Administration, Alexander, Avery

In the 1920s, the United States was like a preteen hitting puberty. As a nation, we were just under 14 months removed from WWI. The impending choices and decisions of those with power and authority would define the essence of the rebuilding nation: our identity. Parallel in nature to our nation at the time, was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Now was the time to decide what type of university they were going to be. Athletically or academically focused; professional or vocational in teaching? With the leadership provided in the faculty and administration with names like Alexander and Avery, the University was about to develop its national identity.

Hartley Burr Alexander

Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander was chairman and professor of the Philosophy Department.  During the 1920s he took a stance on the drama surrounding the Teachers’ College.  Alexander believed the Teacher’s College should be under the authority of the College of Arts and Sciences.  He noted many professors were the same between the two colleges and classes were similar (Sawyer).  The push for an independent Teacher’s College was led by Superintendent of Tekamah schools, Harry H. Reimund.  His address on the topic was published in the Tekamah Journal in 1920 titled "The Value to the High Schools of Nebraska of an Autonomous Teachers College in the State University.  

“Our young men and women have been graduated from the regular four-year course in the Art and Science College and have been turned loose on the high schools of the state to get their training at the expense of the high school students” (Sawyer).

He believed that an independent Teachers’ College would produce better and more well-prepared teachers for the future. 

The final decision to separate or not came down to Chancellor Avery.  With the encouragement that is was normal for teachers’ colleges to exist separate from other colleges, the Teacher’s College at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln  became a professional college on March 29, 1921.


Samuel Avery

Avery was viewed as a Chancellor who didn’t take a stand.  This can be seen in his credo, that anything negative said about the University would result in “harmful public reaction” (Sawyer).  Taking a stand might offend people and cause problems.  It seems that Avery offended more people by not doing anything, though.  He wasn’t sure of the decision on the Teacher’s College, so he looked for outside opinion.  According to T.F.A. Williams, Dean Burr knew Avery was just being a fair leader.  "Dean Burr emphasizes the practical quality of Chancellor Avery's mind, his approach to problems from every angle before taking action..."

Still, his lack of a backbone was the subject of a letter to the editor sent to the Omaha World-Herald in December of 1924 (Sawyer, 13).

Although many saw Avery's inability to make a decision as negative, some saw it as a way of keeping the peace and keeping things fair.  In a speech given by T.F.A. Williams on February 4th, 1942 at the unveiling of Chancellor's Avery portriat at the University, Charles S. Allen is quoted as supporting the Chancellor as a just administrator.  Allen was a regent at the University and took part in the choosing of Avery as Chancellor.

"Many personal problems arise in the life of a university requiring tact to solve them.  Avery had unusual capacity to handle these.  One requirement is a desire to be impartial, fair, and to make this clear to the parties concerned."

With his health declining, Avery retired as Chancellor on August 31, 1927.  A new Chancellor was unanimously found in Edgar Albert Burnett who was voted Chancellor on September 6, 1928.