|The Paula Gordon Show|
|An American's Century|
Greatness is rare. When encountered, it is irresistible. Herman B Wells was a great man. Those privileged to know him -- and everyone who ever met Herman Wells claimed to know him -- saw the greatness in him, in spite of his genuine humility. Everything was personal to Herman Wells. He remembered people's names. He asked about the family. He stood in striking contrast to our everyday experience of hype, exaggeration, sell and spin.
Dr. Wells' life spanned the Twentieth Century (1902-2000) but he was better than his time. The world tore itself apart while Dr. Wells put his prodigious energy to maximizing what was available. As President, then Chancellor of Indiana University, he expected the best and people worked very hard to give theirs to him. He chose education as his vehicle, or perhaps education chose him. With first hand experience of the Great Depression (he then worked to strengthen financial institutions), he credited much of the good done in the Roosevelt era (of which he was a part) to student idealism -- 1920's style (which he never lost).
Herman B Wells loved Indiana but was not constrained by it. The world was his home. He shared with Wendell Wilke -- another Hoosier -- the ideal of "One World" half a century before "village" grew from local to global. He loved Jamestown (the tiny farming community where he was born, raised and to whose earth he has now returned) and Bloomington (home of his beloved Indiana University), but pledged his allegiance to a grander vision that included all the earth's people and the earth itself. (It was widely rumored that Dr. Wells threatened to chain himself to the ancient trees that grace the Bloomington campus should they need defending from thoughtless administrators‚ building plans.)
Herman Wells lived his greatness. He welcomed academics from wartorn Europe to small-town Bloomington, integrated the University over a lunchhour by taking an African-American colleague swimming, championed academic freedom by assuring that Alfred Kinsey could do his ground breaking work, defended tenure while creating TIAA/CREF to assure teachers a secure retirement. He acted on his certainty that a university is not a business -- it must spend money, not make it -- with state supported institutions bearing a special obligation to do their work in public.
Herman Wells made Indiana better than it knew it could be, giving countless generations of students, faculty, administrators, staff, friends and acquaintances great and small the space in which to grow. With a clarity of vision and singleness of purpose, he created an global educational institution from the modest state university it was when he reluctantly became President in 1937. "Find people better than you are, then get out of their way," was his credo. He was still active as IU's Chancellor when he died more than 60 years later.
Herman B Wells. A Great Human, who will be greatly missed.
Chancellor Herman B Wells assures Paula Gordon that people in a self-governing society have an instinctive appreciation for the importance of education. He shares his concern that, even so, there is currently a reluctance to pay for this necessity.
Confident of life‚s cyclical nature, Dr. Wells declares that the only certainty is change. He describes the changes in education during his lifetime -- the twentieth century -- comparing it to his father‚s earlier experiences as a teacher. Dr. Wells distinguishes between training and education, explaining what „educationš is when properly conceived. He offers his opinion of where we are upholding our standards in education, where they may be flagging. He shares his confidence that ethics permeates all fields and that the standards for education continue to rise.
Dr. Wells builds on the quote, „Learning humanizes character,š with examples. He brings his own experience to how the humanities enrich the human condition. He elaborates on the „happy positionš of people in the university whom society supports so that they may think.
Following Dr. Wells' 90th birthday in July, 1992, he graciously agreed to dedicate three afternoons to videotaped conversations with Paula. We met in Chancellor Wells' memento-rich office in Owen Hall at Indiana University, where he went to work until the last few weeks of his long life. IUâs Radio-Television Service (IURTS) videotaped these conversations. An edited version of these conversations Conversations will be available for distribution. Contact us for details. this important collaborative effort assures future generations access to this treasure-trove of Dr. Wellsâ keen observations, quick retorts and recollections that span the 20th century. Special thanks to ãThe Paula Gordon Showä executive producer, Bill Russell; Don Agostino, then Director of IURTS; Geno Brancolini, Barry Zimmerman and the other IURTS production people involved in this memorable project.
We also thank Marianne Mitchell for capturing the image on this page, Dr. Wells in a reflective momemt.
Chancellor Wells dedicated his entire life to Indiana University and the people of Indiana. I.U. was also the avenue by which Dr. Wells entered the lives of tens of thousands of people worldwide and the platform from which he exercised leadership in a remarkable array of educational and charitable institutions and organizations, foundations and businesses, around the world.