University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Alan Valentine, An Appreciation

Volume XXXIII · 1980
Alan Valentine: An Appreciation

Alan Valentine's biographical sketch in the 1950 Who's Who of America, half a column in length, indicates that his early years were full of promise. Graduating from Swarthmore in 1921, when he was 20, with a subsequent M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. On his return to the United States he became a teacher of English and dean of men at Swarthmore. In 1932 he moved on to Yale, where he became a professor in the History, Arts, and Letters Department and master of Pierson College.

The young educator's reputation at Yale brought him to the attention of the University of Rochester's Board of Trustees, then in search of a successor to retiring president Rush Rhees. The Board asked Raymond N. Ball and Dexter Perkins, chairman of the history department at Rochester, to go down to Yale for a look at Valentine's credentials. They brought back a very favorable report. The result was Valentine's inauguration as president of the University of Rochester in 1935.

Rochester's young president looked like a man suited to his job. Over six feet in height, with green eyes, brown hair, and a face that mirrored both good humor and a certain quality of toughness, he gave promise of being a mover and shaker of events at Rochester. He had a further, and considerable, asset. His wife, Lucia Garrison Norton, was a beautiful and gracious woman, one whose humanitarian instincts were in advance of the age.

In his inaugural address, Valentine stated the University's objective: "Our purpose is to teach the habit of thinking clearly." Coupled with this was the great objective of widening the boundaries of men's knowledge. The attainment of these two objectives would be the true measure of the University's greatness. He pledged himself to lead in these endeavors, and under the spur of this inspiring challenge the University showed a quickened interest in the improvement of educational standards.

Valentine established 120 prize scholarships and brought to their administration Rhodes Scholar Frederick L. Hovde. He fostered the establishment of a Division of Graduate Studies, with its own catalog of graduate offerings in a widening number of subjects. He lent his support and encouragement to the establishment of the Honors Division, approved by the faculty of the College of Arts and Science in February 1939 and begun with the juniors of the class of 1941. Its intent was to widen viewpoints and improve the abilities of a select number of able students. It was also an inspiration for the best minds of the faculty.

Improving educational opportunities for students had a natural corollary in improving the quality of the faculty, and Valentine devoted much time and effort to this objective. In this effort he had considerable success. His attempt to attract able and inspiring teachers to the University resulted in a number of triumphs. He brought from Tufts brilliant Leonard Carmichael, who was chairman of the psychology department and dean of the faculty from 1936 to 1938. He fostered and encouraged the career of his close friend, Lee A. Dubridge, bringing him from Washington University in St. Louis to be chairman of the physics department, where he rose to international eminence. Dubridge served as chairman of this department until 1946, when he left to become president of the California Institute of Technology. Valentine brought from Brown University the physical chemist W. Albert Noyes, Jr., who played a notable part at Rochester, not only as senior chemist in his department, but also in the administrative life of the College of Arts and Science. It was also a feather in the president's cap that Janet H. Clark came from Johns Hopkins to become dean of the College for Women in December 1938, a post that she held with distinction through the trying years of the Second World War and until her retirement in 1952.

Valentine could appreciate and even utilize liberal and progressive spirits, but his own philosophy of life was fundamentally conservative. His first reaction to a national plan for social security was one of caution. His feeling was that any such plan might limit the freedom of individuals to seek their own social security. His viewpoint about outside speakers was also cautious. He limited their number and debarred anyone who might soar into a "too high flight of emotion." The viewpoints presented by such outside speakers should be consistent with "loyalty to country," and "to the ideals of scholarship, fair play, and decency." In politics he became increasingly restive under the leadership of FDR, a dissatisfaction that increased as the President's sympathy with France and England became more obvious in the latter 1930's. In the presidential campaign of 1940, Valentine took temporary leave of his post as head of the University and worked for the election of Wendell Willkie. As war became more imminent, Valentine's hatred of it became more open and obvious. This is a "day of madness," he told Eastman music students in October 1939. "Freedom, justice, and peace cannot be won by war." This frame of mind, however, was destroyed by Pearl Harbor, and in the years that followed he rendered valuable service to the war effort.

Valentine's views on national policy might change with the course of events, but his devotion to high standards for the University never wavered. Evidence of this was never more clearly manifested than by his steadfast interest in the University Library. The Library, he wrote in 1945, should be the center of the University's cultural activity and a focal point of interest for the whole community. In an age of specialized and often technical and scientific developments, it became the guardian of the cultural interests that gave richness and wide understanding to a nation's life. [The full essay appeared in the first issue of the Library Bulletin.]

Every aspect of the Library commanded Valentine's interest and support, none more so than its acquisition of the papers of outstanding men. Their collections of books and manuscripts and, above all, their private correspondence were essential tools for scholars. He was always ready to lend his support to the efforts of scholars and librarians. When the papers of George Washington Patterson were housed in Rush Rhees Library, Valentine entertained the donor, Mrs. F.W. Crandall, at dinner. When John Russell and I were negotiating with William Henry Seward III for the papers of his eminent ancestor, President Valentine gave us every possible encouragement. On one occasion, he accompanied us to Auburn and charmed the Sewards by his friendly interest in the papers of their ancestor. The president of the University of Rochester, perched on a footstool in the Seward living room and talking about the importance of preserving the papers of famous men, was a factor of no little importance in our acquisition of the Seward Papers.

What can be said in fairness about Valentine's presidential career? It was a career marked by solid achievements. One of these was the establishment of the principle of leaves of absence with pay for producing scholars. Another was the salutary effect of his steady encouragement of excellence in teaching. It can truly be said that he raised the educational standards of the faculty. It is also much to his credit that he led the University ably and successfully through the trials and tribulations of the Second World War, and that he gave beneficent encouragement to the solid achievements of the medical school and the Eastman School of Music. It must also in fairness be said that there was a negative side to his career. It consisted in part of his temper, which sometimes got out of hand, wounding feelings and creating prejudices. Other negative aspects were his failure to raise faculty salaries when such action was sorely needed, and his tacit acceptance of the separation of the campuses, with the accompanying acceptance of inequality of the educational opportunities provided for men and women students.

Of course there were faults and failures; there always are, but the final judgment must be that, after 15 years marked by the havoc of war, Alan Valentine left behind him a vigorous and improved University.


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