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Friends of the University of Nevada records

Identifier: AC 0022
This collection, donated by Helen Wittenberg, primarily documents the Stout-Richardson controversy, and includes copies of the Wittenberg papers, audio-tapes and transcripts of the hearing held May 25-27, 1953, copies of legal documents, and correspondence generated and collected by the Friends. After the Richardson case was settled, Wittenberg followed further university developments, and these are documented in the scrapbooks maintained throughout Stout's tenure, 1952-1957. In addition, there is a limited amount of material on routine university matters in education, nursing, agriculture, engineering, and other colleges, departments and agencies during this time.


  • 1952-1957



Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


4 Cubic Feet


This collection primarily documents the Minard W Stout-Frank T. Richardson controversy, and includes correspondence, transcripts, and scrapbooks on the legal proceedings and the Friends involvement. Included is a recount of the history leading up to the Richardson hearing written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. The scrapbooks also contain information on other issues concerning the university during the tenure of university president, Minard Stout, from 1952-1957.

Historical Note

The Friends of the University of Nevada, with Helen Wittenberg, Secretary, was a group of alumni and citizens concerned with the suspension of Frank T. Richardson, a faculty member and president of the local AAUP, by university president Minard W. Stout, for distributing an article critical of education professors and supporting higher academic standards. It became a nationally known case on academic freedom with Richardson's dismissal. Though finally settled in Richardson's favor, the group continued to follow campus developments. With other university controversies, a special investigating committee was appointed by the state. Headed by Dean E. McHenry, a report was issued critical of Stout and the Board of Regents and recommending enlargement of the Board. By the end of 1957, the enlarged board determined the University internal problems could not be ended until Stout's removal, and he was asked to leave.

Minard W. Stout became president of the University of Nevada in 1952, two years after an admissions policy had been enacted to raise entrance requirements. His conviction was that all graduates of high schools be given an opportunity to do university work. He appointed a committee to re-examine the policy, and without consulting the entire faculty, received approval for a new and lower admissions standard. At the same time, Dr. Frank T. Richardson, biology department chairman and president of the local AAUP, distributed reprints of an article, "Aimlessness in Education," by Professor Arthur E. Bestor, Jr., an historian at the University of Illinois, which was critical of professors of education and supported higher academic standards. Richardson sent copies of the article to several colleagues on campus, and President Stout also received a copy, and criticized Richardson for distributing it. He also deactivated the Academic Council, and curtailed work of other faculty committees. In an address to the general faculty, Stout urged that the question of faculty participation not be considered then since the Nevada legislature was meeting on the University budget, and that he was aware of a minority group on campus that was trying to damage the University before the legislature. The legislature, aware of problems at the University, established a commission to investigate. Confirming dissent on the campus by a small, minority group, it also confirmed that most faculty supported the president's policies. Stout and the regents construed this to mean that they could eliminate the minority group, and proceeded to send letters of dismissal to Richardson and Thomas M. Little, assistant professor of biology and vice-president t of the local chapter of the AAUP. Dismissal letters were also sent to Robert M. Gorrell, Robert A. Hume, and Charlton G. Laird, all members of the English department. Each man had tenure, and asked the president for details about the charges pending against them, which Stout, after consulting with the attorney general, declined to answer. As a result, the professors retained counsel and filed a petition before the Nevada supreme court. Stout and the English professors soon settled their differences, and a short time later, Little, opposing Stout's position through he machinery of the AAUP, had his letter rescinded. But the charge against Richardson remained, and in May 1953, the regents held their hearing on the Richardson case. After 3 days of testimony, and a week and a half later, the regents voted to terminate his contact stating that Richardson had been insubordinate and uncooperative.

Rather than putting an end to dissension though, a series of embarrassing events followed. While Richardson's attorney carried the dismissal to the Nevada supreme court, Richardson was awarded a prestigious grant from Yale University to study ornithology in Hawaii. Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Nevada's most successful novelist and the son of a former University president, resigned his position in the English department with a stinging letter. Then Thomas Little resigned, accusing Stout of treating faculty members unjustly and curtailing freedom of speech. With Little's resignation, the Atomic Energy Commission canceled a biological research project that Little was to conduct.

On April 20, 1954, the court ruled in favor of Richardson, and ordered his reinstatement. He returned to the University, but finding himself a controversial figure, left shortly thereafter for the University of Washington. The next conflict involved the right of the board to sell University-owned land. The administration had decided to trade the 208 acre experimental farm off South Virginia Road for the Gilbert-Flick farm east of Sparks which was larger but not as fertile, so the University was to obtain a $95,000 cash settlement. Criticized in the press, it became a political issue, and Nevada Governor Charles H. Russell stopped the trade, insisting the regents sell the one farm before buying the other. A year later, when the sale was completed, the university realized $80,000 more than it would have under the original trade agreement.

The 1955 legislature, moved to action by the increasing tension on campus, authorized an investigation by out-of-state investigators. At the same time, an investigation was conducted by the national AAUP. Before the end of the following year, the national AAUP had censured the regents and the Stout administration, and the special investigating committee had produced its report. The investigation committee, headed by Dr. Dean E. McHenry, gave Stout credit for a number of accomplishments, including faculty salaries, legislative appropriateness, and new colleges of education, business administration and nursing. But the main findings went against Stout and the policies of the regents, finding that there should have been more democracy in an institution of higher learning, and that some actions had been unwise. Among these were unusually high salary raised for faculty members who favored Stout, administrative proliferations, and providing Stout a costly new home. A key suggestion was that the Board of Regents should be enlarged to nine members and that most of the members should be appointed by the governor, and the McHenry recommendations provided a basis for action in the 1957 legislature. The boards' membership was increased to nine and by the end of the year the enlarged board determined the University internal problems could not be ended until Stout's removal and he was asked to leave.

According to James Hulse, in his The University of Nevada, a Centennial History, Richardson's supporters saw it as part of a larger struggle to preserve academic freedom, while Stout's supporters viewed it as a test of whether a university administration could carry out internal reforms.

During the controversy, a group of faculty and community citizens formed "Friends of the University" which continued after the Stout-Richardson controversy. The group produced what was known as the "Wittenberg papers" concerning the dismissal proceedings against the five members of the faculty, and continued against Frank Richardson. It was attributed to Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and recounted the history leading up to the hearing. The group continued to monitor Stout's administration through his tenure on the campus, and the secretary, Helen Wittenberg kept the records and correspondence.

The Friends of the University of Nevada, was a group of alumni and concerned citizens. Helen Wittenberg, active in local affairs, served as secretary to the Friends and was married to Ralph Wittenberg, an attorney representing Frank Richardson. Also active in the Friends were Etta and Samuel G. Houghton.


Arranged in chronological order.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Helen Wittenberg circa 1968.


For additional information concerning the president of Minard Stout:
  • Glass, Mary Ellen. Nevada's Turbulent '50s: Decade of Political and Economic Change. University of Nevada Press, 1981.
  • Hulse, James W. The University of Nevada: A Centennial History. University of Nevada Press, 1974.
A Guide to the Records of the Friends of the University of Nevada
Betty Glass
August 2008
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. University Archives Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno NV 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)