James Roscoe Day and Syracuse University

The target of Upton Sinclair’s criticism of SU was James Roscoe Day, who served as its Chancellor from 1894 through early 1922.   In his defense, Day turned S.U. into a major university:  he expanded the campus to include 16 new buildings, including a Physics Lab and a dormitory for women, established a college for teachers, and raised over $6 million dollars.  When he took over, S.U. had 751 students and 60 faculty members; by 1922, those numbers had grown to 5,605 and 350 respectively.

However,  by 1922, S.U. was running a deficit of $1.5 million, and its reputation had suffered somewhat because of Day’s public opposition to anti-trust legislation (he fiercely  defended his friend John D. Rockefeller after Ida Tarbell’s publication of A History of Standard Oil) as well as his attacks on his critics both on and off campus, implying they were radicals out to overthrow the American government and society.  One of those so-called “radicals” was none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.

Despite his support for local projects (he served on the Syracuse Armenian Relief Committee during World War I, and he and his wife raised money for local hospitals), even local leaders were calling for his resignation by the early 1920s.  Upton Sinclair’s book, published in 1922, also darkened his reputation, and that of the university, too.

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