|Publisher:||University of Notre Dame Press|
|Series:||Mary and Tim Gray Series for the Study of Catholic Higher Education Series , #2|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)|
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Being Catholic, Being AmericanThe Notre Dame Story, 1934-1952
By Robert E. Burns
University of Notre Dame PressCopyright © 2000 Robert E. Burns
All right reserved.
Notre Dame During the 1930s
In 1934, when Father John F. O'Hara, C.S.C., became the thirteenth president of Notre Dame, the university had been in existence for over nine decades. During that period the institution had evolved from a small-town Catholic boys' boarding school staffed almost exclusively by Holy Cross priests and brothers into the largest residential Catholic men's university in the country. Over 2,600 students studied in classroom buildings and laboratories at Notre Dame and lived in campus residence halls permeated by a strong religious atmosphere. These students were taught by a faculty of about two hundred fifteen, of whom in 1934 less than one-third were Holy Cross priests.
The university was organized into four undergraduate colleges: arts and letters, science, engineering, and foreign and domestic commerce. In addition, there was a law school and since 1931 a number of small but ambitious graduate programs. While virtually all of the upper-level administrative positions in the university were held by Holy Cross priests, priest/professors were not evenly distributed throughout all of the colleges. The College of Science listed only a few. There were no priests at all in the Colleges of Engineering and Commerce. Priest/professors were concentrated in the College of Arts and Letters, particularly in the departments of religion, philosophy, and history. Moreover, virtually all of the priests on campus, whether faculty members or not, had responsibilities in the residence halls as rectors or assistant rectors for maintaining an easily accessible quality spiritual life and acceptable social behavior.
Virtually any graduate of an accredited American high school qualified for admission, and very few students of acceptable moral character were ever turned away. As a matter of fact, during the early 1920s it was university policy to admit everyone who applied. Most students attending Notre Dame during the 1930s were drawn from middle-class American Catholic families of Irish, German, Italian, and Slavic descent. These young men came to Notre Dame to mature emotionally, socially, and intellectually in a morally and philosophically secure Catholic environment while preparing for successful careers in business or the professions.
As a representative Catholic university in 1934, Notre Dame was not a place where all points of view on controversial issues would be expressed or cultural, racial, social, or religious diversity encountered. In 1934 slightly less than half of the Notre Dame student body pursued traditional liberal arts courses of study. A majority of the undergraduate students at this time were enrolled in academic programs with a strong professional orientation--business, engineering, pre-medical, and pre-law. In practice then, the formal substantive education delivered to most Notre Dame students during these years was pre-professional or professional. Among Notre Dame students of this era, generally the most remembered and valued common intellectual experience was not reading or recitation; it was learning how to write coherent sentences.
The rest of the education provided at Notre Dame at the time tended to be protective. Required courses in neo-scholastic philosophy were thought sufficient to contain and, if the mechanics of Thomistic reasoning and analysis could be mastered, perhaps even refute the errors of materialism and skepticism. Instruction in Christian doctrine by persons professing the Catholic faith and practicing it in their own lives was best taught through virtuous example. Finally, no Catholic education could be authentic if it was not also a moralizing experience. Prefects and rectors were expected to watch over the morals of their charges. Young men thus placed under observation, it was believed, should turn out to be better persons for having been watched. All of this was reasonably priced. A Notre Dame education in 1934 cost residential undergraduate students $650 a year for tuition, room, board, and laundry. Day students paid $275 a year for tuition.
For the lay faculty employed at Notre Dame as well as for those working in most other Catholic colleges, pay was low and job security was problematic. In 1934 lay academic deans were paid about $6,000, the most prestigious lay professors earned about $5,000, ordinary professors accepted $2,500 for their efforts, and young assistant professors and instructors received about $1,800 for the year. As a point of reference, the head football coach in 1934 was paid $8,000 while his assistants earned $3,000. Because of cost controls imposed after Coach Rockne's death in 1931, the salaries paid to coaches in 1934 were significantly less than in previous years.
With regard to job security for lay faculty, modern academic tenure did not exist at Notre Dame in 1934. All lay professors at Notre Dame, regardless of length of service or status as teachers or scholars, were employed under one-year contracts renewable at the discretion of the president. The only Notre Dame employees ever given contracts running for more than one year were the head football coaches. It must be said, however, that neither voluntary nor involuntary lay faculty turnover has ever been very high at Notre Dame at any time; so given the economic uncertainties of the 1930s, it was minimal during those years. Modern academic tenure and multi-year contracts did not become the norm at Notre Dame until 1954.
Much anecdotal evidence suggests that the insecurity of annual contracts negatively affected lay faculty morale. For example, the annual mailing of contract renewals to lay faculty in the spring was very much a party time for those who received them and was celebrated accordingly. That tradition of celebrating annual contract renewals continued long after academic tenure and multi-year contracts had diminished the anxiety associated with that fearsome event. Instead, the cause for celebration was transferred to the spring arrival of salary increase notifications.
As the institution expanded and evolved toward a modern university between 1920 and 1940, there were some things that lay faculty at Notre Dame simply did not do. While private criticism of university administrators, procedures, policies, or programs could be and was often savage in private, going public with such matters was risky and rarely done. Furthermore, any activity or behavior, private or public, having the effect of embarrassing the university, discouraging students from coming to Notre Dame, or offending financial contributors was job threatening.
Even more important, lay faculty were frequently admonished to refrain from addressing current political or controversial policy issues in a public way while under contracted employment with the university. This policy had been set during the stridently anti-Catholic Republican presidential campaign of 1928. It was imposed at that time in order to discourage Coach Rockne, who for personal business reasons wanted publicly to endorse Herbert Hoover for the presidency. Such an endorsement by the most famous man at Notre Dame would have embarrassed the university greatly and infuriated millions of Al Smith's Catholic supporters as well as no small number of the university's financial contributors.
Since that narrow avoidance of a public relations disaster in 1928, university administrators insisted and virtually every lay faculty member understood and accepted the principle that the slightest association of the name of Notre Dame with personal views should be scrupulously avoided. One was not supposed to assert or claim a connection with Notre Dame when speaking publicly or writing about current political, social, economic, or foreign policy issues. Only the president of the university was authorized to speak for the university or give an impression that he was speaking for the university on such matters. The simple meaning of this policy was that ideally the only views on political or controversial public policy issues to be aired by persons employed or otherwise connected with the university were those approved by the president.
Because there was no way that a faculty member could prevent any newspaper from reporting speech or writing on matters of public controversy and then identifying the author as an employee of the university, strict compliance with this principle was virtually impossible. To comply strictly was to say nothing publicly that the president feared would embarrass the university. It would appear as well that no one at the university at this time, administration or faculty, was prepared to argue that serious application of this principle was censorship and denial of freedom of speech to American citizens in their own country.
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When O'Hara became president of Notre Dame in July 1934, he selected as his vice president Father J. Hugh O'Donnell, C.S.C., former prefect of discipline (1924-31) and president of St. Edward's College in Austin, Texas (1931-34). The rest of O'Hara's leadership team included Father John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., an assistant advertising manager for the Studebaker Corporation before joining the Congregation of Holy Cross, whom O'Hara appointed prefect of religion in 1934, and the long-serving Father J. Leonard Carrico, C.S.C., who continued as director of studies. Of this leadership team brought together by O'Hara in 1934, described by faculty wits as being headed by an evangelist, assisted by a Rotarian, and aided respectively by a ward heeler and an adding machine, one or more of them would direct the affairs of the university for the next eighteen years.
O'Hara and his team were very fortunate. By 1934, the university had managed to survive the worst ravages of the Great Depression. For Notre Dame, the academic years 1932-34 had been the most threatening ones. Overall university enrollments had fallen from a high of 3,227 in 1930-31 to 2,617 in 1933-43, their lowest levels in fifteen years. During the first academic year of O'Hara's presidency, 1934-35, overall university enrollment rose to 2,709, driven by a freshman registration increase of 23 percent.
During these very difficult years, the strength of university finances followed enrollment trends. After 1933 no teachers were dismissed because of economic conditions. Draconian measures put in place in 1932 to reduce faculty did not have to be implemented. Actually, in three of the six years between 1930 and 1936, normal salary increases were provided. The value of the conservatively invested, modest university endowment ($1,100,000) first fell and then rose with general financial markets. The largest paper loss incurred during the worst of the Depression years amounted to only 13 percent. By 1937 those paper losses had been recouped.
A similar pattern occurred with regard to profits from intercollegiate football during the early Depression years. Football profits had paid for much new construction and contributed generally to university development during the late 1920s. After Coach Rockne's death in 1931 football profits declined precipitously. The impact of the Depression along with inept coaching by Rockne's successor, Heartley "Hunk" Anderson, and poor team play combined to reduce football profits in 1933 to only one-third of what had been earned in 1930. That amount of income loss was unsustainable.
Largely through O'Hara's influence, Anderson was replaced by Elmer Layden in late 1933. The change of head coaches turned out to be good for Notre Dame football and for the athletic department's balance sheet. Not only did Layden's team perform much better in 1934 than had Anderson's squad the previous year, winning six games and losing only three, but football profits increased modestly as well. While football profits would never reach the spectacular levels of 1929 and 1930, the sharp decline in those profits occasioned by the impact of the Depression and by the poor performance of Anderson's teams was over.
In the three very important matters of enrollment, endowment safety, and football profits, O'Hara had been very lucky. When he became president in 1934, the financial condition of the university was not a matter of special concern. Thus relieved, notwithstanding the deteriorating state of international affairs and continuing evidence of fragility in our national economy, O'Hara turned at once to what was to be his principal activity, transforming Notre Dame into a modern university while remaining in all things a thoroughly Catholic institution.
There is no doubt that Father John E O'Hara was one of the most extraordinary men ever to be associated with Notre Dame as his later career as auxiliary bishop of the Military Ordinariate, bishop of Buffalo, and cardinal archbishop of Philadelphia testified. It is impossible to overestimate the positive and negative influences of this most unusual man upon the administrative, religious, social, and intellectual life of the university between 1920 and 1940.
Most people who had known John O'Hara as a founder and sometime dean of the College of Commerce and later as a long-serving prefect of religion and highly successful religious journalist would never have described him as an intellectual or as in any way enamored with the life of the mind. Certainly, O'Hara would never have described himself as an intellectual. Yet, despite deep prejudices against much of the critical and evaluative work undertaken by intellectuals in contemporary state universities, O'Hara, almost in spite of himself, when president succeeded in bringing more of them to the university than had any of his predecessors.
In politics, O'Hara professed to be nonpartisan, but he had close personal relations with Notre Dame alumni holding influential positions in the Roosevelt administration. He often served as a conduit to Democrat influentials for local Republican businessmen seeking changes or relief from New Deal legislation or administrative policies. O'Hara was also a perfervid anti-Communist and valued loyalty to church, country, and Notre Dame as a standard by which all students and faculty ought to be measured.
O'Hara was blessed with a high level of intelligence, an enormous capacity for work, an unshakable optimism about any project undertaken, and a most retentive memory. He was also a man usually free of all vestiges of false dignity, vainglory, or pretension. For people he liked and knew or even did not know personally but respected, O'Hara spared no effort to insure that their time at Notre Dame was pleasant and productive. Toward such people, he found much pleasure in being thoughtful and kind. In interpersonal relations, O'Hara could be either the best of friends or the worst of enemies.
To most people who knew O'Hara with any degree of intimacy, he appeared always supremely self-confident and ever optimistic. Difficulties did not intimidate him, and problems were matters to be resolved. For others who did not know O'Hara well, that self-confidence could acquire the sting of arrogance. On most matters and in most situations, he was a decisive man; but when pressed by time and circumstances that otherwise admirable quality sometimes appeared uncomfortably arbitrary. On occasion, he is remembered for abruptly terminating discussion in faculty meetings by ordering discussants, priests or laymen, to "sit down and shut up."
With the decline of football profits arrested and with general university finances more or less under control, O'Hara could be decisive about continuing the facilities improvement programs of predecessors. A new laundry and post office building were erected in 1934. An infirmary was put up in 1935. Three self-amortizing residence halls were built--Cavanaugh in 1936, Zahm in 1937, and Breen-Phillips in 1939. Of these, only Breen-Phillips had donor support. A new biology building was begun in 1936, and an extension was added to chemistry hall in 1939. Finally, in 1937 after a delay of six years, construction of the Rockne Memorial was started. Though only $135,000 had been raised for this project during the very poor fund-raising years of 1931-32, O'Hara managed to find an additional $200,000 in the athletic department account to proceed with the project. In the long term, however, more important than building residence halls and science facilities was what O'Hara did in six short years to improve the quality of instruction and research at the university.
-- iii --
Though not trained in science or in any other academic discipline for that matter, O'Hara highly valued scientific and scholarly research. Notwithstanding his prejudices against intellectuals, O'Hara greatly respected scientists and published scholars who had done their work well, that respect becoming near adulation if such scientists and scholars were Catholic. He was interested in history, especially Latin American history, and was fascinated by economics. O'Hara accepted all contemporary American Catholic assumptions about the centrality of Thomistic philosophy in Catholic higher education and its presumed value in developing clear thinking.
O'Hara's understanding of the nature of a Catholic education was conventional. For him it was much more than required courses in Thomistic philosophy and in religion. It was instruction in a full range of academic and vocational-oriented subjects provided to young Catholic men in the presumed religiously and morally correct environment of a residential Catholic university. It was not an educational setting where all sides of religious or morally controversial issues were presented. A Catholic education was delivered through a curriculum wherein error had no right to exist or to be heard.
The creation and maintenance of that sort of a religious and morally correct Catholic educational environment in contemporary America was not easy. However, in these matters as in others, O'Hara was up to the task. Enforcement of Index Librorum Prohibitorum regulations and operative canon law provisions dealing with dangerous books was strict. In addition, if banning the sale of magazines such as the American Mercury, Time, and Life in university facilities because of what O'Hara believed were politically incorrect articles or purient photographs seemed appropriate, he did it. In the case of Life, the magazine had published anti-Franco editorials and photographs of scantily clad females.
Indeed, for O'Hara purience was everywhere. He tended to see it in places and in activities where others did not. Always informed and kept current about the so-called occasions of sin in South Bend that might attract Notre Dame students, O'Hara strove mightily to eliminate them or otherwise limit their effects? Consequently, if imposing the severe penalty of expulsion upon all students who attended South Bend public dance halls and styling the young women who frequented such places in an official university religious newsletter as "pigs" were necessary as deterrents, O'Hara would do it.
With regard to the subject matter of a Catholic education, O'Hara had no patience with and considerable antipathy toward sociology and other social and behavioral sciences. He absolutely abominated the name and concept of social studies. Unless literature provided some sort of moral inspiration, he saw little value and much danger in it. O'Hara had no use whatsoever for contemporary American literature. He regarded a writer such as Hemingway as little more than a purveyor of pornography, and insisted that Hemingway's works had no place in libraries or in courses taught at Catholic colleges and universities. As a matter of fact, on occasion while serving as president of the university he would make visits, usually during the hour after lunch, to the Notre Dame library and personally purge it of books thought by him to be dangerous or morally suspect. After such visits O'Hara would always send the librarian the title pages of the books removed so that he could pull the cards from the library catalogue.
Though O'Hara had not a serious ecumenical thought in his head and was a man of many strong views that bordered on prejudice, he was, nonetheless, totally possessed by the idea that Notre Dame could and should become a great university. O'Hara was convinced that an essential part of the process of becoming a great university was developing at Notre Dame the kind of research orientation in science and in a few other fields that was so characteristic of the best American and English universities.
For O'Hara, moving from thought to action on the matter of developing a serious research orientation at Notre Dame turned out to be relatively uncomplicated. It was uncomplicated because in the administrative environment of Notre Dame at that time, there simply was no way for an opposition to organize and act against the president once he had decided to pursue a policy or undertake a project. In this particular instance, O'Hara had support from a few energetic Holy Cross priests lately returned from graduate schools.
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Given the level of affluence of most Notre Dame alumni in 1934 and general economic conditions, resources for new construction were easier to find than funds for expanding and improving research activities and facilities. Results following from the former were immediate and obvious while outcomes from funds given for the latter purpose tended to be generalized and long range. O'Hara began his search for such new resources by going to people most likely to appreciate and favor what he was trying to do. He turned to the General Education Board (which later became the Rockefeller Foundation) to look for advice and possible financial assistance in the fall of 1935.
The staff at the General Education Board knew and admired Father James A. Burns, a former president of the university and now the serving provincial of the American province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He had successfully obtained a grant from the board in 1920 and had managed the matching fund-raising campaign that followed. The staff also knew O'Hara's predecessor, Father Charles L. O'Donnell, from his unsuccessful visits to their New York offices in 1931 seeking funds for the development of graduate education at Notre Dame. O'Hara was entirely new to them and charmed everyone there with his candor and lack of pretension. Even though the board had no programs in place in which Notre Dame was interested or which it could qualify for, a staff member, Trevor Arnett, visited the university, interviewed Burns and O'Hara, and then commented favorably (in a report filed with the board in September 1935) about the progress of the institution since the grant award in 1920. In this interview with Arnett, O'Hara had mentioned that many of the university's largest givers had made their first gift to the university in the fund-raising campaign of 1920-22 and had continued to be generous to Notre Dame in succeeding years. O'Hara stated also that the university was able to live within its budgets and improve important scientific facilities. For example, some of the newly hired physics professors "were engaged in building a sphere for the bombardment of the atom. It was their opinion that it would furnish a larger amount of electric power than the one used at MIT for a similar purpose."
About a month later, O'Hara visited the board's offices in New York and had another interview with Arnett. After this interview, Arnett commented positively on the work of the Notre Dame physics, zoology, and chemistry departments but offered no encouragement about the prospects for a grant. The board had committed all of its resources to specific programs. No funds were available at this time to assist Notre Dame or any other university in developing their scientific programs.
Though O'Hara was disappointed with the board's narrow focus, he was not dismayed and decided to maintain contact with its staff members. O'Hara corresponded with the board off and on over the next two years, apprising them of scientific and scholarly developments at the university. For example, he informed the board in 1937 about the improved condition of university finances, mentioning that all of the income from the faculty salary endowment established with the General Education Board grant in 1920 and with matched funds raised thereafter was now being used to support professors teaching graduate courses. With no immediate prospect in sight for a foundation grant to assist development of scientific and scholarly research at Notre Dame, however, O'Hara decided that the university would have to find funds for such projects from internal sources. As his predecessors had done to finance new buildings, O'Hara turned to football profits for the monies needed to establish research and publication as a normal expectation from newly hired Notre Dame faculty.
As has been noted earlier, during 1934 Coach Layden's team won six games and lost three. Although Layden's win and loss record for 1934 was his worst during seven years as head coach, it was a vast improvement over Anderson's final year of only three wins, five losses, and one tie. Not only did Layden win more games than Anderson, but the style of team play indicated much better coaching as well. Most important of all, the steady decline in football profits from the highs of $540,000 during the glory years of 1929 and 1930 to only $177,000 in Anderson's last year had been checked. Receipts had increased significantly in 1934, but so had expenses. Football profits for 1934 rose slightly to $192,000. Stopping a negative trend and increasing profits ever so slightly was a good beginning.
Over the next six years, Layden's teams performed well, winning forty-one, losing ten, and tieing three. In no season did Notre Dame lose more than two games, and in one season, 1938, the team remained undefeated until losing their season-ending clash against the University of Southern California. Layden's teams achieved some memorable victories. For example, in 1935 against Ohio State in Columbus before 81,000 people, Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in less than fifteen minutes in a magnificent come-from-behind win regarded by many sports' authorities as perhaps the greatest intercollegiate football game of the century. Yet, throughout the Layden years, the glory of an undefeated season and a national championship eluded his teams. Clearly, Layden was a much better coach than Anderson but he was not the equal of Rockne.
However, in the very important area of relations with the Big Ten Conference, Layden performed much better than had Rockne. Layden succeeded in scheduling games with the University of Illinois, whose coaches had scrupulously avoided playing Rockne teams, and with diplomacy and charm managed to end the athletic boycott of Notre Dame by the University of Michigan that extended back to incidents occurring in 1909. Fielding Yost, athletic director of the University of Michigan and a bitter personal enemy of Rockne, agreed to schedule a football series with Notre Dame beginning in 1942.
Unlike Rockne, Layden understood the value of prudent silence. In the mid-1930s, the most corrupt intercollegiate football program in the country was directed by Jock Sutherland at the University of Pittsburgh. Sutherland not only paid his athletes on a regular salary scale but arranged free off-campus housing and other amenities for them. Sutherland's system of professionalization worked and brought his teams four times into the Rose Bowl. Layden had coached at Duquesne before coming to Notre Dame and knew all about Sutherland and his professional players, despising both the man and his system. Layden said nothing publicly about the situation at the University of Pittsburgh, but he joined with Navy and other schools which dropped the University of Pittsburgh from their schedules, thereby forcing a major reform of that university's athletic program and the departure of Sutherland to the National Football League.
Similarly, in 1936 Layden and other university officials opted for prudent silence respecting scandalous activity in the Ohio State football program. Information that some Ohio State athletes were being subsidized with nominal jobs as state employees was passed on to the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference by Notre Dame officials with a request to investigate the situation there. The commissioner, Major John Griffin, made inquiries in Columbus and found that indeed some very good football players were on the state payroll. However, since those jobs had been arranged by state representatives and state senators, the commissioner persuaded himself that Ohio State University had not broken conference rules. The commissioner urged Notre Dame officials to keep all information about the situation at Ohio State confidential, which they did. There would be no advantage for Notre Dame in antagonizing the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference by leaking such news to the press. Instead, Layden simply dropped Ohio State from the schedule without telling the reasons why. After appearing in the Notre Dame stadium in a losing effort in 1936, Ohio State and Notre Dame did not play another football game until 1995.
However tactical and successful was Layden's management of football relations with other institutions, his tenure as head coach at Notre Dame would depend upon the bottom line of the athletic department's budget at year's end. As long as football profits trended upward providing resources for university development, Layden's position would be secure. Only when football profits trended downward, would Notre Dame officials begin to take seriously complaints about the coach's perceived increasing petulance and his alleged slavish adherence to Rockne's system of football play that many regarded as outmoded by southwestern and West Coast innovations.
As has been noted earlier, football profits during Layden's first year increased modestly. They rose again in 1935 and 1936, peaking to over $300,000 in 1938 and 1939, and then dropped precipitously to $207,000 after a season of seven wins and two defeats in 1940. By and large, while O'Hara was president, Layden's football profit margins were acceptable. They were sufficient to allow O'Hara to proceed with his plans to improve the instruction and research activities at the university. However, O'Hara left the presidency and the university in late 1939 to become a bishop. His successor, Father J. Hugh O'Donnell, troubled by the decline of football profits in 1940 and by Layden's lack of cooperation in other matters, decided to look for a replacement.
Excerpted from Being Catholic, Being American by Robert E. Burns Copyright © 2000 by Robert E. Burns.
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