Light on the Hill, Volume II

Miller, Russell


IN 1954, soon after Wessell became president, he and his family moved from 48 Professors Row, where he had been required to live because he was an administrator, to the fifteen-room President's House built in 1938 and first occupied by Carmichael. The trustees authorized in 1953 the purchase of a (used) 1951 Plymouth two-door sedan for the president's use on official business, and he was ready for action. In fact, he had begun to behave like a president as soon as he had become acting president, as he admitted to the trustees in his first annual report in the fall of 1953. He had refused, he said, to act merely as a caretaker, and had decided to plunge into the work at hand to meet the "crucial years" ahead.

One of the more immediate needs, as Wessell perceived it, was some reorganization of the general administration, in all of which the trustees concurred. Altogether, he created nine new administrative positions or arrangements. However, internal administration was never a preoccupation with him. In fact he was said at one time to have threatened - at least semi-facetiously - to fire anyone who suggested creating a Table of Organization for the administration of the institution.

Among the new positions was a Vice-President for Development. The responsibility of the first holder of that office, Clarence P. Houston, was to systematize and broaden the base of fund-raising. It paid dividends immediately. During the first few years (1953-57), annual giving rose from $78,000 to $432,000, and annual gifts from $75,000 to $534,000. The president also set out on a series of fund-raising trips (including the West Coast) in which he was markedly successful in reviving moribund alumni clubs, founding new ones, and articulating the needs of the institution. Wessell found the efforts to raise funds so demanding that in 1962 he called for two officers rather than the president alone, and recommended that fund-raising responsibilities be separated from academic leadership and assigned to a chancellor who would work directly with the trustees - a recommendation never carried out.

In regard to financial affairs, Wessell and a small trustee committee redefined the functions of the treasurer by separating investment accounting from general accounting, giving the treasurer the responsibility for the former and a new officer, a full-time comptroller and business officer, for the latter.


One of the first items on the institutional agenda when Wessell became president was to clarify the nature of the institution in the eyes of the law by recognizing formally the actuality of what Tufts College had long since become - a university. The trustee Executive Committee had been authorized as early as 1939, a year after Carmichael had become president, "to consider the advisability or nonadvisability of the use of the word 'University' in connection with the corporate title of Tufts College." However, consideration had been tabled, and the idea had not been revived until more than a decade later. In his inaugural address in the winter of 1953 Wessell had called for an amendment to the charter making Tufts a university in name as well as in fact. A trustee committee was appointed that same year "to investigate the matter of including the term 'University' in the name of the institution." Wessell and Carmichael, who continued to serve as a Tufts trustee for many years after he ceased to be president, were members of the committee. They were especially appropriate persons for that assignment, for they had both referred frequently to Tufts as a university for many years. Wessell had, in fact, expressed his hope in 1953 that Tufts would become "a small university of high quality."

In the fall of 1954 the possibility was again considered, the trustees acknowledging that the term "Tufts University" was considered "more truly descriptive of the institution, including its many graduate schools." A petition for the necessary change was filed, dated 20 January 1955, and was approved on 28 January by the Massachusetts Board of Collegiate Authority. Although a charter change had originally been thought necessary, it never required formal legislative action. Instead, the petition went through normal administrative channels in routine fashion, and Tufts was notified of the approval on 28 June 1955. (The petition was accepted by the State Commissioner of Corporations and Taxation on 15 March. A copy of the "Certificate of Change of Purpose," in accordance with General Laws, Chapter 180, section 10, was then transmitted to Tufts.) By obtaining the right to use the term "university," the institution had finally become dejure what it had been defacto for considerably more than half a century. After the petition of the trustees had been approved, so much confusion about terminology and relationships ensued that the provost felt constrained to issue a detailed set of printed instructions for all to heed, with sample letterheads to illustrate the new arrangement. The corporate entity remained "Trustees of Tufts College," as specified in the original charter of 1852 and was to be used on all legal documents. In most other respects, but by no means all, the term


"Tufts University" was to be used on all printed matter issued by various divisions. The undergraduate components were to be called "colleges" and the graduate divisions were to be called "schools." The College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering were to comprise "Tufts College." Jackson College was to maintain the distinctive name which had been given it in 1910 as the coordinate institution for women. The Division of Special Studies became the College of Special Studies. The names of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Crane Theological School, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the School of Medicine, and the School of Dental Medicine remained unchanged. To compound the confusion, the separate undergraduate Departments of Athletics and Admissions for Tufts and Jackson, respectively, were to bear the heading "Tufts College" and "Jackson College."

One matter connected with the new designations which for a brief period created a certain amount of controversy - and amusement in some quarters - was a difference of opinion over the design of wording on official stationery. The community was told that the words "Tufts University" were to receive the more prominent display. But the Fletcher School, jealously guarding what it conceived to be its semi-autonomous status, insisted on placing their designation ahead of that of the university. There was even a threat to make the print larger for Fletcher than for Tufts. The ensuing "battle of the letterheads" raged for several months and even involved the Fletcher alumni, who seemed to be much more willing to claim their tenuous connection with Harvard than their much closer connection with Tufts. The trustees finally considered it advisable to intervene, and the executive committee stipulated that a choice was possible. The school designation could either precede or follow the words "Tufts University."

What was the intention of the trustees in turning Tufts from a college into a university, and what were its implications for the future? This question came up in the course of a joint meeting of several faculty study committees in 1956. Two contrasting answers could be given: that the name change was merely "a semantic correction of an already established event" and that it implied little more than a change of terminology; or that it meant "a recognition of a desirable direction in which Tufts should move" and that the trustees were prepared "to undertake the financial, administrative and other responsibilities which follow from a planned attempt to create a stronger Tufts than we are." Some administrators were already interpreting the action in the second sense. The University Librarian assumed a major shift in library arrangements, including the


development of greatly augmented research resources; and the Dean of the Graduate School believed that his division should undergo a major strengthening and expansion "in countless respects" if Tufts were to be "a real university."

President Wessell, in reply, made it clear that, whether the official name was altered or not, the institution had to prepare itself for change in the decade immediately ahead. The institution had to be ready to launch a development program expressed in terms of "needs and facilities, academic standards and objectives, and millions of dollars. If we plan for less than this we fail to live up to our responsibilities, obligations, and opportunities." To Wessell the change of legal designation had "not altered the fundamental academic processes within the institution and its several divisions [but was] of great significance in making clear the essential character of Tufts to individuals not intimately associated with it." Regardless of whether Tufts was being viewed from within or from without, it was to be "a small university of high quality." This became the slogan and watchword associated with both Tufts and its president for the thirteen years of his administration.

Wessell was, as expected, much in demand as a public speaker on all aspects of education. While vice-president and Dean of the School (later College) of Liberal Arts in 1952 he had spoken to an all-day conference sponsored by the college of the Massachusetts Guidance Association. He took the "unglamorized, unglorified middle road" in the perennial debate between general and vocational education, arguing that "both types of education can and should determine the nature of undergraduate college training." There had to be a balance struck between liberal arts and specialized professional competency. He admitted that, in defining the role of the undergraduate college, it was caught between improved secondary school quality and specialization at the graduate level. The responsibility of an educational institution such as Tufts was to furnish breadth as well as to make some attempt at depth.

The opportunity to reach a larger audience came in 1954 when an interview with Benjamin Fine, education editor of the New York Times, was reported in that paper. Although couched in rather general terms, the problems and challenges which Wessell outlined had not only a particular relevance for Tufts but gave some indication of what his own concerns and priorities were. He called for broader as well as greater financial support "from the public generally." By this he meant, as he had earlier told the trustees, bringing the college


"closer to the world of business and industry," and by that he meant primarily the private sector, and made no mention of government sources. He also called for the building up and maintenance of an even stronger faculty than then existed, emphasizing the need for an improved salary structure to attract the quality needed to provide the best education possible.

Wessell wanted to see greater emphasis on the liberal arts than he thought existed in most institutions of higher education, admitting frankly that the support was likely to be more difficult to obtain than for engineering and other professional programs. Narrow vocationalism was to be shunned in favor of breadth and a balanced educational program. Expressing himself as he did in the midst of the tensions of the McCarthy era, Wessell stressed the absolute necessity of keeping freedom of inquiry untrammeled - a tradition of which Tufts had had a record without serious blemish. Expanded facilities to meet increased enrollments (which he did not favor for Tufts) still needed attention, as did the improvement of existing academic standards. He called also for greater public faith in higher education as a desirable goal. As generalized and even as platitudinous as some of these problems and their solutions might have seemed, there is no reason to doubt Wessell's sincerity in expressing them.

An even wider opportunity to enhance Tufts' visibility came in the winter of 1955. As part of the public recognition that Tufts had become a university in name as well as in fact, the institution held what was described as its first academic convocation in December. The unifying theme was "The Role of the Small University in American Higher Education." One part of the convocation was the conducting of four symposia, attended by delegates from more than 200 educational institutions from around the nation, on four topics relevant to the major theme, and their role in a small university. They were Faculty Scholarship, the Humanities in the Engineering Curriculum, Religion, and the Recruitment and Preparation of Teachers. The first was chaired by Charles E. Stearns, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts; the second by Paul H. Flint of the Department of English; the third by Benjamin B. Hersey, Dean of the Crane Theological School; and the fourth by Daniel W. Marshall, chairman of the Department of Education. Each symposium was staffed by a combination of representatives from the Tufts faculty and student body, deans, presidents, and administrative officers from other institutions, as well as practitioners in several businesses and professions and one federal governmental official. Among the participants were Barnaby A. Keeney, president of Brown University; William C. White, vice-president of Northeastern University; Oscar Bray, a civil


engineer; Reverend Angus H. MacLean, dean of the theological school at St. Lawrence University; Reverend Basil W. Kenny of the Paulist Fathers and adviser to Tufts Catholic students: Rabbi Herman Pollack of the Hillel Foundation and adviser to Tufts Jewish students; Howard H. Reynolds, research manager of Dewey and Almy Chemical Company; Mary Elizabeth Switzer, director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; Hollis L. Caswell, president of Teachers College, Columbia University; and Arthur A. Hauck, president of the University of Maine. An edited transcript of the four symposia was published in 1955, entitled "The Role of the Small University in American Higher Education."

The entire convocation, which included the awarding of honorary degrees, was pronounced a complete success and garnered for Tufts, even if briefly, the national publicity it so sorely needed and sought. The next task was to translate into concrete form the aspirations embodied in Wessell's description of Tufts as "a small university of high quality."


[] "Education in Review," 7 February 1954.

  • Light on the Hill, the second volume of the history of Tufts University, was published in 1986, covering the years from 1952 to 1986. This doucument was created from the 1986 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume II.
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 Title Page
1. Setting the Stage for the Second Century
2. Long-Range Planning
3. Bricks and Mortar 1952-1967
4. The End of Theological Education at Tufts
5. Ever-Widening Curricula for Liberal Arts and Engineering
6. Jackson College: A Search for Identity
7. Defining the Role of the College of Special Studies
8. The Arts and Sciences Faculty I
9. The Arts and Sciences Faculty II
10. The Central Library
11. The Changing Character of the Student Body
12. Fraternities and Sororities at Tufts: A Cyclical History
13. A Beehive of Activity: From Trustees to Students
14. From Wessell to Hallowell
15. The Hallowell Administration: Years of Trial and Tribulation
16. The Hallowell Administration: Continued Trial and Tribulation
17. Educational Ventures, Successful and Otherwise
18. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
19. Medical and Dental Education I
20. Medical and Dental Education II
21. Taking Stock of the University in the 1960s and 1970s
22. The Mayer Administration: A Preliminary View
23. The Mayer Administration: Consolidation and Expansion