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Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787–1987

Robert C. Alberts
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 596
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    Book Description:

    This is a history of a major American university from its birth on the western frontier in the eighteenth century through its two-hundredth anniversary. Told primarily through the stories of its energetic and sometimes eccentric chancellors, it's a colorful and highly readable chronicle of the University of Pittsburgh.The story begins in the early spring of 1781, when an ambitious young Philadelphia lawyer named Hugh Henry Brackenridge crossed the Alleghenies to seek his opportunity in Pittsburgh. "My object,"?he wrote, "was to advance the country [Western Pennsylvania] and thereby myself." He founded Pittsburgh Academy, later to be the Western University of Pennsylvania and then the University of Pittsburgh, and lived to see the school grow along with the city.Author Robert C. Alberts, mines the University archives and describes many issues for the first time. Among them is the role played by the Board of Trustees in the conflicts of the administration of Chancellor John Gabbert Bowman, including the firing of a controversial history professor, Ralph Turner; the resignation of the legendary football coach, Jock Sutherland; and a Board investigation into Bowman's handling of faculty and staff. We see Pitt's decade of progress under Edward Litchfield (1956-165), who gambled that the millions of dollars he spent . . . would be forthcoming form somewhere or someone; but who, as it turned out was mistaken."Pitt became a state-related university in August 1966, but financial stability was achieved gradually during the administration of Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar. The ensuing crisis of the 1960s and early 1970, caused by the Vietnam War, and the student protests that accompanied it, are described in rich detail. The history then follows Pitt's emergence as a force in international higher education; the institution's role in fostering a cooperative relationship with business; and its entry into the postindustrial age of high technology.The story of Pitt reflects all the struggles and the hopes of the region. As Alberts writes in his preface, "There was drama; there was tragedy; there was indeed controversy and politics. There were, unexpectedly, rich veins of humor, occasionally of comedy."

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7978-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    John Funari

    This history of the University of Pittsburgh is told in the lives of its chancellors, its faculty, and its students. It is a story of trustees bent on proper stewardship, of University administrators stubbornly dreaming visions grander even than the institution itself and, surprising even themselves, bringing a new reality and vitality to the intellectual life of the city and region. The texture of this history of the University reflects the texture of the culture of the city and region itself: gritty, taciturn, stubbornly persistent, doggedly hard-working, wary of the new and disdainful of the ostentatious, and above all, deeply...

  2. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Robert C. Alberts
  3. Book I 1787–1921

    • 1 The Articulate Audible Voice of the Past
      (pp. 3-20)

      Hugh Henry Brackenridge was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in December 1780 at the age of thirty-two. He was one of the dozen remarkable men in Pennsylvania who, it has been said, could have served with distinction in 1787–1788 if the original framers of the Constitution had been dead, dying, abroad, or otherwise occupied. Nevertheless, he left Philadelphia four months later. “I saw no chance,” he said, “for being anything in that city, there were such great men before me.”

      He chose to travel 320 miles to the west, across seven ridges of mountains, to take up residence in...

    • 2 “Great Diversity of Talent and Attention”
      (pp. 21-37)

      The Western University remained alive but dormant through many of the next six years. The trustees met from time to time to discuss plans for reopening the school. In 1853 they invested $1,000 of their capital in buying an excellent mineral collection from Jacob Henrici, second-generation leader of the religious sect that had settled at Old Economy, and they appointed a committee of four trustees to select a site for the university building. The four reported on February 14, 1854. They had inspected sites, compared prices, and “after mature consideration” recommended a city lot measuring 93 by 100 feet on...

    • 3 “The Greatest Work I Have Ever Undertaken”
      (pp. 38-52)

      William Jacob Holland, Ph.D., Sc.D., D.D., LL.D., was born in 1848 on the island of jamaica, West Indies, where his father was a Moravian missionary. He was graduated from Moravian College and Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennslyvania, then from Amherst College, Massachusetts, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He worked briefly as a high school principal in New England, was ordained into the Moravian ministry at age twenty-four, served for two years as pastor of a church in Philadelphia, and in 1874 became pastor of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church, a substantial frame structure at Fifth and Bellefield avenues in Pittsburgh’s Bellefield–Schenley...

    • 4 . . . And on into a Bright New Century
      (pp. 53-74)

      William Holland took a seat in 1901 on the Board of Directors, on the Executive Committee, and on the Search Committee named to recommend a successor. John Alfred Brashear, fifty-one, a trustee since 1891, was named to serve as acting chancellor until a permanent appointment was made.

      Pittsburgh has never had any other public figure quite like “Uncle John” Brashear. He was courted, beloved, even revered to an extraordinary degree by all classes of society. In no way did he resemble his predecessors or his successors in the office of chancellor, nor did he fit the pattern of what a...

  4. Book II 1921–1946

    • 5 “A New Kind of Schoolmaster”
      (pp. 77-92)

      The trustees began to compile the lists and to make the discreet inquiries that are part of a quiet search for a chancellor. They wanted a man who would develop a modern university, who would bring their institution nearer to the level of the older universities in the East and the large state colleges in the West. They had no feeling that he should be, like almost all his predecessors—McCormick, Holland, MacCracken, McLaren, Riddle, Dyer, Morgan, Bruce—a minister of the gospel.

      In October 1920 two of the trustees attended a two-day hospital meeting in Pittsburgh. They were Andrew...

    • 6 The Campaign
      (pp. 93-107)

      John Bowman now had Frick Acres for his tall building . . . he owned additional land on which to build a medical center . . . the University debt was paid . . . student enrollment was up . . . and his expenditures were within income. These achievements he had worked in his first eighteen months in office, but they were like foothills compared to the mountain that lay before him. In his projected building program he was setting out to do something that had never been done before: to erect a fifty-two story structure of Gothic design,...

    • 7 The Tall Building, and Some Others
      (pp. 108-122)

      Bowman called the months that followed the campaign “the summer of confusion.” He and those who worked with and for him had raised more money for the University in five months than all the money all the private donors had given the University in the past 138 years. His tall building was creating national, even international, excitement. Klauder was winning prizes and commendations for his design. But despite these triumphs, there was opposition to the tall building from several of the trustees and from some other leading citizens; and now, after the excitement of the campaign had cooled and only...

    • 8 The 1930s: Fulfillment and Good Fortune
      (pp. 123-142)

      It was a decade of fulfillment and frustration, of achievement and failure, of advance and retreat, of pride and humiliation. At the beginning of the 1930s, John Bowman’s goals for the University were in sight. He was recognized as one of the most dynamic and successful educators of his time. He was respected for courage that had accomplished a miracle against opposition, indifference, and long odds. He then guided the University safely through seven years of depression without incurring debt, to a triumphant 150th birthday celebration held in the almost-finished Commons Room of the almost-finished Cathedral of Learning. But he...

    • 9 The 1930s: Dissension in the House
      (pp. 143-156)

      Tile first wave in a sea of troubles in John Bowman’s administration had come on April 22, 1929, back in that period when the steel was going up on the tall building. The causes were trivial, the effect was calamitous, the lessons imparted were clear.

      There was on the campus at that time an organization known as the Liberal Club. It was one of 134 chartered student organizations, and its purpose, as set forth in its constitution, was “to conduct open-minded investigations of pressing social problems.” It claimed sixty-two undergraduate members and had four faculty advisors. Its chairman, William Albertson,...

    • 10 Code Bowman and “The Most Discussed Controversy”
      (pp. 157-168)

      Dr. John Barn Sutherland. Jock Sutherland. In the first months of 1939 he was everywhere rated the best head coach in college football. With 111 victories, 20 losses, and 12 ties in 15 years at Pitt, he was the winningest coach in the school’s history. He never had a losing season. His teams won the eastern championship 7 times; they won the national championship 6 times (by one count); they were near the top in most of the other years. They went 4 times to the Rose Bowl; they fielded 21 official All-Americans; they beat Penn State 12 straight times;...

    • 11 The Ordeal of a Chancellor
      (pp. 169-183)

      On Tuesday morning, March 20, 1939, a day of crisis at the University, John Bowman called Rufus H. Fitzgerald to his office. Fitzgerald kept a record of this and of four other meetings held on that day:

      He started out by saying that he had been thinking about the present situation in the University and the series of some events over the past years—unfavorable publicity, a bad student attitude, rotten alumni attitude—and that he had come to a conclusion. He passed a paper across the desk and said, that is it, there is no use discussing it or...

    • 12 The University at War
      (pp. 184-188)

      In the history of the University, December 1941 is a watershed between the old and the new, a Great Divide between the past and the future. Doubts were quelled and uncertainties resolved by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and for the students there was relief and unaccustomed excitement in the common national purpose. Throughout the United States the need for trained personnel, civilian as well as military, was sudden and urgent. In a flurry of activity, the University prepared to make its contribution to the war effort.

      The first military contingent to arrive on campus was a squadron of...

  5. Book III 1947–1955

    • 13 The Peacemaker
      (pp. 191-202)

      At a board meeting on February 16, 1945, John Bowman asked the trustees of the University to accept his resignation as chancellor, effective on July 1. He had been engaged for forty years, he said, in educational administrative duties, and he now felt it was time to be relieved. After making the request, he rose and asked to be excused so that the board could consider what action it wished to take. When he returned he was told that his resignation had been accepted, but he had been elected president honorarius, a new position and title that would terminate when...

    • 14 The Letters of Gift
      (pp. 203-209)

      It all began in 1946 with an incident that might have been borrowed from the plot of a popular novel. Paul Mellon wrote to six prominent Pittsburghers and asked them what they would recommend if they had $40 million to give to good causes in the community. His letter led to a development that added a new dimension to the University’s plans for expansion and improvement of services in the Pittsburgh area.

      The A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, founded in 1930 to support undertakings that “shall be in furtherance of the public welfare and tend to promote the...

    • 15 The Pitt Vaccine
      (pp. 210-219)

      During the flourishing activities on the campus in 1948–1955, a development was unfolding that was of immeasurable importance to the University and of measurable benefit to Pittsburgh, the nation, and, indeed, the world. It was one of the most dramatic stories in the annals of medicine: the discovery of a means to conquer one of mankind’s cruelest diseases.

      Poliomyelitis—infantile paralysis—was an infectious and contagious disease that attacked people of all ages but preferred children, especially those under five years of age, striking most commonly in summer and autumn, in the “polio season,” the “season of fear.” It...

    • 16 “The Athletic Situation,” or, Days of Rage and Anguish
      (pp. 220-227)

      Chancellor Fitzgerald was plagued throughout his administration by a problem that drained his energies and consumed an inordinate amount of his time. It was an inherited, ever-present, ever-troublesome, but sometimes amusing and possibly solvable problem involving athletics. A Pittsburgh sports editor called it “the annual dissatisfaction over the football situation.”

      During the four war years, 1942–1945, the University had played a full football schedule, fielding teams made up of young men under eighteen (almost all of them freshmen), or exempt from military service for physical reasons, or deferred because of their war-related studies. The main purpose of the wartime...

    • 17 Farewell, a Long Farewell . . .
      (pp. 228-240)

      On a Friday afternoon early in July 1954, John J. Geise boarded a plane in Washington bound for Pittsburgh. A long-time professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, he was on loan to several of the military services as chief historian and head of a program to write their training manuals in language that could be understood by any sergeant or second lieutenant in the field. He had spent the week at his office in the Pentagon and was returning to spend Saturday at the University and Sunday with his family. He chanced to meet Rufus Fitzgerald on the...

  6. Book IV 1956–1965

    • 18 The Twelfth Chancellor
      (pp. 243-252)

      In the early summer of 1954, the dean of the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration at Cornell University called on J. Steele Gow in the offices of the Maurice and Laura Falk Foundation. His name was Edward Harold Litchfield, and he asked Gow for a grant to pay the cost of publishing a book titledAmerica Votes: A Handbook of Contemporary American Election Statistics.His presentation was so striking that Gow asked Litchfield to submit the proposal in writing. “I was afraid I was being mesmerized by the man,” he said. A day or so later the document...

    • 19 Toward Higher Ground
      (pp. 253-260)

      From the day he took office as chancellor on July 1, 1956, Edward Litchfield’s overriding problem was time: how to find enough of it to do all he had to do and to be where he had to be on a given working day. His second problem was to divide his working time equitably among the different positions he held. He developed a pattern in which he gave about 70 percent of his time to Pitt. Fifteen percent he gave to the affairs of Smith-Corona in Syracuse, Avco in New York, and still another large company of which he had...

    • 20 “New Dimensions of Learning in a Free Society”
      (pp. 261-270)

      Edward Litchfield had a strong and abiding sense of the ceremony to be accorded the chancellorship. He instructed Alan Rankin that he wished always to be accompanied to meetings on campus and that when he entered the room everyone should rise as a mark of respect—not for him, but for the office he held. For his inauguration on May 10, 1957, he caused to be designed and crafted a chancellor’s medallion with a heavy gold chain, which Alan Scaife placed around his shoulders during the ceremony, declaring, “I believe you are to be for many years our leader toward...

    • 21 An Episode in the Life of a Chancellor
      (pp. 271-276)

      On September 24, 1959, Dr. and Mrs. Litchfield had out-of-town guests for lunch on the campus—husband, wife, three of their children, and several other people. They arrived at the airport in three U.S. Air Force jet transports and were accompanied by four ambassadors and 325 American and foreign news correspondents—“such a horde,” one local reporter said, “as this city has never seen.” Batteries of teletype machines, telephones, and typewriters were set up in the Venetian Room of Schenley Hall. Classes were canceled between 1:20 and 3:00 P.M., and thirty-five television sets were placed in campus buildings so that...

    • 22 The Golden Glow
      (pp. 277-290)

      By the beginning of Edward Litchfield’s fourth year, July 1, 1959, the University had made substantial progress in pursuit of its goal: to attain a level of distinction in its faculty, its student body, and its programs that would ultimately provide the region it served with a quality of higher education equal to the best in the nation. Every development in the program—except one—had been carried forward more or less as planned.

      Faculty salaries were now at the median level of those at the dozen leading universities. The faculty had been winnowed, upgraded, and enlarged; it had a...

    • 23 The Colodny Case
      (pp. 291-296)

      On March 7, 1959, Charles Peake, vice chancellor for the academic disciplines, announced the appointment of Robert Garland Colodny, forty-four, as an associate professor of history at the University. Dr. Colodny, the news release said,

      is currently a member of the faculty at the University of Kansas and has taught at the University of California, San Francisco State College, and Wesleyan University (Connecticut). He was for two years a research fellow in the Institute for Philosophical Research under the direction of Dr. Mortimer Adler and is a contributor to the recently published volumeThe Idea of Freedom.

      From 1941 to...

    • 24 Trouble
      (pp. 297-307)

      The triumphs, achievements, and applause of the first four years of the Litchfield administration continued into the early 1960s, but now they seemed to be outnumbered, if not outweighed, by a mounting succession of problems, troubles, and frustrations.

      In 1960 Chancellor Litchfield was charged with impropriety in a congressional hearing in Washington, a story that was covered in the local press with such headlines as “Litchfield Group Accused: $100-a-Day Pay for Pitt Chancellor” and “Million Given Litchfield Group: What Iran Advice Costs U.S.” All this arose from testimony before a House Appropriations Subcommittee that Litchfield’s Governmental Affairs Institute had received...

    • 25 Panther Hollow
      (pp. 308-312)

      Panther Hollow, so called, is a stretch of vacant land that carried a railroad freight track through Oakland to steel mills on the Monongahela River. It is a ravine 650 to 900 feet wide at the top and 150 to 200 feet deep, with a broad floor extending southward about a mile. To the west of the ravine at its northern end stand the buildings of the University of Pittsburgh, its five hospitals, Mellon Institute, Carnegie Institute and Library, and other buildings of the Oakland Civic Center. To the east are Phipps Conservatory, the buildings of what was then Carnegie...

    • 26 The Crisis
      (pp. 313-324)

      In the meantime, the University’s financial problems were becoming more serious. Frank Denton and his Budget and Audit Committee were deeply involved in a desperate effort, with the help of the administration, to find money to meet expenses and develop remedies for what was now a full-scale financial crisis. The committee held four long meetings between November 17 and December 18, 1964, with all its members present, as well as Price, Litchfield, Monnett, Crawford, Koerner, and Jesse Hudson. Because of the “confidential nature” of the problems discussed at these meetings, Secretary Crawford distributed only the barest outline of his Notations...

  7. Book V 1966–1985

    • 27 Toward Recovery
      (pp. 327-336)

      The five educators and the staff members who worked on the Ford Foundation independent study (“The Wells Report”) spent six months on the assignment. They interviewed forty-five faculty members, administrators, and trustees, talked with eighty-five state and community leaders, and produced a fifty-two-page document that is a model of its kind: frank, discerning, a work addressed solely to the circumstances of this one institution.* They saw their assignment as “a search for the particular steps the Pittsburgh administration had taken which had made advance toward its aspirations too costly. The striving for improvement is characteristic of college and university administrations...

    • 28 “Our House Is in Order”
      (pp. 337-349)

      The day after Stanton Crawford’s death, the trustees Search Committee and the faculty Advisory Committee met jointly in the chancellor’s office. Gwilym Price, presiding, observed that the two committees now had an additional task to perform; to chose a chancellor and to name an acting chancellor to serve until the choice was made and the new man inducted.

      Four names, he said, had been brought up in a meeting of the trustees held an hour earlier: Vice Chancellors Edison Montgomery, Charles Peake, Albert Van Dusen, and David Kurtzman, the new vice chancellor for finance. Trustee William Booth had proposed the...

    • 29 The Frick Fine Arts Building
      (pp. 350-363)

      In a conversation during the interregnum in 1967, David Kurtzman briefed Chancellor-Elect Posvar on an unpleasant situation that had developed on the Oakland campus. It concerned a disagreement with Helen Clay Frick, who had given the University the new Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building on Schenley Plaza. Miss Frick had agreed to construct “a fine arts building for the University,” but now it appeared that she expected to maintain a proprietary and semi-autonomous control over the operation of the building, the people who used it, and the courses that were taught there, in a manner the University was finding...

    • 30 “The Creative Eye”
      (pp. 364-379)

      Wesley Wentz Posvar, forty-two, was inaugurated as the fifteenth chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh on a Saturday, in bright, balmy, first-day-of-spring weather. The academic ceremony and festival began at noon with an inaugural procession from the Stephen Foster Memorial to Carnegie Music Hall. Two hundred and two delegates from colleges, universities, and learned societies marched in academic regalia; they came from five continents and represented institutions that spanned seven centuries, from Oxford University (1249) to the University of Indonesia (1950). An audience of some nineteen hundred students, faculty members, and guests filled the Music Hall. William Rea, chairman of...

    • 31 Confrontation I
      (pp. 380-389)

      The country had never known anything like it. During an eight-year period beginning in 1965, students on several hundred U.S. campuses erupted in protest demonstrations. They denounced the power structure, the establishment, a corrupt society, the character of an entire culture. Their demands ranged from the ridiculous to the long-overdue reform of educational and social practices. They wanted an end to economic injustice, racism, political oppression, the draft, and the war in Vietnam. They variously demanded a restructuring of the university system: open admissions; ungraded courses; communal control of courses; an end to the ROTC; access to professors’ papers; open...

    • 32 Confrontation II
      (pp. 390-400)

      The “terrible thing” promised by the seventy members of the BAS took place on the same day as their visit to the chancellor’s office. At eight-thirty that evening, thirty students wearing black berets went quietly to the eighth floor of the Cathedral of Learning and there burst into the machine room of the University’s Computer Center. They ordered everyone to leave but permitted the operators to shut down the machines properly, thereby avoiding erasure of computer data. They then blockaded the elevator doors, barricaded the glass door of the center, and settled down for a “lock-in.”

      Campus police were given...

    • 33 1976: The Turning Point
      (pp. 401-419)

      On August 23, 1976, the University marked its tenth anniversary as a member of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education. The record of those ten years, despite their coincidence with the dislocations of the Vietnam War era, is impressive. The figures and the facts are good—that is, the numbers commonly used to measure physical growth and, if possible, to dazzle university watchers, as well as the honors, awards, and commissions commonly cited to prove enhancement of quality. There were problems, too, and misfires, but Pitt did indeed have sustained growth and demonstrable achievement in the ten-year period that Wesley...

    • 34 The Precisely Measurable Triumph
      (pp. 420-428)

      The numbers commonly used to measure growth and progress may turn out to be deceptive. Planning programs, critical evaluations, and curriculum reforms are hard to measure. But in 1976, a turning point year for the University, Pitt mounted an athletic program that was a perfect and precisely measurable triumph. The whole nation watched, and, excepting only a small enclave in California, it was in total agreement that in this one endeavor, this one sport, the University of Pittsburgh was first, best, unsurpassed, and unequaled. There is some difference of opinion on exactly what the endeavor had to do with higher...

    • 35 The Future of Academic Medicine
      (pp. 429-438)

      In 1918, Ogden Edwards, Jr., acting dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, put forth his idea of a University health center, and it is not entirely unlike the center that exists today. It should include, he said, “the Medical School building, the Laboratory of Hygiene and Public Health, a research laboratory, the Medical Library building . . . a small general hospital, an eye and ear hospital, a children’s hospital, a general dispensary, a psychopathic hospital and a dormitory for 200 students.”

      The School of Medicine’s interest in an alliance with hospitals was based on its need...

    • 36 The Campus of the Future
      (pp. 439-444)

      There were important developments on the campus in 1983–1985 that serve to illustrate major themes of the Posvar administration. They are typical of the style and represent the deepest convictions and aspirations of the chancellor/president* who throughout 1987 will celebrate his own private anniversary—the twentieth of his arrival on the University of Pittsburgh campus. They reflect his belief that the survival of a university depends on its capacity to set priorities and allocate resources by planning; that the university must expand its international dimension; that research universities are acquiring a new role in the American economy; that the...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 445-446)

      A major academic anniversary is customarily an occasion when amiable platitudes are permissible. A university stands at the Threshold of a New Era. It faces heightened responsibilities and even more insistent demands. It must fill a role of vigorous leadership as it moves into the coming (decade) (half-century) (century), which will be marked by even broader capabilities, challenges, and expectations. If it does so, it will serve the community through future generations as it has in the past. It will be a cutting edge of progress. It will fulfill its promise and be true to its heritage.

      There are times,...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 451-452)
    Robert C. Alberts
  9. Appendix A West of the Alleghenies
    (pp. 453-454)
  10. Appendix B Principals, Chancellors, and Presidents
    (pp. 455-455)
  11. Appendix C Pitt Statistics
    (pp. 456-458)