…the real story of that time the faculty saved the University

The Liner, 1933

In 1927, Hamline’s president Alfred F. Hughes, took the helm of a University in deep financial difficulty. He believed that the only solution to Hamline’s financial woes was to transform Hamline into a junior college satellite of the University of Minnesota. The crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression did much damage to Hamline, but most injurious was Hamline’s failure to distinguish itself from other institutions in the area. An investigative report compiled by the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church, remarked, “An educational institution located in St. Paul, in the shadow of the University of Minnesota, must be prepared to render a distinctive service if it is to survive.”

Asked to shoulder part of the burden, faculty were pressured to contribute five percent of their already low salaries. But the alumni, students, and faculty rose up with a loud voice, and President Alfred Hughes was forced out in 1932. Henry L. Osborn, now 75 years of age, agreed to step in as acting president. Osborn divided the duties of the college among a committee of six department heads selected by the faculty, who “assumed the major administrative duties without additional pay or reduction of teaching loads.”

All hands were called to help Hamline get back on its feet. Alumni president Charles R. Richardson appealed to alumni and to “all churches, Methodist institutions, Ladies’ Aid societies, and similar organizations through the state” to help support students in any way they could. Richard R. Marsh, professor of history emeritus, explained, “Alumni and Methodist churches throughout the the area supplied small amounts of money and large quantities, if little variety, of food to keep young [student] appetites appeased.”

By the close of the spring term in 1933, Richardson reported to the alumni:

“2,600 quarts of home canned food, 500 glasses and jars of jellies and jams, 500 cans of tinned goods, 500 bushels of vegetables, . . . and a ton of rutabagas had been donated, besides 1,400 cases of eggs, fifty dollars’ worth of butter, cream, bread, meat, and other items, and about a hundred and twenty-five dollars’ worth of new dishes to the Manor House, in whose basement the men students ate.”

When the Depression hit bottom the winter of 1932, receipts from student fees were at their lowest level, and the faculty accepted further salary reductions in order to avoid layoffs. Compounding Hamline’s financial troubles, the North Central Association of Colleges withdrew Hamline’s accreditation in the spring of 1933, citing problems with athlete recruitment and what it saw as “unacceptable” governance of the university by committee.

Even though Hamline as a community was not dissatisfied with the faculty governance committee, a new president was urgently needed.  The Oracle editorialized: “When we do get one, let us remember that he is not absolutely necessary. With the right kind of a faculty, and the right kind of an alumni body, we have been able to get along without any supreme executive power. Let us always remember when Hamline University was a democracy.”  For many, Hamline’s faculty were to be credited with rescuing the university during its hour of need.

Sources & Further Reading:

[aka “That History Book”] One Hundred and Fifty Lives That Make a Difference (2005), pp 43, 72-73.

Marsh, Richard R, “Interregnum at Hamline: the year the faculty ran the school, 1932-33.” Minnesota History 51.3 (1988):110-122.