Saturday, September 11, 2010

From Utica to Princeton

(News-Herald, September 8) This week, another column for people who are certain that nothing good comes out of the smaller corners of Venangoland.
Samuel Dodds was a professor of Physics, Chemistry and Bible at Grove City College. An ordained minister (Presbyterian, naturally), he lived with his wife Alice Dunn in Utica.
Their son Harold Willis Dodds was born in Utica in 1889. No slouch, Harold graduated from Grove City College in 1909. He taught high school for a couple of years, then added graduate degrees in politics from Princeton and Pennsylvania. He married in 1917 and went to work for the Food Administration. After the war he taught at Western Reserve and became known as an expert in problems of small government.
He became secretary of the National Municipal League, which may not seem like much of a coup, but that put him in the orbit of then-Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes steered the Utica boy toward Latin America, where among other things, Dodds helped the president of Nicaragua create new democratic election laws.
By the thirties, Dodds was a respected scholar on the faculty of Princeton. He was apparently well-respected, because in 1933 the trustees elected him president of the university.
As president, Dodds was the picture of the proper university leader; pictures show a bespectacled man with a serious expression and a twinkle in his eye. An article in the 1957 Princeton yearbook refers to his tendency to rib his faculty members, in return for which, they had gifted him with the nickname Uncle Harold. “Dr. Dodds” seemed too formal, and “Harold” not formal enough.
He pushed his faculty hard to produce significant research that would establish Princeton as a university that contributed to the body of knowledge in the world, but at the same time he also required his professors to actually teach, and teach well.
He worked a seventy hour week and tripled Princeton’s endowment (the yearbook credited his inner strength to his “Presbyterian commitments”). He decided every year to hold Princeton’s graduation ceremony outside, and it never rained.
Under Dodds’ leadership, Princeton added a Music Department , the Office of Population Research, the Creative Arts Program, and Departments of Religion, Aeronautical Engineering, and Near Eastern Studies. All this despite the fact that, after taking the president’s job, he memoed the alumni “I hope the alumni will pardon me if at this time I offer no stirring platform.”
He steered Princeton through the Depression, World War II, and the cultural upheavals that followed the war. In 1948, the Princeton debating society invited Alger Hiss to speak, and many protested. Dodds, who did not approve of Hiss, refused to interfere, saying, “Education includes the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.” In 1953, Time magazine profiled him, calling him “the Quiet One.” He kept a low profile, but Princetonians also enjoyed sharing the story of President Dodds helping an undergrad lug a large mattress from one building to another.
He believed strongly in the sciences and humanities, but he also admonished faculty and students “to look to religion for the truths that will not perish.” He Time, “Hitler, F.D.R., Conant [president of Harvard] and I all came into power at the same time, but I’m the only one still doing what I was.”
One of Princeton’s own histories credits the years of Dodd’s presidency as “the years in which Princeton became a real university.”
Dodds retired in 1957; Princeton’s policy required mandatory retirement at age 68. He went on to serve as director or trustee for the Carnegie Corporation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Brookings Institute, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower also appointed him to government committees. Princeton established an award in his name, still awarded annually to a senior who best embodies the values he represented, "particularly in the qualities of clear thinking, moral courage, a patient and judicious regard for the opinions of others, and a thorough devotion to the welfare of the University and to the life of the mind."
He settled in his home in Highstown, New Jersey. He passed away at home in October of 1980 at the age of 91. His younger brother John Wendell Dodds died nine years later, having enjoyed a career as a professor at Stanford.
So apparently it is possible to be born and raised in Utica and grow up to have a lasting effect on one of the world’s pre-eminent universities.

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