The University Record, April 5, 1993

Award special because it comes from students, Fine says

By Mary Jo Frank

“The best teaching, the teaching that has the greatest effect on students not just for the moment but in the long run, is by dedicated researchers who take their classroom responsibilities seriously and know how to convey information and the results of research and to stimulate critical thinking.”

History Prof. Sidney Fine, winner of the Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching, March 29, 1993

Research keeps professors alive in their field, and ideally should add a zest and freshness to their teaching, Sidney Fine told his “class” of more than 1,000 who gathered at Rackham Auditorium March 29 to honor Fine and hear his symbolic “last lecture” given as part of the Golden Apple Award ceremony.

Teaching should stimulate research, leading professors to investigate problems that will enhance their classroom role, Fine added.

A popular and respected teacher among students and alumni, Fine has won numerous University honors during his 45 years here, including the Henry Russel Lectureship, the highest honor the University can confer upon a member of the faculty.

Of the Golden Apple honor, which was based on student balloting, Fine said, “It means a great deal to me that this award comes from the students themselves.”

The Michigan Senate passed a “Resolution of Tribute to Sidney Fine” March 23; a plaque containing a copy of the resolution was presented at the ceremony. A tribute to Fine also was inserted in the March 23 Congressional Record by Rep. William Ford, D-Taylor.

In his “last lecture,” titled “Reflections on 20th-Century American History: Personalities and Policies,” Fine shared his thoughts about the role of the professor in a research university. He also talked about Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, a U-M graduate.

3 roles of Woodrow Wilson

Fine examined Wilson’s contributions as an educator, a U.S. president promoting domestic reform and a world leader in promoting the idea of collective security and a League of Nations.

Having twice rejected offers to teach at the U-M, Wilson chose instead to teach at Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan and eventually Princeton, where he became president in 1902.

A superb teacher with a talent for lecturing, Wilson was an educational pioneer as college president, according to Fine. He contributed to educational diversity by appointing the first Catholic and the first Jew to the Princeton faculty, unusual for that period.

Wilson introduced the preceptorial system at Princeton, which involved the individual supervision of students and small discussion groups for the exchange of ideas—what has become a model for tutorial work and honors courses around the country.

“The big universities are moving in this direction today, with the renewed emphasis on teaching. Needless to say, for Wilson there was no incompatibility between teaching and research,” Fine noted.

Wilson, who was elected president in 1912 and served two terms, played an important role in developing the modern presidency, according to Fine.

He created the role of president as legislative leader and was the first president to set forth a program of legislation and to see it through Congress.

Wilson recognized the importance of the role of the president as the educator of public opinion, Fine said, and created the press conference as a potential way to lead the nation. He was uncomfortable with the process, however, and called off the conferences after awhile.

In his 1913–14 New Freedom legislative program, Fine said, Wilson included “key measures still with us today—the graduated income tax, the Federal Reserve System and important antitrust legislation.”

Wilson’s fight for the League of Nations made him America’s first world statesman, Fine said. Wilson recognized that some small sacrifice of sovereignty was required if internationalism were to replace the nationalism that had produced World War I and would lead to future war.

Although Wilson’s three-week speaking tour across the country to convince the American people of the need for the United States to ratify the Versailles Treaty failed, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote the peace of the world.

Second only to Lincoln: Roosevelt

Known for the New Deal and the expanded role of the federal government it brought, Roosevelt was the dominant figure in American public life in the 20th century, Fine said.

He strengthened the power of the presidency by establishing a direct relationship with the people through the press conference and particularly through his fireside chats. The first president to appoint a press secretary, Roosevelt normally held two press conferences per week—988 in all.

“No president has had a greater talent for making difficult problems understandable for the people,” noted Fine. He also had the ability to make people feel he was talking directly to them.

“A very self-confident person, he was somehow able to inspire confidence in his audience, making them feel even in the darkest days of the Depression and World War II that the nation would endure and win out,” Fine said.

Roosevelt is remembered for bringing diversity to government, appointing more Catholics, Jews, women, Blacks and Native Americans to government posts than his predecessors.

Another Roosevelt legacy, according to Fine, is the great Democratic party coalition he helped build, attracting laborers, poorer farmers, immigrant-nationality groups and Blacks.

“The Democratic coalition he forged dominated American politics for decades, and it is still recognizable when we look at the Democratic party today and the party that elected Clinton,” Fine said.

It was Roosevelt’s New Deal, the most important reform program in American history, that saved and strengthened the American brand of capitalism by reforming it, according to Fine.

Roosevelt also presided over the greatest military effort in all of American history, World War II. With his Four Freedoms speech—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear—Roosevelt sought to give the war a moral objective, Fine recalled.

Despite his passivity in dealing with the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans in World War II and his inadequate response to the Holocaust, Roose-velt is rated today by historians and students of the presidency as second only to Abraham Lincoln among American presidents, Fine concluded.

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a formidable force

Although her marital relationship with Roosevelt was never a good one after she discovered her husband was having an extramarital affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer, Eleanor Roosevelt developed a political partnership with him.

After the president contracted polio in 1921, Eleanor Roosevelt helped him maintain his political connections and became increasingly active in politics and social reform. She traveled across the country, serving as the president’s eyes and ears, and she became his conscience.

Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for many firsts as first lady: press conferences, writing columns and books, and speaking on radio. She was the first to earn money, which she gave to charity.

Since women were not included in the White House press corps in those days, she admitted only women to her press conferences, forcing the press bureaus and the newspapers to hire women and leading to the integration of the White House press corps.

Despite all the talk that Hillary Clinton is the first first lady to have drawn a specific presidential assignment, Eleanor Roosevelt actually received an official presidential appointment in 1941 as deputy director of the Office of Civilian Defense, Fine noted.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the New Deal’s ombudsman for Blacks. She also identified with the student movement of the era.

Franklin Roosevelt’s death did not end Eleanor’s influence, Fine noted. She remained a power in the Democratic party and was the key figure in drawing up the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Frank Murphy: from Law School to U.S. Supreme Court justice

Murphy, the subject of a three-volume biography by Fine, “had the most distinguished public career of any graduate of our great university,” Fine asserted.

Murphy, a “rah, rah type while an LS&A and then a Law School student,” helped raise funds to build the Michigan Union.

An indifferent law student who was required by the faculty to attend a summer session to make up a grade deficiency, Murphy is the only Law School graduate to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The former Detroit mayor and Michigan governor served one year as the nation’s attorney general. In that post, he created the present Civil Liberties Division of the Justice Department, which Fine described as “probably his most important act” as attorney general.

Murphy’s most substantive contributions as a justice came in the areas of labor law, the rights of defendants in criminal cases, civil liberties and civil rights, Fine said.

History: the bridge

Fine concluded his lecture by noting that history is the bridge that connects past with present and points the way to the future.

“It provides us with perspective on our own time and teaches us the importance of time itself as a concept. It is the only discipline that examines human experience as a whole, not just economic man, or political man, or religious man, but generically speaking, man. There is no better way to understand the complexity of life and of decision making than to study history.”