It is generally agreed, by all who have looked into the history of Colorado College, that the presidency of William Slocum was a golden age. After the well-meaning reign of President Tenney ended unhappily, when his high ambitions for the College were undermined by the parlous state of the local economy in the 1880s, the arrival of the burly Congregationalist pastor from Baltimore [Hill p.14] in 1888 heralded a new beginning. Over three decades his extraordinary energy and vision turned a weak and struggling young institution into one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the west.
By the time he left, the one stone building he found on his arrival had turned into fourteen (one of them the magnificent Palmer Hall, still one of the great college buildings of the United States); the library had risen over ten-fold, from 6, 000 volumes to over 70, 000; the student body had risen fourteen-fold, from 50 to over 700; and the faculty had risen in much the same proportion, from 4 to over 50. Most importantly, the evidence for the quality of student and faculty life seems to show a student body and faculty body in warm, mutually supportive, friendship. There is little doubt that, for almost all of this time, Colorado College was a remarkably happy, fulfilling and life-enhancing place for the majority of members of the community, who remembered it, and passed on their memories to succeeding generations, as a golden age.
The reader who idly glances through the past College Catalogues, or other publications carrying faculty records such as the Pikes Peak Nugget, soon notices something strange about the period towards the end of the first world war. President Slocum resigned in 1917, at the respectable age of 66, and shortly thereafter almost all the senior faculty departed, too. In the space of a few months from late 1917 onwards, the College lost all four Deans, three other head professors, five further professors and a Museum Director, an attrition which the College has never experienced before or since.
All of the Colorado College histories refer to this period, in more or less guarded terms, so it is widely known (to readers of College histories) that there was a problem of some sort towards the end of President Slocums time, but the precise nature of the problem, its handling, and its consequences are spelled out differently in the different histories. Taken as a whole, the different accounts constitute an interesting case-study of a complex institution attempting to come to terms with a difficult episode in its past.
In connection with my investigations into the history of mathematics at Colorado College, I have had occasion to re-explore the events which led to and followed from the end of President Slocums reign in 1917. Both the Head Professor of Mathematics, Florian Cajori, and the Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, Guy Albright, were central players in a drama which left heavy scars on the development of the College. This seems a good time both to attempt to set the record straight and to offer some historiographical reflections upon the uses of history within an institution committed to the values set in stone above the portal of President Slocums greatest campus building: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free
The earliest historical survey of the end of the Slocum era, of those widely in the public domain, is found in Charlie Brown Hersheys 75th anniversary history, Colorado College 1874-1949, published in 1952. This is still a fine, well-written, perceptive account of the Colleges history with much valuable information. He clearly analysed the criticisms attending Slocums later years under three heads: his autocracy, his handling of the finances, and his morals. Subsequent historians have generally followed this tripartite analysis. It is noticeable, however, that the crisp clarity with which Hershey treated the first two sets of issues dissolves into a misty nebulosity upon reaching the third:
The field of criticism eventually extended to his personal morals. As is usual in instances of this nature, rumor begat rumor and adverse comments were met with denials. [Hershey p. 92]
Hershey quickly moved on, after this gnomic utterance, to describe, fairly enough, the Trustees unhappiness with Dean Parsons, his dismissal, the subsequent inquiry by the American Association of University Professors, and their report criticising the Trustees actions. But as for the consequences of all this for the faculty, the reader is offered only, some pages later, a sentence even more bafflingly oblique. After introducing Slocums successor, Clyde Duniway, Hershey remarked
One of Duniways first tasks, and it was the most important as well as the first, was the appointment of men and women to positions on the faculty to take the places of those who had, for one reason or another, severed their connection with the college. [Hershey p.97]
The alert reader pondering this sentence would have realised, perhaps, that Hershey was signalling that there was something amiss, but that he wasnt going to say what it was: the word severed is clearly a very strong hint, for those who wished to pick it up, towards something the author would not talk about.
A quarter of a century later another distinguished and widely regarded servant of the College, Juan Reid, wrote its centenary history, Colorado College: the First Century, 1874-1974, published in 1979. This offered a considerably fuller and more explicit account of the third category of criticisms noted by Hershey, describing how two women of the administrative support staff lodged complaints with Dean Parsons that President Slocum had made improper and immoral advances toward them. [Reid p.82]. Dean Parsons dismissal and some of its aftermath were also noted, but any repercussions on the faculty were perhaps incorporated in a sentence which did not even hint at any underlying problem, Reid remarking merely,
Faculty appointments to fill vacancies occurring before and during the war received the highest priority in preparation for the 1919-20 academic year. President Duniway chose eighteen new faculty members with care . . . [Reid p.89]
To mark the sesquicentennial of the College, two historical accounts have appeared. Robert Hills succinct booklet Colorado College 1874-1999: A History of Distinction presents a balanced overview of the causes of the end of the golden age in a single well-judged sentence:
Accusations of misconduct toward two women in his office merely corroborated innuendo in the community and galvanized some of the faculty, who had come to resent a decisiveness they took for Slocums highhandedness. [Hill 1998, p.19]
The account of these matters in the other sesquicentennial history, Robert Loevys Colorado College: A Place of Learning 1874-1999, is by contrast, robustly partisan. After referring to the claims brought by the two women to Dean Parsons, Loevy describes subsequent events in these terms.
Instead of taking these charges directly to the Board of Trustees, Dean Parsons shared them with three faculty members who were critical of Slocum. Shortly thereafter rumors about President Slocums personal conduct were circulating widely throughout the College and the community of Colorado Springs. Plainly Dean Parsons faculty allies had decided to use these unadjudicated and unproven charges to personally discredit President Slocum in the most damaging way possible.
This carefully constructed and very effective rumor-mongering campaign against President Slocum . . . [Loevy 1999, pp.97-8]
This historical re-interpretation is quite unsupported either by evidence or by the balance of likelihood. The three faculty members were Florian Cajori, Dean of Engineering and Head Professor of Mathematics, Edward Schneider, Head Professor of Biology, and Elijah Hills, Head Professor of Romance Languages and Literature. The suggestion that these three senior and high- principled servants of the College would wander around town spreading rumours to discredit the President is absurd.
The evidence points, in fact, to Parsons and his colleagues seeking, entirely responsibly, to establish whether the charges had some sustainable basis while they worked out what to do and before they approached any Trustees, while such rumours as were spread emanated from other people whom the women had confided in. The four faculty members, according to Florian Cajoris later testimony, concealed the charges against President Slocum even from their most intimate friends on the faculty. . . . we sought to shield both individuals and the College. [AAUP, p.84] To consider that these four could conspire to construct a rumour-mongering campaign to damage the President (and thus the College) is to misunderstand their natures and their high-minded dedication to the good of the College.
Indeed, the subsequent inquiry by the American Association of University Professors on the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Dean Parsons in 1917, which was the most serious consequence of the events, provides evidence that the rumours and behind-the-scenes pressures more commonly emanated from President Slocum and his supporters. Dean Cajori provided testimony to the AAUP Inquiry of attempts by President Slocum to suborn him and turn him against Dean Parsons. According to Cajoris deposition,
In the spring of 1916 and during the year 1916-17, President Slocum and others endeavoured to induce me to take sides against Dean Parsons. Had I not known Dean Parsons, his character and his work, from my personal observation and experience extending over twenty-five years of association with him, I should probably have yielded to this pressure.
A further account of these matters appeared in the memoirs of Harold Davis, a mathematics major of the class of 1915. In his autobiography [Davis 1962], Davis recalled approaching President Slocum in early 1915 to ask for a loan (which apparently was then the kind of thing the President did for students suffering temporary financial embarrassment), only to discover that receiving a loan depended on his telling the President which members of faculty were most disaffected. Not even further inducements relating to Daviss future employment opportunities secured the President the information he wanted. Tactics of this kind, described by a totally independent source, seem entirely consonant with Cajoris evidence of Slocums ways.
The background to the charges, as revealed in a letter of Guy Albright, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, puts matters in a quite different light to the pure, high-minded Christian gentleman, very much wronged [Albright p.9 ] represented in Robert Loevys account . Albright wrote a remarkable letter to Professor Paul Peck, a history professor of Grinnell College, Iowa, in October 1917, which has recently come to light in the Special Collections of Colorado College. In this long and detailed letter he described the context, the course of events surrounding the resignation of President Slocum, and some of the consequences.
According to Albright,
The fact was that Slocum was an erotic. No woman was safe from insult when left alone with him. Stories by the hundreds and affidavits by the dozen poured in proving that college girls, women secretaries, wives of professors, married women in town, pretty or homely, old or young, all were liable to shocking caresses and suggestive language from Slocum. Someway, while rumors had been abroad for many years, nobody dared expose the old libertine. His position and his power as well as a womans modesty protected him through twenty-seven years in Colorado Springs. He was hated by students and distrusted by faculty folk because of his faithlessness, his lying, and his double-dealing. But until these young women were goaded to speak no one had the courage to attack him.While Albright was a far from disinterested observerthree months earlier the Trustees had (unsuccessfully) asked for his resignation over the affairhis account throughout his long (22 page) letter rings true, and is consistent with other evidence wherever that is available .
So far we have established the existence of a variety of historical accounts of the circumstances of President Slocums leaving, which tended, with some exception, to an increasing openness as anniversary succeeded anniversary with a gradual recognition that it was becoming possible to speak more frankly and even-handedly about events which took place now over eighty years ago. Of course, President Slocums leaving was not the end of it. The worst, for the College, was yet to come. As Loevy writes,
William Frederick Slocum was not the only person to depart from Colorado College at this particular moment. The Board of Trustees was displeased with the manner in which Dean Edward S. Parsons had handled the morals accusations against President Slocum . . . Dean Parsons was asked to resign and, when he refused to do so, he was dismissed from the Colleges employment. [Loevy, 98-9]
It was this act of the Trustees, rather than the retirement of President Slocum, which was to plunge the College into its greatest ever crisis, with consequences that were to be felt for many years.
There are two features of the subsequent events which had particularly important consequences, each being treated in rather different ways in the official College histories. The American Association of University Professors was asked to investigate Dean Parsons dismissal. They carried out a detailed and painstaking inquiry, which concluded that The manner of the dismissal of Dean Parsons was arbitrary and unjust [AAUP p.122]. In the course of the report the AAUP Committee (which included the distinguished literary scholar John Livingston Lowes) made very clear their view of the behaviour of the Trustees, in powerful words which still resonate today.
Instead of taking counsel with those members of the faculty who were informed of the situation, and fully revealing to them their judgement as to how it could best be met, and their reasons for that judgment, they failed at critical moments to recognize the independent responsibility for informed judgment belonging to members of the faculty, or to acknowledge their sincerity and sense of duty by frank and honorable discussion. This arbitrary and unjust attitude of the Trustees, with its lack of that considerate respect for the convictions of others which characterizes men of sensitive conscience, was apparent in the joint meeting of August . . . The Trustees, as a body, do not seem to have considered that they have, towards the academic profession or towards the public at large, any responsibility to account for their acts and decisions as Trustees. . . . They behaved as though legal power were equivalent to moral right. They have done grievous harm to the institution entrusted to them; . . . [AAUP p.87]
And the concluding paragraph of the report is unlikely to have been comfortable reading for the Trustees either, remarking that
. . . the attitude of the majority of the members of the Board of Trustees and of the Board as a body towards the faculty has been characterized by grave discourtesy, a lack of openness and candor, and an habitual disregard of the fact that the administrative officers and teaching staff of a college have large and definite moral responsibilities in relation to the internal conditions and standards of the institution with which they are connected. [AAUP p.123]
We may note that there is brief mention of the inquiry and report in both Hersheys and Reids histories, but no mention at all in Loevys history. The faculty repercussions of Parsons dismissal, and the whole atmosphere of those years of which it is the prime symbol, is also treated very glancingly in all the existing histories. In this matter all are as one in saying as little as possible. Hershey and Reid confined their remarks, as we have seen, to brief references to the need for replacement faculty, and Loevy observes without further explanation that
A considerable number of professors and administrators had retired or resigned when President Slocum departed. [Loevy p.109]
In fact, in the months around and following Dean Parsons dismissal the following long-standing faculty members left the College. A few would doubtless have gone in any event through natural turnover and career progression, but to lose all four Deans, three other head professors, seven further full professors and a Museum Director in the space of a few months, as well as eight assistant professors and others, was and is unprecedented in the Colleges history.
Any doubt as to whether this mass exodus was a coincidence, or somehow unrelated to the dismissal of Dean Parsons, is removed by the testimony contained in Guy Albrights letter to Paul Peck. In a document containing a highly charged and painful account of how the College atmosphere felt to him, three and a half months after Parsons dismissal, Albright wrote,
And the professors are leaving. Woodbridge resigned in August, and the Registrar this month. At least six of the best men on the faculty are planning on leaving this year. It isnt worth fighting about. The trustees have a strangle hold on us and mean to kill us if the institution falls with us. Students are falling off and are on the point of striking. [Albright 1917, p.9]
The desperation rings through to us still, eighty years later.
We are hunting jobs, and are ready to take them at any time. If you hear of a vacancy in Biology, German, Economics, Philosophy, Education, English, Mathematics, or Astronomy or of an empty registrar's or dean's chair just remember that we have men who have taught from six to twenty-five years or have the qualifications needed, and have proved their ability and are ready to accept a good offer. Judging from what I see of the new man in the president's chair I can say that we have half a dozen men who are better presidential material than that used by our board of trustees. I am perfectly serious. Here is a chance to pick up a man in almost any line. [Albright 1917, p.9v]
Ironically, Guy Albright was one of the few senior faculty not to depart. He went on to complete a distinguished career at the College in which he was Director of the Summer School in the 1920s, and Secretary and Marshal of the Faculty for many years. He received the honorary degree of DSc from the College in 1932. Hershey, who must have attended many an academic function with him, reported that Professor Albrights meticulous care in all of his work was most obviously expressed in his organization and conduct of formal academic occasions. His regard for detail always resulted in a perfectly coordinated performance. [Hershey p.168]
By the time Albright retired in 1946, after forty years at Colorado College, he was one of the College's longest ever serving faculty members, and the Trustees thanked him fulsomely for his lifetime of service in glowing terms: "Colorado College has been strengthened in its instruction and in its public relations by the devotion and loyalty of Dr. Albright to the highest ideals of a scholar and a gentleman." Perhaps this marked a final recognition by the Trustees that their predecessors actions in attempting to remove him had indeed been misplaced, and was the closest they could offer as a public apology for the events of so long ago .
Part of the problem facing the Colleges governance in President Slocums latter years, as noted by all historians, was the wish of the high-quality faculty he had engaged to break free from the swaddling clothes of his autocratic rule. It could be that something was bound to explode, and which particular spark was to set off the powder-keg would be a relatively random matter. But the strength of the facultys internal relations, coupled with the high moral tone of the senior members, meant that an issue involving sexual impropriety would be bound to cause even more problems than in a more relaxed community or period. A telling piece of evidence about the solidarity and tone of the faculty is provided by Albrights account of the hiking activities of some senior faculty.
Now there has grown up in Colorado College a faculty which has some self respect and independence in spite of the autocratic control of the institution. The fame of the region, the unusual curative climate, and the keenness of Slocum in picking his men when opportunity offered drew together a group of men who are somewhat unusual. These men, chiefly through tramping together week after week in the mountains in sunshine and snowstorms, in bitter winter winds with the temperature below zero, through exposure in rain, and through debating about the blazing campfire, have been drawn so close together that each knows almost the unspoken thoughts of the others. This tramping group comprises all the old men of the faculty, every head professor, every man who has been teaching in the college since 1910 save one, and is a body of men drawn very intimately together and with knowledge of their power. No one can be false to his fellows and each must say and live the truth for the sake and the esteem of the others.
[Albright 1917 p. 2v]
It is interesting and significant that this long passage (occupying a full handwritten page) is included in the way Albright sets up and seeks to explain the situation at Colorado College for his correspondent. Reading this account carefully, with its highly charged language, the group seems to have, for Albright at least, an almost religious significance. Taken with his description in the next paragraph of Dean Parsons as Christ-like we realise that there was something very profound about these activities, for one at least of the participants.
This interpretation, and Albrights high-mindedness, is confirmed by a letter written by his son many years later. In sending some of his fathers effects to the College archives in 1974, Preston Albright explained the significance of the tramping group in these terms.
My father had been one of the original members of the Tramping Party, as it was then called, which was led by Manley Ormes, former C. C. Librarian. . . . They went out every Saturday afternoon, would hike to a campsite, eat, and return home about ten at night. . . . Since the group was largely made up of faculty men the discussions often were concerned with college policies and practices. However, there was considerable story telling of a nature which my father did not entirely approve of. [Albright 1974]
Seeing something of the relations and feelings among these faculty members helps us to understand better the context in which the end of the Slocum era proved such a difficult period for the College.
Harold Davis, the 1915 mathematics major who went on to a career as a professional mathematician, described in his autobiography the significance as he saw it of the Slocum-Parsons affair. Although he had left the College by this time, his lifelong interest in its affairs kept him informed, and his account chimes well with the other evidence. This memoir, published in 1962, was perhaps the earliest appearance of these matters in print .
It was obvious that the president was losing his grip; his judgment had begun to fail him. The voice of the critics became more vocal and in 1916 President Slocum was persuaded, with much effort, to tender his resignation. But the struggle had engendered great bitterness, which the trustees, who were for the most part old friends of the president, did nothing to allay. The matter came to a very unfortunate conclusion in 1917, when Dean Edward S. Parsons was summarily dismissed by them. This torpedoed the faculty. One by one the leading members resigned and the distinguished stature of the group was made manifest by the positions which they secured in the leading universities of the country. . . . In the judgment of the writer the college never fully recovered from this blow. [Davis p.143]
Davis is surely right in pointing to the positions to which the resigning faculty moved as strongest possible evidence of the quality of Colorado Colleges golden age, destroyed overnight by the Trustees precipitate folly. College membersstudents, faculty, alumniof later generations may ponder whether it is right that the Colleges history should still be whitewashed and blandified after all this time, or whether the future would be still stronger and more confident if history were to reflect the full richness and complexity of the past and its heritage.
It seems to me unquestionable both that President Slocum remains the most impressive and effective president that Colorado College has ever had, a true giant of American higher education whom it is right to remember with praise and gratitude; and also that he was in his later years, at least, morally challenged in much the ways that his critics asserted. The problem surely lies for those who find it hard to accept the coexistence of these two facets within a human life . But they then export their problem to the rest of us when their difficulties in accepting human fallibility can only be assuaged by casting aspersions on the memory of one of the truest of College servants, Dean Parsons, and his other colleagues who were the mainstay of Colorado College in its golden age. Many generations of Colorado College students, after all, have been inspired by the words from St Johns Gospel carved in stone over the door of President Slocums greatest building achievement and legacy:
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the unsavory events surrounding Slocums departure from Colorado College was that the unadjudicated rumors about him have made partisans of the College somewhat hesitant about rendering to Slocum the high praise that he most certainly merits. This is true despite the fact that, in 1920, an investigating committee of "eminent collegians" completely exonerated Slocum of the morals charges against him. [Loevy p. 102]Little attention is paid by the other historians of the College to the 'investigating committee of eminent collegians ', perhaps because of the implausibility of their conclusion.
AAUP, Report of the sub-committee of inquiry for Colorado College, Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors v (1919), 51-124
Albright, Guy, letter to Paul Peck, 23 Oct 1917, Special Collections, Colorado College
Albright, Preston, letter to George Fagan, 15 April 1974, Special Collections, Colorado College
Davis, Harold T, The adventures of an ultra-crepidarian, San Antonio 1962
Hershey, Charlie Brown, Colorado College1874-1949, Colorado Springs 1952
Hill, Robert, Colorado College 1874-1999: a history of distinction, Colorado Springs 1999
Loevy, Robert D, Colorado College: a place of learning 1874-1999, Colorado Springs 1999
Reid, Juan, Colorado College: the first century 1874-1974, Colorado Springs 1979