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John Andrew Rice (1888-1968):

Controversial Professor, Founder of Black Mountain College

John Andrew Rice, born on February 1, 1888 to John Andrew and Anna Bell (Smith) Rice, originated in Lynchburg, South Carolina.  His father had functioned as a college president (Colombia College in South Carolina), professor (Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas), and pastor.  Rice attended the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where he received his pre-college preparatory education.  From 1908 until 1911 he attended Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and received an Artium Baccalaureatus degree.  Rice earned another A.B. (First Class in the Final Honour of School Jurisprudence) in 1914 from Oxford University, where he held the distinction of Rhodes Scholar, after which he conducted graduate work in the classics at the University of Chicago from 1916 through 1918.  In 1914 he married Nell Aydelotte, with whom he had two children: Frank and Mary.  He taught at the Webb School from 1914 until 1916.  Additionally, Rice became a fellow for the University of Chicago in 1917 and fellow-elect in 1918, after which he worked in Washington, D.C. for the War Department, Military Intelligence Division, Department of Codes and Ciphers until 1919.  The University of Nebraska appointed Rice as an associate professor of classics from 1919 to 1926, and then as the chairman of the department in 1926 until 1928.  He taught classics at the New Jersey College for Women of Rutgers University beginning in 1927.  Owing to a faculty controversy, however, Rice left Rutgers in 1930.  Additionally, Rice served as a Guggenheim fellow for research in Europe (1929 to 1930), the chairman for the League for Progressive Democracy (1937), a member of the American Association of University Professors, American Association of Rhodes Scholars, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and as a recognized authority on the writings of Dean Swift.  He also submitted a story to Harpers Magazine, published in two parts in 1938, entitled “Grandmother Smith’s Plantation,” which received some criticism regarding factual inaccuracies from a relative of one of the article’s characters.[1] 

Rice arrived at Rollins College in 1930 to assume a professorship in the classics department, as a tenured instructor of Greek and Latin. While teaching at Rollins, however, Rice received notoriety from the series of events eventually labeled the “Rice Affair.”  A proponent of radical teaching methodologies, Rice elicited both strong negative and positive reactions from the faculty and students.  John Tiedtke described him as “very bright and a highly entertaining conversationalist. He was able to present his points of view, even when he was wrong in a way that was very convincing” but remarked that he had the habit of “making controversial statements in order to disturb people.”[2]  Whereas some students and at least eight professors respected Rice highly, some felt Rice was a “dangerous influence”[3] on the minds of impressionable college students.  According to sworn affidavits against Rice, the maverick professor rarely taught Greek or Latin during his classes, instead holding discussions on “sex, religion, [and] unconventional living.”[4]  Rice frequently made comments against school institutions, such as fraternities and the church, shocked young women with his socially unacceptable dress, and often demonstrated explicit hostility towards conventional opinions and those who held them.[5]  Pressured into taking action against Rice, President Holt dismissed Rice after two years at Rollins.  Despite the complaints against Rice, his release resulted in opposition from the faculty (some of whom resigned in protest), who criticized Holt’s casual removal of a tenured professor.  The controversy prompted a review of college tenure policies by the American Association of Colleges.  Rice, accompanied by several former Rollins professors and students, moved to Asheville, North Carolina and founded Black Mountain College in 1933.  The college Rice founded closed after only twenty-seven years, but became renowned for providing innovative, experimental education.  Additionally, Rice continued to publish short stories in magazines such as Collier’s Weekly and The New Yorker, also authoring several books: I Came Out of the Eighteenth Century (1942) and Local Color (1955).

- Angelica Garcia

[1] For more information on factual errors, see “Protest” by William H. Smith, in Harper’s Magazine (April 1939), 574.  For a copy of the story, see “Grandmother Smith’s Plantation,” Harper’s Magazine (November, December 1938).
[2] John Tiedtke, “My Personal Impression of the Rice Affair at Rollins College,” memorandum for the archives, (1977), 1.
[3] Marian H. Wilcox, Letter to Hamilton Holt, 1932; Audrey L. Packham, sworn statement, 1933.
[4] Rollins College versus The American Association of University Professors “Part II: The Grounds for Dismissal, An Analysis of the Evidence” Rollins College Bulletin 2: no. 29 (December 1933).
[5] Witness testimony, “Grounds for Dismissal: The Case of ‘Mr. A, ’” 14-15.
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