THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ROCKFORD COLLEGE’S STAND AGAINST FEDERAL SUBSIDY OF HIGHER EDUCATION
March 25, 1962
Remarks by President John A. Howard
Today’s world is divided between two camps, Communist and the free. The free camp itself is divided between two groups, and although the lines of division are not as clearly drawn, the success of the one group and the decline of the other will probably have just as much effect upon the lives of the next generation as the outcome of the struggle between Communism and Freedom.
The two groups within the free nations are identifiable by the philosophy of government to which they adhere. One believes that the unit of society, i.e. the nation, has become so large, so complex and the parts so intricately and intimately interrelated that the decisions pertaining to the various aspects of our living together must be made, and the programs determined, administered and paid for by a strong centralized government. I am confident that the vast majority of people who hold this view are honest, patriotic, thoughtful citizens who earnestly desire to maintain and advance in the United States as elsewhere a strong, dynamic society in which people may live in peace and prosperity.
The other group believes, with equal conviction and equal integrity that our society can only remain vigorous and can only be successful in meeting the same objectives if individuals are granted the largest possible measure of freedom and self-reliance in making decisions and in carrying them out, and if the functions which are assigned by the people to the government are carried on at the lowest effective level of government where the governmental officers are closest to the people they represent and the problems they are responsible for resolving.
I speak as a profoundly committed partisan of the latter view, convinced of its philosophical soundness and of its political and economic practicality. It is in this country a minority view. The present course of legislation, supported by both political parties, appears to be a question only of to what extent and how fast the centralization of government shall take place.
The proponents of decentralized government and self-reliance have failed to support their cause with effective arguments – and by that term I mean reasoning with a logic that compels the attention of those who have not made up their minds and even of those who disagree. They have also failed to support their cause by actions that prove their philosophy is more than a defense of their vested interests. Arguments and those actions which demonstrate a depth of conviction are the instruments of combat in the political arena. The only hope of those of us in the minority in this ongoing engagement for me n’s minds and men’s votes is to develop the weapons t ha t have been so badly lacking.
At this point I think it appropriate to make some observations about the nature of the conflict between the two groups in the free nations.
It is a conflict that I consider wholesome, since one of the chief benefits of a free society is that decisions affecting the entire group are freely arrived at after public consideration, public debate and public vote, and in our case “public” refers to what takes place in legislative halls on the part of our elected representatives. If either team had the power to silence the opposition, it would be a negation of the form of government. I therefore feel completely free to speak my mind and champion a single point of view, although I insist that the college I serve shall remain an open forum in which our students shall hear both sides of these issues, as indeed they will when they graduate.
To return to my central theme, those who believe in the supremacy of individual responsibility have been relying on negative arguments, with heavy emphasis on name calling and on pointing to the lack of success of the opponents’ philosophy, for instance in the centralized direction of our agricultural production.
As Calvin Coolidge has said, little progress can be made by attempting to repress what is evil; our great hope lies in developing what is good.
Those of us who regard an increasingly pervasive central government as evil have provided precious few rallying points and established extraordinarily few beachheads. Because of their scarcity the few that have been provided have received attention far beyond the significance of the act, thus indicating, I believe, the potential following that awaits determined and courageous leadership.
When the small town of Italy, Texas, shattered by a tornado, refused to permit itself to be declared a disaster area, and told the federal government that it would take care of its own and that it believed the government, deeply in debt, needed the money for its own purposes, this act achieved wide acclaim from citizens of all political and economic persuasions. It was a concrete affirmation of self-reliance more powerful in winning adherents to a philosophy than 10,000 speeches or 100,000 pamphlets.
Rockford College now presents another beach head, a national opportunity for people devoted to the philosophy of individual responsibility that is far more significant than any other opportunity anywhere in this country.
Education is the function of society which more than any other anticipates and determines the political tide of the future. As our educational institutions become more and more dependent upon the federal government to determine and subsidize new programs and to subsidize the programs that the colleges have previously paid for themselves, the graduates of those colleges emerging from a situation in which governmental involvement is taken for granted, will have their thinking affected accordingly. It will be natural for them to look to the federal government for subsidy in other areas of activity.
The impression has been created that no responsible college executive sees any answer to the maintenance of our educational system, and an increase in our educational services, except through a universal handout of federal funds. This is a false impression. Believing as the Swiss philosopher Amie! said, “truth is not only violated by falsehood; it is outraged by silence,” Rockford College has taken dramatic and successful action to begin to correct the false impression.
The first step, as you know, was a declaration that the new cam pus would be built without federal loans or grants. This was a declaration of independence that made headlines across the country. Some other colleges had taken such a stand previous to ours, but not in conjunction with a large scale development program. It is far more impressive to take this stand when help is badly needed. From that moment colleges across the country have watched Rockford with a vital interest for we are the test case of whether it really is still possible for an educational institution to stand on its own feet.
The second step we have taken to correct the false impression was at the annual meeting of the Federation of Illinois Colleges. The speaker who gave the main address at that meeting was Dr. Homer Babbidge of Washington, D. C., vice president of the American Council on Education. He predicted with confidence rapidly expanding governmental subsidies to meet the needs of the colleges. The next morning the conferees were presented with the usual resolutions including one in favor of the two bills now before Congress which would provide scholarships and construction funds for colleges and universities. Rockford College took the lead in opposing that resolution and it was ultimately tabled, a clear indication that a number of the presidents of private colleges and universities – in our state, at least – are not clamoring for the government’s dollars.
The third step was for us to call together the presidents of five other Midwestern colleges which had announced policies of taking no federal funds in order to explore some common action. Rockford arranged this meeting in Chicago attended by Executives and Trustees from Wabash, DePauw, Franklin, Hillsdale and Wheaton Colleges. Agreeing upon the text of a telegram to the members of the House Rules Committee, we then undertook a fourth step which was to enlist other college executives to join in the message.
Rockford was responsible for obtaining more than half the signatures.
The reaction to the telegram was explosive. Dr. Babbidge telephoned to say that he and the Council apparently underestimated the number of their constituents who were opposed to federal subsidy, and requested that I send him information on our action and on any further developments. Next Wednesday I go into Chicago to record a radio program for Jack Mahley, who has already given substantial notice to Rockford College’s actions in this matter. I have been invited to give one of the main addresses at the coming convention of the American College Public Relations Association.
One other action to which we ate committed is to serve as a clearing house for the statements which the other signatories have made in support of the telegram.
There have been recent articles about Rockford College in the Chicago Tribune, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Washington Star, the New York Herald Tribune, the Tulsa World, the Miami Herald, National Chamber of Commerce bulletins, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury-News and many, many lesser known publications, among them the Drovers Journal.
MY message is this: Rockford College is now an institution of which any city can be enormously proud. For its educational services alone, it is worthy of the most generous and devoted support of the whole city.
However, the development of the new campus is now a cause on an entirely different plane. A way of life is at stake – the free society in the process of becoming the centrally planned and centrally paid-for society. This, your college, is now the largest beachhead in the country, held by those who are fighting the centralization of our national economy. This is the test case of independence in education. If the development of the new campus should be a long and difficult and agonizing endeavor, the college will survive, I assure you, and still be a good one, but the message to the nation will be clearly that the other view is right, i.e. we have no choice but to depend on Washington. If, on the other hand, the relocation program is a fairly rapid and clear-cut success, the message will be unmistakable, not just for the other colleges that would follow our example, but for all those who doubt that it is possible to carry on the business of society free of governmental subsidy.
We invite everyone to help us build Rockford College because of its educational services; but apart from that, those people who are personally committed to the preservation of free enterprise are invited to join us with all the fervor at their command to prove that independence is still possible. Here is a concrete opportunity to do something of great national significance to prove the validity of the philosophy which many of us say we believe in.
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