15. Return of the College

Alma Mater/Spring 2014
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

15. The Return of the College – The 1920s

Columbia at War [concluded]
Despite notable opponents of intervention, Columbia extensively mobilized during WW I [and the peace discussions to follow]
Student Army Training Corps at Columbia
Barnard students into food production efforts, war bond campaigns….
Faculty pressed into government service
– National Board for Historical Service – wartime apologetics
— National Research Council – George Ellery Hale — how science/scientists  could aid the war effort
                  anti-submarine efforts; industrial chemicals….personnel matters/IQ testing….
— The Inquiry – panel of experts on post-war planning (“The war to end all wars”)
– James T Shotwell/Carleton Hayes

War – 18 months
Peacemaking – over by US refusal to sign Versailles Treaty  — March 1920
November 1920 presidential election – Harding swamps James Cox (>60% of vote)
Or join League of Nations – 1921

Academics/administrators – a taste of federal funding/support for science and some social science….
Come back for more in WW II – when nearly all academics on the same side


Universities come out of WW I, the economic slide, the labor unrest, anarchist fears/Red Scare  and the unsuccessful peace negotiations that followed no longer thought to have all the answers to the nation’s problems.

The concept of professor-as-disinterested-expert, alive and well in the Progressive era,  shelved for a generation. Would be revived after WW II.

Many faculty similarly disillusioned with their capacity to effect society beyond the campus. As dismissive of democratic process as 1920s pundits – H.L. Mencken
Republicans in Washington under Harding and Coolidge not interested in academic advice; Hoover more so.
Little federal research $$

Period of economic prosperity – businessmen, bankers, Wall Streeters back in public favor – but not directing all that much of their largesse to founding new academic institutions:


California Institute of Technology – Millikan/Morgan/
Duke University – 1924 — $40 million from James B. Duke
Close ties between technology schools and industry – MIT “Tech Plan” à George Eastman

Major inter-war donor – Edward Harkness – father a JDR partner /Yaley/CU law/à $130 Million
1927 — Offered $12 million to Yale for residential houses on the British model
– Yale reluctant to disrupt class arrangements
Money to receptive Harvard – later Yale, Brown and Connecticut College for undergraduate residences
CU??  Harkness   South Library à Butler à $ million/took chunk of South Field

Important interwar presidents:
Harvard — A. Lawrence Lowell, 1909-33
Harvard Junior Fellows – 1934 — 3-year fellowship/alternative to PhD
U. Chicago — Robert M. Hutchins – U. Chicago (1929-51)
Created the College of UC around notions of “general education” – not disciplinarily bounded; taught be true believers in College, not research specialists drafted into doing so….
Hutchins also abandoned football in 1939 – “an infernal nuisance”

Neither PhDs; both unimpressed with specialized scholarship; both focused on undergraduates

CU’s NM Butler – Did not himself focus on Columbia College – CU gets little credit/criticism for leading the way with concept of a “core curriculum”

But some interwar Columbians came to do so –professors in flight from specialized scholarship;
in pursuit of an instructional role in the most general sense


But first the other distinctive feature of the interwar period  — Columbia’s “Golden Age” of Intercollegiate Athletics


1.Abolished in 1906 — Return of football – and elaboration of other sports – crew/baseball/basketball
CU Football abolished by joint trustee/NMB/faculty action in 1905 – excessive violence;  non-students dominate the team;    White House urging
Other colleges (Harvard/Yale/Princeton) thought to follow but did not: revised rules; introduced forward pass; eliminated flying wedge… tightened eligibility rules
Trustees and NYC press and students call for its reinstatement – blamed for loss of Knickerbocker sons [Hamilton Fish HC 1910] ….refusal of some alums to support Columbia
1916 – Reintroduced – big-time coaching– Percy Haughton (1923) à Lou Little (1930)
Began play on South Field; then, Baker Field opened in 1923 – 35,000 seats/$300,000
Nationally competitive – Rose Bowl victory over Stanford in  1934
Sid Luckman

Baseball – Eddie Collins CC 1907; Lou Gehrig (CC 1923-24) à NY Yankees (1925-39)
Basketball – George Gregory (CC 1931)

Trustees and Dean Herbert Hawkes all for these teams – instilled “manliness” in the players and college spirit in the spectators (James  Wechsler CC 1935– Spectator in 1930s; NY Post into 1970s

But athletics never near to personifying Columbia  — not Notre Dame/Not Syracuse….



Columbia and Its Core Curriculum

Undergraduates not turn-of-century Columbia’s preoccupation – the graduate and professional schools
defining the institution
FAP Barnard – questioned their presence; ready to let others prepare them for
graduate/professional study Top faculty pretty removed from undergraduate instruction;
Undergraduate curriculum pretty heavily prescribed – but left to junior faculty to teach
Lots of undergrads move on after three years to professional schools of the University
Prescribed for first two years – “roll your own” last two…

Campus life circumscribed by commuting numbers and NYC attractions – no dorms on MS until decade after move


1915 – Great Books course proposed by Erskine – rejected by classicists who opposed reading in translation

1917 – Student Army Training Corps – “war issues/aims” course; Allied apologetics

1919 — Required year-long freshman course in Contemporary Civilization – 1871 to present – “peace aims”
Replaces previously required Philosophy A and History A
“The insistent problems of today – recent history”
25 students/discussions/five mornings a week/year-long
Used text books by CU faculty – back to 1300 by 1930s

College loyalists:
John Henry Van Amringe – first dean of CC
George Woodberry
Frederick J E Woodbridge (Amherst 1898) UTS
John Erskine CC 1900 –Amherst 1905-09
John J. Coss  — Wabash College/UTS/Army à “Colonel”  — Moore Collegiate Professor to 1940
Irwin Edman – CC 1916
Herbert Hawkes, Dean of CC, 1921-1940s
Mark Van Doren – CU PhD 1920
Lionel Trilling
Jacques Barzun

1928 – 2-year CC course   CC-A   CC- B
Not yet based on primary sources – reading secondary accounts…

1929 – John Erskine – ended General Honors Course for selected juniors à “Great Books of the West”
Intended to provide a reason for brightest students staying a 4th year; two instructors à 25 students

1932 – Colloquium on Important Books à Trilling/Barzun
Erskine – “A great book is one that has had meaning, and continues to have meaning, for a variety of people over a long period of time.”

1935 — Erskine leaves Columbia –
1937 – Humanities A  Classics in Western texts
1947  Humanities B    Art Humanities  Music Humanities

Expose a second-generation immigrant student body(EE Jews/Italian, Polish and Irish Catholics) something of the Anglo-Saxon/Reformationist  musical and artistic tradition???
The Columbia Core for the faculty who taught it
— An occupastionally justifying exercise in teaching/inspiring/mentoring undergraduates
– not training graduate students; not doing research and publishing monographs….
— creating a subversive subset of like-minded faculty located in Hamilton Hall – not
Philosophy/Fayerweather where the tenets of academic professionalism reigned…
— Anti-specialization – taught books/texts that transcended their fields; taught them in translation

Some regular publishers; some not – but those who were aimed at a more general/wider audience than the specialists.
Staff drawn primarily from humanities (classics/philosophy) and history

Critics saw it as “dilettantist” – insufficiently directed toward a career (except an academic one in the humanities or softer social sciences);

What of students?
Big chunk of first two years required – complaints in the taking….
Left little room to experiment with different major possibilities  — “concentrations” more than departmental majors

[Barnard went another way – lots of electives/focus on departmental majors]

No real place for the sciences – History of Science to “Frontiers of Science”
CC with far fewer science majors than other Ivies – than Barnard

“Protestant professors teaching Jewish students Catholic texts”

And yet,
Meet a Ohio State/Ole Miss grad on a plane – the great teams of his college years…
A Dartmouth grad – the great fraternity parties…
A Vassar grad – the great trips to NYC or New Haven…

A CC grad – the great books and great profs of the core….
Lionel Trilling on meeting Columbia alums – “You’ve all forgotten all the same books….”


Last updated; March 11, 2014


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