Lombard's Starr Professor

David Starr Jordan started his college teaching career at Lombard College. It was short. Lombard deemed his performance as inadequate. David Starr Jordan left Lombard College in 1873 after serving only one year. He was considered a ''fish out of water.'' A failure at Lombard, David Starr Jordan was to become a nationally recognized fishery biologist, President of Indiana University, and the first President of Stanford University. He was also an expert witness in the famous ''Scopes trial'' in Tennessee that challenged the teaching of evolution. He was very active in the anti-war movement before WWI and was also a prolific writer. Lombard's loss was Indiana and Stanford Universities' gain.

David Starr Jordan was born January 19, 1851 in Gainesville, N. Y. He graduated from Cornell University in 1872 and in a quirky sort of way, received both bachelors and masters degrees from that institution at the same time. He subsequently received a Doctor of Medicine degree from Indiana Medical College in 1875 and a Ph.D. in 1878 from ''Northwestern Christian University'' in Indianapolis (now Butler University).

Continuing with the thumbnail sketch, his successes after Lombard included being the Chairman of the Natural Sciences Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, from 1879 to 1885. From 1885 to 1891, he served as President of Indiana University, replacing the previous President who left the school after a scandal.

Life as the President of Indiana University was not easy, as Jordan recalls in his autobiography. Some of Indiana's legislators had mixed emotions about the merits of higher education, and doubts about why the State of Indiana should fund it. Some felt that funding a state university was ''Što throw it into that sink hole.''

Jordan pulled the little Indiana University and the reluctant state legislature behind him, turning Indiana University from a small sleepy campus of 150 students and an annual budget of $35,000 to a university of promise and expectations. When he arrived, Bloomington, Ind. had only one graveled road. The budget and enrollment at the university soon doubled as Jordan brought in friends as professors and as he traveled the state, building support for Indiana University and for higher education.

Jordan left Indiana University in 1891 after receiving an offer he couldn't refuse. He was visited by a railroad baron and senator from California, who arrived in his personal railroad car at the shabby little town of what was Bloomington in 1891. Leland Stanford arrived in all his glory to offer David Starr Jordan the presidency of a new university to be established by Stanford. The university was being established in honor of Leland Stanford's son. Perhaps worried that Jordan would turn down the job because the upstart California city might be even more rural than Bloomington, Senator Stanford offered Dr. Jordan a salary that was three times what he was earning at Indiana University.

Not only was David Starr Jordan well educated, he also was no fool. Not only did he leave for the new position in California, but also he took a substantial collection of Indiana University professors and students with him. In a speech given at Indiana University in 1987, Starr's departure was characterized as ''Šhe stole 12 of the then 29 Professors comprising Indiana University when he left Bloomington to become President of Stanford University. Perhaps worse, at least for Indiana, Jordan took with him a group of 35 students comprising some of the best athletes at the university.'' Perhaps Jordan thought of it not so much as a theft but more of a reclaiming of the core of key professors and students that he had loaned Indiana University. In any event, they were west bound to leave a lasting mark in California.

The arrival of Senator Stanford in little muddy-street Bloomington must have been an event. Senator Stanford arrived in the ornate private railcar while Dr. Jordan was in Illinois, delivering a speech. As such, the Senator and his wife had a layover, waiting for Jordan's return. The curiosity concerning the car and the presence of the California Senator must have been intense. There is a published story that Mrs. Stanford placed a five-dollar gold piece in the collection plate in the local Bloomington church on Sunday. The student preacher who concluded that it must have been placed in the collection plate in error returned it to her.

The first year at Stanford, David Starr Jordan showed his ongoing love of fishery biology by the formation of a marine biological laboratory, established along the beautiful shore of Monterey Bay, on Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. It was named the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory, presumably after Timothy Hopkins, a railroad partner of Stanford who helped with its formation.

David Starr Jordan held his position as first president of Stanford University for 25 years, retiring in 1916. He died at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. on September 19, 1931. He has received numerous awards, distinctions, and his name can be encountered attached to a NOAA research vessel, to junior high schools, to a university biology building, and to the ''David Starr Jordan'' prize. Perhaps a fitting attachment was one that he expressed first as a joke. A small creek that runs through Indiana University campus was renamed from ''Spanker's Branch'' to the ''Jordan River.''

So, what happened at Lombard? How did this Universalist bastion of higher education, not only ''let him slip away'' but actually ''showed him the door''? There are several versions of this answer. One scholar writes ''The administration of Lombard College did not think much of Jordan's Cornell progressivism and fired him after one year.'' (Rollin Richmond, 1987). Donald Kennedy (1980) records: ''After graduation from CornellŠ Jordan had put in a brief, unhappy year as a teacher of natural history at Lombard College, a conservative universalist institution in Galesburg, Illinois. His Cornell progressivism had gone down poorly thereŠ.''

Of course, the best source of information is from David Starr Jordan, found in his autobiography. He arrived in Galesburg in September 1872 to take his ''chair'' at Lombard College. He was only 21 years old. David Starr Jordan recalled ''ŠI was ignorant and more or less scornful of some of the social duties supposed to be incumbent on professors.'' He records that his subjects included zoology, botany, geology, mineralogy, chemistry, physics, political economy, ''Paley's 'Evidence of Christianity,''' and German and Spanish. He was also the pitcher for the Lombard baseball team that played Knox College frequently.

Lacking most supplies and materials for teaching his scientific courses, he made some, but relieved heavily on fieldwork, teaching what was locally available -- botany in the field, geology along the fossil deposits and geode beds of the Mississippi River. He laments that when the Board of Trustees sent a committee to review his work, he was criticized for his chemistry class because he ''Šallowed the students to go into the cabinet to handle the apparatus and waste the chemicals.'' Further, Jordan records that he hurt the feelings of one member of the committee when he explained ''with undisguised scorn'' that the alleged ''fossil ham'' that the committee member brought was nothing more than a oddly shaped, water-worn rock.

David Starr Jordan's predecessor was a Dr. Livingston who had been removed from his position upon reaching the age of 60. However, Dr. Livingston became acting president of Lombard, as the position was vacant at that time. It seems that Jordan was under close scrutiny by Livingston. Jordan recalls that he was once criticized by Livingston for his account of the ice age because Jordan made it appear ''as though ice had actually covered the land.''

Recalling the end of his first year at Lombard, in the great prairie land that was host to Galesburg, Jordan wrote ''Šthe trustees, being short of money and none too appreciative, left me no acceptable alternative save to resign -- which I did not unwillingly.''

When David Starr Jordan left Lombard, a number of devoted students went with him. One was E. A. Edwards who left Lombard to go to Cornell. Another was Jordan's sister, Mary. They returned to the East and E. A. Edwards would later marry Mary Jordan.

For Lombard, and Galesburg, a Starr was lost.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 15, 2000

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