Historical Perspective

History of the Board of Trustees

By Charles E. Harrell
Secretary of the Board, 1967–1981

The Board of Trustees was created by the General Assembly at the same time as the Indiana Seminary, predecessor to Indiana University. The statute that established the Indiana Seminary named six trustees, four of whom were from Monroe County and two from Orange County. Provision for four additional trustees was made by the General Assembly in December, 1821, and for three more in January, 1826. Accurate information is not available on the length of term of service for the trustees between 1820 and 1828; that is for the so-called "Seminary Period."

The record is clear, however, as to the duties of the first trustees, since the act of January 20, 1820, directed that four of those appointed meet in the town of Bloomington to organize as a Board of Trustees and begin the performance of the duties imposed by the legislature as follows.

They were to repair to the reserved township (Perry Township), and select an "eligible and convenient site for the State Seminary."

They were authorized to appoint an agent who should lay off and sell not to exceed one section of the reserved township and, with the proceeds, they were to erect a seminary building and a "suitable and commodious house for the professor."

They were directed (Sec. 6) to report to the next legislature a true statement of their proceedings, including the amount derived from the sale and the plan of the buildings by them erected, or proposed to be erected. 1

The choice of a site for the seminary was postponed until July, when five members were present. In the spring of 1824, though buildings were not yet complete, the seminary was opened, students were enrolled, and instruction was begun and continued until 1828, when the institution was reorganized by the legislature as a college. 2

Indiana Seminary Becomes Indiana College

The General Assembly, on January 24, 1828, changed the designation of the institution from the Indiana Seminary to Indiana College:

"There shall be, and hereby is created and established, adjacent to the town of Bloomington, in the county of Monroe, for the education of the youth in the American, learned, and foreign languages, the useful arts, sciences, and literature, to be known by the name and style of the Indiana College . . ." 3

At the same time, the General Assembly appointed a 15-member Board of Trustees, which by the act was directed to elect one of their number as president and to appoint a secretary and treasurer. The trustees were authorized to fill all vacancies which might happen in their own body, to receive gifts, bequests, etc., and to receive rents and apply proceeds to the support of the college. The act provided for the preparation of a college seal. The board was authorized to make responsible rules, with reasonable penalties for the governance of the college. They were directed to appoint a president of the college and such professors, tutors, instructors, and other officers as they might judge necessary. They were directed to fix salaries, responsibilities, and tenure of faculty and officers, and to designate the course of instruction in the college. They also were given the authority to remove any member of the trustees or any officer of the college for adequate cause.

No minutes of the Board of Trustees for the period 1828–1838 are available (Office of University Archives and Records Management), but the ten years were marked with strife within and without the institution, and it is somewhat surprising that Governor Noble, in his message to the legislature in 1837, after praising the thoroughness of instruction in the college, recommended the establishment of a state university. In 1838, the General Assembly did establish Indiana University by an act providing as follows:

"There shall be, and hereby is created and established a university adjacent to the town of Bloomington, in the county of Monroe, for the education of youth in the American, learned and foreign languages, the useful arts, sciences (including law and medicine) and literature, to be known by the name and style of the "Indiana University," and to be governed and regulated as hereinafter directed." 4

The General Assembly determined that there should be appointed a Board of Trustees for Indiana University, consisting of 21 persons, in addition to the governor, who was to be an ex officio vice president of the board. Provisions for the organization of the board and powers granted to and the duties imposed upon it were essentially the same as for Indiana College, even including designation of the course of study.

Internal disagreements beset the board, with some centering around charges against President Wylie; and in 1841 the General Assembly, concluding that difficulties grew out of local dissensions, appointed a new Board of Trustees for Indiana University, consisting of nine members, with only one from Monroe County. This was a marked departure, since all boards prior to this one had contained a significant number of members from Monroe County.

Another change was made on March 8, 1852, when the General Assembly organized the Board of Trustees of Indiana University, defined their power and duties, provided for the election of a president and other officers, and established the number of members of the board at eleven.

On March 3, 1855, the General Assembly again reorganized the Board of Trustees and set the number this time at eight, with no two from the same county "excepting the county of Monroe, from which two may be elected." 5 Also, the terms were limited to four years and were staggered as to time of expiration. These were innovations, as was the provision that vacancies on the Board of Trustees should be filled by the State Board of Education. This reorganization was significant, since it established a relatively stable pattern of organization.

On March 3, 1891, an act was approved effecting another reorganization, ". . . not by sweeping out the old and appointing a new board, but by changes becoming operative over a period of three years" The number of trustees was left at eight. The new features of this act were the following:

"The term of service of the trustees was reduced to three years and the end of the period of service was fixed as July 1."

"Successors to the three trustees whose term of service expired in 1891 were to be elected by alumni of Indiana University at Commencement in June, 1891, one for one year, one for two years, and one for three years. As terms of service of these three alumni trustees expired, successors were to be elected by the alumni for a term of three years. Elections were to be held at the annual Commencement and vacancies occurring among alumni trustees were to be filled by the alumni." 6

The act of 1891 also provided that the period of service of the trustees appointed by the State Board of Education should be so adjusted that the term of one should expire in 1895, two in 1896, and the two others in 1897; however, because this provision was either forgotten or ignored, no term of service expired in 1892, and no one was selected by the Board of Education that year. Instead, two were appointed in 1893 and three in 1894. This pattern has continued to the present day, with no trustee appointed one year, two the succeeding year, and three the year after. Each year a trustee is elected by the alumni.

In 1931 the act of 1891 was modified to provide that "five members of the Board of Trustees shall be elected by the State Board of Education, with the approval of the Governor." 7 (Editor's note: The 1984 General Assembly eliminated the role of the Board of Education; the governor has full appointment power.) In 1975 the General Assembly amended the statutes to change the number of board members from eight to nine, and provided that the governor should appoint to the Board of Trustees a member who must be a full-time student of the university during the two-year tenure of the appointment.

Several other statutes relating to the Board of Trustees have been passed. The results of these include: All trustees shall reside within the State of Indiana, with no more than two residing in the same county. (Editor's note: The Indiana General Assembly in 1981 excluded the student trustee from counting in this limitation. In 1999, the General Assembly again changed the law, eliminating the requirements that all trustees shall reside in Indiana.) Vacancies because of death, resignation, removal from the state, or any other reason shall be filled by election by the alumni for the three trustees originally elected by the alumni, and appointment by the governor for all other trustees. Further, without a specific provision in the statutes, trustees shall serve until a successor is appointed or elected, as the case shall be.

Also, statutes define that alumni of the university who shall vote for trustees are those who hold bachelor's, master's, or doctor's degrees. Further, any 100 or more alumni may file with the university librarian, on or before the first day of May of each year, a written nomination of a trustee or trustees to be elected by the alumni at the next election. The statute provides, after the commencement following such first day of May, but not later than the first day of June, a list of all such candidates shall be mailed by said librarian to each alumnus at his address. Balloting is done by mail, or in person, in the manner provided by statute, with the election held on the secular day immediately preceding July 1, at nine o'clock in the forenoon. Those receiving the greatest number of votes serve for a term of three years, commencing on the first day of July of the current year. In the case of a tie, the librarian shall cast lots to determine who shall be trustee.

1 Myers, Burton D., Trustees and Officers of Indiana University 1820 to 1950 (Indiana University, 1951), p.39.
2 Myers, op. cit., p. 39.
3 Statutes Pertaining to Indiana University, p. 1.01.
4 Statutes, op cit., p. 1.01.
5 Myers, op. cit., p. 202.
6 Myers, op. cit., p. 336.
7 Myers, op. cit., p. 336.

History of the Gavel

Following is a summarized version of the presentation by Judge Ora L. Wildermuth to the Board of Trustees, of the gavel which has been used since 1951. The full account appears in the minutes for June 15, 1951.

"Judge Ora L. Wildermuth asked to have a few minutes to speak on a thing or two, mentioned a stick of wood which he stole from behind the Union Building—something which was to have fed the everlasting flame in the Lounge. It was wild cherry, which was too good to leave for the fire.

"After carefully surveying the neighborhood and detecting no one to witness, the Judge slyly uncovered the stick and was just about to pick it up when a voice behind him inquired, 'Can't I carry that to your car for you, Judge?'—and there was the campus mailman! (Here, were interposed queries as to whether that was the reason the Judge once argued for an increase in his salary!)

"The Judge let him carry the wood, reasoning that he would then be an accessory after the fact—though it later occurred to him that Wayne Whisen probably did not know what an accessory was. Anyway, he carried the wood home with him, where it occurred to him that we did not have a gavel for the President of the Board to use—and there should be one to maintain decorum, or to tap a sleeping member over the head if his snores disturbed the Board too greatly. Moreover, the Judge was behind in his whittling.

"So he made a gavel from the stick of wood—which grew on the campus—and now wishes to present it to the Board if it will accept. He presented the gavel, which was beautifully made—also a block of wood upon which Mr. John S. Hastings may pound, since the gavel is so heavy that it would probably go right through the table! The Judge further suggested that the President might use it in meetings of the faculty, particularly to handle recalcitrant members.

"Mr. Hastings spoke, accepting the gavel, expressing the thanks and the appreciation of the Board. Minutes of this meeting should carry an appropriate account of the history of the gavel and board and the maker of the gift—put in that he stole it! Secretary to take notice of the fact that this gift is restitution for the theft. No matter when or where the Board meets, hereafter this gavel is always to be present."

Many years later, the gavel mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. In 2003, with the excellent assistance of the IU Bloomington Physical Plant, yet another piece of cherry was procured—this time in broad daylight—and was fashioned into a replica of the judge's first gavel. No matter when or where the board meets, hereafter this gavel is always to be present.