Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Luncheon for a Group of State University Presidents

August 13, 1964

I am very proud of our State universities and colleges, and all that they have come to mean in this country. In the last 100 years we have refuted the idea that higher education belongs only to what other societies have called "the higher classes."

At many of our State institutions we have achieved genuine excellence, and I think there is no better proof that what Government does, what is done with public funds, does not have to be mediocre, does not have to be massive, does not have to be content with the mean. The Government of the people can serve the best within the people, and I hope that we can in the next decade, bring all of Government up to the standards of excellence and selectivity and superiority.

One thing I would like to ask each of you to do for me and for your country today is this: I wish you would keep us advised at the White House, by writing me or by calling Mr. Dungan, of your really excellent, outstanding students who you think might be drawn into tours of public service.

We have not completed our responsibilities until we make public service something for our best young people to seek. I am afraid from what some of you may have been teaching them, and what they may have heard from some of us politicians out on the stump, they may now be seeking to avoid it.

If nobody else can persuade them to enter Government careers, I will talk to them myself, although I know they are a little harder to persuade than some other folks around here, but I do think that we should concentrate on bringing the best people that our institutions produce to the Capital of this country where they can set an example, where they can provide leadership not only for this Nation but for all the world. And I think that you might be proud of your participation if you could, during your lifetime, make a contribution of just one or two Abraham Lincolns or Oliver Wendell Holmes, or Arthur Vandenbergs or Sam Rayburns, and I hope you will be on the lookout for them and will give us a note, and we will try to see where we can fit them in.

I also have a number of regulatory agencies, have a number of high administrative posts, have a number of difficult personnel assignments, and when you find someone who is unusually objective and judicious and able and talented and dedicated that could profit from his experience here, and that we could learn from, I would like for you to drop a note to Dr. Ralph Dungan over here, who is on my staff--stand up Ralph--I think he is the best personnel officer in the United States. I don't want any of you to hire him.

In recent days I have had the pleasure of meeting here with a wide variety of Americans. I have had presidents of the leading businesses in this country, most of the large employers of the Nation. I have met with the heads of all of the international labor unions--Mr. Meany, Mr. Reuther, and all of the national officers. I have met with the school superintendents from throughout the land, and many American publishers. I have met with the publishers of the foreign language newspapers and all of these meetings have meant much to me. I think I have gained strength from them.

All Presidents want, and I think all Presidents need, to get out among the people. I can't move as freely as I would like. So I am particularly grateful that you were good enough to visit with me today in this house which, as long as I am here, will always be your house.

You gentlemen are reminders of one of the most exciting achievements of our American democracy. The idea of a college education for all young people of capacity, provided at nominal cost by their own States, is very peculiarly American. We in America invented the idea. We in America have developed it with remarkable speed. It is hard to remember that so 'many of your institutions were established within the lifetime of many people in this room. We have come a long way--we are going farther. We have just begun to move.

In 1880 James Bryce wrote about the Western swing of his visit through the United States. He came upon a State university president who was named, of all things, Johnson. Incidentally, Johnson is the second most numerous family name in America. It is not far below Smith. That is good to know--very good to know so close to November.

Well, it seems that Mr. Johnson was a very vigorous young college president when Bryce visited him, and he kept talking about how the faculty--what he was going to do and what he was contemplating doing and plans ahead and so forth, and Bryce said, "How many professors are there on your faculty?" The president said in a tone which I suspect some of you will understand, "Well, just at present the faculty is below its full strength." Bryce pressed him a little bit and he said, "How many do you really have present on your faculty?" This young fellow Johnson, like Johnsons frequently have to do, said, "Well, at present the faculty consists of Mrs. Johnson and myself."

Now, today, our State universities comprise the largest and the most productive educational system in the history of the world. Our State universities have a combined faculty of more than 140,000 people, a combined annual budget of nearly $3 billion, and they enroll about 60 percent of our college students in this country. So your institutions are the chief suppliers of intellectual talent for the strongest nation in the world.

You grant more than half of the Ph.D. degrees--those of you here. You would never think so when you walk around the White House and see where these folks come from. That is why I want to give you an opportunity to compete with them and supply some good staff members that can hold their own with the Bundys of Harvard, the Shrivers of Yale, the Goldmans of Princeton, and the Hellers of Minnesota.

You have educated more than 50 percent of all living American Nobel prize winners, and whether you are proud of it or not, you have trained 60 percent of our Senators and 44 percent of our Congressmen and 29 of our 50 Governors. You have educated the heads of AT&T and General Motors. One of them spends $16 billion a year, the president of General Motors told me the other day, the other one spends $10 billion a year as head of AT&T. You have also educated the heads of General Electric, Prudential Life, U.S. Steel, Gulf Oil, RCA, CBS, American Airlines, and five of the seven original Mercury astronauts. Your graduates discovered streptomycin and the blue baby operation.

Another aspect of your work has particularly impressed me, and that is your role in providing expert knowledge and guidance for the people of your States. There has been much loose talk about the Federal Government versus the States. They talk about it often as if we were enemies, as if we were foreign powers.

The American system is the fortunate one of federalism. James Madison called it the happy combination. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom set up both the States and the National Government.

His purpose, his intention, was for each to do what it could do best. The Government was not, as some would have it, an alien invention.

Both the Federal Government and the States have always exercised leadership in solving the problems of the Nation. They are not, they must not be, rivals for the citizens' taxes and loyalty. They are separate agencies, each with special resources, each with special capabilities, but both joined in a united attack on the enemies of our country and on our common problems.

At times one or another has not pulled its full weight. You know that as well as I do.

Early in the 20th century the Federal Government was doing far too little to protect and to advance the welfare of the general public. When we look back on really how little it was doing, we wonder how we avoided a more serious revolution.

Then you remember, under President Theodore Roosevelt who, if you will pardon the expression, was a Republican--apologies to Dr. Hannah, Dr. Flemming, and others I have seen here today--and under a series of Democratic Presidents, the Federal Government began to assume its proper responsibilities. Today we are clearly moving into another period of the history of our Federal system. I think the signs are everywhere you go. This is an era of revitalization for our States, and there is much you can do about that.

A fresh generation of energetic Governors and reactivated legislatures are on the move. They are thinking about and doing something about what they think their people need.

One statistic suggests the whole trend, I think. From 1952 to 1963, Federal expenditures have increased by one-third--1952 to 1963, up one-third, Federal.

But State and local expenditures have more than doubled.

Throughout the history of our Federal system, State universities have played a very special role. They were always there to serve as a brain reservoir for the Governor, for the legislature, and for citizens groups. If I had my one wish, I would hope that in every State capital the Governor made as much use of educators and college brainpower as the President does here.

Our Cabinet is manned by men who are or were educators. Bob McNamara, the man who buys three-fourths of everything the Federal Government buys and handles a budget of $52 billion of his own and influences greatly the budget of every department, was a former professor, as was Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State; as was Mac Bundy, the head of the Security Council; as was Walter Heller who is responsible for our lack of inflation, for our stable prices, and for our great prosperity.

No man contributes more to the work I do every day or the success of this country than Dr. Goldman, who just put on his hat when I came in here and saw I needed help-and he has been giving it to me without quarreling ever since, at great sacrifice to himself.

Your State universities are playing a very critically important role in the revitalization of these States. I hope you play more. I hope that you just shovel up your knowledge to where that Governor chokes on it and where that information is available to his administrators who need your help.

You have established groups that are thinking and studying ahead. They are asking pointed questions. I have 15 task forces that are now working. One of them is working on how can we maintain prosperity after next July--not how we are going to avoid the recessions that always come. We have gone longer than any period in history, for 42 months, without having a dip, but we know we just can't sit in a rocking chair with a Panama hat on and look out and let the rest of the world go by.

Harry Hopkins got criticized one time for saying we planned it that way. But a fellow without a plan is a man who may go off a cliff mighty easy.

Now, how is our State likely to develop economically and socially during the next 20 years or so? We have to determine that with plans. We have to do that with thinkers. We have to work on it. What old problems will continue during this period? What new ones will emerge? How can these problems be most sensibly met by State action--by States cooperating as regions, or by improving relations between Federal and State programs.

I think the best government we can have is the government that is closest to the people, that can get the job done. I never would want my county commissioner to recommend the plan for the Tonkin Gulf. I would much prefer to have some centralization of authority and have a few products from West Point sitting at my elbow before I send those planes out to destroy the nests that those PT boats are hiding in. But I wouldn't necessarily want the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff to grade the road that leads to my schoolhouse.

So I am intensely interested in these efforts of determining who can best do the job, and how. To me, this is democracy functioning in its most effective way--citizens calling their own experts from their own communities to solve their own problems.

So I have invited you men to come here today to meet in this house so that we can encourage the forward movements of such efforts. Your White House has not the slightest direct interest in directing or controlling or influencing such efforts. Your Federal Government today has no appetite for power. We have really more power than we know how to wisely use. That is what I debate about most of my waking hours.

But we do hunger for the application and the use of principle, including the real principles of federalism. We live by the belief that this Federal Government exists not to grow larger, but to encourage and permit the people to grow larger than any or all of their governments. This Federal Government exists not to subordinate the sovereign States. We exist to support them, and as long as I am here we are going to serve them and work with them and cooperate with them.

This Federal Government exists not to corrupt the character of men, but to give that character opportunity for full and for pure fulfillment. I don't have to look out at this brilliant, intellectual convocation of the States very long before I realize that you do not need us. But I do believe that we here in Washington need you very much.

All of us are Americans. All of us are free men. All of us are citizens of the state, and all of us take pride in the community in which we live. Woodrow Wilson once remarked--you can see who worked on this speech, can't you ?--President Wilson said, "Our slow world spends its time catching up with the ideas of its best minds." So you represent what we believe are our best brains. You train the majority of our best young minds. In your hands the catching up is going to be a good deal more speedy, I trust. It is you that we look forward to and expect to educate men and women who think.

If I may be pardoned for another suggestion, which I hope you won't forget, I also hope you teach them not just to think. I hope you educate them, too, to feel and to care.

I want people with compassion, and people who feel, and people who care around me, just as much as I want people who think. So maybe when you go back home without saying you got any Federal orders, I would like for you to whisper to your wife that the thing that I pointed out in my talk with you was how much it means to us to have men like you teaching our young minds to think, and how much I want you to teach them also to feel and to care. You educate the young to earn a livelihood. I hope you also educate them to care about the rights of others. I hope you educate them to care about the aspirations of others.

You educate young people to be good citizens of your States. I hope you educate them to be good citizens of their country and their world and their time.

What America is today and what it is tomorrow will rest largely upon you. The trust that you bear, and the trust that is borne here in this house, in this body, is a mutual trust that we share together, which we share to the same people. We have that obligation to the same nation, the same country, to the same cause. Our Founding Fathers in the original States recognized that trust was not divisible by 13. I hope we all realize now that it is not divisible by 50.

History teaches us many lessons about the follies and the failures of over-centralized government. In our own American history we have learned that the greatest protection against centralization of power is the diffusion of knowledge throughout the land. The diffusion of knowledge gives you protection and insurance against power. That responsibility is one that you bear well.

I believe that Federal-State relations should rest upon the faith. Dr. Ransom will pardon me if I lift a quotation from a former President of our Republic of Texas, "that an educated mind is the guardian genius of democracy. It is the only dictator that free men recognize and the only ruler that free men desire," said President Lamar of the Texas Republic.

So, gentlemen, you are men of courage and individualism and character and you know what I am saying is true; that we can work together. We must not work apart. I hope that you will carry that message to those that you lead. We can work for the same objective, not for 50 different objectives.

That is the reason I asked you to come here today. That is why you are here. You will, this afternoon, in this room, meet with the leaders of your Government in many fields. While they report to you, both they and I look to you for counsel and guidance on how we can better serve our trust, and we hope help you to better serve your trust, and to help you better meet your trust.

Yours is a great opportunity. I didn't bring you here to either stimulate you or to inspire you. Charles Lamb once said, when he finished reading a book, that he didn't like that man--speaking of the author. His old maid sister said to him, "Do you know him?" and he said, "No, if I knew him, I would like him." So much of our talent is wasted in this country because we don't know each other. So much consternation comes from our lack of understanding and our lack of realizing the other man's problem.

So I really envy you on this afternoon here in the first house of this land. I want you to go back and train some more Dr. Hornigs for me, my science adviser, some more Dr. Bundys, some more Dr. Hellers, some more Dr. Dungans, Dr. Cater over there. I jerked him out of school. Stand up here, Doug. There is Douglass Cater, a young man on my staff that I brought out of school up here.

Now you are going to hear from some men who have visited your campus before, and some other leaders in Government.

But before I leave, I want to tell you one of the great satisfactions that comes to me as President is when, with the help of some of the men in this room, particularly some of the Republicans in this room, we passed the poverty program that will permit us to help educate thousands and thousands of young men who would drop out of school except for this program.

A young working boy that had to make his own way through college has inspired the Nation and the world by his leadership in the Peace Corps, and now he is devising the first real, organized, centralized attack on poverty in this country.

Franklin Roosevelt talked of the third that were ill-clothed and ill-fed and ill-housed. That was 30 years ago. In 30 years, we have moved that one-third down to one-fifth--33 percent to 20 percent. Now we are making a determined attack, under the leadership of men like Dr. Keppel over here, and Dr. Hornig, and others that I have already named, but under the generalship of Dr. Shriver. I call him "Doctor" because I really don't know how many doctors' degrees he actually earned, but I read in the paper that he is the only man who was awarded more of them this year than the President.

Note: The President spoke in the East Room at the White House at a luncheon meeting of about 80 college and university presidents from the United States and Puerto Rico. In the course of his remarks he referred to, among others, Ralph A. Dungan, Special Assistant to the President, George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, Walter Reuther, president, United Automobile Workers, AFL-CIO, John A. Hannah, president, Michigan State University, Arthur S. Flemming, president, Oregon University, Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Walter Heller, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Eric F. Goldman, professor of history at Princeton University and Special Consultant to the President, Dr. Harry Ransom, chancellor, University of Texas, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the second President of the Republic of Texas, S. Douglass Cater, Jr., Special Assistant to the President, Francis Keppel, Commissioner of Education, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Donald Hornig, Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Sargeant Shriver, Director of the Peace Corps.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Luncheon for a Group of State University Presidents Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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