The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


And then, too, in Chicago itself there soon sprang up an interest among men of wealth and in the organs of public sentiment that filled us with satisfaction and hope. Gifts began to pour in from wholly unexpected quarters; prospective students by the hundreds began to make inquiries. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Dr. Harper found it impossible to keep within the extremely modest limit of the meager funds of the university. Nor could his restless spirit wait during long and slow years to see his plan in complete operation.

In fact, immediately after he became president, Dr. Harper began the organization of the university on a scale of expenditure that would require several more millions from Mr. Rockefeller at once if debt and deficit were to be avoided. Perhaps Dr. Harper preferred not to estimate in advance too accurately, but to leave much financing for the future. It must be admitted that his resistance was small and his temptations great.

But Mr. Rockefeller’s keen and experienced eye saw the drift with apprehension. Moreover, he was receiving, as he told me, private warnings of Dr. Harper’s financial commitments from friends in Chicago. He saw himself being forced to do in Dr. Harper’s time and way what he had proposed to do only in his own time and way.

Within less than nine months after Dr. Harper became president, Mr. Rockefeller took me into his confidence. He said that he was filled with anxiety lest Chicago should “lie down” on him. Contracts were being made involving vast permanent expenditures for which there had been made no provision whatever. Was it expected that he would furnish the needed funds?

He wished me to labor with Dr. Harper, to try to restrain him, and to make him face the financial facts, and the debts and deficits sure to come.

Yet at the very same time Mr. Rockefeller consented to the choice of a few of the best experts in the country as heads of departments at the then unheard of salary of $7,000 per year, for they could not be secured for less, and he confided to me as a secret not to be disclosed that he would pay any necessary deficit up to $40,000 for the first year. It was clear thus early that in Mr. Rockefeller’s mind pride in the institution and interest in its vast promise were struggling with his very natural purpose to be the master of his philanthropy and not its servant.

Dr. Harper had entered on his active duties as president in October, 1891. By the next February it was evident that the $75,000 that would be available for the expenses of the first year would be insufficient. The trustees limited the expenses for professors’ salaries to $100,000 and themselves subscribed the extra $25,000 on the spot. But this did not cover other necessary expenses which in every institution must amount to more than the sum of all the salaries. A hundred thousand annually in salaries means in every college an annual outgo of more than two hundred thousand. Moreover, there was at Chicago everything to buy new—apparatus, libraries, illustrative material.

I went to Chicago late in January, 1892, to look into the situation, and wrote back at once that I was “utterly appalled” at the inadequacy of the provision now in sight to take care of the work thrust upon the institution the first year; that it was certain to open in the fall with 1,000 to 2,000 students, for whose instruction no adequate preparation could be made on present funds. I spent many days in Chicago preparing my report. It called immediately for two millions of additional endowment to bring in a hundred thousand additional income per year. This extra income would be needed the first year.

Mr. Rockefeller consented to give one million of this for endowment, together with $50,000 additional for current expenses the first year. He said in his letter of gift that it was a “thank offering to Almighty God for restored health.” I have good reason to think this gratuitous statement, publicly made, partook, to use a late word, of camouflage. It concealed the unwelcome fact that the gift had been forced by the unexpected embarrassments of the university. That he felt so was evident by his warning to me at the time that he would not again give under any compulsion or plea of necessity.

Dr. Harper and Dr. Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, with the trustees, raised a million for buildings in Chicago during May, June, and July of 1892, and the time was ripe and circumstances favorable for Mr. Rockefeller to add the second of the two millions that my report had called for earlier in the year. So I presented the matter to Mr. Rockefeller on my own initiative in September and again in October, and the million was duly sent to the university in coupon bonds as a Christmas gift.

But the gift made provision only for what was already permanently involved in the university budget, and Mr. Rockefeller not only cut off and retained the coupons of the first six months, but required Dr. Harper to sign a written guarantee that not more than $20,000 should be added for professors’ salaries.

But to avoid deficits was to Dr. Harper utterly impossible. He was an ardent optimist. Invariably and against his own experience he both overestimated resources and underestimated expenditures. His professors were constantly demanding and forcing upon him vast financial claims, and were often able to plead his own previous promises and committals.