Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Address to the Board of Trustees

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Address to the Board of Trustees

Article excerpt


The earliest beginnings of Duke University, as some of you here know, go back to a small wooden structure known at the time as Brown's Schoolhouse. It was situated in Randolph County in a spot not far from the geographical center of North Carolina. A small group of farmers had the determination that their children needed more than a passing knowledge of the 3 R's to make ready for the future. Their school was soon to be known as Union Institute, but it wasn't long before it had outgrown both its original name and its original building. It became Normal College and somewhat later, Trinity College, which today remains the name of our undergraduate college. Then followed the move to Durham, and in December of 1924 Trinity College expanded into Duke University.

Before turning from this skeletal history of Duke, I want to point out that in that first glimmer at Brown's Schoolhouse which grew into what we like to think of as the glory that is Duke University today, there were among those founding fathers a dissatisfaction with things as they were and a willingness to try to make things better. The same spirit of concern is what draws people to academic careers. That kind of tradition has stayed with us, and is a part of Duke.

Duke University has had many proud moments along the way to where we find ourselves today. Let me mention two particularly notable events in Duke's history that dramatically demonstrate that Duke University understands its mission as a university to defend, protect, and promote unhampered expression and freedom of inquiry. One is the famous Bassett case. Another is the case of J. B. Rhine.

At Trinity College in 1903, John Spencer Bassett, 36 years old and a professor of history at Trinity College for ten years, wrote a literary article entitled "Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy." Bassett was far ahead of the majority of southerners in his capacity for analysis of racial problems. He was trying to explain the southern defense of its way of life, the most sensitive social issue of the times. Among other things, he suggested that Booker T. Washington was "all in all, the greatest man, save General Lee, born in the South in a hundred years."

Bassett, his article, and Trinity College were the objects of unrelenting attacks in headlines, articles and editorials in newspapers all over North Carolina. There was a public outcry for Bassett's dismissal.

Because of the public feeling against him, Professor Bassett offered to resign if the trustees thought he should. The pressure to defend freedom of thought and opinion came from alumni, friends, students, and faculty, who themselves did not necessarily agree with Bassett's opinions in the article. On the other side there were warnings that retaining Bassett would bring public condemnation, withdrawal of support, and eventually lead to Trinity's demise.

After hours of debate and parliamentary moves to block action, the ballot was cast at 3:00 a.m., and the vote of the trustees was 18 to 7 to support Bassett. Academic freedom was preserved for Trinity; more important, other colleges in the region were nerved in their resolve to defend academic freedom.

The other case similarly demonstrates Duke's institutional courage and sureness of purpose, although the illustration is more sophisticated because in the academic world unorthodoxy is more difficult to defend than heresy. That is to say, it is easier to defend the freedom of speech of a colleague who insults society than it is to overcome the embarrassment felt when a colleague refuses to follow the orthodoxy.

The career of Dr. J. B. Rhine, a longtime member of the Department of Psychology at Duke, and one of the founders of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, demonstrates that Preston Few and Duke University were sure of their purpose, unafraid to pursue free inquiry, even the unorthodox. …

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