Synopsis of Hancher vs. Hilton

Introduction: Opening vignette, brief background, and note about names.

1. The Scholar: Virgil Hancher’s early life, and career as president to c. 1950. Examines Hancher’s appointment as State University of Iowa’s president and troubled first decade in office, including controversies over a stock-fraud lawsuit, reforms to the College of Medicine, and state audits and investigations.

2. The Salesman: Reviews the early, checkered academic career of James Hilton and his eventual arrival as an effective, highly regarded administrator at various land-grant colleges, culminating with his return to Iowa State College as its president in 1953.

3. Hilton’s Dream: Begins with background on the preceding 100 years of debates over the shape of Iowa’s public higher education, and the uneasy compromises prevailing on the eve of Hilton’s inauguration. Briefly describes events at Iowa State and SUI during Hilton’s first year or two, closing with Hilton’s ambitious “10 Years From Now” plan for the Iowa State Center and other development.

4. Collegiality: Covers a relatively cooperative period during the mid-1950s, in which Hancher and Hilton are largely allies in battles over policy, etc. Iowa State College is admitted to the Association of American Universities, encouraging calls to declare the school a university formally. Hilton remains skeptical of this course—as does Hancher—but their framing of the related issues is far from compatible.

5. Rupture: Sharply worded arguments over directions for developing Iowa’s public colleges, in early 1959, mark a beginning to and establish many of the outlines for years of conflict which follow. Hilton believes that, naming aside, Iowa State is mostly a university and should expand liberal arts and humanities offerings. Hancher firmly opposes development of Iowa State into a competing university, arguing that Iowa should concentrate resources on one first-rate liberal arts college at SUI, and maintain narrower special-purpose institutions in Ames and Cedar Falls. In the months which follow, Hilton reverses his opposition to substituting “university” for “college” in Iowa State’s name, providing the first public test of the presidents’ competing visions.

6. A Matter of Identity: Regents, legislators and Iowa media consider arguments over changing Iowa State’s name. Iowa State defends its proposal against charges of unconstitutionality, dilution of its mission, and above all concerns about confusion between two Iowan “State Universities.” Despite significant initial opposition in the Iowa Senate, the new name prevails. Consternation about the schools’ names remains a sore point, however.

7. Marking Territory: Later in 1959, proposals for expanded curriculum prompt the next battle between Hilton and Hancher. This time, however, both administrations pursue what the other views as encroachment, and argue against one another’s plans. After several months’ debate, the Regents assent to expansion at both schools; the overall result is more congenial to Hilton’s goals than to Hancher’s, but critics in the state capital are increasingly unhappy with Hilton’s innovations.

8. Halftime: A pause in the narrative to step back and examine the different outlooks and approaches of each president, and how they may have contributed to the results so far.

9. Educational Load Factor: A brief background on the budget pressures confronting Iowa’s public colleges by 1960, followed by the introduction of SUI’s proposal to shift state funds away from other institutions to its own budget, on the basis of “Educational Load Factor.” An astonished Hilton denounces the move as an ambush and scrambles to refute the concept.

10. Miscalculations: The Board of Regents lend Educational Load Factor their partial endorsement pending a long-term study, setting up the second phase of Hancher’s and Hilton’s conflict, which occupies their remaining years in office. In the meantime, Hancher faces a racially charged controversy and a lawsuit over plans for a Memorial Union hotel; a mishandled proxy battle with SUI over athletics, and various other setbacks, draw Hilton close to the nadir of his presidency.

11. Irreconcilable Differences: Letters and reports reveal ISU and SUI administrations drifting toward mutual suspicion, resentment and outright contempt. Correspondence between Hancher and his director of university relations sheds light on some of the quandaries inherent in their pursuit of Educational Load Factor rewards, which threaten to unravel the project. Into 1962, however, debates over the study meant to resolve the ELF controversy remain deadlocked and SUI retains the benefit of the doubt.

12. Showdown: After a period of stalemate, fresh controversies bring the ISU-SUI conflict to a head during Hancher’s final year in office. Hancher’s proposal to transfer Iowa State’s extension service to SUI and fold the school itself into a single University of Iowa system is the most inflammatory, producing a blunt ultimatum from Hilton. In the months that follow, the ELF project collapses and Hancher lashes out at the Regents—but obtains further financial gains for SUI anyway.

13. Legacies: Following Hancher’s retirement, new president Howard Bowen promptly prioritizes cooperation over conflict among the Regents schools, symbolized by his controversial ceding of “State” to Ames and declaring Iowa City’s school the University of Iowa. Hancher himself dies unexpectedly less than a year after leaving office. Hilton, by contrast, enjoys a long retirement in favor of a successor who pursues most of his own policies just as vigorously. These include the coliseum named in his honor and the rest of the Iowa State Center; in 1972 Hancher’s own long-sought legacy project opens its doors to similar acclaim.

14. Evaluation: What did it mean? Attempts at interpreting: why the ISU and U of I administrations fought so fiercely for such an extended period, whether or not the conflict included a personal component, why it produced the results that it did, and what if any conclusions may be drawn about the core competing visions 50 years later.

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