February 25, 2008

President Gilman and the Selection of First Faculty

If Johns Hopkins’ first board of trustees had even the slightest doubt about their new president’s ability to create a university without guidelines from them or the founder, they probably heaved a collective sigh of relief in one of their earliest meetings with Daniel Coit Gilman. He knew that assembling an outstanding faculty was a first priority, and he knew how to do it.

Gilman clearly had taken time to reflect on what he wanted to tell the trustees about the selection of the first faculty, reading to them from a lengthy paper he had prepared and saying they were about to embark “on one of the most important responsibilities which devolves to Trustees.” The document is on file in the Ferdinand Hamburger University Archives of the Eisenhower Library.

First, he said, the faculty should be composed of “only such teachers É as have achieved a distinguished reputation, and who are regarded as eminent among their co-workers in special branches of literature and science.”

“The renown of a great scholar,” he said, “draws to the lecture room men of high aspirations.” Distinguished faculty “ensure liberality of culture, enlightened counsel and advanced pursuit of learning. They give tone to all the scholastic work; they inspire younger teachers; they attract the attention … of all who observe the progress of education.”

Citing the German universities, he said that their “example is constantly quoted as showing the wisdom of such a course.” But, he added, there were circumstances peculiar to German universities that did not exist in the United States. He cited the ease with which German professors and students moved from one university to another. “In this country,” he said, “it is not often easy to induce professors of distinguished reputation to leave the institutions with which they are connected.”

The trustees had suggested that an annual salary of $5,000 would be sufficient to attract outstanding faculty to Baltimore. Gilman was not so sure. That salary, he said, “is larger than is paid at Cambridge, New Haven or Princeton … but it is not so much larger than is paid to seem very attractive.”

Realizing these limitations, Gilman said that “our strength will probably lie among those who already have done enough to show their intellectual abilities but who have not yet attained the more enviable positions in college life.”

Gilman acknowledged that some faculty are highly regarded as teachers and others as researchers. He said he would seek professors “who combine the qualities of both the investigator and the teacher.”

Gilman told the trustees that he had four “considerations which should be constantly in mind in the selection of permanent professors.

“First: Talent, taste and preparation for some particular department of work. Unless he is proficient in a specialty, he will be of little use to the University.

“Second: Power to attract and influence young minds.

“Third: A disposition to cooperate with others in building up a new institution, where responsibilities and duties cannot be absolutely defined.

“Fourth: In respect to ecclesiastical and political differences … a spirit that does not prevent wide differences of opinion, but precludes the uncalled-for expression of these differences … which are likely to impair the usefulness of the University.”

The first five professors to meet Gilman’s criteria were Basil L. Gildersleeve, in Greek; James J. Sylvester, in mathematics; Ira Remsen, in chemistry; Henry A. Rowland, in physics; and Henry N. Martin, in biology.