must be retained. In the mean time, the financial difficulties increased. Generous friends gave McGraw Hall and Sibley College at a most opportune time. The execution of the national trust thus became in a degree possible; but financial bankruptcy seemed impending. At the same time the country was slowly approaching the crisis of 1873. Credit and currency, which had been inflated during the war, had to assume a normal standard and relation to business necessities. Twice the trustees intervened to meet a deficit of about $150,000. The number of students which had reached 412 the first year, and rose in the third year to slightly above 600, declined from that point. From 1873 to 1878 the numbers remained about the same; from 1878 to 1882 the numbers declined still further and in one term of this year the number of students in attendance in a single term reached only 312.

President WHITE had been absent for five years in Europe, with the exception of an interval of seven months, in which he was in residence from September to May in 1878-9. The friends of the university felt that his presence was necessary. The alumni passed resolutions at their meeting in June, 1880, asking the trustees to request his return. In obedience to this action, the trustees themselves passed resolutions expressing their sense of the urgent need of a personal and responsible head of the university and desiring President WHITE's return if consistent with his plans. Mr. WHITE, therefore, resigned his position as minister to the court of Berlin and, in the fall of 1881, resumed his position at the head of the university. This was the year of greatest decline in the history of the university. In the following year the number of students slightly increased, but it was not until 1884-5 that the number of students equaled that recorded thirteen years before. Since this time the growth of the university has been very rapid. The increase in the number of students has been simply the index of the interior development. By favorable sales of land the endowment of the university had been greatly increased, the salaries of professors advanced and large appropriations made for fuller equipment and the erection of additional buildings.

On June 1, 1885, President WHITE tendered his resignation of the office of president of the university, it being nearly nineteen years from the date of his original election to that position. He withdrew in obedience to a purpose which he had long since formed. In presenting his resignation, President WHITE said: "The present meeting completes twenty years since with our dear and venerated friend, Ezra CORNELL, I took part in securing the charter of the university, submitted its plan of organization and entered this noble board. And now, in accordance with a purpose long since formed, I hereby present my resignation as president and professor of history. The university is at last in such condition that its future may well be considered secure, thanks to your wise administration; its endowment has been developed beyond our expectations; its debt extinguished; its equipment made ample; its faculty increased until it is one of the largest and most effective in our country, and an undergraduate body brought together, which by its numbers and spirit promises all that we can ask for the future." After reviewing the fundamental principles of the university and expressing his satisfaction in their triumph after twenty years, he said: "At two different periods when about to leave the country for a time, I have placed my resignation in your hands and you have thought best not to accept it. I now contemplate another absence from the country in obedience to what seems to me a duty, and must respectfully insist that I be now permanently relieved and my resignation finally accepted. Although I have but reached what is generally known as the middle period of life, I feel entitled to ask that the duties hitherto laid upon me be now transferred upon another, and that I be left free to take measures for the restoration of my health; to which I have for several years looked forward with longing, and which I hope can be made eventually useful to the university and possibly to the public at large." The trustees in accepting his resignation which was presented with so much urgency, adopted a preamble and resolutions. "The resignation by Andrew D. WHITE of the presidency of Cornell University becomes an era in its history. For twenty years he had devoted his best exertions, energy and industry, his large intellect and loyal zeal to the organization and growth of this institution. The project once conceived, he, hand in hand with its benefactor and founder, pressed it to a successful issue. Their dreams have been realized and their efforts crowned with noble and generous results. How great have been the cares and anxieties during those twenty years, few, if any, can realize. How large and generous his benefactions equally bestowed upon the university and its friends, few will ever know. How beautifully he has created for us friends by his social and personal character; how great has been his influence in our behalf is to become a part of our history. During these twenty years the respect and affection of all connected with the university towards him has grown and strengthened. The purity of his character, the blamelessness of his life, his noble ambition, his generous and self-sacrificing devotion to the cause of education, his wisdom and kindness of heart have made his name and person very near and dear to all of his associates."

In accepting his resignation the board expressed the hope that after a period of needed change and rest Mr. WHITE might renew his relations to the university in a more congenial and less exacting position and give it the prestige of his high character and attainments. They therefore requested that he would accept the nomination to act as honorary president of the university, and

Resolved, That the Legislature be requested to amend the charter so as to make the first president of the university a member of the Board of Trustees for life.

The position of honorary president he declined in a letter from Paris dated December 22, 1885. While recognizing the confidence and kindness shown to him by the trustees in unanimously offering to him the honorary presidency of the university, he stated that he felt obliged to decline this especial honor on various grounds, "the most important being the consideration that there should not seem to be any division in the executive responsibility." After expressing his grateful appreciation of the proffer of the board to secure legislation making him a trustee for life, he declined this honor from a dislike to special legislation of the sort required and distrust regarding the precedent which would be established and requested that the resolution be allowed to rest simply as a most striking expression of confidence. The faculty of the university at a meeting to be held on the same day expressed its sorrow at the severing of the relation which had lasted since the earliest existence of the university, and formed an essential part in the official life of every one of its members, and which on his side had been sustained with great wisdom and great labor, with inexhaustible enthusiasm, with constant self-sacrifice and with increasing anxiety for the sound growth and welfare of the university. It also expressed its sense of the generous attitude which he had maintained toward the faculty in all manners of administration, and of the strong and inspiring influence which he had exerted upon the body of undergraduates and upon the alumni, and the hope that he would continue a member of the teaching body of the university, giving to its deliberations the benefit of his ripe experience and to future classes of students the same instruction and stimulation in historical work that had been previously enjoyed. The alumni also passed resolutions of appreciation and regret.

The selection of a successor to President WHITE was a subject of earnest consideration. Several names of men eminent as scholars and administrators were mentioned for the position, whose work would, it was believed, promote the prosperity of the university. President WHITE's choice fell upon. a former pupil, Professor Charles Kendall ADAMS, of the University of Michigan, Mr. WHITE's successor in the department of history in that institution. In an elaborate discussion of the qualities required, presented at the request of the trustees, Dr. WHITE expressed his views upon the choice of a successor. At a special meeting of the board, held on July 13, Dr. Charles Kendall ADAMS was elected president of the university, and was formally inaugurated on the 19th of November of the same year. President ADAMS's inaugural address was entitled "The Development of Higher Education in America." President ADAMS brought to the university an experience of great value as an educator. He had been an attentive student of the various questions discussed in connection with higher learning, to the solution of which he had himself contributed. A man of great industry and method in his work, he brought to the duties of his position qualities which were of high value. A president's office was established in one of the university buildings, where the president was accessible both by faculty and students at certain definite times, a feature of administration adding greatly to the efficiency of the office. Under President ADAMS's wise direction the whole arrangement of the bureau of administration connected with the executive office was remodeled and improved. President ADAMS was a most laborious and conscientious executive officer, giving careful attention to every interest which affected the university, of practical and experienced judgment, and it was at once felt that every detail of business received at once immediate and adequate attention. Several extremely valuable features were introduced soon after his accession in university administration, which made the faculty feel that there was an intelligent and sympathetic interest on the part of the presiding officer, not only with all questions of higher learning, but also with the individual interest of every professor. The system of granting a leave of absence to members of the faculty after six years of service for purposes of travel and investigation was a valuable feature of the new administration. The salaries of professors were raised, so that they were more worthy of a university of high standing and influence. All these measures commended themselves to the faculty and contributed to give confidence in the new administration. The period which followed since 1885 has been one of uniform prosperity and growth. The presence at all times of a responsible presiding officer, and confidence in a uniform and judicious administration of affairs contributed to give stability and unity to the progress of the university. Among the important events connected with President ADAMS's administration from 1885 to 1892 may be mentioned the establishment of the Law School, the erection of the Chemical Laboratory and of the Sage Library, of Lincoln Hall for the Departments of Architecture and Civil Engineering, the erection of Barnes Hall and the enlargement of the Armory, the establishment of the new President White School of History and Political Science, and also of the State Meteorological Station. President ADAMS resigned in May, 1892, and was elected soon after president of the University of Wisconsin. Professor Jacob Gould SCHURMAN, dean of the Sage School of Philosophy, was elected as his successor. Professor SCHURMAN during the period of his connection with the university had established a reputation as a brilliant lecturer upon philosophical subjects, whose private lectures as well as his public and more popular lectures had been largely attended. Dr. SCHURMAN possesses especially the gift of lucid exposition and analysis of philosophical systems. A series of lectures upon theism, which were delivered later before the students of Andover Theological Seminary and published in a volume, exhibited great acuteness in stating and criticizing from a scientific and philosophical standpoint the current arguments by which this doctrine is defended. An earlier volume upon "The Ethical Import of Darwinism " was also the product of Dr. SCHURMAN work while occupying his professorship here. Dr. SCHURMAN entered upon his duties with great energy, and with a desire to carry forward the work which had already been begun. He has endeavored to unite the university more intimately with the State, and, since his accession, two grants have been made by the Legislature, partially fulfilling the duty assumed by the State in accepting the land grant, which pledged it to erect a building for the accommodation of the college established by the Congressional gift.

History of Cornell - Chapter X

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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