THE JAMES Y. McKEE INTERREGNUM (1881-1882)
The Person: "James McKee had come to the College in January 1867, as professor of Greek language and literature, and served the institution loyally and ably for a quarter of a century as professor, vice president and Acting President. He served as Acting President four times, and at least once he refused the presidency...he was respected and beloved...by trustees, professors and students alike."
The Challenge: "When McKee became Acting President in April 1881, the College was facing a crisis in its internal affairs.... Public criticism and hostility had reached a climax...the number of students was declining rapidly.... Nevertheless, there were some bright spots on the horizon...the curriculum was being remodeled to conform to the Morrill Act, the College was in better financial condition...the period of drifting was ending."
a) Curricular changes were substantial. "By 1882 the curriculum had been...remodeled throughout...essentially changed in character. When the reorganization was completed, there were two general courses, the scientific and the classical; four technical courses, agriculture, natural history, chemistry and physics, and civil engineering; and practicums in mechanic arts...the new curriculum was in full force when President Atherton assumed the duties of his office."
Agricultural research was organized to improve instruction and to bring its benefits to the public through regular publication of bulletins. A Farmers' Institute at the College, announced for January 1882, marked the beginning of midwinter short courses.
b) The Legislative investigations of 1879 and 1881 were brought on by years of friction caused by the mistaken views of the public (and even of some faculty and trustees and alumni) about the intent of the Morrill Act and the proper objectives of the College. Most land-grant institutions struggling to become established in the other states faced similar situations.
"The Legislature and the press were but reflecting the attitude of the agricultural interests of the Commonwealth which had been at the root of the movement against the College...insisting that the institution be an agricultural school pure and simple."
The 1881 investigation, authorized by the Legislature at the request of the trustees, produced a report that was fair and comprehensive after hearings held all over the state. This favorable report reached the Legislature in February 1883, and said among other things that the courses of study..."are by far more extended and complete than at any previous time...the financial management warranted the fullest confidence in the perfect integrity with which all funds have been expended...most of the public criticism grew out of conditions no longer existing and, in part, was due to lack of information...whatever mistakes were made in the past, the entire spirit and work of the institution, as now organized and administered, are directed to the promotion of industrial education...and the state should give it such fostering care as will make it not only an object of just pride, but a source of immeasurable benefit to our sons and daughters."