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reed magazine logoSpring 2009

The Tragic End of A Quest: An Appeal to the Regents

By Frances Vail Berry ’24

Excerpted from the Quest, December 20, 1924

You wonder, you men of experience and maturity, why we of the younger generation in our quest for liberalism and our revaluation of old standards so frequently overshoot our marks, and let passion outrun judgment. You wonder why we become what you are pleased to term “bolshevists.” If you will look back over the events of the past week, you will find a clear example of the thing that makes the younger generation distrust the older.

You were taking a step that concerns us—faculty and students—as vitally and intimately as it does you. You were selecting a leader whose success as an educator depends largely on our co-operation.

You have assumed that there is only one body deserving of consideration in a liberal college—namely, yourselves. We maintain that there are three—regents and faculty, who are the financial and educational leaders, respectively, and the student body, who, in all fairness, should have a share in the formation of the spirit and policies of the college. On every count except that of money, the opinion of the faculty is deserving of first consideration. It is they who make a college what it is. It is upon their co-operation that the success of the president depends. It is to them that we are indebted for whatever inspiration and leadership we receive. It is in them that we put our confidence and with them that we will co-operate. Therefore a disregard of their wishes and their judgment, is, to us, supreme idiocy. We speak bluntly, because it is our desire to do nothing under cover.

(This information has been gathered entirely from down town sources. The faculty have not “talked” to the students)

The resentment that we, the students, feel as a result of what we interpret—and in the light of our present information, have the right to interpret—as a deliberate assumption of absolute power on the part of the regents is increased by the absolute lack of courtesy and comradeship shown to us in the way in which the announcement was made. If one of you had come to us and said: “Because we feel that under the circumstances Mr. Coleman is the man who can do the best work for the college we are seriously considering asking him to take the presidency. Will you co-operate with him?”—we would have listened courteously, and without suspicion, and even if we had denied you our complete approval, we would have at least respected you for your good sportsmanship. As it was, you disregarded our requests (the Meiklejohn petition among others) without one word of explanation, and you left us to read the appointment of the president of our college in the morning paper…A small enough thing in itself, we freely admit, but indicative of an attitude of utter indifference, not only to our wants but to our needs. For above all, we need the free and open interchange of ideas and ideals with older men. We accept advice when it is given in the spirit of comradeship; we follow leaders in whom we recognize wisdom that is greater than our own. You have acted on the principle that “good fences make good neighbors.” But by ourselves we cannot break through the wall of silence and suspicion you have built between us. We do not understand and we are resentful. We cannot understand until we are told.

If you failed to consult the faculty it was a failure in principle, a disregard of a fundamental postulate of the liberal college, an autocratic and unintelligent thing. Your failure with us was of far less import.

We do not pretend to wisdom; we do not expect to run the college. We know better than to want to. We do not advocate for a minute the wholesale dissemination of administrative details nor the laying bare of irrelevant controversies, but we do claim a sharing of confidence.

At a critical moment you have signally failed to enlist our co-operation and our good-will. Is it because you do not care for it?…We wait to see in regard to the general plans and policies of the college— open, straightforward, comradely dealing between human beings.

reed magazine logoSpring 2009