Academic Freedom and the Lost Cause: The Short Career of Professor Joseph Baldwin at the University of Texas

Article excerpt

Recent controversy over the contrarian views of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks espoused by University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin Barrett serves as a reminder that public universities are essentially political institutions, because they are public assets in which we all have a stake. This was no less true during the seminal decades following the Civil War, when many public universities were founded. Debates within the academy at that time of increasing specialization of the curriculum and democratization of education centered around the nature of the university and the clientele it should serve, but the university also became involved in larger cultural issues, such as the persistent regionalism that continued to separate the North and the South. Nowhere were these political forces more clearly displayed than at the University of Texas in the strange case and brief career of Dr. Joseph Baldwin, a teacher educator who came to Texas in 1881 after a distinguished career in Indiana and Missouri. Baldwin quickly rose from leading summer teachers' institutes to the principalship of Sam Houston Normal Institute, the state's flagship institution for the preparation of White teachers. He served in that post with distinction until 1891, when he was named by the University of Texas to chair its newly-formed School of Pedagogy. Despite creating a respected and growing program for teacher preparation at the University, he was abruptly dismissed and pedagogical studies were suspended just five years later, dealing a blow to the professionalization of teaching in Texas. While the reasons for Baldwin's sudden demise remain somewhat mysterious, it seems clear that he was a victim of short-sighted decision-making, uncertainty about the nature of the University, and Southern provincialism.

Texas' Teacher Shortage

Professional teacher preparation was slow in coming to Texas. In fact, nothing identifiable as a true system of schools existed in the state before the Civil War. Reconstruction-era governments sought to provide public schools, but faced opposition from a disaffected and suspicious citizenry. Post-Reconstruction governments battled reactionary and elitist forces uninterested in general education for the masses. Yet in order to enter the modern era, Texas needed good schools. Providing competent teachers in appropriate quantity was the immediate challenge. Governor Richard Coke outlined the crisis for the Texas Legislature in 1874:

   One of the greatest and most pressing wants which, more than any
   other, impedes the successful operation of our free school system
   is a sufficient number of educated and trained teachers ... I
   urgently recommend, in view of the urgent necessity, that your
   honorable bodies take measures looking to an early establishment,
   upon a liberal scale, of a normal school. (3)

Despite this call for the establishment of a state institution specifically for the education of teachers, the Legislature did not act.

The question of teacher preparation arose again in the State Constitutional Convention of 1875. Progressives in that body laid the foundation for a comprehensive modern school system, but the conservatives scuttled it when the first Legislature elected under the new Constitution adopted the School Law of 1876. This landmark legislation left the schools much as they had been before: a diverse array of ungraded public and private common schools for primary education; a few, mostly private, academies for teacher education and college preparation; and sectarian private colleges for religious education. The quality and availability of education was inconsistent. Any group could organize itself into an 'educational community' and apply for state funds to run a school. The act called for teachers to be certified at the county level by examinations overseen by "Three well educated citizens of the county. …