Rockefeller Controversy and Temple Building
This section describes the controversial decision of the University of Nebraska to accept a donation from oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller for a "social and religious" building and the reaction of the community to that donation.
In 1902, John D. Rockefeller, an oil businessman, forged an alliance with the University of Nebraska to provide funds to create a "social and religious building" on campus. The decision for Rockefeller to become involved with University fundraising stemmed from his friendship with Chancellor E. Benjamin Andrews. Andrews and Rockefeller formed their friendship whilst attending Brown University and Andrews sought Rockefeller's assistance in creating a building for his students to come together an socialize. The Board of Regents, always eager to add revenue to the university, readily accepted and thanked Rockefeller for his donation, apparently not anticipating the turmoil that would soon erupt.
The donation was conditional. Mr. Rockefeller would donate two-thirds of the $100,000 ($66,666.67) only if the University were raise the other one-third ($33,333.33) by January 1st, 1904. If the university was unable to raise the necessary amount in the allotted amount of time the donation would be voided and the building would not be constructed (Knoll).
On April 7, 1903, The New York Times reported the rumor of at $1,000,000 donation to the University of Nebraska from Mr. Rockefelller (this would later be corrected to an amount of $100,000). The announcement of the donation was met with outrage from the people of Nebraska and the entire nation. At the time, the oil industry, especially Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company, was considered evil and corrupted. The acceptance of the "dirty oil money" by the University of Nebraska was considered inappropriate and nefarious because the community saw it as an apparent acceptance of Rockefeller's ways.
Adding to the controversy was the increase in the price of kerosene that was made soon after Rockefeller's donation to the university was announced. The community felt that they were paying for the donation instead of Rockefeller paying out of his own pocket. When asked to contribute to the $33,333 many "friends of the university" turned their backs because they felt as if they were paying for the donation two-fold, and didn't want to be associated with the "dirty oil money" in any way.
The controversy was so widespread throughout the community that the university committee dedicated to securing the $33,333 to match Rockefeller's donation was worried that the donation would be voided. Though the entire campaign was clouded by controversy, the University of Nebraska was able to overcome opposition and raise the necessary amount by the deadline of January 1, 1904.
Nebraska's apparent acceptance of Rockefeller's tactics continued to cause the state and the university to come under fire even after then the donation was completed. The alliance between Rockefeller and the University of Nebraska was brought up everytime the oil industry was under suspision. The people of Nebraska did not want to be associated with his oil money in any way, even after Rockefeller benefitted their university, and stated that they "have no sympathy whatever with 'the dishonest practices and the outrageous impositions for which John D. Rockefeller's great monopoly is responsible'".
Fortunately, by January of 1904, the university committee formed by the Board of Regents raised the necessary amount and the construction of the Temple Building was approved. The building was finished in 1908 and was used for a variety of student functions, from YMCA/YWCA gatherings to the Teacher's College High School.
In 1915, six years after Andrew's resignation, the graduating class of the University of Nebraska raised money to pay for a commemorative plaque to hang in the Temple Building to honor their former chancellor. The plaque, which still hangs in the Temple Building, reads "In honor of Elisha Benjamin Andrews, Ph.D., D.D., L.L.D., Chancellor of the University of Nebraska, 1900-1908, through whose efforts this building was erected" (Temple).