Twelfth in a Series Exploring the History of Freed-Hardeman University
In the early 1920s, tensions between A.G. Freed, president, and N.B. Hardeman, vice president, continued to flare. College trustees had decided that the school curriculum should be standardized and accreditation sought, both positions Freed opposed. To further complicate matters, Arkansas Christian College in Morrilton, a predecessor of today’s Harding University, was courting Hardeman and had attempted to hire him as president.
Hardeman seriously considered the proposal and, in fact, asked to be released from his FHC contract. Two influential faculty members, L.L. Brigance and W.H. Owen, let it be known that if Hardeman left, they would also resign. Placed in a difficult position, trustees asked Hardeman to stay and agreed to his conditions for continuing. Trustees then proposed to Freed that he “take a much-needed vacation.” Instead of teaching, they wanted him to go on the road to secure funds. Freed agreed. He became a fund- raiser and when in Henderson, a consultant. For his part, Hardeman became the acting president.
Hardeman hired former student Clifford Roland, who had been a public school administrator, to teach mathematics and science and establish the school’s first science laboratories, allowing students to go beyond lectures. In addition, Bible courses became a more prominent feature in the school’s curriculum. A majority of the students voluntarily took Bible courses. As the school transitioned from Freed’s leadership to Hardeman’s acting presidency, the administrators announced, “The school is seeking to be guided in all things by ‘Reason and Revelation.’” In a Gospel Advocate article, they described their Bible teaching as “sound and free of theological fads.” “You never heard of a hobby or speculative theory originating in Henderson. . . . We are perfectly content to walk in the ‘old paths,’” they wrote.
Nevertheless, enrollment remained stagnant, never rising above 250 students. Factors beyond their control affected the school’s stability.
With the nation facing an economic depression in 1920-21, parents were unable to send their children to FHC. Freed had returned to the classroom at FHC for a five-week period to replace Hardeman while he was in Nashville preaching at the Ryman. In 1922-23, he resumed his duties as president with the school facing a debt of $43,000 and a decreased enrollment.
Hardeman pledged $10,000 of his own funds to help pay the debt, but rescinded the offer when trustees re-elected Freed president. Unwilling to cause the school to lose the $10,000, Freed offered his resignation. Freed pledged to work “to liquidate the debt.” Furthermore, he said, “The school shall have my loyal support and friendship when the Institution shall be relieved of all financial embarrassment, and you and I [Hardeman] are entirely disconnected with it.”
After more than 25 years, the partnership ended with both men cancelling their contracts with the board. They agreed not to be employed as teachers in FHC for the next two years and pledged themselves “to be its friends, lend it our moral support, and work for its interest.”
Information and quoted material are drawn from Dr. Greg Massey’s forthcoming book, “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University,” which will be published and available for purchase from the university in Spring 2020.