The Goose-Step—Study of American Education

Upton Sinclair







Let us continue East on the Northern Pacific Railroad, which has Mr. Morgan and two of his partners for directors, a recent Harvard overseer and Massachusetts Tech trustee for chairman, a Harvard overseer and Smith College trustee, a Cornell trustee, an Amherst trustee, a Hampton trustee and a Union Theological Seminary trustee for directors, also three First National Bank directors; and we come to the "Twin Cities," from which the Northwestern grain country is run. Here we are in one of the strongholds of the Steel Trust, also of the Lumber Trust and the grain speculators. Minnesota contains a great part of the iron ore of the United States, and the Steel Trust owns it all, and in alliance with the millers and the lumbermen, it runs the government of the state, and of course the state university. The university had a most wonderful endowment of government land, covered with the finest white and Norway pine. The Lumber Trust wanted this timber, and they got practically all of it. Likewise the Steel Trust wanted the ore that was under the land, and they got it; and sometimes it happened that the officials who sold this land at bargain prices were also trustees of the university.


For a generation the grand duke who ran the University of Minnesota was John S. Pillsbury, co-author with his two brothers of a famous work entitled "Pillsbury's Best," widely known all over the United` States. I had better abandon this feeble jest and be explicit, stating that Governor Pillsbury belonged to a family of flour manufacturers, the founders of the Milling Trust. Governor Pillsbury himself went in more especially for lumber; he got fraudulent possession of more public lands than any other person in the state, and gave some of the profits to the university, and so is called the "father of the university." Now he is dead, and the grand duke of his institution is his son-in-law, Fred B. Snyder, president of a mining company and director of the biggest bank and trust company in Minneapolis. As his right-hand man he has Pierce Butler, railroad attorney, a hard-fisted and aggressive agent of the plutocracy, counsel for the Great Northern Railroad. As his assistants he has the vice president of a national bank in Duluth, who is director of another national bank and a large owner of land and mines; the biggest dry-goods wholesaler in Minneapolis, director in the city traction lines.; a water-power fi ancier ;. the wife and daughter-in-law of two mining and lumber magnates; a physician, son-in-law of "Jesse James" Hill,, the railroad king; and another very wealthy physician, on whose yacht on the Mississippi River the regents sometimes hold their meetings.


I remember Lincoln Steffens, telling twenty years ago of the Shame of the Cities, describing how the politicians. in Pittsburgh would travel to Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and other cities, to find out the latest wrinkles in graft, with a view to applying them at home. It occurs to me that the interlocking regents of Minnesota must have sent a commission to study methods at the University of Pennsylvania; for when I asked Minnesota professors to. tell me what happened to them, I heard the same story that I had heard in the Wharton School of Finance, told in the very same phrases.


If you displease your superiors of the Milling Trust; you may get no changes in your courses, but may have to teach large classes of freshmen, over and over again the same weary routine, until your heart breaks. You ask for more advanced classes, and you do not get them; you do not get promotions or increases in salary, and when you. inquire the reason, your superiors are politely vague. If you still do not take the hint and abandon your independent manners and beliefs, the head of your department sends for you and tells you that he is very sorry, but there are a lot of cranks running the state just now. "Here I have a letter from the dean, who has it from the president, who has it from a regent." If your superior happens to like you, he offers you one more opportunity to recant, or he offers "to land you at Wisconsin"; he will give you "a bully recommendation," it will be "a fine opportunity for you." If, on the other hand, he does not happen to like you, then you pick up your evening paper, and read a scare headline on the front page, to the effect that you have been dismissed from the university for conduct unbecoming the academic profession.


There were some students who thought it would be interesting to have an "open discussion club." They were handicapped by many regulations; and, quite casually, the dean of student affairs would stroll in on their meetings, to keep watch over them. One of the students went to a member of the faculty, and asked him if he would come and explain to the students the doctrines of Karl Marx; the professor smiled, and answered that he wanted to stay at the university. I am happy to be able to say that the students were not so timid as the professor, and they now meet quite openly, calling themselves the "Seekers."


They have had several grave mishaps at this University of the Ore Trust. First, a man came and registered in the classes, and was discovered to be a Communist! The man had been brought to the United States when he was three years old, and so he was an alien, and was slated for deportation. But the government was in an embarrassing position; the man did not know what country to claim, and the government couldn't find out, and didn't know where to send him! Needless to say, however, the university got rid of him in a hurry.


They had for three years a Harvard Ph.D., educated in England; after the fashion of Englishmen, he was a member of the Fabian Society, and thought he had a perfect right to his political views, just the same as if he had been at Oxford. He began working for the Committee of Forty-eight, making speeches at other places, and so he got into the newspapers. The head of his department sent for him: "We have to keep out of the newspapers; look at me, I have been here twelve years, and I have never got into them!" But this instructor would not change his evil practices, so he too had to be got rid of.


Meet Professor John Henry Gray, one of the most distinguished economists in the United States. Professor Gray was for fifteen years at Northwestern University, and for fifteen at the University of Minnesota. He is not a Socialist, but an extremely mild liberal, a quiet man and a patient worker, who gets the facts on his subject and sets them forth regardless of consequences. He has been selected to represent the United States government on many economic commissions abroad-at the International Cooperative Congress at Manchester, 1902; at the International Congress on Insurance for Laboring Men, at Dusseldorf, and the International Congress of Commerce and Industry, at Ostend. He was appointed on a commission of the National Civic Federation in 1905, to study municipal ownership abroad; again, in 1911-1914, to investigate the regulation of public service corporations. He is associate editor of two economic journals-I might go on to give a long list of his honors and positions. But Professor Gray had the bad taste to become converted to the doctrines of municipal ownership, and the still worse taste, while working for the government in Washington during the war, to interfere with some of the interlocking directors from his home state, engaged in their usual practice of robbing the government. So Professor Gray's life at the university became a torment.


They removed him from the leadership of his department, saying that he had no executive ability and couldn't keep order. They would move him from one room to another, and subject him to every humiliation. He was sixty-three years of age, and would soon be entitled to a pension, so he held on; but he never got a "raise," and he was told that he never would get it, nor would any man he recommended ever get it. They brought in a subordinate from the census bureau in Washington, and paid this man $1,500 a year more than Professor Gray was getting. They "reorganized" his department, deposing him from the headship, and combining it with a "School of Business," and so finally succeeded in making him resign.


Or consider the strange experience of a young instructor of chemistry named Bernard Dietrichson. He had a dispute with his dean, and two members of the law faculty were appointed by the regents to make an inquiry. This committee reported that the department had been seriously mismanaged by the dean, and that Mr. Dietrichson "had done nothing to merit discipline or dismissal." This report was received by a committee of the- regents, with Pierce Butler, chief bully of the board of regents, in charge. It issued a decision, stating that it had examined the findings of the investigating committee of lawyers, and that on the basis of these findings it held that there had been no mismanagement by the dean, and that Mr. Dietrichson ought to be dismissed! The regents' committee then suppressed the text of the findings of the investigating committee; but unfortunately for Mr. Butler, the document containing the suppressed facts came into the hands of Dietrichson, and he published it. Thereupon, the dean of the chemistry department was dismissed, and the department reorganized-a complete confession that Dietrichson was right. Nevertheless, he is still out of the university!


More money is appropriated for the University of the Ore Trust, more buildings are erected, more students come piling in; but the soul of the place is poisoned. There is no solidarity in the faculty, there is only, intrigue, jealousy and fear. There is an elaborate system of outside spying, and no one knows whom to trust. If you go to the faculty club and listen to the gossip about your associates, and take part in the petty politics of your department, then you are respectable, and they let you alone; but if you don't do these things, then they know you must be some kind of crank, and it is the business of the spies to find out what you are doing with your spare time, and whether you have any dangerous ideas. If you make a public address, there will be volunteer patriotic organizations taking notes of your remarks, and a copy will be sent to the. president of the university, or perhaps to the grand dukes of the board.


Meetings of the board of regents are by law required to be public, but they get around this by the simple device of having "executive sessions"-and once in a while a champagne picnic on Dr. Mayo's private yacht! A member of the faculty will be hauled up-he has never seen one of the regents before, and has no idea who has accused him, or what are the accusations. They do not scruple to ask him the most personal questions, not merely about his beliefs, but about his private life. Is it true that he is separated from his wife? Is it true that he took a young lady to dinner? They will call in his dean and his fellow professors, and if the charge is a serious one, he is decapitated in advance. Here sit the angry plutocrats, brutal, full of hate-"I understand this"--"Is it true that" -and so on. "Did you vote for Debs?" "Did you belong to the Progressive party?" "Do you believe in God?" "Have you studied the constitution of the United States?" "Do you believe in abolishing the capitalistic system?" "What church do you go to?"


Sometimes a professor gets "sore," and tells these mighty ones to go to hell; after that he can get no job in any American university. I was told of a leading authority on state government taxation and political science who is now making washboards. This man was listed as a "war case;" that is to say, he had served on a charter commission in Minneapolis, and had put through certain franchise provisions opposed by the public service companies ; so when the war came he was called unpatriotic. He writes me as follows:


Usually the intimidation of a professor is so veiled and vague that he hardly knows what is wrong. A certain significant remark dropped at the right time, a certain coldness of attitude, failure to be included in certain social affairs, a certain slowness to get well earned increases, granted with gusto to others, many other little hints that his views do not meet with favor in certain quarters will serve to curb many a man with wife and babies to provide for. For instance, there were a score or more called before the regents at the time I was, every one of whom had opposed our entrance into the war and had not changed views as to the wisdom or justice of our going in, but they were willing to disavow their attitude, when confronted with instant dismissal. Some of these men told me they had to lie or starve their wives and babies, and they took the easier road.


Another man, a former professor, writes me of the present head of the university: "He does not hesitate to use the black-list to ruin a man's career." A professor now at the university writes me a long letter, telling me, among other cases, of a man summoned before the regents and later commanded to resign, for having stated in a private conversation to an old acquaintance that "now that the war is over, we ought to set the political prisoners free"; this man defended himself, and managed to hold on; but another instructor, an able man, was placed in peril of his job for having presided at a political meeting in his home ward, in favor of the labor candidate for mayor. This man was ousted a year later, under circumstances to be narrated.


You will wish to know something about the spy-system, maintained by the "Citizen's Alliance," with the cooperation of the trustees; so I submit a statement from Mr. Fred W. Bentley, who was for three years an instructor. His statement is dated August 20, 1919, and the essential parts of it are as follows


One day last spring, I do not remember the exact date, I was called to the 'phone in my office, Room No. 111, Main Engineering Building, by a stranger who said his name was Miller. He first stated that he had a private matter to talk about, and asked if it were safe to talk to me where I was. I informed him that he could talk to me anywhere, that I had nothing to cover up.


He then told me that he was interested in a little enterprise and that some of my friends had recommended me to him as one who might help him a little financially. He said that he had never had the pleasure of meeting me but that he knew some of my friends. He asked me if I knew a man (I don't remember the name) who ran a saloon on Seventh Street, but I informed him that I did not. He asked me if I had seen the publication called "Hunger" and I informed him that I had seen someone selling it on the street but that I had not read it.


He said that they were trying to get out another edition and would have to have some machine (I don't remember what he called it) and asked if I would make a contribution toward it. I told him I didn't mind giving a dollar or two, and he asked me if I would leave it with State Secretary Dirba, which I promised to do.


A few days after that I saw Dirba and asked him if he had been approached in the matter and he said he had not. I told Dirba that if anyone did come to him to send the party to me, and thought nothing further of the matter until one day, sometime later, Dean Allen came to me in the drafting room and told me that the Board of Regents was meeting in the president's office and wanted to see me. I went immediately with Dean Allen to the meeting of the board, where I was informed that charges of disloyalty had been preferred against me. When I inquired what they were I learned that the above 'phone conversation was the basis for the charges.


After a few questions relative to the "Hunger" incident, President Burton and the members of the board proceeded to ask numerous questions as to my opinions on many topics, social, political and economic, all of which were none of their business, the more so since I was teaching Drawing, Descriptive Geometry, and Machine Design, and was never called upon to address the students on any other subject.


I cannot, of course, remember all their questions but some of them were as follows:


Are you a Socialist? Do you belong to the Socialist Party? Have you attended any of the meetings at Commonwealth Hall? Have you ever belonged to the I. W. W.? Have you ever attended any of the I. W. W. meetings? Do you favor Trade Unionism or Industrial Unionism? Are there many Industrial Unionists in the A. F. of L.? Do you believe in bringing about the social change you advocate by education or violence? Do you believe in the confiscation of property? Have you read the constitution of Soviet Russia? Do you think it right that the employers of labor in Russia should be denied the right to vote? Are there many men of the faculty who believe as you do, etc.?


There is nothing to add to this, except that Mr. Bentley was not reappointed to the university-and was left to learn this fact by accident, from a friend! He had worked for three years at a very low salary, upon the promise that he would soon be made a professor; but now they dropped him-and so late in the year that he could not apply for a position elsewhere.






They have had a series of presidents at the University of the Ore Trust. The old president was Northrop, an amiable gentleman, much liked by the faculty because he did not understand the modern card-filing system. Then came Vincent, one of the "go-Betters." A professor whom he "got" writes me: "He apparently felt that he held a mandate to break the hearts of the men who had served under Northrop." As a result of faculty clamor, an "advisory committee" was established, but the method of appointing this was ingeniously contrived so that Vincent had the power to keep off any liberals. This committee met in secret, and my correspondent describes to me its operation


A poor devil, Professor A, who had been teaching for a small salary in hopes of promotion, would receive some fine morning a notice from headquarters that his contract was terminated at the end of the year. Professor B would be advised that he had one year more to serve, during which time he had better be looking for a new place. Professor C would be notified that his salary would not be increased. Smothered with rage, disappointment and despair, he would rush to the president of the university to know in what particular he had erred or sinned. The president in his unctuous way would inform the professor that he was sorry for what had been done but could do nothing, because the matter lay in the hands of the advisory committee, with which he could not interfere. Our victim would then set out to find the advisory committee, but as it was made up of nine members and had adjourned, he could not locate it. He would continue his search, and perchance find one of the members of the illustrious committee. Upon his making inquiry as to why and to what purpose he would be assured of the member's sympathy, but would be told that there was an understanding among the members of the advisory committee that nothing should be said as to what was done in the sessions or how the members voted. The disappointed pedagogue could get nothing from anybody; there was no one responsible; he had been sandbagged in a dark alley, but who did the job he. could not learn.


Vincent was called to become head of the Rockefeller Foundation. Then came Marion LeRoy Burton, a former clergyman, and president of Smith College for young ladies, a "booster" from way back, an inspirationalist of the Chautauqua school; the university gave him a grand reception, with bands and torches. He said in the hearing of an acquaintance of mine that he was going to make Minnesota a gentleman's school of the Yale type. What actually exists is a great academic department-store. Sinclair Lewis described it to me-"They sell you two yards of Latin and half a yard of Greek, and a bored young instructor hands it out over the counter." Lewis heard President Burton addressing a meeting of the plutocracy to raise funds, and telling the touching story of his life-he was a little boy who carried newspapers on cold mornings, and now he had fifteen thousand dollars a year, and a big house, and a retiring pension-a wonderful country is America!


Another friend of mine heard President Burton make a speech in Denver, before a gathering of business men called the "Mile High Club." He said that at his university the students were allowed to think, but they were "guided in their thinking"; and the business men got the point and chuckled. His speech was a series of cheap jokes and hackneyed utterances, delivered with fervid eloquence. His type of scholarship you may judge from the titles of some of the books which he has produced: "The Secret of Achievement"; "The Life Which Is Life Indeed"; "On Being Divine."


Last year President Burton got tired of his regents, and accepted a higher salary at the University of Michigan, where we shall meet him again. His place has been taken by one of the university's own professors, who was supposed to act as a rubber-stamp to the interlocking regents, but is now behind the scenes engaged in the usual struggle with Grand Bully Butler. President Coffman is not even allowed to make appointments to the university -to say nothing of allowing the heads of departments to do so. The names are brought up before the board of regents, and these wary gentlemen go over the man's list of degrees and his record, and then Grand Duke Snyder says: "That seems good, but is he all right generally?" meaning, of course, has he any "dangerous ideas."


In the fall of 1919 the inspirational President Burton delivered some of those wonderful high-sounding phrases, which are a part of our university swindle. He said that "integrity" must be the chief characteristic of university men and women. Whereupon a college paper, "The Foolscap," was moved to a little plain speaking. It said


Academic freedom, to be sure, exists here at Minnesota as at other equally "ideal" universities. Our president has publicly announced that fact. Our faculty and the student body enthusiastically applauded that announcement. This academic freedom, however, is of so peculiar a nature that no one member of the faculty is free publicly to discuss it. The president may speak of it with an engaging boldness; the students may speak of it (and do) with a fine ironic scorn; but members of the faculty, those to whom is intrusted our instruction in "all forms of knowledge," those even whom we address as "Professor" and "Dean," they dare not utter their true opinion concerning it; their mouths are effectually sealed. This the students know. They have seen the flush of shame and anger rise to the cheeks of embarrassed teachers who could reply to audacious undergraduate taunts of insincerity and dishonesty only with mortified silence. They have seen, at that moment when vigorous applause gave generous approval to our president's insistence on academic freedom, at that very moment when enthusiasm for truth was at its highest, at that very moment they saw instructors wink at their colleagues,, and deans look meaningly at some understanding friend. Students, both inside and outside the class room, are particularly observant of the actions of their instructors. They know when deans applaud because they have to; when professors say things they do not mean. They know that even while they listen to talk of academic freedom they see men annually relieved of their academic burdens for haying dared to utter what they deemed to be the truth. These students know the colleges from which such instructors were dismissed. They know the names of these instructors. They know the cause for which they were dismissed. They know, also, that such is the state of academic freedom at our university tat, even as we go to press, at least one professor in the academic college-a professor, too; whose discreet devotion to facts, and whose cautious refusal to permit the slightest classroom interpretation thereof, make his potentially excellent subject an inexpressible bore-that at least this one professor is trembling with fear and anger because of official intimation that he had entertained opinions for which his institution did not stand.


This publication made a tremendous uproar in the university. For, of course, all university influence depends upon the keeping up of a pretense of freedom; the public must believe in these mighty captains of erudition and must not see them wink as they use their high-sounding words. A faculty committee of five members was appointed to investigate the statements made. This committee interviewed a great number of university people, members of the faculty of all ranks, both men and women, also students and alumni. They submitted a report, of which I quote parts. You note the carefully guarded phrases:


A great deal of evidence has been presented to your committee which indicates the existence in our academic community of a sense of restraint and repression of a kind and degree distinctly unfavorable to a sound and intellectual life. This is already indicated by the vote taken at the meeting of the faculty on February 16. The investigation of the committee has served to confirm and verify this impression of a condition that cannot be described as wholesome. Fears have been disclosed to the committee, which if recounted in detail might seem to many members of the faculty absurd and unbelievable, and which perhaps could not be entertained by others, either because of the possession of greater courage, or of a greater security of tenure, or because of the fact that their own convictions are in happier conformity with the ruling opinion. Nevertheless, the undoubted presence of these fears in the minds of many members of the faculty constitutes a psychological atmosphere depressing in its influence, and calculated to have a deleterious effect upon the sincerity and quality of the teaching done under a sense of it . . . . .


It has become of late a frequent experience that complaint on the part of some person or organization outside the university leads to an investigation, formal or informal, of the views or activities of some member of the faculty. Commonly, it may be taken for granted that the activities complained of are wholly within the discretion of a teacher and the rights of a citizen. The mere knowledge, however, that such complaints are under investigation, creates a sense of intimidation, felt most strongly, of course, by the more inexperienced members of the faculty whose academic tenure is less secure . . . . .


Much of the fear prevalent on the campus is due to reports of the manner in which investigations have been conducted by the regents, the attitude exhibited not always having been sufficiently clear and consistent to be wholly reassuring. Doubtless such impressions are sometimes due to mere inadvertencies; but the fact is that a member of the faculty, when summoned to answer charges preferred, frequently finds himself unjustifiably on the defensive. . .


Evidence has been brought to the attention of your committee which plainly indicates the use of espionage by external forces that continually attempt to exert pressure upon the authorities as to university teaching and personnel. Your committee is firmly of the opinion that such pressure is not in the public interest. The invasion by private detectives of the domain of academic life and thought is scarcely compatible with the maintenance of a sound and wholesome intellectual spirit. The methods and point of view of these people may be illustrated by your committee's own experience. Early in the course of this investigation, one of these agents sought and obtained an interview with a member of your committee, in which he volunteered the information that the "Foolscap" editorial (which, as it subsequently developed, he had not even read) was a piece of political propaganda, that he knew the particular party headquarters whence it came, and that it was certain he could discover the real author concealed behind the editorial screen. He offered, accordingly, on the assumption that your committee was interested, not in the question of fact raised by the editorial, but rather in the exposure and punishment of a quasi-criminal conspiracy supposedly involved in its publication, to worm himself into the confidence of the editor of the "Foolscap" and to procure for your committee by betrayal of this confidence the name of the guilty propagandist author. It is deplorable to note the constantly extending nets of private spy systems in civil life, and it is to be hoped that the threatened invasion of academic life by this sinister influence may be prevented. No thoughtful person can fail to see how blighting would be its influence, when once firmly established, m the destruction of mutual confidence, and in rendering impossible that frankness of discussion and opinion without which the intellectual life is not freely nourished and stimulated.


There remains only to state what action the faculty took in this matter. One member of the committee tells me about it


They postponed action until such a time as the committee was ready to report again to a closed faculty meeting giving specific instances of lack of academic freedom, with names and dates. The committee, having decided to present three typical cases in detail to the faculty, asked the president to summon a meeting. He passed the buck to the committee of the deans known as the senate. The deans thought it inopportune to call the meeting at that particular time, it being just prior to the June examinations. Summer vacation ensued. In September, when college re-opened, one of the five committeemen had gone East for a year as an exchange professor; another had been retired as a Carnegie pensioner on account of his age; a third, though still drawing a salary as a member of the faculty, had received notice of his dismissal; and the other two saw the futility of trying to bring the matter up again.


Also I ought to add what action the regents took. 'They kicked out of the university the young instructor who had been most active in preparing the report. He has written me about the circumstances of his dismissal:


Nothing specific was sent to me. But, by what chain of circumstances need not be told, I saw with my own eyes a letter from Pierce Butler addressed to President Burton asking for my decapitation. The neatest thing you ever saw-not a direct order, and not even a request for my dismissal, but a carefully worded statement to the effect that it seemed to him (Butler) regrettable that the name of the university had been linked up in the press with the name of myself. That was all. But Burton sent it down the line of officials as a positive decree and my fate at Minnesota was settled. Usually, as you perhaps are aware, the thing is done by word of mouth only. Butler, of course, never imagined that this letter would reach my eyes.


Mr. Butler remains grand bully of the university; but here also we are at the "big scene" in the melodrama the villain has the heroine helpless, but in the distance we hear the galloping hoofs of the rescuer's horses! The farmers of Minnesota with their Non-partisan League, and the workers of the cities with their unions, have got together into the Farmer-Labor party, and they have just elected their own United States senator. Before long they may also elect a governor of their state, and the University of the Ore Trust may become the University of the people of Minnesota.


P.S.-As this book is going to the printer President Harding, wishing to show the public exactly how contemptuous of public opinion it is possible for a public official to be, sends in the nomination of Grand Bully Butler for justice of the United States Supreme Court!