The Wonder of Academenby William H. Nolten’The high-minded man must care more for truth than for what people think.”n—AristotlenUnseasonable Truths: The Life ofnRobert Maynard Hutchinsnhy Worry S. AshmorenBoston and New York: Little, Brownn& Company; 616 pp., $27.00nWhile being interviewed on WilliamnBuckley’s Firing Line,nHarry Ashmore remarked that he hadnallowed the subject of his UnseasonablenTruths: The Life of Robert MaynardnHutchins to tell the story of hisnlife and work through the numerousnquotations that fill the pages of thenbook. Ashmore is too modest. To bensure, he constantly quotes Hutchins,nwhose prose was a model of candornand wit, but this biography is muchnmore than a compilation of quotationsnheld together by the thread of chronologicalnevents. Ashmore is not just annamanuensis, a Boswell noting the remarksnof his mentor. Far from it,nindeed. What we have here, in brief, isna splendid example of the biographer’snart—scholarly but never pedantic orndull, comprehensive in its details, temperatenand objective in its conclusions,nand beautifully written. It is an extraordinarynbook about an equally extraordinarynman.nAnd yet for all Hutchins’ acclaim asnthe Boy Wonder of Academe, earnednby his having been named dean of thenYale Law School at age 28 and presidentnof the University of Chicago atn29,1 cannot help believing that he was,nlike so many great men — that is greatnin the Socratic sense of being eminentlynrational and hence wise andngood — a failure. At least a failure innthat what he fought so hard for andndreamed of accomplishing has allncome to nought. In his last chapter,nentitled “Post Mortem,” Ashmore impliesnas much, albeit unwittingly, whennhe summarizes Hutchins’ views of ed-nWilliam H. Nolte is a professor ofnEnglish at the University of SouthnCarolina in Columbia.nucation and the role of the university inneffecting those aims. “Central to hisnthinking,” Ashmore notes, “was thenproposition that human beings werennot likely to act rationally until andnunless they had been educated, or hadnnneducated themselves, in a fashion thatnenhanced their intellectual powers andnopened their minds to ideas that mightnrun counter to their instincts or conflictnwith those they had accepted asnarticles of faith. His concern was withnthe institutional means by which thisnmight be accomplished.” And then,ndriving the point home: “Hutchinsninsisted that the only functions appropriatento the university were intellectualnones.”nAll of which is doubtless true. Butnthen what rational, or even semirational,nbeing would argue today that thosenare the only, or even primary, functionsnof our universities? For fifty yearsnHutchins opposed the “specialization”nof learning at the undergraduate levelnin our schools, of turning our educationalninstitutions into training or tradenschools. And in the end he knew thatnhis efforts had been largely wasted. Henwrote his old friend Thornton Wilder,nwith whom he had corresponded sincentheir undergraduate days together atnOberlin, that it was astonishing hownlittle had come from all the money henhad raised over the years, particuladynmoney that had been spent on thensocial sciences. By the time of hisndeath, in May 1977, the work fornwhich he was best known (at thenUniversity of Chicago) had been totallyndismantled. “Its years of distinction,”nNicholas von Hoffman wrote in hisneulogy to Hutchins, “are long behind itnnow so that it’s another Ivy-Leaguetypentraining academy for the managerialnclasses of business and governmentnas well as being a normal school fornuniversity professors.” Calling himn”the last of the great and greatly individualisticnAmerican university presidents,”nVon Hoffman predicted thatnhe wouldn’t be missed, or even remembered.nAnd such, in fact, is the case — ornalmost so. The few people of mynacquaintance who recall him at allnremember him as the man who inn1940 got rid of football at Chicago.nDECEMBER 1990/29n