Recent events relating to the relationship between NDSU and the state’s Board of Higher Education have thrown a spotlight on earlier turbulent events in the school’s history. The ‘Purge of ‘37’ has been revisited the most often, a time when the school, then called the North Dakota Agricultural College, lost its accreditation, and the accreditation of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks was also threatened. During the infamous purge, Governor William Langer unjustly fired seven popular faculty members.
The 1937 events were the climax of years of in-fighting between the state’s political leaders and the school. When the Non-Partisan League rose to power, they began filling many state positions with like-minded League members, including the state’s Board of Administration, now called the Board of Higher Education. That board attempted to control the funding and the administrators of the Agricultural College.
The president of the college, John Shepperd, was forced to resign in 1937 due to differences with the Board, and in July of that year came the purge, when Governor Langer fired the seven senior staff members.
The Board, of course, immediately approved the firings. Students, however, were quick to protest, saying the Governor had no just cause. Langer had accused the faculty members of mishandling federal funds at the school, which at the time amounted to over 1 million dollars.
College and faculty members across the country were outraged by the purge and the clear political motives behind it. The North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools launched an investigation into the matter, and voted on April 7th, 1938, to remove the school’s accreditation. This meant that students would have trouble gaining admission to graduate schools, finding work, or transferring to other institutions. The association also voted to launch an investigation into the University of North Dakota to determine whether or not to remove its accreditation as well. On this date in 1938, classes at the Agricultural College were cancelled and students launched a series of protests, parades, and vigils to campaign against the Board of Administration’s actions. Eventually, months later, thanks in part to student action, much of the damage was un-done, a popular new president was secured, and the school regained accreditation.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 66. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Friday (Evening ed.), April 8, 1938; pp. 1, 12.