Elisha Benjamin Andrews (1844-1917), eighth president of Brown University, was born in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, on January 10, 1844. His father and grandfather were Baptist ministers. He attended the Connecticut Literary Institute in Suffield, but left to enlist in the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery when the Civil War broke out. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant, and was severely wounded in a battle on the James River on August 24, 1864. He lost the sight of his left eye, which was replaced by a glass eye in 1884. He was mustered out of the army in October 1864. He then resumed his education at the Powers Institute in Bernardston and went on to Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. He entered Brown in 1866 at the age of 22 and graduated in 1870. He had decided to became a minister, and served as a lay preacher and Sunday school teacher while in college. After graduation he returned to Suffield as principal of the academy for two years. He graduated from Newton Theological Institution in 1874, and was ordained in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he served as pastor for one year until he was called to the presidency of Denison University in 1875. At Denison he introduced elective courses and hired William Rainey Harper, a non-Baptist, to teach. A few years later he recommended that Harper leave Denison for the Baptist Union Theological Seminary of Chicago. Andrews left Denison in 1879, possibly because his liberal ideas irritated the trustees, although he remained a trustee until 1892. He became a professor of homiletics and pastoral theology at Newton, where he remained until 1882. While still at Newton in 1882, he also taught a philosophy course at Colby College taking the place of the president, who was ill. Andrews was appointed professor of history and political economy at Brown in 1882, but was allowed a year to study in Germany, while others continued the courses formerly taught by Professor J. Lewis Diman, who had died in 1881. Arriving at Brown in September 1883, Andrews taught the history course and electives in Roman law, political economy, and international law. He wrote two historical textbooks, Brief Institutes of Our Constitutional History, English and American in 1886, a book written for use as a students’ syllabus of his lectures, and Brief Institutes of General History in 1887, an outline of history to the late nineteenth century. His later works, the four-volume set of History of the United States, published in 1894, and The Last Quarter-Century of the United States, in 1896, were written for popular consumption and were not up to his former standards.
He was a very effective teacher and was extremely popular with the students, and many were disappointed when he left in 1888 to teach at Cornell. He was not gone for long, however, as President Robinson resigned the next year, and Andrews was unanimously elected to replace him as president and professor of moral and intellectual philosophy. Under his administration the University made great strides. Graduate study, just begun under Robinson, grew rapidly, undergraduate enrollment increased 140 per cent in eight years, and after some years of discussion, women were finally admitted, not at first to the University, but to examinations only. Andrews saw to it that arrangements were made for classes to prepare the women for the examinations. Brown professors were hired to teach them, and room was found for their classes in the University Grammar School. In the late afternoon when that building was dark, they moved to Andrews’ own office to continue their classes.
In his annual report for 1892 Andrews, after pointing out that the chemical laboratory, the botanical laboratory, Sayles Hall, and the dormitories were all outgrown, dared to present the greatest challenge yet. He wrote, “I cannot avoid the conviction that Brown University has reached a serious crisis in its history. It stands face to face with the question whether it will remain a College and nothing more or will rise and expand into a true University.... The expression, ‘a first-rate college which is a college only,’ I believe to be a contradiction in terms.” Citing the example of German universities and the need for research as well as teaching, he stated his objectives, “It is my belief ... that our alma mater will fail of her proper privilege and destiny unless, as rapidly as is consistent with healthy development, we promote her to the estate of a true University.” He called for raising a million dollars within a year, and two million more in ten years to found fellowships for advanced students, increase faculty salaries and establish new professorships, fund the library, support a school of applied science, and equip a Women’s College. President Keeney said of him, “Andrews succeeded at the center and failed around the edges. He brought Brown to a height that it had never previously achieved; he assembled the best Faculty and student body that had ever been seen here. ... As President of Brown he was a great and tragic figure; He saw what had to be done, did it in part, and yet could not find the means to pay for it.”
The opinion of some Corporation members that the means might be forthcoming were it not for the political views of the president led to what came to be known as “The Andrews Controversy.” Andrews believed in international bimetallism and had expressed his views before and after becoming president. In the summer of 1896 a few of his personal letters, which were published, indicated that he had adopted the position that the United States should begin the free coinage of silver at the ratio of sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold, without waiting for the cooperation of other countries. When this issue became paramount in the presidential election campaign of 1896, Andrews was far away in Europe, but was being freely quoted to the dismay of Corporation members who felt that his views were adversely affecting the prospects of the University. At the Corporation meeting in June 1897 it was resolved that a committee be appointed “to confer with the president in regard to the interests of the University.” In July the meeting was held, and the committee presented, at Andrews’ request, a written statement of the concerns of several members of the Corporation, “They signified a wish for a change in only one particular, having reference to his views upon a question which constituted a leading issue in the recent Presidential election and which is still predominant in National politics ... They considered that the views of the President, as made public by him from time to time ... were so contrary to the views generally held by the friends of the University that the University had already lost gifts and legacies which would otherwise have come or been assured to it, and that without a change it would in the future fail to receive the pecuniary support which is requisite to enable it to prosecute with success the grand work on which it has entered.” They did not require a renunciation of his views as long as he did not promulgate them. Andrews resigned the next day, stating that he could not surrender his right to freedom of speech. The case attracted much attention and was discussed throughout the country. At stake was either an institution’s right to restrain its head from actions not in its interest, or the whole issue of academic freedom.
In the midst of the controversy in the summer of 1897, Andrews had also accepted the offer received from John Brisben Walker, editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, of the presidency of his proposed “Cosmopolitan University,” a tuition-free correspondence school for the educational benefit of the public. Andrews apparently intended to undertake this new project and still remain at Brown. Ill and distressed by the turmoil about him, he spent three weeks in August confined to a sanitarium in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
Meanwhile, an open letter to the Corporation by twenty-four Brown professors urged that the resignation not be accepted lest the reaction “would stamp this institution, in the eyes of the country, as one in which freedom of thought and expression is not permitted when it runs counter to the views generally accepted in the community or held by those from whom the University hopes to obtain financial support.&8221; Six hundred alumni signed petitions that requested the Corporation to “take action upon the resignation of President Andrews which will effectually refute the charge that reasonable liberty of utterance was, or ever is to be denied to any teacher of Brown University.” Of the 49 alumnae who owed their existence to Andrews, 46 sent a similar petition, and more than a hundred college presidents, professors, and public figures signed petitions requesting the Corporation not to accept the resignation. At a meeting of the Corporation on the first of September a statement by Andrews was presented, reiterating his belief in the unilateral free coinage of silver by the United States, but pointing out that his views had come to light only through the publication of personal letters written before the presidential campaign. He summed up his situation, “That ... I have been loud, a declaimer, parading my views, ambitiously or otherwise, I emphatically deny. Unfortunate I have been: indiscreet, I believe, I have not been.” The Corporation reconsidered and wrote to Andrews, “Having ... removed the misapprehension that your individual views on this question represent those of the Corporation and the University ... the Corporation, affirming its rightful authority to conserve ‘the interests of the University’ at all times ... cannot feel that the divergence of views between you and the members of the Corporation upon the ‘silver question’ and its effect upon the University is an adequate cause of separation between us, for the Corporation is profoundly appreciative of the great services you have rendered the University and of your sacrifice and love for it. It therefore renews its assurances of highest respect for you and expresses the confident hope that you will withdraw your resignation.” Andrews replied that he would do so as the Corporation’s action “entirely does away with the scruple which led to my resignation.”
The controversy over, the president returned to his duties, and the Boston Alumni Association started a movement to raise two million dollars to rescue the sagging resources of the University. Andrews, however, did not stay to partake of such improvements. He resigned in July 1898 to become superintendent of the Chicago public schools. After two years in Chicago he was named chancellor of the University of Nebraska, which position he held until his retirement because of ill health in 1908. During his administration in Nebraska, the enrollment had risen by fifty per cent, eight new buildings were built, and the legislative appropriation to the University nearly doubled. He died after an illness of several years on October 20, 1917 in Interlachen, Florida. Alexander Meiklejohn ’93 eulogized him:
“Dear, gallant, stalwart, splendid Bennie Andrews. The zest of life was in him to the brim. He loved the things a man might be. Oh, what a gallant fight he made, and what a hard one! I cannot mourn that he is gone; I am too glad that he has been and is. He was a man. Yes, take him all in all, we shall not see his like again.”In his speech at the dedication of Andrews Hall, President Wriston said:
“Under Andrews, Brown ceased to be a small New England college and embraced the idea of a university. With him the ideal of scholarship, which must dominate a modern university, came to fruition. Graduate work was put on a solid basis. The thorny problem of the accommodation of women was solved in a manner both statesmanlike and tactful. The principles of academic freedom were dramatized and justified not only for Brown, but for all universities and colleges.... Is it any wonder that the largest building on the Pembroke campus is now named ‘Andrews Hall’?”