H.W. Tyler


Much of the credit for the survival and success of the early AAUP belongs to its long-serving secretary, the MIT mathematician Harry Walter Tyler (1863-1938). Tyler served as secretary from 1916 to 1930 and, after his retirement from MIT and with the establishment of the new office, as general secretary from 1930 to 1933 and from 1935 to 1936. In both positions, he conducted the correspondence of the Association, edited the Bulletin, and maintained the finances, which, then as now, were at times in peril.

The early AAUP operated in a way apparently similar to other associations at the time, such as the American Economic Association. It had a frequently rotating president, who for the first several years served only for one year, and a secretary, who maintained continuity and regular operations. Arthur Lovejoy served as secretary of the AAUP in 1915, having served in that capacity for the organizing committee since 1913. However, Lovejoy exercised the functions of the office with superhuman strength, conducting multiple academic freedom investigations and drafting the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure together with E.R.A. Seligman and Frank A. Fetter. These activities were in addition to conducting the regular business of the fledgling Association. At the end of that year, Seligman wrote about Lovejoy that he had dedicated “well-nigh his entire time” to the business of the Association in 1915. Thus, it was no surprise that Lovejoy resigned after one year of service.

It proved difficult to find a successor for Lovejoy. The second Annual Meeting was unable to select a secretary, and so it was left to the Council to find one. Finally, Tyler’s name was suggested. Tyler had had a distinguished career at MIT, rising through the ranks and serving as secretary of the faculty. As Lovejoy wrote in Tyler’s obituary:

No greater piece of good fortune, certainly, has befallen the Association than the opportune suggestion of Dr. Tyler’s name. … Though “coming to his duties,” as he wrote, “with almost no previous contact with the work of the Association,” Dr. Tyler nevertheless brought to them a complete understanding of the Association’s aims, a large comprehension of its possibilities, and a combination of qualities not often conjoined – energy and patience, initiative and caution, firmness and tact, dignity and (not least valuable) a dry and penetrating sense of humor – the expression of which, when such expression would have been inopportune, he was almost always (with some difficulty, one suspects) able to restrain.

Summarizing the achievements of the Association in 1926, Tyler reported:

At the close of ten years’ service it may be opportune to extend this report by a brief review. In January, 1916, our membership was 1400, the present total is 5828 active and 68 honorary. Then the local chapters did not exist, now there are 116. In 1916 we had published certain reports as special pamphlets; the Bulletin, initiated during that year and published continuously since, has an aggregate of 4321 pages. In 1916 our financial resources were so slender that the end of the year found us obliged to call for personal subscriptions to meet a deficit – a resource that has once since proved necessary when we had deferred too long a needed increase in our dues. Today the Treasurer’s report shows that we are in the fortunate position of living within our income and having a substantial accumulation of savings.

This brief summary of Tyler’s efforts to shore up the finances of the AAUP is an indication of his understatement. In 1917, the Association was facing a significant deficit through the publication of its lengthy reports. Tyler not only wrote to Seligman to request a personal loan of $500 to the Association, but he also all but forbade second AAUP president John Wigmore to publish his 40-page presidential report for lack of funds. Wigmore wrote an indignant letter to Council. As Wigmore offered to pay for the cost of printing his report himself, Tyler relented and the report was published, however, not without Tyler noting the importance of Council approval for incurring deficits.

In 1930, Tyler, who had been involved as the Association’s representative to the American Council on Education, oversaw the move to establish a permanent office in Washington, DC. After the brief tenure of Walter Cook as general secretary, Tyler served on an interim basis until Ralph Himstead assumed the office in 1936. After Tyler’s death in 1938, Himstead wrote a brief obituary to the membership which ended with

You will recall that at our last annual meeting Dr. Tyler was elected a life member of the Council. This action greatly pleased him. To the deep regret of all concerned he did not live to participate in another Council meeting. His presence is and will continue to be greatly missed. During his years of leadership he built a record of achievements and created many precedents which will continue to influence the Association in the years to come.

6 thoughts on “H.W. Tyler

  1. This series of postings on the Association’s early years is very interesting — but generally lacks citations or links to references, especially bothersome for quotations, etc. Please provide them — we are a professional association of scholars, from the beginning and after all ;-).

    Thank you.

  2. Following the link above in the posting to the MIT Museum page on Tyler, one cannot help but notice that his wife Alice Irving Brown Tyler was, like Harry Walter himself, an 1884 graduate of MIT.

    One wonders how many of the male professors of the early years of the Association were like Schroedinger, the renowned physicist whose wife is rumored to have been responsible for some of his works. Perhaps the productivity of some of these early AAUP luminaries was actually the productivity of the women in their lives — a reflection of the historical paucity of women among the faculty of our universities. Indeed, many women who graduated with Ph.D.’s in the sciences in the first half of the twentieth century were allowed to have staff positions but not professorial appointments and thus, since most grant applications require a faculty member as principal investigator, male professors received and took the credit for the work of female scientists.

    In closing, and following the Schroedinger analogy, one might say that the AAUP itself is very much like Schroedinger’s cat: both dead and alive — and then one or the other depending on one’s point of observation.

  3. Thank you for your comments. I have added links for the three quotes, and I will try to do so in future posts. Providing full citations for other sources doesn’t really seem to fit the format of a blog post. Many of the anecdotes I report on come from letters that I found in my archival research. For example, Tyler’s request for a loan from Seligman is in a letter in the Seligman collection at Columbia, and the exchange over Wigmore’s report is in the papers of Edward Ross, who was a Council member at the time. I have a forthcoming article in the Journal on Academic Freedom about the founding of the AAUP that, as a scholarly publication, of course cites all of its sources, which may be of interest to you.

  4. I agree that this series of postings on the history of AAUP is of great interest.

    We should ultimately highlight the posts in the series, with links from both the national site and the main page of this blog.

  5. I have to tell you that it isn’t my academic background that finds this appealing. But it brings a smile to my face (and many other family members!) to see HWT still talked about all these years later. In addition to your societies records The MIT Archives has a great deal of the source material if people want citations. He was a great organizer and administrator and dedicated himself to his interests and beliefs….clearing trails for the Appalachian Mountain Club, being a rugged outdoors enthusiast and winter camper, being involved in the formation of the college boards.

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