Upton Sinclair and Syracuse

In 1922, muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair published a scathing attack on American universities.  His book, The Goosestep: Study of American Education is no longer in print, but still is of interest to recall.  One chapter, entitled “The University of Heaven” was a bitingly critical examination of Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees and its chancellor, Dr. James Roscoe Day.   In the 1920s, according to Sinclair, SU “is inhabited exclusively by the elect”, led by Day, who he describes as “provincial and naive, representing the adoration of wealth in its primitive, instinctive form.”  Sinclair particularly was scornful of the manner in which Day, who had been chancellor since 1894, had overtly courted business leaders, men such as John D. Rockefeller and the heads of U.S. Steel and the railroads, to contribute money to the university; in return, according to Sinclair, Day had put them on the SU Board, where, in the author’s view, they were devoted to finances, not academics.

Sinclair cited specific examples to support his  contention that Day was the wrong man to lead a university.  He claimed Day routinely fired professors for their political views, awarded honorary degrees to wealthy donors, and suppressed student opinions.  Day’s lack of respect for his faculty was also documented:  at one faculty meeting, Day told professors “You fellows needn’t think you mean anything to me; I could replace you all in an hour and a half.”  (Not a lot has changed in  a century:  the current governor of NYS has pretty much said the same thing to teachers).

One of the best incidents used by Sinclair was when a faculty member, who had recently published an important book in his field, went to Day to request a raise, Day was quoted as saying (in his denial of the request):  “A man who has written a book ought not to expect promotion; it shows that he had spare time on his hand.”  Ouch!Upton Sinclair



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