first of only two presidents to be appointed from the teaching faculty,
John Price Durbin John was one of DePauw's most popular teachers
and administrators. He was born in southeastern Indiana and attended
Brookville College but did not graduate. Later he went back as first
professor and then president of that institution before moving on
to become president of Moore's Hill College - now the University
of Evansville. After further study in Europe he was invited to join
Indiana Asbury in 1882 as professor of Hebrew and adjunct professor
of Latin. The largely self-taught John showed his versatility, however,
by instead accepting the chair of applied mathematics and astronomy.
In addition he was briefly director of the department of music and
conductor of the college chorus. His wife Orra John taught piano
and voice from 1883 to 1890, making them the first married couple
on the university faculty.
John was the favored candidate of the student body for the presidency
when Alexander Martin resigned
in 1889, as evidenced by a petition to the trustees signed by 800
undergraduates. When the news reached Greencastle of his election
to that post on December 12, the college bell was rung for three
hours and a holiday from classes declared. A large throng went to
the Vandalia railroad station to meet the new president, the cadets
marching in full uniform with the Greencastle Brass Band. Students
pulled his carriage to East
College for speeches and general festivities in Meharry Hall.
While John played a major role in creating an elective system at
DePauw replacing the rigid classical curriculum as part of his advocacy
of the "New Education," he was less successful as an administrator
dealing with the board of trustees during a time of financial retrenchment.
In 1895, after a bungled attempt by the board to name a chancellor
in charge of financial affairs to share authority with John, the
latter submitted his resignation as president. Although there seemed
to be considerable support for the embattled president among students,
faculty, and the whole university constituency, the resignation
continued to reside in Greencastle for the remaining 21 years of
his life, earning a living as a visiting Methodist preacher and
on the traveling lecturer circuit. As a main opponent of the famed
agnostic orator Robert Ingersoll, he delivered a lecture entitled
"Did Man make God, or did God make Man?" 500 times in
three years. He was also in demand for his stereopticon-slide talks
on his travels in Alaska and the Yukon. He is chiefly remembered
at DePauw for the professorship of mathematics endowed in his name.