Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Technosocio-educational History Appendix to Postblogging Technology, April 1951: The American Mind Is Closed For The Season


On 12 April 1951, the search committee of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago announced the replacement to Robert Hutchins as Chancellor of the University of Chicago: Lawrence Kimpton (1910--77)[corr]. A deeply obscure figure (his Wikipedia page doesn't even get his death date right), Kimpton was a successful chancellor and his life makes for a rich reading of a critical decade in technological and educational policy. 

On the morning of 25 April, 1951, 45 Field Regiment, RA, broke position  to withdraw behind the Delta Line, stripping First Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, isolated far behind the PVA advance on Hill 235, overlooking the Imjin River, of fire support. Fifty-nine Glosters had been killed in action to this point, and 522 now went into captivity, of a total of 1091 casualties killed, wounded and missing suffered by the   29th Commonwealth Brigade in this single action.

Apart from happening in the same month, and the dominating influence over all news that month of the MacArthur dismissal, the two are not unrelated, a point brought to mind by a recent email correspondence with friend of the blog, Chris Manteuffel, over the last few days.

(Autoplay brings up a British official documentary on selective service following the newsclip. Relevance!)

Time describes Kimpton as the son of a Kansas City lawyer, with a bachelor's and MA. The University of Chicago archives indicate a 1927 BA and 1932 MA, followed by a 1935 philosophy PhD from Cornell. The sequence seems strange, but the archives seem to know more about Kimpton's life than anyone else, so let's chalk it up to an early-century Stanford idiosyncrasy. The archives don't mention a standard anecdote from the other biographies which has Kimpton going from a psychology to a philosophy major, but it doesn't sound unlikely. It does clarify that Kimpton went directly from Cornell to Deep Springs College, California, where he "taught English, German and philosophy" until 1941, when he "moved to Nevada and briefly operated a cattle ranch" before joining the University of Kansas as dean of the College of Liberal Arts in 1942. 

Time has Kimpton as the dean of Deep Springs College. I know that some people are a bit dubious about the academic roots of the American postsecondary administrative caste, but that seemed a bit ridiculous until I learned a bit more about Deep Springs, which seems to be some sort of combination of a "scared straight" boot camp and liberal arts college on an "isolated cattle ranch." At least Lawrence's gap year makes more sense as building on his work experience. 

From Kansas, Kimpton moved to Chicago as the "Chief Administrative Officer of the Metallurgical project connected with research on the atomic bomb," per the archives, which sounds more nuanced than Time's "runn[ing] the sprawling wartime Metallurgy Project," in the course of which he "quickly rose through a succession of posts --dean of students and professor of philosophy, dean of the faculties and vice president." At this point further promotion at Chicago might have seemed vaguely incestuous, and he was off to Stanford for three years, where he seems to have actually taught a course in the midst of carrying out a Hutchinsesque overhaul of Stanford's undergraduate curriculum, a deeply ironic assignment considering his next job. 

Kimpton's career at the Metallurgical Project is unknown to modern historians of the Metallurgical Laboratory. Arthur Compton headed the Project, while the Lab had a series of wartime directors, with Kimpton presumably acting as Compton's chief of staff at one higher administrative layer than the Lab proper. I infer, anyway, because confusion between "Lab" and "Project" (and between "Manhattan Project" and "Metallurgical Project) seems endemic. Anyway, Kimpton had had his time with Big Science by the time he returned to Chicago in 1951 as chancellor. 

The brief archival biographical note summarises Kimpton's University of Chicago career as being focused on "reforming the University's bachelor degree, renewing the community surrounding the University, rebuilding the University's infrastructure, balancing the budget, and restoring the financial stability of the University." The Wikipedia biography, on the other hand, focusses on Kimpton's 1958 battle with campus publication The Chicago Review over its "beat edition," with excerpts from The Naked Lunch and Jack Kerouac.  It is certainly interesting, but I have theories about who might have written the biography, and it was certainly not a Kimpton scholar, to the extent that there is any such thing apart from maybe me.

So, oh, right, relevance. John Boyer has a good discussion of the Kimpton administration that pitches them as the first decade of the "years of survival," in which the University of Chicago faced small and declining enrollments that could not support its large faculty. Beholden to the Ford Foundation, the school looked to institutionally specific solutions. Prominent among those was the dismantling of Hutchins' two-year generalist bachelor's degree. Kimpton was forceful in pointing out the problems it presented, but Boyer has an even starker observation than any that Kimpton reported to the trustees. Other schools were beginning to reject as a transfer credit by the time of Hutchins' resignation. It is harder to imagine a blunter repudiation of Hutchins' experiment within the collegiate atmosphere of post-secondary education, and it is hard to believe that it would have happened without some spectacular flameouts of unprepared Chicago alumni. A Chicago education was not worth the money. The school's value was solely that it provided a home for "quiz kids," in Kimpton's phrase, "long-haired" freaks who couldn't do calculus; and who, Kimpton suspected, were not so much "bright but odd," as simply "odd."

 Clearly there was considerable potential for strife within the University of Chicago over such significant changes, and a brawling fight with rambunctious student radicals at the Review is just one likely outcome. The issue here is causality. The fact that Hutchins had moved on to be the head of the Ford Foundation, responsible for the University's financial lifeline, could not have helped Kimpton in his "tumultuous" five year battle to "dismantle Hutchins College."

 Apart from problems with the degree, the University had a problem with geography. Its Hyde Park location is embedded within a "colourful urban neighbourhood," and by the Fifties it already had a reputation for intrusive street crime that led to the "urban renewal" that gentrified its immediate surroundings. The University represents this housing stock "renewal" as creating a racially diverse as well as prosperous neigbourhood, although  apparently the statistics are being manipulated a bit. The flip side is that I live in a "densified" urban neighbourhood that has been colourfully diversified by the conversion of old housing stock into multi-residential dwellings, and it doesn't look like an urban ghetto to me. You don't have to have a PhD in Social Relevance to draw an unsavoury line between the lifting of racial covenants on Hyde Park housing in 1938, gentrification, the prevalence of underpoliced frats filled with too-young-undergraduates recruited as the next generation's intellectual elite, and complaints about an epidemic of rapes on campus in the Fifties and Sixties. I'm not going to hold Kimpton's feet to the fire on this one, if for no other reason than because it would take me too far afield, but it is definitely worth noting. 

Again, causality, for the degree, the neighbourhood, the misogynistic atmosphere on campus, are all perhaps overexplaining something that could never have been helped: The Silent Generation. 

Here: I stole a graphic from Wikipedia:

It's not as helpful as it could be, in that it misses the chance to tell us the size of the Greatest Generation, because, besides having no agreed definition, it is no longer included in the Pew summary presumably used for the above, but a Bureau of Labour survey shows a drop of a million people in the 25--34 labour force cohort from 1950--1960, which gives us a sense of the enrollment decline that faced all college presidents in 1951, and not  just Kimpton. 

(We've seen this one before, but what the heck.)

So what has that to do with the Battle of the Imjin? The answer, I suggest, is two-sided. On the one hand, you cannot draft boys who don't exist. On the other, deferments. Over on the Congressional side, we've seen the GOP delegation struggling to find a coherent national security policy. Robert Taft dallies with the isolationists (and the egregious Herbert Hoover), who want to keep US land forces out of Europe; a cap on the total size of the Selective Service army is entertained, and rejected; the GOP surrenders on the 70 group air force as numbers push towards 90 and Republican Congressmen play with a 250 group air force --Which, I can't help it, here comes that B-47 again. 

At this point, the numerical strengths that people are talking about --the six million man armed forces-- are testing the limits of American demography. This is "1914 Europe" talk. Eric Grove brought out the tensions between manning the fleet and training of endless classes of National Service conscripts in his history of the postwar Royal Navy a generation ago, and the same would have applied in the United States, with the additional challenge of finding engineers as graduating classes shrank. Unlike in WWII, there was no room to retrain the unemployed as engineers. There were no unemployed. Talk of accelerated college classes earlier in the year have given way to resignation. There are simply not the bodies. 

On the other hand, you can force young men to go to college. (Or have families.) This is most obvious for the Vietnam era, when selective service deferments alone might account for a 2% increase in college enrollment rates. On their introduction, college study deferments had an eminently state security-based rationale. A small number of "superior students" would be spared the draft so that they could do STEM studies and become the scientists and army surgeons of the future. In practice the technocratic implications of this were fought off, and the requirements of the educational-research-national-security state extended to the liberal arts. Yay! 

So Chicago (and Stanford) were saved. At the heart of the ongoing disaster, apart from the Hutchins-era deficits that had much to do with physical over-expansion, was that enrollment decline I referred to above. 1953/4 might have been the nadir, with a pathetic enrollment of only 275 frosh plus 39 lonely transfer students, giving a total enrollment of 1612 undergraduates and 2830 graduate students, compared with 3144 and 2719 in 1939. And if we want to talk about urban decay around Hyde Park, where is the cause, and where the effect as these rents and this spending is withdrawn from the community? Numbers are important, and Kimpton's strategy for reviving the University of Chicago was all about the numbers. If it could hit an enrollment of 10,000, including 5000 undergraduates, by the mid-1960s, it could hit the numbers. To get there, it needed the biggest fundraising drive in American college history, hitting a target of $32.8 million. Since the campaign only raised $22 million, a third of it from the Ford Foundation, one can see why Kimpton blew up at the Chicago Review when it acting upespecially considering the problem with "odd" students. (You know, because Ginzburg was gay, not to be subtle here.) 

Turning to the Selective Service experience of the young man coming of age in 1953, we have the vicious reality, already implied in the British case, that, taken by itself, the higher your score in the Armed Forces Qualification Test, the higher your likely educational attainment, and the more likely you are to be called up.(9ff) This effect was particularly marked after the end of the Korean War, as the armed forces' manpower requirement fell, and the services sought to increase the slice of "high quality" enrollees. Only pushing through to graduate studies offers any protection.

The cynic would suggest that college presidents have been bought off. The future of American education and (take a bow, Stanford and the University of Chicago), neo-conservatism has been secured! The irony here is the gestures that neo-conservatism has made towards the Hutchins-style "general education," in the form of the Great Books approach. This post's title is a tribute to Allan Bloom's dubious Closing of the American Mind, which, in a final layer of irony, is in part a potted history of philosophy, and exactly the kind of book a teacher could assign instead of the Great Books, in order to have more time for specialised studies.  (Specialised studies, of course, lead to research papers with which to beat the Commies.)

Chris Manteuffel offers a fairly straightforward explanation for the Regulus submarine and crash Polaris programmes of the late 1950s: The Air Force share of the total defence budget peaked at almost 50% of defence spending at the beginning of Eisenhower's second term. If the President wants planes and missiles, that is what the Navy will give him. This is fair enough, although with an eye to the GOP congressional delegations' contortions in 1951, I wonder just how much of this actually reflects Eisenhower's agency. The fact that the Air Force moved to go ahead with the Dyna-Soar in 1956 strongly suggests to me that the American defence establishment was beginning to have difficulties finding a way to use the money it was being given with the manpower it  had. That is the usual case when capital-intensive defence spending begins to accelerate, something I also like to illustrate with the 1939 Fleet Shadower. 

However, we have a problem here. Once the 45th pulls out, the Glosters have no choice to surrender. No other artillery is available to support them. In other words, armies can make cases for capital intensive investment. The M44 self-propelled 155mm howitzer, which replaced the M41 in American service and equipped other NATO armies, including the British, in small numbers in the late 1950s, might seem to be an answer to the range and deployment problem. The 25 pounder, in spite of emerging from a requirement for 15,000 yards range, (specified as the range required to reliably cover a bridgehead on one river from behind another), ended up with a relatively disappointing, if still long, 13,400 yard range. The M41, in spite of firing a round almost four times the size of the 25 pounder, only achieved 14,600yards, less than the British 5.5" gun.  The M44, with a maximum range of 16,000 yards, had the range that the Royal Artillery had always wanted, combined with a mobility and speed of deployment that eluded the towed 5.5". 58 M44s entered British service in the BAOR in 1956, replacing Sexton self-propelled 25-pounders.  A preferred all-British solution, the Abbott, finally appeared in 1965, far too late to defend any future battalion of National Servicemen cut off far behind the lines of the relentless advance of human waves of Red Communist Asiatics. 

I must have been twelve at most when I read Cyril Kornbluth's 1955 Not This August (republished in 1981 under the editorial hand of Frederick Pohl in a political I-didn't-see-that-coming edition), and I was baffled by the elderly Englishman wandering around Chiunga Center, New York town that is the setting of the story with a brassard reading "Ref." Was he refereeing WWIII, I wondered? But I certainly understood what Kornbluth was driving for when he talked about seeing Queen Elizabeth lead the Household Cavalry in an armoured charge on Salisbury Plain, and the baffled hurt behind his comment, "the Guard broke!" This premonition of defeat in conventional armoured warfare adds a bit of weight to the scene a moment later when the radio breaks into anodyne war news about colossal armoured battles with the Reds on the Texas front for the President's surrender address. The combined Chinese-Soviet invading army has kettled the American and Canadian force in the lines in front of El Paso, and the war is over. (Twelve year old-me was at least aware enough to be struck by the unlikeliness of Canadian "army groups" being involved. That's a lot of Canadians!) 

Kornbluth's reviews suggest that his book  had broken out of the science fiction ghetto, and that he was well on his way to being rich and famous. This makes his death of a heart attack at 32, only two years later, all the more tragic. When The Chicago Tribune called "The most shockingly realistic science fiction novel since Orwell . . . " it must have seemed like the movie rights had already sold. Imagine a young Elizabeth Taylor at the hatch of a Life Guards Centurion! (Although I suppose if we have Taylor we're going to need to get her to Chiunga Center somehow. Hmm.) It seems as though a conventional war with the forces of Communism, and, more importantly, defeat at their hands in a conventional land war, is a very imaginable possibility. What good does spending 48% of the defence budget on airplanes do, when the Household Cavalry can recoil on Salisbury Plain? Something has to be done! 

But even Kornbluth says that the solution isn't Chieftains, but rather orbital battle stations. You can't beat the Commies without SCIENCE. But! If you need SCIENCE and a large army to push kids into the University of Chicago, I guess that Chieftains and Hueys and the most expensive infantry in history, that is what you're going to get. 

You're welcome, Leo Strauss. 


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