I had the chance yesterday to sit in on the fourth meeting of the first semester of Penn State’s “History 197—History of Penn State” course. I had emailed Prof. Michael Milligan a week or so ago to let him know I’d be in town, and he let me sit in for the class, which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:35-2:50pm in 62 Willard.

After being a part of the years-long collaborative effort that brought this course to fruition, it was super gratifying to sit in on one of the first meetings of its first semester. A glance at the syllabus suggests this should really immerse students in Penn State’s history, and that they should be coming away from this class well equipped to share it. Here’s what yesterday’s session focused on:

(Thurs. Aug. 31) More on the Politics, Principles, Practice of the “Land Grant College” Approach.

  • Erwin Runkle, “George Atherton’s 1884 Battle with Governor Pattison” in The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932 Interpretation and Record (1933) (including 1884 Trustee Board’s “Minority” & “Majority” Reports), pp. 218-233.
  • Fred Lewis Pattee, chapter 6, “To the Centre of the Keystone” in Penn State Yankee (1953).

I snapped this photo from the very back of the room as class was adjourning. Kevin Horne and I sat together in the back row. It was a great class, and I learned (and re-learned) some great moments from Penn State during President George Atherton’s era, particularly surrounding the Elmira, NY debate over how Morrill Land Grant federal funds were to be administered (give those funds to the established/trusted institutions like Harvard, or throw them at unproven and risky Agricultural ventures?) and also some of the history surrounding Penn State’s academic growth under President Atherton despite the retrenchment efforts of Gov. Pattison in the late 19th century. Also interesting was that there was never official policy favoring male enrollment, and as a result the first women students arrived in the 1870s, and the first black student in the 1890s.

Toward the end we looked at Fred Lewis Pattee’s arrival at Penn State and some of his reflections from “Penn State Yankee,” his autobiography. (President Atherton offered him his job partly because he was the only candidate who showed up in person to apply, and later let him teach literature and the humanities to engineering students who generally were more interested in making money than receiving a well-balanced education.) Pattee, along with Atherton, ended up becoming one of our most transformative figures.