A People's History of Middlebury College

a history of Middlebury College centered on marginalized voices, social/political mobilizations, and periods of struggle

A People's History of Middlebury College

Carnegie Foundation Debacle

In late 1913, after President of Middlebury John Thomas proposed an expanded new curriculum for Middlebury that stressed subject matter and lived experience over mental discipline (following the philosophy of Vermonter John Dewey), the state government commissioned the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching to investigate higher education in the state. The Carnegie group reported that that state should stop extending funds to Middlebury and chastised Pres. Thomas for his attempts to turn Middlebury “into a small university” with his curriculum changes inappropriate for a private college (Vol. 1; 249).

When Thomas sought to wage a campaign against the Carnegie Foundation, member of the Board of Trustees A. Barton Hepburn persuaded him otherwise lest he jeopardize the school’s relationship with the General Education Board, a group firmly in the palm of the Carnegie Foundation. In early 1914, Pres. Thomas concluded, “I am beginning to learn the power of great organizations of capital, which seem to be able to command a man not to fight for his life” (Vol. 1; 249). He ended up testifying in front of a state committee, asking them not to so readily accept “the formula of an outsider” and again requested state funding for the College which he was subsequently denied (Vol. 1; 249) and then decided to submit his own bill to the legislature requresting the college’s annual appropriation of $28,800 from the state. His bill was passed and a reporter for the Middlebury Campus concluded, “Middlebury is now free to do her work as a public institution of Vermont, as closely related to the State as any college within her border” (Vol. 1; 252).

In the end, the state validated Thomas’s desire for a college in central Vermont that would serve its people while delegitimizing the desires of the powerful Carnegie group. Due to his organizing work — mobilizing deans and alumni to write letters to the Board, psuhing bills through the legislature — and making a commitment to practical education and inclusivity of Vermonters, Thomas was able to secure Middlebury’s position as more than an elitist private college (at least for the next few years).

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