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The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
Mr. Rockefeller suppressed whatever disappointment he had, gave freely even though under compulsion, and acted throughout in the public interest with great selfrestraint. The fact was that the university had disclosed a greater field, a wider promise, and required far greater and more immediate expenditures than anyone had dreamed in order to fulfill a destiny now manifest to all.
It remains for me to show in justice to both that from the first the temperamental difference between Mr. Rockefeller and Dr. Harper made it impossible for them to work in open, frank and cordial co-operation, such as Mr. Rockefeller desired, toward the common end of building a great university.
Both men were committed to the enterprise, both were as disinterested in it as was humanly possible, both were men of inflexible purpose, but they were of opposite temperaments. Mr. Rockefeller had written Dr. Harper in trying to persuade him to become president of the university in the following words, among others less significant: “I confidently expect we will add funds from time to time to those already pledged to place it [the university] on the most favored basis financially.”
These are perhaps the most pregnant and important words ever uttered in the history of the University of Chicago. Considering their context and purpose, they certainly did effectually commit Mr. Rockefeller to Dr. Harper’s dream of a great university at Chicago. This sentence it was, no doubt, that decided Dr. Harper to resign his work at Yale and undertake the presidency at Chicago.
But the two men each interpreted these words according to his own temperament, and the two were unfortunately temperamental opposites; and these differences were accentuated by experiences and pursuits of life as diverse as possible, and also by great differences in age.
Mr. Rockefeller was a man in middle life. Dr. Harper was hardly more than a youth. Mr. Rockefeller had been a businessman from his teens. Dr. Harper was a teacher and was without business experience. Mr. Rockefeller had perhaps had a wider experience in executive relations than any other man in America. Dr. Harper was almost without administrative experience.
When Mr. Rockefeller wrote the crucial sentence we are discussing, he had evidently resolved to found, if he could, a great university at Chicago, but he intended to do so by making occasional and limited gifts, feeling his way along with care and making possible a slow, solid, and healthy growth. In finance he expected it to be a model of economy, thrift and skill. He supposed every forward step would be discussed and financed in advance with all the factors accurately estimated.
But to Dr. Harper, on the other hand, such a policy was temperamentally impossible. Notwithstanding immense and repeated gifts and every caution and precaution, each year of Dr. Harper’s active presidency, from 1892 to his disabling illness in 1904, was a year of increasing debt and deficit.
Nothing but his clear vision of the public interest could have sustained Mr. Rockefeller in those trying years. He saw students entering the university in numbers increasing annually by hundreds. While he was painfully aware that the budgets annually presented to us in advance were not the least restrained on expenditures, he knew that after all there was little waste. And so Mr. Rockefeller was patient.
But not too patient. When in 1904 he thought the time had come for the trustees to assume authoritative and complete control of the finances and live up to the budgets and not transgress them, the threatened blow fell and there was no faltering. The trustees themselves were convinced that the hour had struck and were from that time as zealous as we were for complete financial reform. Dr. Harper fully realized that the conflict with Mr. Rockefeller, always a friendly conflict, was over, and it was he who had lost. For after an overnight private conference with his father, Mr. John, Jr., formally announced the next day, to the reassembled board, the discontinuance of further endowment gifts from his father until the university could show a clean balance sheet.
There was no break at any time in the friendly social relations between the Rockefellers and the Harpers.
Dr. Harper died in January, 1906. At the time of his death, the university had no pension system. Mr. Rockefeller had indeed established a trust fund for Dr. Harper personally, of $75,000, some years before. This fund now went to the widow. In addition, Mr. Rockefeller now gave the university a fund of $200,000, the income to go to Mrs. Harper for life. Mr. Rockefeller also built, almost wholly with his own contribution of $650,000, the Harper Memorial Library.
It was only after the university, under the skillful financial management of the new president, Dr. Judson, had lived within its budget for two years, that Mr. Rockefeller began to renew his gifts for endowment. Early in 1906 he gave more than a million for endowment, and before the close of the year, had added to his total contributions more than three millions, nearly all for endowment.
By 1910 Mr. Rockefeller’s gifts to the University of Chicago had totaled some 33 millions.