Herman B. Wells – On Coordination and Cooperation

One of the intellectual appeals of working with open-source is the continual challenge of exploring the complex aspects of what seems such a simple phenomenon — licensing software in an open-form that doesn’t require payment.

Often when I find myself in discusion with someone seeking approval for a new open-source activity, I just say, “Start anywhere you want, we’ll eventually cover all the necessary points.”

I’m about to leave for a weeklong conference in Atlanta. It is the sixth Sakai conference, the first one I’ll attend. All I know going in is that Sakai is an open-source project, so I’m hoping to get some education, just as I did at my last conference, the “2006 Summit” in Indianapolis this past October.

Perhaps the most inspiring words we heard came at the start:

On Coordination and Cooperation

It is incumbent upon the university not only to husband its own resources, but also to participate in any plan which would husband the total resources for higher education in Indiana. State and regional coordination and cooperation of effort have been much discussed by educational leaders recently, both in this state and elsewhere. The opportunity for the successful development of a program of this nature is excellent here because there has long existed the friendliest spirit among all of our institutions, both public and private. Distances are not great, and communication and transportation facilities are unexcelled. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no reason why the institutions in this state might not assume a position of national leadership in developing cooperatively a plan for higher education which would ensure the elimination of unnecessary overlappping and duplication and allow each institution to draw upon the specialized facilities of the others. More important, the successful operation of the plan would mobilize the resources for higher education, and in so doing would provide the maximum benefit for our youth and for society. In the development of such a plan, Indiana University should be ready to make any necesary adjustments in its own program, deterred neither by tradition nor by institutional pride.

Though from the context it is clear the words come from an official at a university, the ideas expressed are applicable to most institutions, both profit and non-profit.

These words also speak to many of the ideas that have helped make open-source so effective: coordination, cooperation, elimination of duplicate effort, adjustments as the process evolves. Indeed, with but a slight rewording they could be seen as but one instance of the many comments and articles on “collaboration and innovation” seen so often in recent statements about open-source.

I didn’t hear the words from the author, Herman B. Wells. They were written by him as part of his inaugural address as president of Indiana University. They were read to us by the co-chair of the conference, Bradley Wheeler, the current CIO of the University of Indiana.

What I found most impressive about those words were that they were spoken at an inauguration that took place in December 1938, almost seventy years ago, a time so far back that it is as removed from today as the inauguration was from the end of the Civil War.

Yet the words ring as true today as they did decades ago.

Moreover, they were the words of a man who lived in that part of the United States then most determined to avoid the coming war in Europe by maintaining an isolationist approach that aimed to keep the United States out of that war.

Furthermore, as Brad Wheeler remarked, Mr. Wells had his sights set even larger. He was really intent on making Indiana University not just a greater university within Indiana, but also in the United States, and even in the world at large. During the decades of his leadership he set Indiana University on the course that has resulted in its becoming one of the major research universities in the world.

These words also speak to me in that they are a reminder the world of open-source is not confined to the United States, but that open-source is itself a global phenomenon, and deserves to be viewed as such, and given the proper attention, as I hope to make clear in some forthcoming posts of this subject.

You can learn more about Mr. Wells from his autobiography, Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections. (The cited text can be found on page 135.). See also
Remarks from Wells Library Naming Ceremony and A presidential legacy.



  1. V.E.G.
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:14 | Permalink | Reply

    Herman B Wells is a large, affable man. His ancestors came from Boston Brahmins. Wells is one of a kind and he is the best president of the Indiana University.

  2. V.E.G.
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:15 | Permalink | Reply

    Herman B. Wells never married and he died quietly in his sleep.

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