Lemuel H. Murlin, 1925-1928
DePauw's Twelfth President
To replace Grose the trustees sought an experienced college administrator, preferably a DePauw alumnus, who could attend to the internal affairs of the university at a time when enrollments were burgeoning and student unrest was rising. They turned to Lemuel H. Murlin, who had earned both a B.A. and S.T.B. from DePauw and had served as president of Baker and Boston Universities. At 63, Murlin was far older than any other president of the university at the time of election to that office and admittedly in poor health.
He accepted the post on the condition that he not be called upon to undertake a financial campaign and undoubtedly looked upon it as less taxing than the presidency of Boston University, which he had just led through a period of major growth. His wife, the former Ermina Falass, was also familiar with DePauw, having earned one of the first Ph.D.s awarded by the institution and taught in the preparatory department. The Murlins did not arrive on campus until February 1925, when they moved into rented accommodations until the new presidential home - a large Georgian Revival structure on Wood Street purchased by the university - was ready for occupancy.
President Murlin set the tone for his administration by canvassing students, faculty, alumni, and others to obtain suggestions concerning the university's needs. In an attempt to strengthen the academic program he established faculty committees dealing with educational policy and the curriculum. A new statement of purpose that stood unchanged for decades was adopted. In it the university's intellectual aim was described as "to encourage the search for truth, to develop the ability to think clearly, accurately, constructively, and fearlessly on all subjects, and to express (one's) thoughts effectively." On Murlin's recommendation the faculty also voted to restrict admission to the university to those graduating in the upper two-thirds of their high school class.
One of Murlin's first steps was to deal with the athletic situation at DePauw. Dissatisfaction had been mounting with the alumni-controlled Athletic Board, which managed all intercollegiate sports, hiring and firing coaches, recruiting athletes, and handling financing. Persuading the trustees to eliminate the Athletic Board, he restored control of intercollegiate sports to a committee composed of members of the faculty and administration and named William L. Hughes to the dual position of professor of physical education and director of athletics. For the first time all athletic activities, both intercollegiate and intramural, as well as the required physical education work, came under the authority of a regular department of the university.
The growing student body, which neared 2,000 by the mid-1920s, created a demand for an expansion of the faculty. Murlin was also able to raise faculty compensation slightly, though the average full professor's salary remained below $3,500 a year. To meet the increasing financial needs of the university he attempted to raise student fees but ran into the opposition of those who argued that DePauw would become a rich man's school.
As an experienced administrator, Murlin refused to be intimidated by outside attacks on the academic freedom of the faculty. When members of the North Indiana Methodist Conference circulated reports about the alleged lack of orthodoxy in the teaching of the English Bible at DePauw, he stood firmly by the professor involved. While urging the teacher to adopt a "better pedagogical method," he asked for "the broad, tolerant spirit and open mindedness of Gamaliel and of John Wesley" in his annual report to the Methodist Annual Conferences.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishments of the short Murlin presidency lay in the administration of student affairs. DePauw students had long chafed against the university's ban on social dancing (born of the traditional Methodist view that it was immoral, along with card-playing, theatre-going and the like). Increasing numbers of students were coming from homes where dancing was permitted, and it was becoming more and more difficult to enforce the unpopular prohibition.
When President Murlin arrived at DePauw in the fall of 1925 he found overwhelming student sentiment in favor of lifting the ban but a divided faculty on this issue. Seizing upon the fact that the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church had slightly relaxed its stand on the question in 1924, Murlin initiated an experimental program. Social organizations would be permitted upon special request to include dancing as part of the entertainment at one formal party each year. Official chaperones were required, as well as written permission from parents of those who participated in such dancing.
This new policy was incorporated in the 1926 Student Handbook, along with an excerpt from the Methodist Discipline warning against the evils of dancing and similar amusements. The die was cast, and, despite vehement opposition from some church quarters, social dancing soon became a recognized part of DePauw's campus activities. It has been suggested that the venerable president was able to defy conservative Methodist opinion in this matter because at his age he had no ambition for a bishopric.
Murlin also attempted to regulate such matters as fraternity rush and hazing. The introduction of house mothers - required in sorority houses since 1919 - into fraternity houses in 1926 undoubtedly served to ameliorate the sometimes rowdy behavior of their residents. A most important innovation was the creation of Freshman Week at the beginning of the fall semester as a period of orientation for new students conducted by members of the teaching faculty.
The Murlin presidency, brief as it was, covered an eventful, transitional period in DePauw's history. In 1928 the quiet but effective administrator, after experiencing repeated bouts of illness and encountering some opposition to his policies, reluctantly submitted his resignation to the board of trustees. He later served for a time as pastor of the American Church in Berlin and died in 1935. His widow bequeathed his library to the university, together with a small endowment to support the presidential office.