Vol. 1, No. 4 (2019)
In the fall of 1932, Illinois Wesleyan University, a small private Methodist university in Bloomington, Illinois, made national news when Paramount News Corporation descended on campus to produce a newsreel titled “How’s Crops, Dean?” The newsreel is a jaunty 1-minute 40-second piece about a program, established at the height of the Great Depression, that allowed students to pay for their tuition with crops.
The newsreel opens with lively music playing over text that reads “How’s Crops, Dean? Bloomington - Farm your way through college! Pigs or potatoes—they’re all tuition at Illinois Wesleyan University.” Apparently set in a bustling farmyard, crowds of students wait in line to trade their goods for tuition. A young woman presents a truck full of sheep, which a “stockbroker” (actually business manager Nate Crabtree) offers to buy at “20 cents above the market price.”
Paramount's newsreel was designed to entertain movie-going audiences: A young man trades rabbits for a course in multiplication, the stockbroker remarks that a young woman who trades fox furs for law classes will make “a foxy lawyer,” and a hopeful student sings a Bing Crosby tune as he attempts to trade canaries for music instruction. What amused audiences in 1932 may not have aged well, however. The “foxy lawyer” comment suggests gender stereotypes, and an Illinois Wesleyan student affecting an accent to portray “Isaac Rosenberg”—who trades a pig for tuition—hints at anti-Semitic humor.
While the newsreel may have entertained its 1932 audience, it does not provide many concrete details about the crops-for-tuition program, nor does it indicate the dire financial situation that prompted Illinois Wesleyan to experiment with the program.
This edition presents "How’s Crops, Dean?" in its entirety, with commentary that encourages students and researchers to explore what the film has to say about the unique attempts small universities made to survive the Great Depression. We provide background information regarding the creation of the program and newsreel, as well as the attention this program received.
With contributions by McKenzie Boes-Waddell