University of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Document 1165
6 November 1995
MEMORIAL RESOLUTION OF THE FACULTY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
ON THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT EMERITUS AND PROFESSOR FRED HARVEY HARRINGTON
Fred Harvey Harrington, Professor Emeritus of History and President Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin, died in Madison on April 8, 1995. Born in Watertown, New York in 1912, he received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1932 and his Ph.D. from New York University in 1937. Harrington began his career at the University of Wisconsin that same year as an instructor in the History Department. Save for a temporary tenure at the University of Arkansas during World War II, his Wisconsin association was a life-time one.
As an historian, Harrington was the author of four influential books. Although he downplayed the significance of his own scholarship, his writings on anti-imperialist movements remain essential reading and his book on Korean-American relations, God, Mammon, and the Japanese, survives as a classic a half-century later.
As a teacher, Harrington was a popular undergraduate lecturer, renowned for his ironic humor, restless pacing, and disdain for the use of notes. It was as a premier mentor of graduate students, however, that Harrington made his greatest mark in the field of diplomatic history. Founding Father of the so-called “Wisconsin School of Diplomatic History,” his students and admirers remain a strong influence in that field at major universities like Cornell, Chicago, Berkeley, NYU, Rutgers and Wisconsin. They share his emphasis on economic factors in historical causation, his conviction that domestic and foreign policy were inseparably linked, and his skepticism in assessing official explanations of State actions. Never a “court historian,” he was, in Peter Novick's words, “the only major diplomatic historian” of his generation to teach from the so-called “progressive” tradition.
Harrington began his distinguished administrative career as chairman of the History Department from 1952-1955 during one of its most illustrious periods. In a department of colorful senior professors, sometimes as contentious as they were distinguished, Harrington played the role of mediator and power-broker with consummate skill. Organizer also of the so-called “Wisconsin Phalanx” (or “Big Red Machine”), he made that awesome placement operation the bane of other history departments whose Ph.D.'s sought to compete with that “machine” for the scarce jobs of the day.
In the university at large, he worked to make the resources of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation accessible to scholars in the social sciences and the humanities. His vigorous efforts helped win him appointment as Special Assistant to UW President E.B. Fred, 1956-1958, and as Vice President for Academic Affairs during the presidency of Conrad Elvehjem, 1958-1962--efforts he was to continue even after he succeeded to the presidency in 1962, a position he held until 1970.
During his presidential term, Harrington became a national spokesman for higher education, appearing before Congressional committees and addressing gatherings of academic and business executives. Prominent in the American Council of Education, he chaired its Commission on Academic Affairs (1962-1966), as well as its Committee on Federal Legislation (1962-1965). He was also president of the National Association of Land-Grant Colleges (1968-1969).
Harrington's eight-year tenure as University of Wisconsin President was a dynamic, exciting, expansionist era. Soaring enrollments and booming construction were obvious barometers of growth. So too was the creation of several two-year UW centers and two four-year universities at Green Bay and Parkside, as well as the effort to make UW-Milwaukee into a major center of urban studies. The international area programs, the library budget, and the overall research function of the university also greatly expanded in that Harrington epoch.
Those eight years, however, also brought unparalleled turmoil to the university. It manifested itself in the student anti-Vietnam War movement and in the political backlash against that dissent. In recent years, Harrington was sometimes critical of his role during those turbulent times. Too harsh on himself, he had sought to maintain both dignity and principle in a nearly impossible situation, caught between dissidents who regarded the university as part of the military-industrial complex and hostile legislators who saw it as a bastion of radicalism. His presidency was essentially a victim of that contradiction.
Harrington was both a great man and a good man. He was a great man because he understood the realities of power, both as a scholar who studied it and as an administrator who wielded a great deal of it. He was a good man who understood that power was only as good as the purposes for which it was used; and that even power for good purposes was corrupting unless it was also publicly accountable. Such concerns were evident in the 1970's during his work for the Ford Foundation in India and his promotion of democracy in that nation he loved so dearly. They were evident in the 1980's and 1990's when he continued to defend the cause of radical, historical scholarship, even in a political era when such radicalism was increasingly denigrated by others. And they were evident in his life-long concern about the potential abuse of presidential war powers.
In recent years, Harrington had been beset by his own health problems and by the deaths of his only son, Harvey, and his beloved wife, Nancy. Buoyed by his four remarkable daughters, however, he remained active in departmental and university affairs, both in the Emeritus teaching program for freshmen and in the Harvey Goldberg Center for the Study of Contemporary History. Re-energized in his own writing, he also became active once more as a public lecturer. Having spoken in Madison about the Sterling Hall bombing of 1970, he was due to address the 25th commemoration of the Kent State killings when death ended the remarkable work of one of the intellectual and educational giants of our time.
Thomas McCormick, Chair