Fridays with Fred: George Collie dreams of an international college
As a pastor and gifted speaker, Irving Maurer, class of 1904, was accustomed to standing at a podium before an appreciative crowd. Early in January of 1924, however, he sat with the audience, listening to the warm speeches welcoming him as new president of Beloit College. One speech stood out as thought-provoking, even challenging. Dean George L. Collie (pictured above) stepped up, gazed into Maurer’s eyes and addressed him directly. Maurer’s mind flashed back to a classroom 20 years before. Like his schoolmates, he’d quivered just a little under that steely glare.
“Bring us your dreams, President Maurer,” Collie declared. “We all have dreams. Mine is, I believe, intimately involved with an education which will bring world peace. We can have conferences and prizes and courts as much as we please—they all do vast good—but until we have removed race hatred and suspicion and antagonism, we shall have war.”
George Lucius Collie, class of 1881, son of the first student to enter Beloit College, was nearly 67 years old and would continue to teach anthropology and direct the Logan Museum for another seven years. In 1910-11, Collie had toured the world, visiting China, Japan, India, Africa, and countless other places. Although he experienced many hardships and swore he would never take such a trip again, his travels gave him a distinctly worldly perspective, as did shorter jaunts to Algeria and Europe. During World War I he served overseas with the YMCA and witnessed the effects of war firsthand. Since then, as the world discussed such concepts as the League of Nations and the Bok Peace Plan, Collie cogitated on something closer to home.
“My plan would be to get students from all parts of the world—representing all the races on the earth and the different divisions of the races,” he told Maurer and those assembled. “With such a student personnel it would be possible for each of the constituent elements to understand each other.”
Collie drafted a detailed outline of his proposal, published in the New York Times.
“In our colleges there is a great need to know the viewpoint of other races, of other peoples at first hand,” he wrote. “One of the best sources of such knowledge would be the youths of each nationality…The clash of youth with youth would open up new points of consideration and would help to shake each one out of his preconceived opinions and his more or less provincial views.”
To that end he proposed that Beloit feature 60 percent international students.
“They would be given the ordinary American college education, except that in the last two years courses would be established which would lay stress upon problems connected with race and race relationships…the representatives of the varied nationalities would have a voice and they could give expression to their national hopes and desires.”
Collie believed that the Logan Museum of Anthropology would serve as a first-rate laboratory with its superb collection of Native American artifacts and materials representing world-wide cultures:
“A study of these collections would reveal in a measure what these people had accomplished and would help to remove some of the crass ignorance and lack of appreciation of other races which characterizes many American students at the present day,” he wrote. “The whole idea of the plan is for the representatives of the different races to study each other at first hand in order that they may appreciate each other and come to know each other in non-prejudiced ways.”
Beloit’s international students “have been lonely figures in college life, without influence,” Collie wrote. He chastised Beloit’s American students for not paying their international colleagues more attention. He believed that a small college like Beloit was in a unique position to remedy that. “One great end of this proposed plan is to take these foreign students into closer fellowship and make them feel the warmth and sincerity of the college life.”
Not without his own prejudices, Collie knew that he could not ignore even deeper rooted antipathies of the era:
“These better racial relationships would be thrown aside by some of my colleagues because the social questions involved are in their view insurmountable. They tell me the young women will not want to meet some of these alien elements socially and therefore inequality of treatment and resulting bitterness of feeling is bound to arise.” He believed one way to get around this would be to build a “college commons” where all students could eat together and a college union where “all students could go and meet each other and where they would have the right to do so.”
Collie believed that his plan would promote broad-based scholarship. “There is a great democracy in the realm of scholars,” he noted. “No one, whatever be his lineage or color, should be ignored in the realm, provided he proved to be worthy as a gentleman and as a scholar.”
Finally, he said, “What the writer would hope to accomplish would be this: ‘Beloit College, a friendly college to all tribes and peoples. None shall be turned away from her doors who come as scholars, as seekers after truth.”
Collie’s proposal elicited commentary “of all natures and from various parts of the country,” according to the Beloit Alumnus. Professor M.N. Chatterjee, head of the department of social science at Antioch College, issued a challenge: “Can you dare make your students think, more than recite?” Another writer warned of the problems resulting from assimilating such a large body of foreign students. Haun Chai, a Chinese student at Beloit College put it bluntly: “It is now a dream. I think that it will not work out.” However, Reverend Ernest F. Day, a pastor from Whittier, California, felt more optimistic, comparing the plan to his experience with Japanese. “If we could line up with the various peoples we should find points of contact. Thus foundations for an enduring peace could be laid. Perhaps Beloit is to take the first step in establishing a brotherhood of man.”
Collie’s forward-thinking dream never quite achieved fruition. Although still under discussion in March, the college planned only tentative baby steps, soliciting opinions from “persons connected with foreign missions” and planning a new booklet entitled “Beloit for the Foreign Student.” According to the Round Table, President Maurer was in favor of the plan, but he emphasized “that it is not the policy of the administration to have the plan function on a large scale at first. The plan must be worked out gradually and changes made to fit the best interests of those concerned.”
In 1924, 90 percent of Beloit’s students hailed from Wisconsin and Illinois, with a handful from 16 other states, China, Japan and Persia. The numbers remained static for many years.
George Collie retired in 1931, and the college faced two decades of intense challenges dealing with the Great Depression and World War Two. By the late 1950’s, as the college sought growth and innovation, thoughts turned again toward expanding the college’s base. In 1960, 36 years after Collie’s proposal, Beloit College inaugurated the World Outlook Program.