Former UI Presidents Speak Out, November 2, 2015

Speeches of Four Former UI Presidents

The UI Old Capitol Steps, Iowa City
November 2, 2015

Silas Totten (2nd UI President, 1859-62)
Charles Schaeffer (7th UI President, 1887-1898)
Thomas Huston Macbride (10th UI President, 1914-1916)
Walter Jessup (11th UI President, 1916-1934)

Note: The presidents are sticklers for crediting others’ work, and so they include a citation for The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, which they used to jar their memories. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Ed. David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren N. Horton. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2009.

Good Afternoon.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Silas Totten, the second president of the University of Iowa. The first president couldn’t be here today—he has a touch of dyspepsia, but he sends his best wishes to all the students who are speaking truth to power, and upholding Iowa values of fairness and integrity. The University belongs to you young people, not to us old geezers, but we wanted to let you know we support your efforts.

The University of Iowa’s former presidents have been rolling in their graves in the last few months. Back in our day, it was not unusual for men to get important jobs because of who they knew, but we thought you had done away with that kind of thing in the 21st century.

In a couple of minutes, we’re going to march by Schaeffer Hall, then head on over to Jessup Hall and take a few turns around the loop of sidewalk between Jessup and Macbride. But before we do that, Presidents Schaeffer, Macbride, and Jessup each want to say a few words.

And I hope you are following 6th UI President Josiah Pickard on Twitter—he was always very forward-looking; today he’s live-tweeting the event and in future tweets he’ll let you know when the Dead President Society will rise again.

Hello! I’m Charles Schaeffer. It is with true sadness, but also with keen spirit that I address you today. Let me tell you about my career, as a way to give you an example of public service. After serving the Union cause from 1861 to 1863, I studied science at Harvard with a focus on chemistry. I earned a Ph.D. abroad at the University of Göttingen and studied for six years in Paris. In 1870, I was hired by Cornell University to teach and research chemistry and mineralogy. At Cornell, I also began a career as a university leader, becoming vice-president and dean. All of this prepared me for taking on the job of president at Iowa.

I eagerly and energetically served the University, from 1887 to my untimely death in 1898. Under my stewardship, the number of faculty more than doubled and student enrollment nearly tripled. By collaborating with others, I encouraged the school’s standing as a true research university. And I began the Department of Pedagogy, to better prepare Iowa high school teachers.

I am most proud of successfully lobbying the State Legislature to enact a one mill levy – that’s one-tenth of a cent -- to support the construction of buildings on campus. A fraction of everyone’s money is put toward the betterment of everyone! You see before you the results: the Pentacrest.

I believe I put it best when I said, “Think not, however, that it is for the sake of material advantages alone that I would have this university appeal for support. While studying the laws of God as exemplified in the phenomena of nature, we must not forget that ‘the highest study of mankind is man.’”

I hated dying so unexpectedly, as I would amend that final sentiment to include all of humankind!

  Good afternoon. I’m Thomas Huston Macbride. I am the son of a Presbyterian minister whose antislavery views led parishioners to hound him from his post in eastern Tennessee. He took our family to Iowa, where he continued as a pastor. I grew up doing farm work, while studying and ultimately teaching math, modern languages, and science. My interest in botany and my interest in the prairie led to experiments that landed me an assistant professorship at the University of Iowa. Preserving my work for peers and posterity, I published research regularly. This includes, of course, my authoritative work on fungi, North American Slime Moulds. Befitting this wonderful university’s creative traditions, I also published a personal memoir, titled In Cabins and Sod-Houses. Later in my career as teacher and scholar, the need arose for university leadership. I was honored to step into the breach and then serve officially as president in 1914.

As a leader, the legacy I am most proud of is the university’s extension program. I lectured in many towns and encouraged my peers to do so as well. Then as now, the university was and is a public service designed to benefit the state’s citizens. So too, my love of the outdoors and my authority on parks and forestry led the kind people of Iowa to name Lake Macbride in my honor.

My range is the university’s range, based on a long and deep history of research, teaching, and public service. I put it like this once: “The Scientist and the Poet have much in common.” Actually, I said “The man of Science and the Poet have much in common.” But it has been great to be undead! It lets me see what men and women -- in the arts and sciences, in medicine and law, in engineering and mathematics -- have done at this remarkable institution!

  Good day to you. I’m Walter Jessup. My life was devoted to education. I began my career in the public schools of Indiana, rising to principal and superintendent. From there, I earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University and wrote textbooks on the teaching of mathematics. After working as a dean at Indiana University, I accepted a similar position here, as dean of the College of Education. It was this belief in – really a life’s work in – education that led me to become the eleventh president of the University of Iowa. I was known to be excruciatingly careful with the budget. You would not see me waste 308,000 dollars on a fraudulent search!

But more importantly, because I so valued education and innovation, I supervised new degree programs that were unprecedented. The arts flourished under my watch, as I collaborated with other seasoned teachers to create MFAs in creative writing and the fine arts. Under my watch, Iowa established the first School of Religion at a public university. And, not least, the university became home to the largest public teaching hospital in the U.S. These innovations were possible because of—not in spite of—my experience as an educator.

My death has been devoted to education as well. My companions and I have watched over this university, seeing all the great work you do. We are saddened to see the trampling of Iowa’s traditions in this latest hire. Let us now process to the building you generously named for me. Let us process to Jessup Hall and rise up for Iowa’s values, for preparation, fairness, innovation, integrity—and, most important of all, as my illustrious fellow presidents so amply demonstrate--experience!

If they are willing, I ask that students lead the way. It is their future that has been jeopardized. This is a sad and solemn day, but it is only the beginning of our fight to defend the University of Iowa. LET US MARCH.

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