University of Nebraska Loyalty Trials

Regents of University of Nebraska Hearing Cases of Accused Professors

Disagreement over America's involvement in the war existed on the University of Nebraska campus from the outset.  Within several days of America joining the war, two petitions were circulating through the university staff.  One stressed patriotism and loyalty to the nation to help achieve victory in Europe, the other petition stated that peace and neutrality were the methods most imperative for America to prosper.  Many of the professors that signed the second petition, including Professors Caldwell, Wolfe, Persinger, and Mary Fossler, daughter of Laurence Fossler,  would later be put on trial on charges of disloyalty.  Professor Laurence Fossler met with the Nebraska Council of Defense as early as November, 1917, but was not initially put on trial, due to how well he handled initial questions from the council about his views of Germany and German culture. (Manley)

Demanded by the Nebraska Council of Defense and executed by the University Board of Regents, the loyalty trials took place from May 28th through June 19th, 1918.  There was no restriction on the evidence that was presented in the trials, so hearsay constituted almost all of the evidence presented against the accused.  In the end, the Board of Regents acquitted almost all of the professors on the grounds that there was no concrete evidence to prove they harbored any disloyalty to the United States.  Only several of the accused professors were directed to turn in their resignations, and this was more for their lack of discretion and professionalism rather than disloyalty.  Professors Fling and England, the two professors who primarily started the on-campus feud within the faculty, were also directed to resign, although they were allowed to appeal this decision at a later time. (Manley)

Though in the end relatively little ever became of these trials, the damage was done to the University of Nebraska’s reputation.  Over the course of time this era was generally forgotten by the university and the public.  Though America would go to war with Germany again within the next twenty-five years, anti-German sentiment was nowhere near as prevalent as it was during World War I.