The End of the Hutchins Era at the Center for the Study of
Harry S. Ashmore
[Reprinted from The Center Magazine,
Harry S. Ashmore
(1916-1998) was a Pulitzer-Prize-winning editor and author who was
associated with Robert Maynard Hutchins and his Center for the Study
of Democratic Institutions from its inception. In 1954, when he was
executive editor of the Arkansas Gazette, he joined the
Board of Directors of the Fund for the Republic, which in 1959
established the Center. He joined Hutchins in Santa Barbara that
year. As executive vice-president and president, he served as chief
operating officer until 1973 and continued as a Senior Fellow and
board member until the Fund was liquidated in 1979. He authored many
books, including Hearts and Minds: The Anatomy of Racism from
Roosevelt to Reagan (McGraw-Hill).
Loyal alumni of Harvard, Oxford, the Sorbonne, or Heidelberg no doubt
were prepared to dispute the claim Robert Hutchins made on behalf of
the institution he headed for twenty-two eventful years. But this was
a matter of degree; the dissenters had to concede that the educational
reforms he initiated, and the distinguished faculty he recruited, had
earned Chicago a place in the top rank of the world's great
Nor was there much quarrel at the time with his appraisal of the
Center, although there were those who contended that even one was too
many. The educational enterprise he founded in 1959 in an old mansion
atop Eucalyptus Hill in Santa Barbara was unique by its nature and
remained so as long as it functioned under his control.
Because of this, the Center was always difficult to explain. Since
there was no institution with which to compare it, some in the media
misapplied the usual stereotypes; those on the left tended to dismiss
it as an ivory tower removed from reality, while those on the right
suspected it of being a hotbed of insurrection. Thus, almost a decade
after its launching, Hutchins titled his Britannica lecture "The
Truth About the Center," finding it necessary to explain to even
so sympathetic an audience what his brainchild was not:
"It is not a think tank hired to do the planning
that public agencies or private businesses cannot or will not do for
themselves. Neither is it a refuge for scholars who want to get away
from it all and do their research and write their books. It is an
organized group, rather than a collection of individuals. It is an
organization of men who are free of any obligation except to join in
an effort to understand the subjects they have selected for study.
It is a community. And, since its members are trying to think
together, it may be called, at least in potentiality, an
Hutchins had concluded that there was no place for such an
undertaking in a conventional educational institution. At Chicago he
had acted on his conviction that the university should be a paradigm
of what he called the Civilization of the Dialogue, a center of
independent thought and criticism. The effort was only partially
successful, but it made him the most celebrated, or, depending upon
one's point of view, notorious educator of his time.
When he joined the newly enriched Ford Foundation in 1951 as
associate director, he tried (and failed) to persuade the trustees to
endow a permanent, free-standing institution where the world's best
minds could be assembled to consider the basic issues affecting a
rapidly changing society. In 1954 he left the Foundation to take over
a not-unrelated enterprise for which he had obtained a grant of
fifteen million dollars -- the Fund for the Republic, created by Ford
to defend American civil liberties at a time when they had come under
attack in and out of Congress.
Only a stern sense of duty could have prompted so experienced a
controversialist to undertake such a mission at a #me when the
anti-Communist excesses of the McCarthy era were being matched by the
upsurge of racial prejudice engendered by the civil rights movement.
Hutchins, however, saw it as a matter of defending the faith he
inherited from a long line of Calvinist preachers and teachers:
"That was ... faith in the independent mind. Its
educational consequences were belief in free inquiry and discussion.
Its political consequences were belief in democracy, but only in a
democracy in which the minority, even a minority of one, could
continue to differ and be heard. Those who desire to conform, but
are prohibited or hindered from doing so by intolerance and
prejudice must be aided; the nonconformist conscience must not be
stifled. Hence my interest in the Fund for the Republic."
"A group of the most responsible, respectable, and successful
business and professional men in the country have banded together in a
Herculean effort to roll back the creeping tide of what is known as
McCarthyism," Eric Sevareid said of the board of directors
Hutchins assembled for the Fund. In 1954 I was invited to join that
company, having attracted Hutchins' attention when I headed a task
force on the prospects of school desegregation sponsored by the Ford
As a grant-making philanthropy, the Fund for the Republic supported
church, educational, and social service organizations when they came
under attack for attempting to apply the principles of the Bill of
Rights. This made Hutchins and his associates prime targets for the
right-wing press, and prompted efforts to put the Fund out of business
by lifting its tax-exempt status. The jousting with congressional
investigating committees produced spectacular headlines, but amid the
alarums and excursions Hutchins continued to work on his plan to
establish a new institution to study the deeper issues he was
convinced lay, unexamined, beneath the surface of the current turmoil.
In 1957 the board authorized him to recruit a group of part-time
consultants to undertake a pilot "basic issues" project. The
twelve he chose were representatives of the kind of "great minds"
he hoped ultimately to attract to a permanent center. Among them were
A. A. Berle, member of the original New Deal "brains trust";
William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Clark
Kerr, chancellor and later president of the University of California;
Henry R. Luce, editor and publisher of Time, Life, and
Fortune; the distinguished theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr of
Union Theological Seminary and John Courtney Murray, S.J., of
Woodstock College; and Isidor I. Rabi, Nobel laureate in physics, of
All but one of the twelve were, or had been, educators, and the range
of their disciplines was significant, for a primary objective was to
break through the specialization Hutchins considered the bane of the
usual department-ridden faculty. All were strong-minded and notably
articulate, having demonstrated interests and capacities that
convinced him they were qualified to function in the realm of what he,
borrowing from Aristotle, called "practical philosophy."
The initial charge to the consultants was to examine the extent to
which the principles of freedom and justice set forth in the nation's
founding documents could be said to apply to institutions and
processes profoundly altered by two centuries of technological and
demographic change, Each selected an area of study and was provided
staff assistance; collectively they set out to consider the current
status of the corporation, the trade union, the common defense,
religion, the mass media, political parties, pressure groups, and
With varying degrees of commitment, the consultants worked on their
studies at their home bases and gathered periodically for open-ended
joint discussion. The loose procedure had obvious short-comings, but
these, as far as Hutchins was concerned, only supported his contention
that a fully realized dialogue would require a residential center with
full-tinie participants. These preliminary investigations, he felt,
sustained his central proposition:
"No existing theory of politics, economics, society,
or international relations can explain or account for the facts of
contemporary life. Our situation has changed too fast for our ideas,
and so our ideas have degenerated into slogans. ...Most of us retain
individualistic, liberal ideas, but we live in a bureaucratic
culture. It remains to be seen whether our ideals can be made
applicable to our culture, or whether we can make our culture
conform to our ideals."
In June, 1959, Hutchins reported to the board that he had located a
suitable site in California for what was to become the Center for the
Study of Democratic Institutions. He was authorized to shut down the
philanthropic operations and devote the Fund's remaining resources to
the new enterprise, thus ending the already remote prospect of further
subsidy from Ford. The Foundation, as protective coloration, had
always stressed the fact that its controversial offshoot was a wholly
independent agency. Now, Hutchins observed, it was also wholly
The new Center would require an annual budget of about $1,500,000,
and the residue of the Ford money would guarantee three years of
operation. If it had not by then acquired sufficient new support,
liquidation costs would be covered by equity in the 41.4-acre
Montecito estate the Fund had acquired at a bargain price of $250,000,
with California friends of Hutchins putting up one hundred thousand
dollars to convert the main building into offices and conference
By September what remained of the staff of the Fund for the Republic
was installed in the Spanish-style edifice Hutchins dubbed "El
Parthenon" in ironic acknowledgement of the suspicion that he was
about to establish there some kind of highfalutin Platonic academy. At
sixty, conscious that it would be his last stand, he at last had a
license to create the kind of intellectual community he had conceived
at least two decades before. But he did not yet have the means.
A primary problem, as it would be until the end of his tenure, was
personnel. The senior staff of the Fund had been assembled for
purposes wholly unrelated to the central function of the new Center,
but those who elected to make the move to Santa Barbara had worked
with the consultants on the basic issues program, and, in addition to
their administrative functions, would continue to do so as
participants in the dialogue.
What the new Center did not have was the undivided attention of the
certified great minds the core activity obviously required. Only one
of the consultants, the philosopher Scott Buchanan, was available on a
full-time basis. Men of such standing could not be expected to make a
career change unless Hutchins could find the means of providing an
adequate income and a guarantee of permanence. The first he thought
manageable; in those preinflation days the salary scale of the
University of California, with a top around twenty-five thousand
dollars, provided a comfortable living in one of the world's most
attractive cities; that, plus the prospect of being freed of the more
mundane aspects of campus life, should be sufficient to attract those
with the cast of mind he sought. Without an endowment, or its
equivalent, however, he could not provide the most cherished of
academic emoluments, tenure.
The best he could do was to bring out some of the consultants for
varying lengths of tune to work with the resident staff on studies now
billed as an effort to "identify and define the basic issues of
our time, and widen the circles of discussion about them." The
second provision was a response to the fear of some directors that the
new Center was in danger of becoming a place where elitist
intellectuals spoke only to each other. The answer was to find a way
to disseminate the dialogue beyond the reach of publications
distributed without charge to a limited circle of scholars and opinion
leaders. To that end Hutchins asked me to join him in Santa Barbara,
and in October, 1959, I began the day-to-day association that was to
continue for the rest of his life.
Hutchins had hoped to keep the Center free of the contractual
arrangements under which "think tanks" received compensation
from government or industry for specific services rendered. But now he
felt constrained to accept an offer from his Yale classmate, William
Benton, who had acquired Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1943 and made
Hutchins chairman of its board of editors. Benton proposed that the
Center collaborate in advance planning for a complete revision of the
twenty-four-volume set. If this was something of a diversion from the
Center's stated purposes, the effort to refurbish the ancient "compendium
of human knowledge" at least was related to the idea of dialogue.
Over the next five years the $1,869,379 received from the publishing
company made it possible to bring into the Center's orbit more than
150 of the world's ranking scholars. But, in the end, the new edition,
scheduled for 1968 to mark Britannica's two-hundredth anniversary, was
postponed for internal business reasons. As the encyclopaedia's
interim editor-in-chief, I had assigned thirteen near-book-length
essays to distinguished authors charged with appraising the "orders"
of human society under a Hutchinsian injunction to deal with "man
in his world, not academic man in an academic world." My tenure
ended with their publication in the three-volume Britannica Perspectives
issued for the bicentennial, and Hutchins asked me to stay on at the
Center as executive vice-president.
Seven others who had been engaged in the encyclopaedia project were
to become full-time participants in the basic issues program:
Stringfellow Barr, historian and former president of St. John's
College, Annapolis, Maryland; Elisabeth Mann Borgese, essayist and
daughter of the German novelist, Thomas Mann; Ritchie Calder, a Scots
science writer and professor at Edinburgh University; John Cogley,
author of the Fund's study on blacklisting and later religion editor
of The New York Times; William German, general editor of the
Syntopicon of the Great Books of the Western World; Harvey
Wheeler, political scientist at Washington and Lee University of
Lexington, Virginia; and John Wilkinson, philosopher-mathematician at
the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Although still imperfectly implemented, the dialogue was now
beginning to take shape as Hutchins originally conceived it -- a
continuing, open-ended interchange among twelve to sixteen full-time
participants, augmented by visiting specialists as deemed appropriate.
At the regular 11:00 a.m. session a discussion leader was given twenty
minutes to present a topic, usually defined in a paper distributed in
advance. Hutchins presided, but rarely felt it necessary to interrupt
a tape-recorded conversation that proceeded at its own pace through
lunch, and could be resumed the next day if the topic warranted.
Some of the consultants or other scholars of comparable reputation
were usually at the table, providing the special perspectives of their
disciplines. They were joined by younger academics who had attracted
the attention of the seniors. Also at the table were participants with
no claim to scholarly credentials -- journalists, public officials,
practicing lawyers, and the like who were welcomed by Hutchins for the
linkage they provided between theory and practice.
The search was not for solutions, but for clarification. "We are
not here to tell people what to think," Hutchins said. "If
we succeed, we may tell them what they should be thinking about."
To a limited extent that goal was achieved in the notable publications
that emerged from what some still look back on as the Center's "golden
age." But the available talent still fell short of providing the
sustained meeting of great minds Hutchins sought, and it did not
attract the financial support the ideal dialogue required.
When it became clear that no other foundation was interested in
picking up where Ford left off, the board approved a series of highly
publicized convocations in major cities featuring speakers and
panelists celebrated enough to attract wealthy individual donors. But
the participants, Hutchins insisted, also had to be qualified to deal
seriously with the basic issues as they were being defined in Santa
Barbara. The format had a successful test run in January, 1962, when a
blue-ribbon audience of 1,500 assembled in the ballroom of the
Americana Hotel in New York City for a day and a half of addresses,
followed by a panel discussion.
With the more notable Center directors and consultants ornamenting
the platform, the guest speakers included United Nations Ambassador
Adlai Stevenson; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Secretary of
Labor Willard Wirtz; Arthur F. Burns of the Federal Reserve Board;
Admiral Hyman Rickover; Federal Communications Commission Chairman
Newton Minow; U.S. Senators Clifford P. Case, Joseph Clark, and J.
William Fulbright; Pierre Mendes-France, former Prime Minister of
France; Jose Figueres, former President of Costa Rica; Gunnar Myrdal,
the Swedish economist; and, from Great Britain, Lord Hailsham,
Minister of Science; Lord James, vice-chancellor of York University;
and Lord Francis-Williams, journalist and critic.
The international character of the guest list reflected Hutchins'
growing conviction that the basic issues could not be considered
solely in terms of domestic concerns. He had long been a leading
figure in the effort to establish a world order under an international
rule of law. Now the cold war had chilled the hope that the United
Nations might provide the beginning step, and the peril posed by
nuclear weapons was much on the mind of the man who had brought
together at Chicago the scientists who split the atom.
Within the year the Center was preparing for the first of a series of
convocations taking their title from the Pacem in Terris
encyclical of Pope John XXIII, which called for new dialogue between
East and West on the requirements of peace. On a more modest scale
donors were also sought at luncheons, dinners, and receptions hosted
by directors and other supporters. Hundreds of "founding members,"
mostly from Southern California, pledged a thousand dollars a year for
five years. Major gifts came from new board members attracted by the
visibility the Center attained through this outburst of highly
Still, it wasn't enough. Gross income was up, but so was overhead,
and annual deficits had whittled away the residue of the Ford money. I
began to investigate the possibility of using direct mail to acquire a
broad-based membership that could, through a modest annual
subscription, provide a steady source of income. This would require a
periodical publication to replace the pamphlets, bulletins, and
occasional papers distributed free.
There was automatic protest from some academics at the Center who
thought they detected a whiff of "publish or perish."
Hutchins had no objection in principle, but doubted that a magazine
could pay its own way. The project was saved by an angel who appeared
in the wake of an unexpected telephone call from Linus Pauling, the
distinguished scientist whose antinuclear crusade had put him at odds
with the administration of the California Institute of Technology.
When he inquired if the Center would like to add to its company,
without cost, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, Hutchins concluded it was
a proposition he couldn't turn down.
Chester Carlson, a former student of Pauling who made a fortune out
of his invention of Xerox, had offered to provide an adequate income
for his old mentor if he elected to resign from CalTech. In September,
1963, Pauling moved to Santa Barbara, but his interest in the Center
never extended beyond its concern with arms control. His sponsor,
however, was fascinated by the dialogue, and interested in making its
results widely available.
Over four years Carlson made annual gifts totaling $4,103,758.27 with
the understanding that they should make possible a national membership
campaign. The Center Magazine was launched, with John Cogley
as editor, and within two years it had a hundred thousand subscribers
who each contributed ten dollars or more in annual dues. Pleased with
this result, Carlson offered an additional five million dollars to
establish a subsidiary communications corporation to extend the
Center's reach by all feasible means, including television. He died
suddenly before the arrangement was completed, but his will included a
bequest of $4,621,401.96. This is as close as the Center ever came to
solvency. It now seemed possible that half the projected budget might
be derived from membership dues, and the board agreed to launch an
endowment campaign to guarantee the other half. For the first time
Hutchins could look to the future with some assurance that there would
be one for the institution he had created.
Although he always spoke of the Center as an intellectual community,
and gave its members wide latitude in determining the style of their
individual contributions, Hutchins appointed the participants, and,
through sheer force of personality, determined the scope of the
program. The most senior of the resident scholars, Scott Buchanan,
noted that his old friend possessed "an almost overpowering air
Now, at sixty-five, recognizing that there were actuarial limits to
this one-man rule, Hutchins began insisting that the board launch a
search for his replacement The directors, winnowed by controversy of
all but Hutchins loyalists, paid no attention. They were waiting for
the founder to indicate his choice, which he refused to do on the
ground that this would be "laying the dead hand of the past on my
successor." The impasse was never to be resolved.
Hutchins concluded that the solution might be to make the "faculty"
of the Center so truly autonomous the dialogue would continue on its
self-determined way no matter who might hold the title of president.
To that end he imported a dean -- John Seeley, a gentle nonconformist
sociologist from Brandeis University -- to seek improvement in the
loose organization of the eighteen regular dialogue participants, now
designated as "Fellows."
After months of maundering discussion, the president handed his dean
a note: "I am gradually coming to the conclusion that, much to my
regret, self-government of this group as it is at present is
impossible. Members of the present group are not by mere membership --
in many cases accidental -- qualified to 'be' the Center. Members are
not actuated (in all cases) by a desire to achieve the common good.
They are expressing their 'individuality* or individual prejudices
often without regard to the topic under discussion...."
On May 7, 1968, Hutchins announced to the assembled Fellows that the
time had come to "refound" the Center. The method would be
for him to name himself a Senior Fellow, choose one more, and then by
unanimous vote select others from the present body and from outside.
Remarkably, there was no audible dissent. Two days later the board
unanimously approved the scheme, and provided generous severance pay
for those who would be removed from the payroll.
The reality of pending unemployment soon erased the aura of amity.
Hutchins' choice as the second Senior Fellow, Harvey Wheeler, moved to
block the refounding procedure. He didn't consider any of the current
fellows worthy and refused to concur in any appointment until Hutchins
agreed to seek acceptance by leading scholars of the Western world.
The effort was made, by telephone and cable, but none was available on
such short notice. When Wheeler finally yielded, Rexford Guy Tug-well,
John Wilkinson, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, John Cogley, and I were
anointed. Two others doubtless would have been, but Scott Buchanan was
dead, and Stringfellow Barr was anxious to get back to Princeton.
Some of those passed over were kept on the payroll in administrative
or associate status. Five others, including Dean Seeley and Bishop
James Pike, reluctantly accepted severance pay. But W. H. Ferry, the
original vice-president of the Fund, who had been instrumental in its
creation by Ford, refused the two years' salary he was offered, and
went to court to challenge the Center's right to fire him. The
litigation, after producing voluminous depositions, much unfavorable
publicity, and substantial legal fees, was finally settled on the
basis of the original offer. It was not, one of the lawyers observed,
a quarrel over money, but a divorce action, marked by the usual
With seven Senior Fellows in place, and consultations proceeding with
leading scholars hi the search for others, Hutchins returned to his
effort to "constitutionalize" the Center. The board agreed
formally to vest control of the academic program in the Senior
Fellows, but it pointedly did not extend this self-government to
include budgetary or administrative matters. I was named president,
but this was only a change in title; Hutchins, as chairman of the
board and of the Senior Fellows, was designated chief executive
Despite the internal dislocations, the Center continued to produce
papers that attracted favorable attention to The Center Magazine,
and edited tape cassettes of the dialogue sessions were in demand by
institutions and individuals. Its "external affairs"
received respectful media coverage, including extended broadcasts on
public television and radio. The first Pacem in Terris
convocation, scheduled over three days in New York City in February,
1965, brought together wbat Life magazine described as "an
extraordinary assemblage of the world's shakers and movers" from
both sides of the Iron Curtain, marking the first time intellectual
leaders from the Soviet bloc had exchanged views with their opposite
numbers in an unofficial public setting.
But the Vietnam war was heating up, and the country entered another
season of polarized public opinion. President Lyndon Johnson sent
Vice-President Hubert Humphrey to open the first Pacem in Terris
convocation, but, by the time the second was convened in Geneva in
May, 1967, the Johnson Administration was actively trying to sabotage
it. Like all those who began to question the validity of the nation's
intervention in Vietnam, the Center came under new attack from
supporters of the war.
A radical "New Politics" meeting in Santa Barbara attended
by militant young black leaders, with which the Center had nothing to
do, brought on an eruption by Everett Dirksen, the Senate Republican
leader, and the Chicago Tribune chimed in. "The Justice
Department should stop fiddling and go after those who are working
toward the friction point of revolution and all their 'angels,' not
excepting the Santa Barbara clique and rich patrons, with more money
than brains, who enjoy conniving at their own destruction."
Few at the Center responded to the "radical chic" appeal of
the black militants, but a good many felt a tug of sympathy for the
campus-born counterculture. One of these was Dean Seeley, who
cherished the notion that the young, by rejecting the structures and
most of the restraints of contemporary society, were ushering in a
new, more humane era. But any notion that this was the dominant theme
of the burgeoning youth movement was rudely dispelled when the Center
brought together a group of student leaders from leading campuses to
explain what they were really about.
The Santa Barbara News-Press reported that "a master
plan of how best to destroy the American university system as it is
today seemed to be the goal of [the] conference...." The student
body president of staid Washington University in St. Louis explained
that this was only the beginning of an effort to overthrow the entire
government, and called for terrorism on a scale that would "demoralize
and castrate America." The Center had agreed to hear the students
out before their seniors offered comment, with the result that the
rejection of this kind of radical cant by most of the Fellows never
effectively caught up with news reports that featured the most
incendiary statements by the young rebels.
By the close of the turbulent sixties, the Center was under fire from
the New Left as well as the Old Right. There was irony in this, for
Hutchins had always preached Utopian ideals to the young, and in that
sense he had been a generation ahead of the movement that wracked the
nation's leading campuses. In the Depression year 1935 he told the
graduating class at Chicago:
"I am not worried about your economic future. I am
worried about your morals. ...Believe me, you are closer to the
truth now than you ever will be again. Do not let 'practical' men
tell you that you should surrender your ideals because they are
unpractical. Do not be reconciled to dishonesty, indecency, and
brutality because gentlemanly ways have been discovered of being
dishonest, indecent, and brutal.
liberality, honor, justice, wisdom, reason, and understanding, these
are still the virtues."
But these virtues were conspicuously missing in a movement that
exalted the sensory at the expense of the rational. To Hutchins,
reason and morality were inseparable. Education, as he defined it, was
not possible without self-discipline; its purpose was a quest for the
good life, which was also the virtuous life.
This view, presumably shared by all those chosen as Senior Fellows or
Associates of the refounded Center, did not preclude participants who
might be labeled liberal or conservative, or, as was the case with
some, essentially apolitical. But there was no effort to guarantee
ideological balance, for Hutchins felt strongly that this would only
result in the kind of meaningless standoff that characterized
television talk shows and campus conferences that made a fetish of "presenting
In September, 1970, the Center published the thirty-seventh draft of
a model constitution written by Rexford G. Tugwell, the onetime New
Deal brains truster and governor of Puerto Rico. The elegant
nee-Federalist Papers in which he set forth the results of years of
processing his ideas through the Center dialogue represented the
culmination of the original basic issues program. The dialogue had
moved beyond constitutional matters, or at least had begun to project
them on a supranational scale.
Unprecedented issues raised by the technological revolution were
typified by the conflicts of interest that arose when new techniques
made possible exploitation of the mineral riches of the seabeds.
Recognizing that this was bound to alter the historic concept of
international waters devoid of national sovereignty, the Center
sponsored a Pacem in Maribus convocation in Malta that became
the first hi the series Elisabeth Borgese was to organize over the
It was a busy and reasonably successful time intellectually, less so
financially. The membership, leveling out around one hundred thousand,
covered the cost of an expanded publications and external affairs
program. The endowment campaign, however, never got off the ground,
and the inhibiting uncertainty as to the Center's future was
accentuated when Hutchins developed an aneurism and had to undergo
open heart surgery. He fully recovered, but was soon plagued by a
bladder tumor that required radical treatment.
The board reluctantly yielded to his insistence that the Center's
survival required new leadership, and a search committee began
actively looking for possible candidates. In October, 1973, at the
Pacem in Terris III convocation in Washington, the choice was
announced: Malcolm Moos, political scientist and former speech-writer
for President Dwight Eisenhower, who was scheduled to step down as
president of the University of Minnesota the following July.
In the published record of the debacle that followed there is a Rashomon
effect, as in the Japanese movie in which heroes and villains exchange
places in each participant's account of events in which all took part.
This is my version. The new crisis was precipitated when Harvey
Wheeler persuaded his old friend Malcolm Moos to support another
effort, to be launched even before Moos took office, to clear the
decks at the Center. For the Senior Fellows it was a rerun of the "refounding,"
and it produced a split in the board that proved impossible to heal.
First came what appeared to be the forced resignation of Norton
Ginsburg, the Chicago geographer who had replaced Seeley as dean. Then
I was notified that the external affairs program, including the Pacem
in Terris IV convocation announced in Washington, would be
abandoned and that Sander Vanocur, who had been retained as television
consultant, was to be fired.
In January, when I finally managed to arrange a meeting with Moos, he
received me in the president's house at Minnesota with Harvey Wheeler
at his side. I was informed by Moos that all the Senior Fellows were
to be immediately terminated except for Wilkinson and the most recent
appointee, Alex Comfort, a British gerontologist whose pay at the
Center was offset by Comfort's assignment of royalties from his
best-seller, The Joy of Sex. It was a procedure I could not
possibly support. Neither, I was sure, could Hutchins, and, pending
the installation of Moos six months hence, he and I remained the
responsible officers of the Fund.
I also considered the proposed changes an exercise in fiscal
unreality. To curtail the external affairs program meant curtailing
the income it provided, including substantial amounts contributed by
directors who strongly supported it. At the same time Moos and Wheeler
were outlining a plan to create a "communiversity" --
described as a sort of Rockefeller University of the humanities
complete with faculty and students -- which would not only have
required major new income, but would have represented a departure from
the Center's basic concept.
When the president-elect made his first appearance before the board
in February it was evident that his effective support was limited to a
minority led by J. R. Parten, a senior board member who had chaired
the search committee and felt constrained to support his nominee.
Differences within the board were papered over, however, after Moos
agreed to a compromise on the outstanding issues.
With no new funding coming in, a drastic reduction in personnel was
inevitable. But, under existing policy, this would require a
substantial outlay for severance pay and further reduce dwindling
resources. Parten had been persuaded that Moos was being undermined by
a cabal within the staff, and this provided a rationale for an effort
to reduce the severance claims of those targeted for dismissal. A
showdown took place at the next board meeting, where there was an
unsuccessful effort to remove me for "disloyalty." In May,
1975, the board requested, and received, Moos' resignation, and
summoned Hutchins back from retirement.
Insolvency now forced a reorganization that retired the Senior
Fellows and most of the administrative staff, leaving on the payroll
only seventeen of the sixty-four full-time employees. Severance costs
were to be covered by the sale of some of the Santa Barbara acreage.
The dialogue would be continued with uncompensated academic
participants drawn from university faculties in Southern California
and Chicago, where one of the directors, Bernard Weissbourd, offered
to provide quarters and underwrite expenses.
The Hutchins loyalists among the retired Senior Fellows continued to
participate without pay, and most of those who had signed on as
Associates were still willing to take an active, if intermittent role
in the Santa Barbara program, with Otis Graham, a history professor at
the University of California at Santa Barbara, serving as part-time
director. In Chicago, Ralph Tyler, a long-time associate of Hutchins,
brought in a number of distinguished participants from institutions in
the area. This served to maintain an adequate flow of material for
It was, of course, no more than a holding operation intended to
maintain a base upon which an intellectual community still might be
built. Despite the adverse publicity, the prestige of the Center
proved about as high as ever when Hutchins insisted that the most
effective demonstration of the pared-down institution's viability
would be to go ahead with Pacem in Terris IV. In November,
1975, leading figures from both political parties took part in a
two-day convocation aimed at defining the foreign policy issues to be
faced hi the coming Presidential campaign, and Center members from all
over the country came to Washington to swell the audience.
By this time Hutchins' strength was ebbing, and the search for a new
leader to take his place seemed as futile as ever. He was still the
Center's chief, and indeed only, executive when he died in a Santa
Barbara hospital on May 14, 1977.
I was called back by the board as acting president to continue the
search for a means of rejuvenating the Center. There were still
tangible assets: most of the severance obligations had been paid off,
there was valuable equity in the old mansion, and the publications
were still a going concern. This turned out to be enough to attract a
former colleague of Hutchins' and mine, Maurice Mitchell, who had
headed the Encyclopaedia Britannica company, and, for the last decade,
had been chancellor of the University of Denver.
Mitchell again made the rounds, but by the spring of 1979, he had
concluded that there was no hope of bringing in enough new revenue to
make the Center a free-standing institution. In June the board
recognized that its choice was between closing down and finding some
appropriate institution interested in carrying on, in part at least,
the Hutchins tradition. In recent years several such possibilities had
been explored, and two of these -- proposals by St. John's College in
Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the University of California at Santa
Barbara -- were presented for consideration.
The directors chose UCSB, and proceeded to dissolve the Fund for the
Republic, Inc., turning over its assets and liabilities with the
understanding that the Montecito property would be sold and the
proceeds used to establish a Robert Maynard Hutchins Center on the
campus at Goleta. None of the directors, except the last chairman,
Morris Levinson, and Vesta Hutchins, the founder's widow, was carried
over to the new board. The Hutchins era was over.
Any postmortem on the Center as it existed on Eucalyptus Hill must
recognize the impossibility of considering the institution apart from
its founder. His own public and private appraisals are not much help,
for he was a rational moralist who always deprecated his faith and
works with a touch of irony. In the absence of divine inspiration, he
said, he could never be sure whether he was acting out of conviction
or stubbornness. He needed both to maintain the Center as long as he
Measured by the terms in which he conceived it, the Center clearly
was a failure -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it never
existed at all. To maintain absolute independence, and attract and
hold great minds, it required the guaranteed income it never had.
Without the lifetime commitment of men and women of recognized
standing it could not achieve the institutional status that might have
given it a sustaining reputation in its own right.
Measured by the standards circumstances forced upon it, the Center
can, I think, justify its existence. One who goes back over its
publications and video-and audiotapes will note the early emergence of
a good many seminal ideas that have since gained currency in
intellectual circles, and to a lesser extent among the general public.
The actions of some of the public figures the Center brought into its
orbit surely were influenced by an experience most of them found
unique. And, once the ground was broken, there followed a
proliferation of institutes where the idea of dialogue is kept alive,
even though it has nowhere been exalted to the heights Hutchins sought
for it, and often is honored only in the breach.
That was the architectonic idea that shaped Robert Hutchins' life and
thought; he used capital letters when he declared that mankind's goal
must be the Civilization of the Dialogue, and insisted that the
educational system's mission was to prepare us for it. To those who
questioned the feasibility of such a notion in an age of cultural
fragmentation, he had a standard reply:
"I would remind you of the words variously
attributed to William the Silent and Charles the Bold. I have quoted
them over and over: 'It is not necessary to hope in order to
undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere.'"