The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


THE most serious crisis faced by the University during the administration of President Angell, and probably the most serious during its entire history, was the affair which has come to be known as the Douglas-Rose controversy. At their meeting in October, 1875, the Regents unanimously adopted a resolution requiring the director of the chemical laboratory to render quarterly accounts of all money received for the sale of chemicals to students, and further that duplicate vouchers be presented, "as in all other departments, covering all payments, in accordance with the existing law." In the same month, Professor Silas H. Douglas,* Director of the Chemical Laboratory, reported to President Angell that he had discovered a deficit in the accounts of the laboratory. Investigation by President Angell and Professors Douglas and A. B. Prescott revealed that a considerable amount of laboratory-fee money paid by students had never reached the treasurer of the University. According to the procedure which had been followed in the handling of the laboratory accounts, student fees were paid to Preston B. Rose, Assistant Professor of Physiological Chemistry, who turned them over to Professor Douglas; Douglas, in turn, transferred them to the Regents of the University. The deficit was thus obviously chargeable to Assistant Professor Rose, to Professor Douglas, or to them jointly. For the year 1874-75, the first for which records were examined, the deficit was found to be $831.10.

When Rose was confronted with the findings of this examination, he agreed to pay a portion of the amount of the deficit. In November, 1875, he paid the remainder, $645, having raised the money by placing a mortgage upon his house. When further investigation revealed discrepancies in the laboratory accounts for earlier years, President Angell reported the fact to the executive committee of the Regents. Two members of the committee immediately visited Ann Arbor, called Rose before them, and requested that he furnish the University with security against loss. He accordingly gave a trust deed of his house to the treasurer of the University.

A special investigating committee of three Regents reported on December 21, 1875, a deficit over a period of several years amounting to $4,718.62. This committee further reported that it had at first had full assistance from Rose during its investigations, but that after the news of the deficit had reached the public, he had declined to give further aid. Immediately following the presentation of this report to the Regents, Rose read a statement to the Board describing the bookkeeping Page  209methods used by himself and Professor Douglas with respect to the laboratory accounts, professing innocence of intentional wrongdoing, and demanding a hearing of himself and Professor Douglas "before some court or disinterested body of intelligent and competent men. …" The Regents, however, at this meeting, by a five-to-one vote found Professor Rose responsible for a deficit of $1,681.53, and voted to suspend him from his duties as Assistant Professor until further action of the Board. Before the end of the year 1875-76, many important developments had occurred: two more committee investigations had been made; the delinquency had been reported as totaling $6,984.01, of which $1,174.65 was "apparently in the hands of Douglas"; the latter had claimed that certain lines and initials on the bookkeeping records making him appear chargeable for this amount were forgeries; Rose had been restored to his position and subsequently dismissed; and a motion to dismiss Douglas had been lost by a vote of four to two.

Meanwhile the affair had aroused widespread attention. Professor Douglas had been a member of the faculty since 1844. His influence had been great — one Regent, indeed, in 1878 referred to him as, "the man who for twenty-five years controlled this University" (Defalcation, p. 23). On the other hand, although Rose had reached professorial status only very recently, he had been connected with the chemical laboratory almost continuously since 1861, and among the many students with whom he had come into contact he was generally popular. Despite this factor, however, Professor Douglas' prestige was so great that the difficulty would almost certainly have been settled fairly promptly in his favor, had not certain important influences been brought to bear on the Rose side. Rose came to have an ardent and most energetic and influential champion in the person of Rice A. Beal, editor of the Ann Arbor Courier and an important power in the Republican party. Both Rose and Beal were affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination which from the outset had evidenced an active interest in University policies and development. Once aroused by the controversy, Beal spared neither money nor energy in defending the party he considered the underdog in the struggle. Of great influence, too, was the sympathetic interest taken in Rose's plight by Dr. Benjamin F. Cocker, a Methodist clergyman who in 1869 had come to the University as Professor of Moral and Mental Philosophy. An able preacher, a respected scholar, and a very popular teacher, Professor Cocker proved an invaluable friend to Rose when he espoused the latter's cause.

Unfortunately for hopes that a quiet settlement of the trouble might be reached, the news of the affair broke in an election year. It was thus not unnatural that with the convening of a new legislature in January, 1877, this body upon whom the University was almost wholly dependent for financial support should, in spite of its absence of authority over the University in other respects, see fit to look into the financial situation in the chemical laboratory. Such action was rendered all the more likely by a ten-page printed statement prepared by Mr. Beal and addressed to the legislature, presenting what the author urged was the unfairness of the proceedings of the President and the Board of Regents in handling the affair. In January a joint committee was appointed from the two houses to "make a thorough and exhaustive investigation" of the "defalcation." On March 27 this committee made a report based on hearings which had occupied a two-month period and testimony which filled a 740-page book. According Page  210to this report, the amount of the defalcation was $5,827.82; of this $497.30 was chargeable to Rose, $4,477.47 to Douglas. In this same month the Regents dismissed Silas H. Douglas from the faculty.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1876, steps had been taken to settle the matter in the courts, and on July 5, 1877, the trial of a suit in chancery was begun in the Circuit Court for Washtenaw County. The parties were The Regents of the University v. Silas H. Douglas and Preston B. Rose, and Silas H. Douglas v. The Regents of the University of Michigan. All parties had signed a stipulation fixing the laboratory deficit at $5,671.87; it remained for the court simply to fix the relative responsibility of Rose and Douglas. Chief among the counsel representing the Regents was Isaac P. Christiancy, who in 1875, after eighteen years of distinguished service, had resigned from the state Supreme Court to accept the post of United States Senator from Michigan. Both Douglas and Rose also had able counsel.

After a trial which lasted for five weeks, Judge George M. Huntington found Rose liable for $4,624.40, and Douglas liable for the remainder. These findings met with the hearty approval of such newspapers as the Detroit Tribune, the Ann Arbor Register, and the Michigan Argus (published at Ann Arbor). The Detroit Free Press, explaining that it believed that "the great majority" of its readers "throughout the State" would be interested, devoted much space to the decision and recorded its own enthusiastic endorsement. On the other hand, very soon after the decision was announced, handbills were circulated in Ann Arbor announcing:

Public Meeting at the Opera House. — The friends of Dr. Rose, who implicitly believe in his innocence, are requested to meet at the opera house, on Friday evening, September 21, at 7 ½ o'clock to express their feelings and listen to speeches upon the partisan and one-sided decision of Judge Huntington upon the Rose-Douglas case. Rally, one and all! men and women! who have the courage to stand by justice and right.

Many Citizens.

Clearly, any hopes which may have been earlier entertained that a court decision would bring an end to the controversy were ill-founded. The next formal move in the interests of Rose was, however, not taken for several months. In the spring election two new Regents had been chosen. These men came upon the Board at the January, 1878, meeting, and one of them, George Maltz, promptly introduced a resolution calling for the appointment of Preston B. Rose as Assistant Professor of Physiological Chemistry at a salary of $1,500 per year. This resolution was lost by a tie vote.

At the next meeting of the Board, in March, 1878, Regent Maltz introduced a preamble and resolutions asserting that Rose was not a defaulter; resolving that the claim against Rose be "fully remitted and cancelled," saving and reserving, however, all of the University claims against Douglas; and resolving also that Rose be appointed Assistant Professor at a salary of $1,800, commencing April 1. Since one of the "pro-administration Regents" (as the members opposed to Beal and Rose were called) was absent, these resolutions would probably have been adopted had it not been for the withdrawal from the meeting of the other three proadministration men. In the absence of a quorum, the meeting was adjourned until April 10. When, at the adjourned meeting, Regent Maltz offered resolutions calling for the acceptance of one-half interest in the Beal-Steere collection (see Part VIII: Museum of Anthropology) in consideration of the judgment of the court against Beal as bondsman for Rose, and for the restoration of Rose Page  211to his former position with the University, Regent Claudius B. Grant of the other side countered with a substitute resolution that neither Douglas nor Rose ever be appointed to any position in the University, "and that the best interests of the University require that there be no further agitation of the subject."

The forty closely printed pages recording the speeches which followed this latter resolution make very interesting reading, reflecting as they do the roles which sectarianism, class distinction, party politics, Civil War patriotism, personal animosity, and extreme emotionalism played in the course of this bitter episode. As far as its immediate purpose was concerned, however, all of this eloquent oratory availed nothing, for both sets of resolutions, by tie votes, failed of adoption. Nevertheless, the contrast in the basic positions of the two sides is significant: the "pro-administration side," generally satisfied with the court decision, quite naturally argued that if the Rose faction was dissatisfied, it should, as Douglas had done, take the case to the state Supreme Court, rather than appeal from a court decision to regental action; the pro-Rose side, on the other hand, by assuming, in effect, that the courts were so constituted as to render a fair trial for Rose impossible, could with some degree of plausibility urge that such a condition obligated the Regents to take the responsibility for seeing that justice was done Rose.

After the tie votes on the Maltz and the Grant resolutions had been taken, Regent Duffield submitted the following resolution:

Resolved. In view of the very peculiar history and complicated relations of the Rose-Douglas controversy to the Legislature of the State, to the decree in the court of chancery, to a divided Board of Regents, and to the best interests of the University and people of Michigan, that this whole matter be referred in good faith to the next meeting of the Legislature, for such advice to the Regents and such further action in the premises, as they may deem wise and necessary.

(R.P., 1876-81, p. 225.)

This resolution, like its immediate predecessors, was lost by a tie vote. The failure of adoption was no doubt fortunate: it had been sufficiently serious when the legislature in 1877 took the initiative in interfering with University affairs; for the Regents to submit the controversy to the legislature for "advice and further action" would have been to set a precedent for inviting legislative interference.

On another matter of vital concern to the University, the Regents at their June meeting in 1878 were able to reach a decision. The legislature in its 1877 session had resolved:

… That the Board of Regents and the State Board of Education be and they are hereby requested to reduce all salaries of professors, teachers, and employés in the several institutions under their control, as follows: on all salaries over $1,500 to $2,000 inclusive, 10 per cent, and on all salaries over $2,000, 20 per cent.

(H. Journ., 1877, p. 2049.)
The salary scale adopted by the Regents provided for reductions somewhat less drastic, but was nevertheless sufficiently severe to arouse considerable concern. Since the resolution of the legislature included in its scope other educational institutions besides the University, it would be unreasonable to attribute its inception solely to antagonism produced by the Douglas-Rose affair; nevertheless, since the "people's Regents," as the pro-Rose men called themselves, boasted of the great amount of money they were saving the state, there was widespread conviction in Ann Arbor that the connection was very close, and there is at least considerable evidence that the University would have fared better financially Page  212at the hands of the legislature had it not been for the "great defalcation."

At the same meeting the Regents unanimously adopted what appeared to be final disposition of the claim against Rose and Beal. The University agreed to purchase of Rice A. Beal and Joseph B. Steere an undivided half of the "Beal-Steere collection," and in consideration of said purchase to release in full the financial claims against Rose and his sureties. The pro-Rose forces were, however, not yet satisfied. At the February, 1879, meeting of the Regents, the joint committee of the legislature on the University appeared before the Board, and reminding the Regents of "[Dr. Rose's] gallantry on the field of battle, a limb given to his country," and declaring that he was "a crippled patriot, … a quiet, meek and modest man," urged his restoration to a position in the University "suited to his talents and industry." In the absence of two pro-Douglas Regents, a resolution that the Board of Regents "do hereby accede to the request of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives and that Preston B. Rose be … appointed Assistant Professor of Physiological Chemistry" was carried by a vote of four to two.

Meanwhile a rehearing of the case of the University against Rose and Douglas, late in 1878, had resulted, in effect, in a confirmation of the earlier decree. The Regents now followed their reinstatement of Rose by deciding, four to two, that since from recent developments it appeared that the decree against Rose had been rendered upon a mistake of fact, nothing was equitably due from Rose, and so much of the decree as related to Rose and his sureties was fully discharged. The "people's Regents" had indeed won a complete victory. How thoroughly the winners enjoyed their triumph is evident from a contemporary newspaper account:

Although the action of the Regents, appointing Dr. Rose to a position in the University, was delayed until 11 o'clock in the evening, very soon thereafter there was a gathering together of the people of the city, and the booming of cannon and the lively strains of music from the Ann Arbor band, in regular Fourth of July style, indicated that it was a universal jubilee. The crowd, led by the band, proceeded to the residence of Dr. Rose, and gave him a serenade to which the Doctor responded in a heartfelt manner; thereupon they formed a line of march to the residence of R. A. Beal, the crowd increasing in numbers every block they went. Music, cheering and joyful acclamations called forth R. A. Beal, A. J. Sawyer, Regents Rynd, Duffield, Climie and Maltz, also Senators Hodge and Moore, and Representatives Sharts and Robison, of the legislative committee, Rev. R. B. Pope and others, who made short and stirring addresses to the large number assembled.

(Ann Arbor Courier , Feb. 7, 1879.)

By the decision in the chancery suit of 1877, Douglas had been charged with $1,047.47 of the deficit. The court at the same time, however, allowed him credit for interest on money advanced for the laboratory, for traveling expenses, and so forth. The amount of this credit was sufficient to overbalance the deficit, and it was ruled that the University in fact owed Douglas $17.46.

The financial outcome of the controversy had thus been far from satisfactory to the University, yet, impressed with the heavy expenditures already incurred, the Regents, in March, 1879, resolved that the Board did not wish to incur the expense of an appeal to the Supreme Court. When Douglas, not satisfied with the lower-court ruling, carried the case on appeal to the state Supreme Court, the Regents, in the interests of economy, declined to employ counsel in the appeal. The wisdom of this Page  213attempt at economy was questioned by many when the Supreme Court, in January, 1881, rendered a decree in favor of Dr. Douglas and against the University, for $2,045.80 and costs taxed at $1,605.94; total, $3,651.74. With the payment of this claim, the controversy which for nearly six years had monopolized an appallingly large proportion of the Regents' time was, as far as the Board was concerned, officially ended.

By no means ended, however, was the deleterious effect of the controversy upon the University and the community. Financially, the University had suffered badly. To be sure, one of the immediate effects of the controversy had been the acquisition of a half interest in the valuable Beal-Steere collection. However, it had been anticipated that this collection would come to the University as a gift; the half-interest was now obtained only through agreement to refrain from collecting the $4,624.40 which the Circuit Court had decreed Rose and Beal must pay the University. For fees to counsel, to accountants, and to handwriting experts, the University had been obliged to spend more than $8,000, and the special investigation by the legislature had cost the state an additional $4,000. The decree of the Supreme Court required the payment of $3,500 to meet the claims of Douglas. How heavy the financial blow entailed by all of this expenditure was, may be appreciated from the fact that during the seventies the total expenditure of the University for library purposes did not exceed $3,000 annually.

However, severe as was the financial cost of the controversy, of far greater significance was the loss in prestige resulting from the bitter factional quarrels within the Board of Regents, the sharp hostility toward the University engendered among members of the state legislature, the violent abuse indulged in by many of the newspapers of the state, the countless charges of bad faith and double-dealing, the sectarian animosities aroused between Methodists and non-Methodists, and the vindictiveness stirred up among groups in the faculty. From the vantage point of sixty-five years one can readily see that much trouble would have been avoided had the matter immediately been taken into the courts; one may conjecture that more decisive administrative handling at the outset would have prevented the development of so serious a crisis. True, in certain important respects the controversy did not, apparently, damage the University's development: for example, enrollment mounted during the half-dozen years while the fight was raging. Yet no one who examines the voluminous records of the struggle, no one who has viewed the enormous publicity which the conflict received, no one who faces the fact that traces of the feud are still visible in Ann Arbor in 1940 can doubt that the University would have been a far stronger institution during the closing years of the nineteenth century had there been no Douglas-Rose controversy.


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