Fourth Estate


Harry Carlson – private citizen, accommodating, cordial, willing and eager to talk. A lot of years, a lot to talk about.

Boulder – a warm, sunny day in early February. The Carlson residence at 772 16trh, a picturesque home of stone, endless character, a winding sidewalk, snuggled in with an abundance of trees, Colorado foliage.

Mr. Carlson – warm, friendly, surprisingly tall and slender with sparkling blue eyes, white hair, 77 years old. Glad to see me for I am a student, and students are his life, his love.

Are you ready? I has prepared a battery of questions which spanned half a century for this man, Harry Carlson, an institution within an institution. But wait a minute. Reflections, looking back over the years are not for Harry Carlson. Not quite yet is he willing to retire into the proverbial fishing/golf retirement syndrome. He has things to accomplish. CU forges ahead in excellence. Harry Carlson has recommendations, suggestions.

Read this letter from Governor Love in response to my “Thoughts on Higher Education.” Received it just this morning.

Circa 1928 – Harry Carlson joins CU faculty, becomes baseball coach. As Director of Athletics, he sees CU become Big Seven, and with the induction of Oklahoma State, CU becomes Big Eight. From 1932-58, he is Dean of Men and serves on numerous policy making committees.

Before then – a Marine veteran of World War I. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Springfield College in Massachusetts, and a Master of Arts degree from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. In the early 1920s he played professional baseball with Springfield and New Haven of the Eastern League, and pitched one summer in batting practice for the Cincinnati Reds.

But Mr. Carlson doesn’t want to talk about any of this, his years prior to CU, or to his vitally important years with the University.

June 1965 - he retires. The Board of Regents grant him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree that August. The University designates one year to be called Harry Carlson Year.

Modest, he doesn’t want to talk about that either.

So, then what?

1966 – elected to a six-year term as CU regent.

1972 – defeated in a bid for re-election during the GOP convention.

Now he’ll talk.

Of all his years at CU, these six were the most significant to him. He struggles now with definitions, desiring an understanding of his philosophy to flow easily from his experience to me, the defeat of his bid for re-election, the classic Students for Democratic Society (SDS) vote in 1969. So I can better understand, he asks me to read his “Thoughts on Higher Education.” Now.

From his well-chosen words, his approach of honesty and clarity, I can better understand the brick wall of politics and education he so patiently tries to break down. This, higher education in 1972?

The SDS vote. Accused of voting with the Democrats at that time, he explains it as due process of law, upholding the First Amendment. He views it as a continuance of principles upon which “our vigorous and free society” is founded. Regretting little, he is adamant on this point. Not sorry for his vote to keep SDS on the Boulder campus, it took three years for the walls to come tumbling down. The U. S. Supreme Court in 1972, concurred with him and the Board’s vote. SDS was allowed to stay. Harry Carlson wasn’t.

The criticism he received recalled the early 1920s before he came to CU. Then, Catholics and Jews were overtly discriminated against. In those days, the KU Klux Klan ran rampant in state politics. They represented a deviation from the middle, from what America was supposed to be all about. This is Colorado history. Never again, says Carlson. Never again, if the deviate is a student political group or what. It doesn’t matter. Just never again.

He’s groping for definition in his approach to politics. So I can understand. He senses much responsibility. The words have to be exact.

The middle, the center, and he quotes lines from W. B. Yeats’ Second Coming: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold - the best lack conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

SDS on one hand, John Birch on the other, the center maintaining strength not relinquishing their freedom. It’s much more than maintaining “in spite of” left and right philosophies. He envisions the middle as being competent, strong, capable of more than “passionate intensity.”

One of the final things he asked of the Board of Regents was to conduct an objective study over the last six years in regard to the function and action of the regents, the problems, the influence of politics, and how to bring it all together. A study from which we can learn insight and introspection. They agreed, and this summer the study will be completed.

During the last regency meeting, he requested three wishes, all to be entered into the minutes of the board meeting: his Thoughts on Higher Education; the Supreme Court’s ruling on SDS; Stephen Romine’s Alternatives to Politicizing Higher Education.

Said and done. Regent Carlson retires into private life, now Regent Emeritus, and is involved in Colorado education as ever before. With the same freedom of expression. With the same intensity and concern.

The center, the middle, his basic thesis, recalled to my mind the concluding lines of Yeats’ poem. I asked if he was familiar with those lines: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Yes, yes, yes, you see what I mean, you can understand the things I am saying. The center, the all-important center must hold. We must generate the strength to hold the center without destroying the left, the right.

Circa 20th Century: The University of Colorado and Harry Carlson, venerable institutions.

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