New York Times

INSURGENT SPIRIT IN COLUMBIA FACULTY
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Summary Dismissal of Prof. Spingarn Stirs It to Renewed Activity.
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TROUBLE COMING, MAYBE
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Prof. Cattell Leads a Movement to Investigate the Appointment and Dismissal of Teachers.
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New York Times. "Insurgent Spirit In Columbia Faculty." New York Times 14 March 1911: 1, 3.

 

J. McKeen Cattell, Professor of Psychology at Columbia, according to information gathered last night, introduced at the meeting of the Faculty of Philosophy, on Friday, a motion, innocent enough on its face, but of such great significance to the initiated, that it is causing much discussion in the inner circles of Morningside Heights, and many believe that it is by no means a closed incident.

With the news still fress that Prof. Joel Elias Spingarn had been "relieved of further academic services," a little stir of excitement ran around the Faculty meeting when Prof. Cattell moved that a committee of five be empowered to investigate the manner of appointment and dismissal of the teaching force at Columbia. The motion was seconded by John Dewey, Professor of Philosophy, and was lost by a vote of 16 to 12.

President Butler was not present at the meeting. He left for the South on March 8 to be gone for the rest of the month.

Although the motion made reference to the "appointment" of professors, it is known that Prof. Cattell included that phrase to take off the edge of his motion, for it is generally conceded that it has an edge and that the edge will be acutely felt in several quarters. Although the name of Prof. Spinarn was not so much as mentioned in the discussion over the resolution, it is known that it was inspired by the manner in which his relations with Columbia were severed.

Although all of the twelve who voted in favor of the resolution would not openly style themselves as insurgents nor the motion as an insurgent measure, it received the support of men who have a reputation for speaking their minds in Columbia affairs.

"Wouldnít that motion be called a little daring?" a Columbia professor was asked last night.

Were Not Afraid

"Well," he replied, with a ruminative smile, "I fancy that no man voted for it who was afraid that he could not easily get a place outside of Columbia should there arise need for labor elsewhere."

One of the men who voted in favor of Prof. Cattellís motion said he did so in the interest of justice and, according to him, the motion was introduced for the purpose of determining if possible the status of the professor, and establishing as far as it ever can be established, the extent of professorial independence. That is precisely what Prof. Spingarn would like to see decided as the result of his own dismissal from the teaching force of the university, and to that end he has expressed his willingness to have his own case carried before the court of university opinion, since there is no other appeal.

Prof. Springarn, during the years that he served Columbia, was always known as one of the Faculty members who was inclined to be outspoken, either as a critic or as a defender of the administration, and many are of the opinion that this independence brought about President Butlerís determination to "extinguish him academically." Prof. Spingarn believe that his dismissal was directly due to the fact that when the Faculty of Philosophy met on Dec. 9, he introduced a resolution to the effect that there should be some appreciative expression of the part of his colleagues of the academic services rendered during twenty-two years by Prof. Harry Thurston Peck.

The resolution was laid on the table and never taken off, but Prof. Spingarn heard from it again. According to one member of the Faculty who was intimately familiar with the whole situation, President Butler told Prof. Spingarn to drop the matter or there would be trouble. There was trouble, and after the last meeting of the Trustees he received a brief note from President Butler notifying him that he was "relieved of further academic services."

Prof. Spingarn traces his dismissal squarely to the Peck resolution, as, perhaps, the last straw, in a series of mild declarations of independence. It is generally felt that the differences between him and President Butler are inextricably involved with his insurgent attitude in the English department, to which his chair of comparative literature was consigned after its individual department was abolished, and there are some who see in the knot threads which run back to the day when Prof. George E. Woodberry resigned amid a storm of conflicting opinions.

Professors Cowed, He Says

Something of what some are reading between the lines of the Cattell motion, is suggest by the comment of Prof. Spingarn mad not long after he had word of his dismissal.

"You cannot understand what this case is," he said, "unless you have some notion of the absolutely unmanly timidity into which the professors of Columbia have been cowed by Dr. Butler. You have not idea how askance they look upon one who is not afraid to appear as a critic as well as a defender of the administration as his judgment and conscience dictate.

"Did I only start to discuss administrative matters at the Faculty Club they would glance apprehensively about them and edge away from me. If you lived in the Columbia atmosphere you would see now oppressive that is and how hardy it is thought for a teacher to express even academic theories that may conflict with those of others."

It is the contention of some of those who supported the Cattell motion that freedom of thought and expression is an essential to university life, and that the individual professor should not have the feeling of an axe hanging over his head to give him pause in the expression of his ideas. He should be able, within reasonable limits, to say what he thinks without trembling for his bread and butter. Anyway, there were twelve men at Fridayís Faculty meeting who wanted an investigation of the manner of appointment and dismissal (with the accent on the dismissal) of the teaching force.

Some of those who were in favor of the Cattell motion say that it came perilously near being passed. They believe that it will come up again in one form or another, and that on its second appearance, it may meet with a different fate. One reason given for this was the fact that only a few knew that Prof. Cattell had any such motion in mind, and there was not a full meeting.

It was said however, that the English department was forewarned, and it had the largest representation present, a group of five men, who voted as a unit against the motion. Some of the Faculty who were not there have expressed themselves as strongly in favor of the proposed action.

Prof. Dewey Outspoken

Prof. Cattell made the motion without enlarging upon it, but Prof. Dewey, in seconding it, had some very definite things to say. He said that it was a shame if Columbia was to lose men of international reputation as scholars without good and sufficient reason being shown. He, for one, would like to have the manner of such loss subjected to some inspection.

John D. Prince, Professor of Semetic


(3) Languages, rather thought that it would be well to delaty consideration of anything so important as the line of action suggested by Prof. Cattell. Franz Boas, Professor of Anthropology, moved that the motion be made the special order of business for the next meeting, and Dr. Prince seconded it. This was put to a vote. It was lost by a vote of 16 to 12.

Then the vote was taken on the motion, and it was lost by the same majority, 16 to 12. Voting solidly in the negative were the five men from the English Department, profs. Thorndike, Trent, Krapp, Lawrence, and Ayres. Brander Matthews was note present. Although the name of Prof Spingarn had not been breathed, it was in every oneís mind, and as the men were leaving the meeting in groups one of the colleagues is said to have observed to his companions:

"Well, Spingarn is out, and that is all there is to it."

Those who would like to have seen the motion passed say that if it is to come up again at a future meeting the other departments will be quite as well represented as the English department. The Faculty of Philosophy is made up of those who teach in the Graduate School and the Department of Philosophy.

It was in the English department that Prof. Spingarn found himself somewhat at odds with his environment. He was reported to President Butler as a bit restive under its authority. A Faculty member said last night that there is a world of meaning in each individual vote of the 28 if only you are thoroughly conversant with Columbia affairs.

The motionís friends are particularly delighted that it was made and seconded by tow such men as Prof. Cattell and Prof. Dewey. Prof. Cattell is editor of Science and of The Popular Science Monthly, and is a power in the Faculty. Prof. Dewey, leader in America of the school of Pragmatism since the death of Prof. James, is a teacher of wide reputation.

Prof. Peckís Case.

The dismissal of a Columbia professor is the function of the Education Committee of the Trustees, of whose seven members President Butler is the only Faculty representative. Prof. Peck was suspended last June until the "pleasure of the Trustees in his case" could be ascertained, and in the Fall the Trustees dismissed him. He made his exit stormily, airing his views of the administration, talking of "autocracy," and, as one of several parting shots, brining an action for $50,000 for alleged slander against President Butler.

When Prof. Woodberry resigned there was another great cry raised, but that time it was raised by a host of his friends, who lined up in his defense. Rumor has it, too, that Charles E. Pellew, formerly Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, severed his connection with the university in an unusal way. This rumor has never been very widespread.

A friend of his said last night that when Prof. Charles F. Chandler, Chairman of the Chemistry Department, sent in his resignation, the others in the department sent in theirs as a matter of form. Prof, Pellew, his friend, said, understood, when hew sent his in, that it was purely formal and did not mean that he yearned to leave the Faculty. His surprise was intense when he learned that his resignation had been accepted. Prof. Pellew is a son-in-law of Prof. Chandler and popular with the undergraduate body, who are found of singing lustily one of the songs of his writing.

 

 

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