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Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

From The Department of Modern Languages: A Bicentennial History 1804-2004

This good news/bad news item comes from the 1915 Bulletin, p. 94:

Departments Filled to Capacity This Year

German, Spanish, and French Show Increase Science Courses are Crowded with Students

Unannounced, the flood of new students hit the several departments of Ohio University pretty hard. It has been necessary to get several assistants since the first week of school. [...]

In the Eastern colleges there has been a decided decrease in enrollment in the German classes due largely to the pro-ally feeling that seems to prevail through the Eastern and Northeastern schools. But there is no such condition here. Never before have the German classes been so large, a total of 227 being enrolled. Likewise throughout the Middle and Western states a decided spirit of neutrality seems to exist if the attitude toward German subjects can be relied upon as a guide.

The French Department is so crowded that it was necessary to employ another instructor to handle the classes. In the Spanish class there are now enrolled 60 against the 20 students of last year. Many of the students are enrolling in this department because of the expected increase in trade relations with the South American countries. There is evident now a marked need of Americans who have a knowledge of Spanish.

In the Science Hall, the Chemistry Department was worst hit by the avalanche of students.[. . .]  When the new Science Building was erected four years ago, it was never thought that in such a short time any of the departments located there would be so overcrowded.”

Right Thoughts, Wrong Discipline: Aufwiedersehen!

In a 1913 essay titled "Some Thoughts on Education," German Professor Emil Doernenburg concludes with the following comments: "A most efficient asset of a broad culture is the knowledge of one or two of our modern languages. Not long ago we came into possession of the Philippines; we are constantly extending our commercial and political influence eastward over the Antilles into South America, and the completion of the Panama Canal is opening a new and promising field for American commercial activity. All these facts should induce our students to pay more attention to the Spanish language. Next to English, the German is the most important modern language, and young men desiring a position in great commercial establishments should know German. The same might be said of French, the language of European courts and second mother tongue of the Educated Russian. [. . .] Such knowledge [also] opens up to us vast treasures of the literature of nations.... The Americans are called the 'one language nation'. The average high-school or college student will study a foreign language for two or three years, only to drop it after that time never to take it up again. The futility of such an action is only too evident" (Bulletin, 1913, pp. 205-6).

In 1918 the German program was dropped and Professor Doernenburg resigned due to the anti-German feelings of the time. After his forced departure from Ohio University, Doernenburg taught at the University of Pennsylvania (1917-30), and La Salle College (1931- 1933). In Robert A. Ward’s “Bio-Bibliography of German- American Writers, 1670-1970” (Kraus International Publications, White Plains, NY) Doernenburg is listed as an Essayist  and Poet, with several publications to his credit. Unfortunately, this is not the last time that the department would lose an excellent faculty member due to external exigiencies. One need only consider the loss of so many promising young language faculty during the 1970’s budget and enrollment crisis.

All in the Family

This same Professor Doernenburg (1911-1917) was earlier the victim of a vicious, not to say paranoid, attack by his colleague, Peter A. Claassen (department chair, 1907-1912). In a series of apparently orchestrated supporting letters and trumped up charges, Claassen approached the trustees in the hope of having Doernenburg released. Among other claims, Claassen and his supporters accused Doernenburg of theft, not repaying loans, adultery and general crude and lewd behavior, in addition to being an utter failure as a teacher. Claassen also referred to his French colleague, Lillian Robinson, as incompetent, and complained about another teacher "who for three years has been trying to undermine my position." However, Claassen seriously damaged his case, first by going over the head of President Ellis to the trustees, and then by insulting both the president and the trustees in a letter to the governor of Ohio. Claassen's campaign ended when his offer of resignation on August 29, 1912 was quickly accepted by President Ellis ("I hasten to acknowledge receipt of your communication. . .": Sept. 3). Ellis had nothing but praise for Doernenburg, whom he called "a very fine young man." Ellis may have been influenced in part by a letter from George Curme, the renowned Germanist and English Grammarian, offering strong support for Doernenburg (Aug. 19, 1912).