Light on the Hill, Volume II
SOLVING THE LONG-RANGE PROBLEM of the Crane School had become sufficiently pressing by early 1967 to result in the creation of an ad hoc trustee study committee comprising the chairmen of all standing committees. They investigated the budgetary problem and operating expenses of the school over a period of several years. Annual deficits seldom fell below $50,000 and frequently exceeded that amount. Not counted was the non-funded investment in Paige Hall and Wessell Library which housed the theological library and provided other services to the school.
The trustee committee made its report in the late spring of 1967. They estimated that annual support amounting to $250,000 was needed to provide a school worthy of accreditation, based on an enrollment of fifty students. But how could such a sum be raised each year? Closing the school seemed to be the only alternative, for
|financial projections "made it appear not practical to continue [it] as presently structured."|
The trustee executive committee concurred and recommended in April "the eventual removal of Crane Theological School from the campus or its liquidation." A committee was appointed to work out the details. Financial considerations were listed as the governing factor leading up to the recommendation. However, when the full board voted in June 1967 "that the program of instruction at Crane Theological School be terminated as of June 1968," no mention was made of finances as a reason. Instead, the school had "not maintained its place of considerable distinction in theological education." Mead and Charles E. Stearns, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, reported the trustee decision to the Crane alumni at a meeting a few days after the vote was taken.
Even though the announcement of the closing of the school cast "a long shadow" over all of its activities, the necessary work was carried on by the twenty-six degree candidates and five faculty members up to the time of closing. Twelve were graduated in 1968 - the largest number in any one year since 1897. Nine of the remaining students elected to continue as candidates for the Tufts degree at other institutions, and five transferred to other theological schools. Four of the faculty (none of them tenured) were able to secure positions elsewhere; the single tenured faculty member continued as a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and headed the undergraduate Department of Religion.
As soon as the decision had been made to close Crane the trustees adopted a policy of insuring that all of the theological students who continued their studies at some other institution would receive financial assistance in the same amounts as those granted to them by Crane while they were enrolled there. A settlement totalling $24,000 was made to those students still enrolled when the school closed. The reimbursement covered both financial aid and moving expenses. The last Crane degree was awarded in 1971. The following year a Crane alumnus brought to Tufts' attention the fact that several theological schools were allowing their graduates who held BDs or STBs to exchange them for Master of Divinity (M. Div.) or Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degrees. In 1978 the Tufts trustees authorized holders of Crane degrees to make an exchange if they wished. There is no indication of how many took advantage of this option.
Litigation regarding disposition of the assets of the school was expected. In order to forestall it, President Burton C. Hallowell, who had become president in 1967, was to be given authority by the state
|courts to carry out such plans as in his judgment would "most nearly carry out the intention of the donors." Hallowell, who was not a member of the denomination, had no involvement in any of the proceedings concerning the school which had preceded his election to the presidency. This effectively blocked any attempt on the part of either the UUA or the donors to retrieve any funds. The total endowment intended exclusively for Crane was about $400,000 (market value) as of 1964. If land and buildings were included as assets, the total exceeded $600,000, but this was largely an internal bookkeeping matter. The buildings were immediately put to other uses.|
After court approval in 1968 the university established a so-called Crane Program Fund which was to be used for support of the Department of Religion; the university chaplaincy; scholarships for those enrolled at Tufts who intended to enter the liberal ministry, religious education, or social welfare work; and community social service programs. The total of the Crane Fund amounted to $213,000 in 1972, comprising 1 percent of all university funds available for investment.
There were many protests and much ill-will resulting from the manner in which the funds had been handled. Those with a Universalist background or connection were especially incensed. Many felt that the money should have been returned somehow to the denomination. One minister, an alumnus of both Tufts and Crane, served as spokesman for an ad hoc committee registering strong objection to the manner in which the trustees had handled the school closing, and alleged that they had been indifferent to alumni concerns. He wanted a committee appointed to reconsider the idea of using Crane facilities as a "metro center" for liberal religion, but this plan had long since been abandoned.
The Tufts School of Religion/Crane Theological School was no more, and all that Hersey could do was accept the decision with "deep regret." This was probably an understatement of the dean's true feelings; it was a blow from which he never recovered. He retired officially from the deanship in 1968, which coincided with the closing of the school, having been given emeritus status by the trustees the previous year. It was a sad occasion, when the Crane faculty, at its last meeting on 29 April 1968, adopted resolutions on his retirement, after fourteen years of service - some satisfying and full of hope for the future but ending with trying and difficult final years.
Hersey's retirement was brief. He became pastor of the small Universalist church in Essex, Massachusetts, but died on 6 January 1971 at the age of sixty-seven, grievously disappointed that the end of the Crane Theological School had come during his deanship.
The eventual demise of the school was made almost inevitable by a combination of circumstances which, taken separately, might not have been responsible for its closing. If they had not been present, the life of the school might have been prolonged but by no means guaranteed. By 1967 the Tufts trustees were facing an operating deficit of more than half a million dollars, and every division of the university that was not paying all or most of its own way was a candidate for severe retrenchment if not actual elimination. Crane was the most likely casualty.
Both Wessell and Mead were personally committed to liberal religion, and were sympathetic to the aims of the Crane School. Both were likewise committed to a nondenominational theological school, as both announced repeatedly. Mead had leaned so far over backward to maintain the nondenominational stance of the institution that when a list of Unitarian and Universalist faculty members was requested by the denomination, Mead refused to supply it. Such an act, he believed, would give a religious coloration denied by the charter of the institution. Wessell's decision to resign just as the negotations were reaching a critical stage likewise played a part. Mead had been appointed acting president (effective September 1966) and had accepted the new responsibility as a strictly temporary measure, with the full knowledge that a new president might be appointed at any time.
Officials of the UUA also faced the practical problem of attempting by 1964 to subsidize to some extent four theological schools with totally inadequate funding. Something had to give. Greeley had not been at all enthusiastic about Tufts' plans for an enlarged and rehabilitated "new Crane," much preferring to give support to a more strictly Unitarian Universalist school than Crane represented. There was the undisputed fact, painfully clear to both the Tufts administration and UUA officialdom, that Crane had never achieved the standing of a first-class theological school in spite of all the good work it had accomplished, and that great quantities of money which neither could afford would need to be poured into the school. Still, it had rendered just one year short of a century of service to the liberal ministry, and that was no small contribution. In its ninety-nine year history it had graduated 281 Bachelors of Divinity (some in religious education), 152 Bachelors of Sacred Theology, and 2 Masters of Religious Education, a total of 485.
With the closing of the Crane School a major link with Tufts' Universalist past was broken. It was but one in a series of events that slowly but steadily eroded the historic religious heritage of the institution. The last Universalist clerymen in active service elected as a
|Tufts trustee (John Coleman Adams) died in 1922. Thomas O. Marvin, a former Universalist clergyman who had received his Tufts BD in 1888 but who had entered secular business in his later years, had died in 1952. Thomas Sawyer Knight, grandson of T.J. Sawyer, the first dean of the old divinity school and the son of a professor in the same school, and a trustee since 1927, had died in 1963. Only a small and diminishing handful of old-line Universalists still remained on the board of trustees when Wessell retired in 1966. Tufts had bestowed the last honorary DD it had awarded to a Universalist clergyman in 1968, the year that Crane closed its doors. An era in Tufts history had come to an end.|