Sentimental Journey

Editor’s note: From 1942 to 1946 Laurence J. Ackerman was acting dean of the Law School. In this article prepared by him for THE STARR REPORT, Dean Ackerman recalls some of the crucial decisions and actions of those years which resulted in the Law School becoming part of The University of Connecticut

Accidental Success 

            When I was doing graduate work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, I took a course in Strategic Planning. It left a profound impression on me. Careful research and modeling was vital for success. The Professor failed to mention the accidental theory of success. It is the story of our law school.

            It was a cold, foggy bleak March morning when I parked my car near the Hartford railroad station. I was enroute (sic) to New York City. The drive from Storrs on Route 44A was stressful and belabored. By the time I purchased my ticket, I was in a tense and foul mood. Unlike today, the station was full of people --- mostly people employed in the insurance industry who were on their way to New York. One must remember that the insurance business flourished in Hartford in the late thirties and early forties in an unprecedented form. It was full of companies, many of which merged or withdrew from the area. The Phoenix Fire, the National Fire, the London and Lancashire, the Scottish Union, the Caledonian were all domiciled in Hartford and their memories are still enshrined in a collection of magnificent buildings.

            New York City, the great commercial center of that time, was the hub of the insurance industry before governmental regulations forced many of the industry associations to move to Washington. So it was little wonder that the station was a mob scene of insurance brethren heading for the big city.

            I became fretful. Will I find a seat on the train? It started its journey in Springfield. When it reached Hartford, it was half full.

            My destination was a meeting at the National Board of Fire Underwriters on John Street. This organization was the voice of the property insurance business at that time. I was a consultant to it, and at the time, engaged in the production of a text on fire insurance --- subsequently published under the exciting title of Risks We Face.

            The fears I had about a seat on the train intensified as I wandered through two cars and found every seat occupied. The spectre (sic) of standing throughout the two hour trip was not a joyous thought. In the third car, I spied an empty seat. I rushed to it. To my delight the other occupant was John North, the brilliant outspoken president of the Phoenix fire group. We had a pleasant visit discussing problems in the property business.

Shortly before we reached New York City, probably prompted by some inner impulse, I raised the question of the future of the Colleges of Law and Insurance. I knew that the draft had reduced and would continue to decimate their enrollment. His reply was, “Larry, it’s a headache to all the trustees.”

            I suggested that a possible solution was an affiliation with The University of Connecticut. His reaction was a passive nod of the head. One could understand this response. The University had only recently shed its aura as an agricultural institution. The School of Business Administration, of which I had become Dean, was only two years old. Storrs was a little country hamlet with little impact on the urban areas of the State. Few of its graduates had achieved leadership roles in business, government or social segments of the State. The University population was less than 1,500. But, it had a president, Albert S. Jorgensen, who had come from the state system in the mid-west. He had a vision, drive and a single-minded ambition to make The University of Connecticut a great state university. His very appearance in the legislative halls sent shivers down the backs of conservative law-makers. Some claimed he had an “edifice complex.” If he didn’t have such vaulting ambitions, the University would not have been able to handle the great student rush after the War.

            I performed my tasks in New York and returned to Storrs. The brief allusion to the law and insurance college soon disappeared from my consciousness in the excitement and pressure of organizing, directing and energizing the new School of Business Administration.

            To my utter surprise, John North called several weeks later. He said: “ A group of trustees of the Law and Insurance College would like to meet with you and President Jorgensen.” I was amazed and delighted even though I knew that he was speaking from necessity and not from choice.

            A meeting was held at the Hartford Club --- my first encounter with that delightful gathering and eating establishment. Forty-two years create a hiatus that this average soul finds difficult to bridge.  I cannot recall everyone who was present. I do recall that the group was a large one which included: Harlan Don Carlos, President of the colleges and a senior claims official of the Travelers; John North, mentioned previously; “Clint” Allen, the portly, genial president of the “little Aetna”;  Roger Davis, senior partner of the firm of Davis, Lee, Walker and Wright (presently superior court judge); Joseph Berry of Day, Berry and Howard; Charles Welles Gross, Senior partner, Gross, Hyde and Williams; Melancthon Jacobus, headmaster of Kingswood School whose family donates 39 Woodland Street to the college.

            Insurance trustees present were Vincent Coffin, vice president, Connecticut Mutual and later president, University of Hartford.; Bob Catlin, vice president, Aetna Life and Casualty; Bob Metcalf, vice president, Connecticut general; Al Spaulding, vice president, Hartford Insurance Group (the man who introduced me to the poet and lawyer Wallace Stevens, and with whom I had a delightful luncheon); D. Gordon Hunter, vice president, Phoenix Mutual; John Blackall, insurance commissioner.

            The meeting was friendly. The military draft and the war had driven colleges of law and insurance to the brink of insolvency and the only solution that seemed feasible, unless there was a rescue effort, was to close down the colleges for the duration of the war. The trustees of the colleges suggested that the University assume control of those institutions for the duration of the war and then return them to their former status after the

conflict was over. With some emotion, President Jorgensen turned down this proposal. Serious negotiating ensured (sic). If it were not for the persistence and calmness of several negotiators on both sides, the idea would have foundered. Fortunately, the faith of this small segment overcame the obstacles. The result was agreement.

            The University would manage the colleges for a five year period. If the trustees of the colleges were content with the result, the colleges would be deeded to the University. Appropriate legislation was passed. Apparently, the trustees were content and in October 1948 the colleges became a part of The University of Connecticut.

The College of Law

Let’s retrace our steps to the origin of the College of Law. It was established in 1921 and chartered by the legislature in 1925. The moving spirits were Mr. and Mrs. George Lillard. Mr. Lillard was President and served in that capacity until 1933. I never met Mr. Lillard but Mrs. Lillard visited with me at the Law School. She was charming and deeply interested in the welfare of the school. In 1933, the college became a non-profit institution. Its first president, in its new status, was William Brosmith, vice president and general counsel of the Travelers.

            During its pre-University of Connecticut days, the college had two deans. Tom Larremore served from 1933 to 1935. Then Ed Baird took over and directed the affairs of the college until 1942. The college had a history of some twenty years of service before it joined the University family.

            The first encounter with 39 Woodland Street shocked me. The place was in utter disarray. Unopened mail, books, debris were scattered all through the lobby. It was a dismal welcome. But the sun emerged when I met Bill Starr. He helped me bring order out of chaos. He was a tower of strength and continued to be my close friend, constructive critic and efficient guide during my tenure as Acting Dean. When he died, I wrote a letter to the Hartford press about his service to the School of Law and to the people who had been exposed to his brilliant mind and compassionate heart. He was an aristocrat of the mind but a democrat of the heart. His students stood in awe of his keenness in legal analysis. Many a student emerged from his classroom shaking with emotion because of his relentless, intense interrogation. Yet everyone loved him. The heroic proportions of this great teacher will probably not be replaced. Like Socrates, he taught that the realization of one’s ignorance was the beginning of one’s wisdom. I believe in my letter to the press about him, I quoted Pindar in his Isthmian Odes IV and V:                                        

          “The long toil of the brave is not quenched in darkness not hath counting the cost fretted away the zeal of their hopes.”

           “For whatsoever on hath well said goeth forth with a voice that never dieth, and thus o’er the fruitful earth and athwart the sea hath passed. The   light of noble deeds unquenchable forever.”

            About noon of the first day at 39 Woodland Street, Bill and I began a long series of phone calls to persuade students to return to the School. Apparently the rumors were rife that the School had closed its doors and there was a mad rush to enroll elsewhere. One person whom we rescued was Judge Alva Loiselle. But we lost Judge Joseph F. Dannehy who transferred to Cornell Law School. We were able to retain enough students to revive the school. Ed Baird, who had done a superb job as Dean, had gone to Yale on a special research assignment and was no longer available.

An Outstanding Faculty

           The original faculty, in my judgment, was a superb group of professionals. It was weighted heavily on the practical side. For this, one might be critical. Time was of the essence and we are fortunate to assemble the group we did, they were leaders in the profession, serious about their teaching, devoted to the School and deeply aware of the precariousness of our hold, to quote Judge Learned Hand, “on the stormy surface of life.”

            Before all is forgotten, I should mention a few members of the original faculty. Judge Saul Berman was the bankruptcy referee. He taught creditors rights. He had a gentle personality but an inherent toughness in apportioning the rights of creditors. He interpreted commercial questions affecting creditors-debtors with a sense of fairness and deep insight.

            Reinhart Gideon was the public defender. He taught criminal law. He emphasized to his students that there was no final truth in the criminal law but that truth-seeking was the highest task.

             Bill Locke was our specialist in Wills and Trusts. He was a quiet, modest person who had an encyclopedic mind and an almost universal knowledge of probate affairs.

            Thomas Molloy, a superior court judge, taught evidence. He was methodical, careful and thorough.

            Aaron Nassau was one of our stars. His field was real property. He was able to pierce the thickest verbiage in real property in the most amazing manner. He had a lucidity of mind --- simple, clear, severe, trimmed of ornament.

            Reese Harris was the emerging bright star in the Hartford legal firmament. To our regret he turned to banking. His student found his classes lively, challenging and a permanent experience.

            There were others --- Tom Archibald, Fred Dauch, Birdsey Case, Lou Nassau --- all competent and deserving of more comment than this space permits.

            One of the deep concerns of the trustees of the College of Law was that it might eventually be moved to Storrs. This topic was a source of considerable discussion. In the end, agreement was reached that the college would never be moved to Storrs.

Bar Examining Committee: More Struggles

             In the early days of the University’s supervision, we carried on the College’s tradition of admitting some students who had only two years of college or sixty credits semester credits. The bar examining committee, made up mostly of Yale and Harvard graduates, abhorred this practice of the college of Law. They resorted to a number of expedients to deter our graduates from taking the bar exam. I spent countless hours pleading the cause of students who had spent three or four years of hard study at law school only to find that they would not be certified to take the exam. It was a grueling experience for me as well as the students. It produced many sleepless nights. Even when a student had a college degree he might be denied the privilege of taking the bar exam. This was especially true of those who majored in any area which was not liberal arts. Four people finally came to our defense. They deserve special recognition. Two were members of the bar examining committee --- Judge William Boardman in Bridgeport and William Gager in Waterbury. The other two were Roger Davis and Joe Berry --- trustees of the College.

            Soon the School of Law (its new name) regained its equilibrium and the time had come for me to live a more equable existence. I urged the immediate appointment of a full-time Dean. President Jorgensen and Bill Starr urged me to assume this role. But Storrs and its many intellectual opportunities and its beautiful physical environment, coupled with a growing family, overshadowed my affection for the law school. So a search was commenced for a full-time Dean. Professor Elliot Cheatham of Columbia Law School was very helpful. He suggested Bert Hopkins. After a careful search in which we interviewed about ten candidates, Bert Hopkins was selected.*

Some Disappointments

           Two events that clouded my joy in leading the Law School deserve some comment. In 1944 when law schools were closing throughout the nation, I was approached by the Dean of the New York Law School and asked whether we would be interested in buying their library. It had several hundred thousand books, including complete sets of the English reports. I visited the library and when I heard the bargain price, I became very excited. All of my efforts were devoted to this project. President Jorgensen reluctantly agreed to the purchase. But when it reached the state authorities, they turned it down. So the collection went elsewhere. I was in a manic depressive state over this experience.

            The other incident was the proposal by a group of leaders in the insurance bar to establish an insurance law library at our school. The plans were to raise several hundred thousand dollars to fund the library. Insurance lawyers from all over our country and Canada were to send us copies of their briefs, unreported decisions, articles for the library. When they asked the University what it was prepared to do, the answer from the Administration at Storrs was, “no funds available.” So it went to Dallas, Texas.

            Despite the surrender of the Deanship, I continued to teach Law School. In the fall session, I taught insurance law and in the spring term, an estate planning seminar. One year, in my Insurance La class, I had three future presidents of the Hartford insurance companies --- Morrison Beach of the Travelers, Bob Jackson of the Phoenix Mutual, and Jack Clarke of the Hartford Life. It is interesting to note that the Ackerman tradition continues in the insurance law class where my daughter-in-law, Professor Cynthia Salten, is now the teacher.

            As I look back on those troublesome, tiring days, all of the stresses and strains seemed to have faded from my memory. Now I think about how grateful I am for the labors and joys of those years.


* Bert Earl Hopkins, Ph.B., University of Wisconsin, LL.B., Yale University, LL.M., J.S.D., Columbia University, was Dean of the School of Law from 1946 to 1966. Ed.