Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


Fund-raising had again become an urgent project of the College in 1919, and the device of employing a financial agent such as had operated in the nineteenth century was again considered by the Trustees. Rev. John Sayles, a resident of Buffalo and a graduate of the divinity school in 1892, was one of those suggested. There was some hesitation about using his services, but


Trustee Fletcher urged his immediate appointment, partly on the ground that the "chief obstacle" to finding a permanent successor to Bumpus was the failure of the College to secure funds and the natural unwillingness of any candidate to assume the financial responsibilities of the institution. The Executive Committee, after having decided to employ Rev. Mr. Sayles, rescinded its vote twenty-four hours later. Acting President Cousens and Fletcher disagreed over the matter. The latter had insisted for several years that securing the services of a financial agent was the best solution, while Cousens argued equally vigorously that funds should be raised from the alumni, and by alumni initiative and effort, without the prodding of a professional money-raiser, alumnus or not.[14]  Cousens and the majority of the Trustees prevailed, and Sayles was not employed; this failure Fletcher considered "the most colossal blunder" that had ever been made during the time he had served as a Trustee.

The vehicle used to organize the fund appeal was the Tufts Foundation Association, approved by the Trustees in the fall of 1919. It was both necessary and timely. President Bumpus had carried the College successfully through the war years, but the margin of financial reserve was a narrow one and postwar adjustments had to be faced squarely. In 1919 the operating deficits in both medical and dental schools exceeded the 10 per cent reserve that had been set apart annually and added to the sinking funds.[15]  The College barely broke even when the SATC accounts were settled with the federal government, and the total amount paid out for operating expenses in 1919 was over $600,000 -the largest yet expended by the institution in a single year. Gifts and bequests were the smallest that had been received for some time (only $13,000), and both the men's and women's dormitories lost money. Austin Fletcher continued his long-standing practice of making generous annual donations ($10,000 in 1919) but continued also to reserve the right during his lifetime to control both the investment and the income of the fund comprising his gifts. The money collected through Professor Hooper's diligence had


been almost exhausted by 1919 and amounted to less than $9,000.

Immediate as well as long-range action had to be taken to provide revenue. The salaries of full professors had been raised $500 (to $2,500) in 1918 and of most assistant professors to a maximum of $2,000 but were still conspicuously inadequate in relation to the inflationary economy that the nation had inherited from wartime. All tuitions were raised by $25, effective in the fall of 1919. Liberal arts and Jackson went to $150, engineering to $200, and Bromfield-Pearson to $175. Medical and dental school tuition went to $175, and the pre-medical charge to $150. Scarcely had these upward adjustments been authorized than another round of increases was voted by the Trustees for the following year. Tuition was further raised in some divisions of the College, dormitory rentals were increased, a fee of $7.50 was levied on all undergraduates not residing on the campus, and assessments were increased for such student activities as athletics and the weekly newspaper.[16]  Part of the anticipated increased revenue, estimated at $100,000, was intended to go into further salary increases for full professors in the Hill schools.[17]  A tuition increase of $25 in the Associated Schools of Arts and Sciences went into effect September 1921, and at the same time tuition for all four years of both the medical and the dental schools was established at $200.[18] 

Cousens set the ideal target of the Tufts Foundation at $2,000,000 for productive endowment and $500,000 for additions to the physical plant, but the sights had to be lowered to $1,000,000 for practical reasons. Trustee Fletcher, disgruntled by the failure of the Board to approve his plan to employ a professional fund-raiser, sniffed in disdain at the one-million-dollar goal and told Cousens


in 1922 that "if Tufts had laid out a carefully planned campaign, with a man behind it who knew his business ... we should have been well toward the two million mark by this time." A few months later Fletcher expressed the decided opinion that Tufts "should have started out to raise three million dollars instead of one million." Realizing that alumni contributions alone would never suffice, Acting President Cousens applied in 1920 for "immediate assistance" from the Rockefeller-based General Education Board. He requested $100,000 a year for five years. His efforts to obtain foundation support appeared to have been successful, for in June 1920 the Trustees were informed that the Board would commit up to $300,000 to an endowment fund of $1,000,000 provided the College would raise the remaining $700,000, the total amount "to be set aside and maintained inviolate by Tufts College as endowment, the income to be used in providing permanently for the increase of teachers' salaries." [19]  The General Education Board also pledged for the same purpose the equivalent in interest of $60,000, scaled over a three-year period.

The conditions prescribed by the General Education Board came close to wreaking havoc with the Tufts Foundation drive. Among other things, it meant that money pledged without condition and "usable for any purpose whatever including payment of running expenses" (as stipulated in the original endowment drive) was automatically removed from funds available to pay current expenses; only the income of the Foundation funds could be so used, for the Board had added the proviso that a reduction in the principal below $1,000,000 would mean a corresponding decrease in pledges from the Board. The College set September 1925 as the deadline for attaining its goal. Certain other restrictions were included in the agreement made by the General Education Board in 1921. No legacies could be counted toward the endowment, and no part of the income from the fund could be used "for specifically theological instruction." Receipts were agonizingly slow in coming in at first. Slightly less than $60,000 had been received in six


months, and was credited to the "Tufts Salary Foundation." A year later the fund was still less than $150,000. Cousens told the Trusttees in his annual report for 1919-20 that upon them "rested the final responsibility for the financial condition of the College." He chided them for having known "for years" that Tufts lacked endowment, and yet they had made "little effort" to secure it. They had an opportunity and a responsibility which they could not avoid. He issued a virtual ultimatum: each member of the Board should pledge either to get or to give at least $25,000 before another year had passed. He saw no other solution.

Much to the relief of all concerned, the Tufts Foundation campaign had accomplished its task by June 1923, with $15,000 pledged beyond the goal. A special "Jumbo Bond Drive" had been responsible for raising over $450,000 of the amount needed; the completion of the Foundation represented "a notable personal achievement" by President Cousens.[20] 

As in most of the College's history, the bulk of the contributions consisted of many small donations rather than a few large ones. The largest single contribution was $50,000, and the total number of subscribers (as of October 1, 1923) was 5,812. Actual collection of pledges and commitments by the General Education Board totaled over $650,000 by the end of the next year. A gift of $7,500 from the Board in 1923-24 to enhance faculty salaries also added unexpectedly to the resources of the institution. Just as soon as the Tufts Foundation drive was completed, Cousens persuaded the alumni that a Sustaining Fund should be created. The Foundation pledges had gotten many of the alumni into the habit of making yearly contributions, and an annual fund of about $50,000 could be drawn upon to meet unforeseen deficits or be allowed to accumulate as part of the endowment if there were no unusual drafts on College operating funds.

The prosperity that was experienced in most sectors of the national economy in the mid-1920's was reflected in the financial fortunes of the College. Budgets, expenditures, and income all


reached new highs. The total budget for 1926-27 was $800,000 and the estimated surplus was $35,000. In 1927, for the first time in its history, the College's operating expenses for a single year exceeded one million dollars. Tufts had become an educational enterprise of no mean proportions and had long since outgrown the financial provincialism of the nineteenth century. The returns from all general investments and the income from numerous gifts and bequests in the 1920's more than matched the immediate needs of the institution. In 1927, returns averaged 8 per cent.[21]  In the midst of this prosperity, tuition was raised $50 in all but the pre-medical and pre-dental schools, effective September 1927.[22]  Another round of increases, effective in 1930-31, brought the totals to $300 in the school of liberal arts and in Jackson. The undergraduate increases were not justified because the College was in financial difficulties-far from it in the mid-1920's - but because President Cousens held firmly to the conviction that students (or, more appropriately, their parents) who were able to do so should contribute a larger share of the cost of their higher education than prevailing tuition required.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the more prolonged and much more serious depression that followed in the 1930's had inevitable reverberations at Tufts. Cousens' greatest nightmare was that the operating expenses of the College might some day tip the ledger to the wrong side. He and the other officers responsible for the financial administration of the institution used almost every device available to prevent deficits. "Prudence" became the watchword. In 1929-30 the budget was balanced by canceling the president's expense account for traveling, by drawing for the first time upon the Alumni Sustaining Fund, and by charging against the funds of the Fletcher estate certain administrative expenses. The budget for the following year was kept in equilibrium largely


because of a "substantial increase" in revenue from student fees and a paring down of the budget for maintenance.[23]  Of greatest concern in terms of anticipated revenue was the continued depressed state of enrollment in the dental school, which had never completely recovered from the period of slump apparently entered by the entire field of dental education in the mid-1920's. The increase in dental school tuition from $300 to $350, effective in September 1931, was in no sense a solution to its financial problem.

The securing of more adequate endowment for the whole institution, as well as any special endowment for some of its parts, seemed still to be the unattainable goal. "Our resources," said Cousens to the Trustees in 1930, "have never been commensurate with our ambition; indeed the exigencies of our situation have often compelled us to assume financial obligations before adequate financial foundations have been laid. The history of the College is full of such instances." Unfortunately, nobody could truthfully contradict him. However, the short-range prospects for the institution continued to look promising. Even without substantial increases in endowment in sight, the College managed to do very well in maintaining a slight balance in the black. In fact, in the fiscal year 1931-32 the treasurer was able to set up two reserve accounts totaling $25,000 - one for contingencies and one for the Department of Grounds and Buildings, to be used at the discretion of the president. At the March meeting of the Trustees in 1933 President Cousens was given a rising vote of thanks and congratulations "for the excellent financial condition of the institution."

The Trustees had "every expectation" that the College would continue to function as usual through the dark financial days of the 1930's and that even a balanced budget could be reported. They nevertheless saw fit to make all faculty appointments between 1933-34 and 1935-36 for one year only, "upon the express conditions that no contract is to be implied from or established by this vote" and that the College would assume no liability except for services already rendered if it became necessary to terminate an appointment. These provisions at first glance might have seemed to justify panic in the ranks, but there was another side to the story. So far as can be determined, no person considered


a permanent member of the faculty or staff either lost his position or suffered a reduction in salary directly because of the state of the Tufts treasury during a critical period in the nation's economy. The financial picture was sufficiently satisfactory by the spring of 1936 to make possible the discarding of the one-year limitation on all appointments.[24] 

The long-range financial needs of the College were not neglected during the 1930's. In fact, the pressures of outside accrediting agencies on the engineering school and the medical school made endowment a more pressing requirement than ever. President Cousens reminded the Trustees periodically that the proportion of the total expense for operating the institution supplied by tuition and student fees was "altogether too large in relation to the amount received as income from endowment." The worst of the depression seemed to have passed by 1937, and the Trustees approved in principle three proposals: to raise an endowment for the engineering school; to approve the expenditure of $25,000 to conduct a campaign for an endowment of $2,000,000 for the medical school, to be conducted by its alumni; and to "organize an office under the direction of a qualified official of the Corporation to undertake the raising of an endowment for the College and its various departments."


[14] Fletcher aired his plans to employ a solicitor in a letter to the Tufts College Graduate, Vol. 17 (June-August 1919), pp. 151-152.

[15] The practice of setting up as a reserve 10 per cent of the receipts from students in the medical and dental schools was discontinued after 1921-22.

[16] Tuition in the school of liberal arts, Jackson, Crane, the graduate school, the pre-medical and medical schools, and the first two years of the dental school was raised at midyear in 1920 to $175. Tuition for the third and fourth years in the dental school was set at $160. Engineering school tuition remained at $200, but the Bromfield-Pearson charges were raised to that figure.

[17] The minimum salary for those holding permanent appointments was set at $3,000, to take effect not later than September 1920. Cousens had raised his goal to $4,000 for full professors by that time and five years later expressed his desire that the salaries of departmental chairmen reach $5,000. By 1927 this had been partially achieved by a distribution of a portion of the surplus which the College then enjoyed.

[18] Medical school tuition was again raised (to $225), effective September 1922, and more increases were yet to come.

[19] Cousens informed the General Education Board in 1920 that the Tufts salary scale was as follows: professors, $3,000 to $4,000; assistant professors, $2,500 to $3,000; instructors, $1,800 to $2,000; assistants, $1,200 to $1,500. This scale included increases totaling slightly over $45,000 made possible by the General Education Board grants.

[20] Harold E. Sweet, Fletcher's successor as president of the Board of Trustees, contributed the sum that made possible the success of the final effort to complete the Foundation drive on schedule. The Alumni Professorship Fund, which in 1931 was still less than $6,000 (including accumulated interest) was added that year to the Tufts Foundation Fund.

[21] This unusually high figure included extra dividends on the profitable Eppinger and Russell stock which the College received as part of the estate of Austin B. Fletcher, who died in 1923. Without this, the earned rate was still a comfortable 5 1/2 per cent.

[22] The numerous increases in tuition in the 1920's did not always apply to the graduate school. The tuition in that division had been set at $100 in 1921-22 and had been increased to $150 in 1927-28. It was raised to $250, effective in 1929-30, at which time the semester-hour fee for special graduate students was also raised from $7.50 to $8.50, and later to $10.00.

[23] The average income per student in 1930-31 for all divisions of the College was $436 and the expenditures were $433.

[24] The credit for the sound financial state of the College was not due to President Cousens alone. The Finance Committee of the Trustees and particularly Richard B. Coolidge, treasurer of the Corporation from 1934 until 1952, merited a goodly share, not to overlook the many generous contributors.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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