How to buy an educator

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Feb 14 15:38:23 MST 2001




William Rodgers, "Brown-Out: The Power Crisis in America", (Stein and Day,
1972):

The managing director of the National Electric Light Association, M. H.
Aylesworth, issued an exuberant advisory directive to member utilities in a
1923 speech that became part of Federal Trade Commission investigation
records. What it lacked in subtlety, it possessed in explicit counsel on
how to buy an educator.

"I would advise any manager who lives in a community where there is a
college to get the professor of economics—the engineering professor will be
interested anyway—interested in our problems. Have him lecture on your
subject to his classes. Once in a while it will pay you to take such men
and give them a retainer of one or two hundred dollars per year for the
privilege of letting you study and consult with them. For how in heaven’s
name can we do anything in the schools of this country with the young
people growing up, if we have not first sold the idea of education to the
college professor?"

John C. Parker, of the Brooklyn Edison Company, was chairman of the
Committee on Cooperation with Educational Institutions. He told a NELA
convention that the committee’s work

"must be properly to relate the professors to the sources of
information........ It is desired that coming generations of bankers,
lawyers, journalists, legislators, public officials, and the plain ordinary
men in the streets shall have an intelligent and sympathetic understanding
of the peculiar conditions under which utilities operate."

The conditions were getting more peculiar all the time.

Mr. Parker and his committee were "persuaded that there is a very real
opportunity to serve American education and incidentally strongly to
benefit our industry." That opportunity was seen more clearly by the
Reverend Dr. Charles Aubrey Eaton, a New Jersey congressman, who happened
concurrently to be manager of the industrial relations department of the
General Electric Company. With an insider’s view of "one of the three
starveling professions," as he termed the school, the church, and the
press, he saw merit in the electric companies attaching themselves to "the
three institutions that we persist in starving to death."

He said:

"Here is a professor in a college, who gets $2,500 a year and has to spend
$3,000 to keep from starving to death, who walks up to his classroom in an
old pair of shoes and some idiot of a boy drives up and parks a $5,000
automobile outside and comes in and gets plucked. Then because that
professor teaches that boy that there is something wrong with the social
system, we call him a Bolshevik and throw him out."

The compassionate clergyman—congressman—GE manager had a plan for
correcting the evils of the social system.

"What I would like to suggest to you intelligent gentlemen is that while
you are dealing with the pupils, give a thought to the teachers and when
their vacation comes, pay them a salary to come into your plants and into
your factories and learn the public utility business at first hand, and
then they will go back, and you needn’t fuss—they can teach better than you
can."

The idea of enlisting the educated mind in their cause captivated quite a
few power executives. Insull quickly approved the employment by the
Commonwealth Edison Company of four engineering professors for the summer,
but one of his vice-presidents thought the company should look around for
someone other than engineers, "someone in other departments whose society
we are particularly anxious to enjoy." A subcommittee of the NELA, which
included four university professors, developed the education-subsidy plan
more fully in a formal report. One of them was Dean C. 0. Ruggles of Ohio
State University, who was engaged for $15,000 to devote a sabbatical year
to directing the Committee on Cooperation with Educational Institutions.

"Our friend Ruggles," as one state information committee director called
him, "is one of the most diligent little letter writers you ever came
across . . . his ideas coincide with our own." Dean Ruggles was diligent in
his job, too, but not all the college professors he tried to recruit had
ideas that coincided with those of the propaganda directors. In Iowa, for
example, some of the educators balked at the idea of getting together for a
planning session in Kansas City. The Iowa director of the Public Utility
Information Committee, Joe Carmichael, had some trouble "rounding them up."
He explained, "Some of the college authorities were a little cagey about
the matter.

With their expenses paid, however, the professors met as arranged and
discussed "cooperation." Their ruffled feelings were assuaged by the
delicate foresight of Thorne Browne, an official of NELA, who decided not
to expose the educators to too much reality. Power company executives were
simply forbidden to attend the meeting, "my idea being," said Mr. Browne,
"that better results would be obtained if utility men were not conspicuous
when Dean Ruggles presented his very wonderful plan to the educators." A
meeting "with these educators, many of whom have tendencies toward
suspicion, should not be particularly loaded with public utility men," said
the sensitive Mr. Browne.

Such discretion, however, became less necessary by the end of the 1920s, as
college administrators, warming up to the program, assumed more
responsibility for the utilities’ public relations accounts. The
segregation of educators from power executives gave way to full integration.

At one meeting, five college presidents, ten deans, and eleven professors
mingled freely and cooperatively with executives who, together, represented
the power industry and higher education in Mississippi, Louisiana,
Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This session was organized by Dr. Hugh M.
Blain, head of the Department of Journalism at Tulane University, the
president of which, Dr. A. B. Dinwiddie, welcomed the assembly with an
interesting new concept of college education that later became alarmingly
commonplace.

Dr. Dinwiddie disapproved of colleges "monopolizing education." A college
that clung to this idea, insisting on exclusive control over "material for
education, is a college that is not in touch with modern life." He said he
was "heart and soul with your purpose" and invited industrial and
commercial enterprises to share with colleges the "common problem" of
education.

Louis Proyect
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