Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
The Process of Change: Initiative and Confrontation
President Stauffer opened the 1965 school year by declaring it the “Year of the Student.” That was the kind of challenge that student leaders welcomed as they pressed for changes, especially in social regulations and campus governance. Somehow, student initiative escalated into confrontation. It happened on campuses from Columbia to Berkeley. It was not what the president had intended.
To be sure, students had always challenged unwanted rules simply by breaking them now and then. Thus they carried the onus for the discrepancy between expectation and practice, between rules and behavior. Their alternative was to change the rules.
Examples of student-initiated change abound. However, students could not change university policy unilaterally, and so issues of regulations sparked challenges about authority and jurisdiction. Campus leaders interpreted regulations as archaic in loco parentis — the university was trying to act as an absentee parent, they said. In the spring of 1967 fully a fifth of the undergraduates subscribed to a petition that was handed to President Stauffer. Demanding “Student Power,” it read in part, “We . . . accept individual responsibility for our social conduct, and therefore desire the reconstruction of all University established social regulations.”
The president appointed a university-wide commission on Campus Life to make comprehensive recommendations but, nonetheless, the contest over responsibility became polarized. In June the board of directors drew a line on student dissent, endorsing a policy statement prepared by the president. The college must be adapted to each new era, Stauffer wrote, but it cannot be rebuilt “to suit the preferences of each student generation.” Freedom of speech must be preserved, but a student who cannot accept the college program has the “freedom” to leave. Student leaders returning that fall were rankled by the board’s assertion.
Returning professors began to review a board-sponsored application for an ROTC unit, which the administration had made during the summer. The faculty voted its disapproval of ROTC, but in January 1968 the board reapplied for it anyway. About the same time, Student Senate voted disapproval of the board’s policy statement on student rights. Then, at the end of February, the president asked the board to reconsider that policy statement, noting that the American Association of Colleges had since adopted a historic statement of student rights and freedoms that was clearer and more positive (more liberal) than the June statement. About a week later Stauffer announced that he would resign to become president of his alma mater, Juniata College. The announcement came as a surprise to his closest associates at Wittenberg.
Certainly the idea of returning to lead his alma mater was very attractive. But the move also offered relief from excruciating pressures at Wittenberg. Stauffer had instigated changes in campus life and governance, but they had led to conflicts over accountability that threatened his sense of administrative responsibility (challenges that rippled through higher education nationally). And he worried about his health. Anxiety was in the air.
A month after Stauffer resigned, Lyndon Johnson stunned the nation by leaving the presidential race. About the time of his speech there was a fatal shooting in the Student Union. Wittenberg students and “townies” were involved, and the violence led to a tense campus debate about community access to the Union. When Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down a few days later, troubled students gravitated to the chapel and filled it. Pastor Karsten offered what assurance he could. Graduation that year, in the wake of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination and perhaps in the uncertainty left by John Stauffer’s departure, was in the view of the yearbook, “more solemn than joyful.” Within six more months the race issue at Wittenberg climaxed in the CBS confrontation and walk-out.
The Process of Change: Broadening Responsibility
Confrontation did not become violent at Wittenberg. It was part of adapting the process of reconciling differences to new circumstances. Traditionally, that process had been fairly simple because the lines of authority were clear. At the outset of the Sixties, for instance, the women’s residence council proposed and Heimtraut Dietrich approved. Or not. Associate dean for women students throughout the whole period, Dietrich could seem formal, even stern if one missed the sly sense of humor that sometimes danced in her eyes and creased the corners of her mouth. She was devoted to the church, Wittenberg and “her” young women (whom she counseled to “keep both feet on the floor” during a dorm date). She believed in both traditions and regulations, but she adapted to new situations, to an increasingly professional student services staff and even to faculty involvement.
The process of resolving differences became ever more complex as Wittenberg became larger and more diverse, while at the same time it encouraged fuller participation in decision making. Involvement for those of us on the faculty meant committees. Led by a vigorous Executive Committee, we created a governance structure that gave us a voice in all aspects of campus and academic life, together with a consultative role in administration. There were committees on academic and co-curricular programs, curriculum and scheduling events; committees on personnel policy, admissions and budget, liaison with the board of directors; and committees on many aspects of student life. But there was such a thing as too much participation. By 1969, when the bulk of change was in place, faculty governance had become so complex that it was necessary to form a Committee to Study Committee Structure!
Essentially, that committee system was the structure of expanding faculty responsibility in the growing college. Every committee played some role in reconciling differences and making decisions. Facilitated by Stauffer and Pfnister, faculty involvement virtually created the modern Wittenberg. But by the same terms, any committee report could arouse debate in a faculty meeting, whether over principle or turf. Divisions were occasionally sharp, political gamesmanship sometimes compromised problem solving.
Allan Pfnister worried about that. He sensed a “terribly strong” fear of administrative initiative, a holdover from Stoughton’s style of leadership (when, for example, Prexy imposed Saturday classes over the expressed voice of his faculty). Pfnister distanced himself from that style, insisting that “the university is more than the administration.” Sometimes he even turned his back on the faculty while critical votes were tallied. More important, he cultivated broad participation in decision making, though he sometimes feared that the faculty had transferred its old suspicion of administration to its own committees. “You will always demand review,” he observed, but you must make “more room for discretionary action by elected and appointed faculty representatives.”
Student governance also became stronger and more fully articulated than it had been in the Fifties. Student Senate, the residence hall associations (men’s and women’s eventually combined), Union Board, Greek groups, honor societies — those were forums where dissent was clarified. From them issues were taken to the deans of students and to the faculty. Often the student governance meant numbing debates in Student Senate and drawn-out negotiations with the deans. Sometimes it spawned contests over jurisdiction, as between Student Senate and the residence association. In any case, responsibility for campus life was gradually redistributed so that it was shared more fully than before.
Students won voice and sometimes vote on faculty committees, for instance, and were even brought formally into the hiring process. At length, a Wittenberg Council was constituted to represent both students and faculty members, while Student Senate and the faculty each had its own respective jurisdiction. The system was clumsy, and the fact that it lasted for 12 years, 1968-1980, conveys real determination o institutionalize complementary roles for students and faculty.
There was something of a fetish for solving problems through communication. Historian Richard Ortquist recalls a long, inconclusive discussion with one student, Ingrid Sponberg ’75. Frustrated, she finally exclaimed, “we’re just not listening to one another.” “Oh we hear each other all right,” Ortquist replied, “We just disagree.” Communication alone did not solve everything. When Student Senate sponsored its weeklong “Days of Dialogue” forum in 1967, for instance, it provided a platform for the Student Power petition, which in turn became a focal point for confrontation. And CBS confronted the campus in the same troubled December of 1968 when students, faculty and board members came together for a day of exchange designated “W.I.T.T.” (We’re In This Together). However well issues might be focused through communication, disagreements eventually had to be resolved decisively.
The process of channeling dissent into communication and institutional change was tested on Parents Weekend 1969 when senior John C. Lobach was caught on a second story ledge of North Hall one night and apprehended by security officers. Taken to their car, he broke and ran. A shot meant for the boy’s legs struck him fatally in the back. Tension mounted as word of his death spread. Sophomore Dan Kurtzman ’71 conducted a 53-hour fast at Reci in order to provoke a student stand, and some 100 students joined him overnight. At this point Pfnister took a student referendum on a Senate demand for temporary disarming (most students approved some sort of arms). By autumn, after extensive study, the university had reorganized its security force, making it both stronger and more professional.
The sharpest test came about a year after Lobach’s death, when President Nixon ordered troops into Cambodia. Some students marched on Reci in protest. One of the staff exclaimed, “If they come in the door I am going out the window!”
The protest disbanded quietly, but a few days later the college exploded over the shootings at Kent State. While campuses across America were closing, Wittenberg students channeled their anger into a Parents Weekend teach-in and dialogue among themselves, their faculty and their parents. The university community had learned to process dissent in the new social context of education.
Tradition and regulations remained — they were the legacy of Wittenberg’s past and its norm. David T. Anderson ’71 made that point in his introduction to the 1971-1972 Student Handbook. Then past president of the Student Government Association, he wrote, “The mature student will then look honestly at these regulations, upholding some, and challenging others, but always doing so with the thought in mind that the concept of community cannot exist without the expectation of behavior.” Behavior and norms would be contested in the rest of the century, but with respect to campus life, Wittenberg had begun to institutionalize the very process of dissent, creating complementary roles for its students, faculty and administration.
The New Academic Program
“The heart of it all,” as we say in Ohio, was the academic program. At least it was the core concern for those of us on the faculty, and for John Stauffer when he projected a new Wittenberg. In all fairness, academic learning was primary for most students, too. Changes in campus life seemed to be driven to the fore by student initiative and protest, though, and repeatedly things threatened to get out of hand. By contrast, revision of the academic program proceeded quite deliberately with the provost’s help.
Lean and slightly austere in appearance, Pfnister became widely admired and respected, but not well known by many. He was dedicated and hardworking. His warmth and humor was best found one-on-one. His mind was a disciplined instrument, and problem solving was both his career and avocation. Adroitly shepherded by this dean, a faculty curriculum committee worked hard to fashion the integrated, comprehensive academic program that was implemented in 1966-1967.
Calendar and Curriculum
The new curriculum was framed by a calendar of three approximately equal terms. A student normally took three courses during each of them: hence the “3-3-3” calendar. Most classes were scheduled at a given hour across the week, during which a professor could vary classroom approaches without losing continuity.
By focusing attention on studies more sharply than before, the new calendar increased the intensity of learning. That was its strength, but also its disadvantage. Some professors found it unsuited to research and laboratory seminars where writing and experiments required substantial time to develop. Many students felt under constant pressure, with frequent tests and deadlines, the price of more concentrated study.
How could a new curriculum be constructed on the same axis as the calendar, with flexibility and focus? A scene from that era comes vividly to mind. Afternoon sunlight etched the half circle of tinted windows in the second floor room of Reci that once served as a chapel, then as a lecture hall where I had taught. My faculty colleagues were seated there, some lounging, some leaning forward expectantly. Margaret Ermarth, poised and willowy, her white hair coiled as neatly as her speech was precise, addressed the group as secretary of the Long Range Curriculum Study Committee. We must choose, she said, between two approaches to institutional requirements in the new curriculum. We could adopt an “integrated studies plan” in which students would be required to take specific courses designed to be a foundation for the liberal arts. Or we could opt for a “distributed studies plan” in which students would choose among courses representative of intellectual tools (writing, language, mathematics) and of conceptual areas (cultural heritage, social relations, aesthetic experience, natural environment, religious dynamic).
We chose a distributed studies curriculum. Why? The simplest answer is that it was much easier for a committee to designate a collection of courses designed by individual teachers than for it to fashion specific courses for faculty approval. An elective approach also minimized inevitable battles over academic turf. There were, however, other reasons for it.
For one thing, it responded to rapidly exploding fields of knowledge. The natural sciences were being driven by new technologies and were generating ever more specialized knowledge and methods. The humanities and social sciences were pressed to accommodate non-western heritages and new paradigms. Under the old curriculum, courses that were required of all students had dominated teaching time, sharply limiting diversity in departmental offerings. This was particularly serious for those of us who wanted to teach the specialized areas in which we had done graduate research. Now we could offer courses in our own fields by adapting them to the “distributed studies” requirements. In the process we also facilitated curriculum innovation and experimentation.
Conceptualizing requirements as blocks of related courses from which one or two were chosen also encouraged interdisciplinary approaches. It facilitated courses such as “Man and the Land” and “Man and the City,” not to mention concentrations in such areas as environmental, urban, East Asian, Russian, women’s and future studies (and a recurrent but frustrated attempt to staff black studies). In all these respects the curriculum became newly dynamic, innovative and flexible.
The distributed studies curriculum responded to students, too. Their enrollment affected what courses were offered, after all. The new curriculum gave them a wide range of courses and multiple ways to meet requirements. It enabled them to progress at their own pace and induced them to treat learning as a challenge by placing out of courses or earning credit by examination, or by risking courses on a pass-fail basis. Thus the new curriculum complemented the strong emphasis on individual choice in campus life.
Finally, the elective approach made it easier for us to respond to issues breaking in on Wittenberg: the war in Vietnam and the revolution in race relations, feminism and women’s liberation, fresh awareness of environmental degradation, mistrust of arbitrary authority and broadening participation in the decision making. Such subjects were treated in courses with a clear relevance to the contemporary world. In that measure the academic program absorbed social changes and buffered the conflicts that attended them.
Our classroom styles and teacher-student relationships also began to shift, largely as a result of educational technology, a younger faculty, and a shift in the cultural paradigms of authority and certainty.
Technology was perhaps the most visible influence on classroom styles, although now it looks antique. Who remembers the mimeograph machine that enabled us to provide handouts and, with opaque and overhead projectors, supplemented the chalkboard? Hand-held calculators worked magic in math and science. Computer technology was introduced. Vinyl records became a staple of music education and, with tape cassettes, enhanced literature in English and history. Photographic slides supplemented sound, while taped exercises facilitated language labs. Simulation games were incorporated in political science and sociology.
Technological changes probably quickened the pace in some classrooms, hough this is impossible to document. It does seem likely that students came to expect faster-paced and more visual lectures, as television became more widespread and less attached to the slower style of theatre.
The faculty became younger on the average from about 1958 to 1974 so that we more closely approached the age, and perhaps the outlook, of our students. For many of us, the graduate seminars was our model of learning. Not that all teachers ever had been wedded to formal lectures nearly as much as students expected them to be. But now many of us responded to some felt pressure — of our own or from the community one hardly knew — to introduce Socratic dialogue, group discussion and role-play into classes. So-called objective, multiple-choice tests lost favor to in-class or take-home essays. We participated in faculty development programs to enhance teaching skills, especially interactive forms of instruction. Often we asked, “how can I get my students to participate more, to be more involved in the learning process?”
Attitudes to authority and certainty in the academic program and campus life mirrored a profound shift in American culture from black and white to shades of gray.
Perhaps an illustration will help. In the fall of 2000 a veteran of the Vietnam War shared his experience with a Wittenberg history class. He tried to explain how he had volunteered for service. “You have to realize,” he said, “that I grew up in a culture you cannot know. For all of us then, there was either right or wrong, true or false, and there were authorities — including professors — who told us what was right and true. When an authority like the president said the war was right, we accepted that as true.” The students understood what the war veteran said, but few of them could think the way he had thought.
During the Sixties college students encountered a world that seemed relative, relational, even tragic and unaccountable. Increasingly their new worldview was not only an intellectual thing, a classroom thing. It was the experience of the world beyond ivy walls.
Little wonder, then, that some students were confused, or that others internalized the experience of their society in a CBS walk-out, in myriad challenges to seemingly arbitrary rules, in women’s and environmental actions, in draft counseling and anti-war protest.
Here were young people experiencing truth as shades of gray not only in the classroom but also on campus and in society. In their personal lives discovering the moral relativism of plural identities invalidated either/or, black/white ethics. Such students were not about to take a dean’s authority or an instructor’s for granted. Among them were those who would even evaluate and criticize their professors — indeed insisted on doing so. In fact, the faculty instituted a permanent course evaluation system, after years of discussion, only when a handful of Myers Hall residents organized and distributed their own rough survey in 1969.
For most of us on Wittenberg’s faculty in the Sixties, relative and relational thinking affected how we researched and taught — not so much either-or as insofar-as, William James had said. It made many of us receptive to newly assertive students, some of whom broke out of a formal teacher-student relationship (a few teachers even encouraged students to address them by first name). It was possible to be co-learners with those students, whether we explored ambiguous academic or social issues (such as the draft), and whether in our offices, in classes, or in freshmen seminars.
Conversely, change could be difficult. Some of our colleagues found the new attitudes disturbing. They welcomed inquiry, to be sure, but assertiveness perhaps unsettled images, formed no doubt in their own college years, of teachers awakening young minds to the excitement of fresh ideas. Moreover, the politicized college was as disturbing as the polarized nation. Worse, knowing friends on other campuses who were intimidated, even humiliated in their classrooms, professors could be distressed by the new student mood. “I just wished it would go away,” one recalls.
Allan Pfnister counseled his faculty colleagues to accept the new relationship. “While we as faculty have tried, I don’t think we have been as sensitive as we need to be of the needs of students as fellow scholars,” he said to his faculty colleagues, “and we had better get around to thinking in such terms.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112