Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Rexford Guy Tugwell
Rexford Guy Tugwell "Fundamental changes of attitude, new disciplines, revised legal structures, unaccustomed limitations on activity, are all necessary if we are to plan. This amounts, in fact, to the abandonment, finally, of laissez-faire."

Rexford Guy Tugwell (1891–1979)
Faculty 1920–36

An active supporter of the New Deal, Rexford Guy Tugwell was a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Brain Trust," the informal group of academics that advised FDR during his time as New York governor and at the outset of his presidency. From the 1920s Tugwell had considered the question of whether America's growing industrial system could be better coordinated to meet the public interest. In the mid-1930s, he would serve as assistant secretary and then undersecretary of agriculture, implementing some of his ideas in the form of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which controlled production by limiting the number of acres farmed. Tugwell served briefly as New York City's planning commissioner in the late 1930s, and in 1941 Roosevelt appointed him governor of Puerto Rico, a position he held until 1946. As governor Tugwell worked to improve the island's economic structure and advocated that his position be filled by popular election. After 1946 he worked primarily at the University of Chicago and at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California.

Tugwell first came to Columbia as an instructor while finishing his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. In the 1920s he worked with philosopher John C. Coss, historian Harry Carman, and others to expand and reorganize the new course in Contemporary Civilization—at the time, J. W. Smit has written, "a comprehensive introduction to a social scientific and historical analysis of what they called the 'insistent problems of the present world.'" Of that class, for which he served as an instructor, Tugwell said, "We proposed not to approach economic questions as though all undergraduates were embryonic economists, or political ones as though they were future government experts, but rather to assume that they were responsible members of society who would be expected to act as citizens should in a democracy." It was at Columbia that fellow professor Raymond Moley introduced Tugwell to then-Governor Roosevelt. Tugwell's 1968 account of their work with Roosevelt, The Brains Trust, won the Bancroft Prize; he remembers his time at Columbia in a posthumously published memoir, To the Lesser Heights of Morningside (1982).

Read more about Tugwell in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

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