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FEATURE

AT PITT, IN THE QUIET BEFORE THE STORMY 1960S, THE DRAMATIC EXPANSION OF THE UNIVERSITY FORMED THE BACKDROP FOR SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION TO COME.
WHEN THE '50S MET THE '60S
WRITTEN BY LAURA SHEFLER

IN 1956 AT PITT, THERE WERE TWO VERsions of the future, two visions for what lay ahead in the years to come. Edward Litchfield, the new chancellor, touted a destiny bright and full of promise. Leaving behind its identity as a regional school--as Streetcar U--Pitt would rise to national prominence. Pitt's trustees, faculty, and administrators were "working together to provide America with another university of the first rank," boasted Litchfield in the 1956-i957 Owl yearbook.

As a growing economic superpower, the United States would need more doctors, more teachers, more scientists--more professionals of every stripe--and in its "New Era," Pitt would train them. There would be challenges in the New Era, but with vigor we would overcome them. "Problems will press in upon us in quick succession," Litchfield cautioned, "and meeting them will be the order of the day. "

But that same year, a group of Pitt students imagined--at least in jest--a different kind of future. That year, the theme of the University's annual Beaux Arts variety show was "Pitt-1984."

"We had all been reading George Orwell's book," recalls Sandra Johnston Vogel (Education '57), who codirected the production. The show, which featured presentations by many student groups, contrasted the "romanticism" of life in 1956 with "possible objectivity 28 years hence." In one vignette, for instance, the Pitt Players depicted future "objectivity" by staging scenes from Rossum's Universal Robots, the famous 1923 play about emotionless, automated workers who conquer the world. (On a lighter note, the Pitt Players represented 1956 with scenes from the William Inge play Picnic.)

Although the show had a tongue-in-cheek tone--the narrator was a chain-smoking character named Edward R. Tomorrow--the production was a sendup of anxieties that were real. For Vogel and other students, Orwell's novel about an all-controlling government resonated with current events--the threat of nuclear destruction, the strength of totalitarianism overseas, and a lingering climate of McCarthyism at home.

In those days, post-war prosperity came hand in hand with the pressures of the Cold War. And the unique mix of possibility and worry--along with the chancellor's extraordinary ambitions to transform the University--made the Litchfield years, from 1956 to 1965, one of the most dynamic decades in Pitt's history. The changes to the campus unfolded dramatically, as the University acquired the Schenley Apartments and the Schenley Hotel, which it converted to dormitories and a student union, respectively. New University buildings went up all over Oakland: Frick Fine Arts, Trees Hall, Langley Hall. The campus atmosphere shifted as Litchfield re-made academic departments and as students arrived in force from other towns, states, and countres--places much farther than a streetcar's ride away.

But eventually, campus life began to change in ways that neither Litchfield nor the Beaux Arts performers could have foreseen. Gradually, a social emphasis on group participation gave way to new kinds of individual expression. And during a period that later became famous for quiet and conformity, the experiences and concerns of Pitt students (and students across the country) laid the groundwork for revolutionary social change.

IN A SMALL CONFERENCE room at the offices of the Post-Gazette, cheerfully cluttered with dog-eared travel books, Donald Miller (Arts and Sciences '56) describes Pitt on the eve of the Litchfield era. It was a place where students were serious about the things they needed to do. "I think most of us wanted to be very adult. We were learning things that were adult. I was on scholarship, and I needed to maintain those averages," he says.

"It would be normal for us to be dressed even better than I am at the moment," notes Miller, who is wearing a coat and tie. "These trousers are rather casual," he explains, fingering the material of his tan cotton pants.

It was as a conscientious and carefully attired undergraduate that Miller, now the Post- Gazette's art and architecture critic, laid aside some of his other interests and got his start as a professional writer. "I was an arts and crafts

teacher for a Salvation Army summer camp for kids" he says, "I made enough money from that to buy an electric kiln. One day I had a call from the editors of the Owl, asking me to do a special section on the Nationality Rooms. And, virtually, turning off the kiln signaled the beginning of my writing career."

Despite his youth, Miller produced a set of essays that he still considers to be of professional quality. "I had good teachers, " he says, mentioning the English writing professors Monty Culver and the late Ed Peterson.

Peterson was a writing professor who impressed students with his commitment to the importance of what went on in his class. "His classroom and office were in the Early American Room. He had his own phone in there. Chaplain Luccock called him one day, while the session was on, and of course Ed didn't like to be interrupted. He looked and sounded a lot like Joseph Cotton--he had the same sort of voice. And he said about five times, 'Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.... Well I'm not interested!' And he slammed down the phone. He said, 'That old fool was calling to wish me a happy birthday,"' recounts Miller, laughing at Peterson's outrageousness and gruffness. "And he puffed on his cigarette and got on with the class."

HELEN MCLAIN (Education '58) also remembers Pitt professors who involved students deeply in their subject matter. One of her favorites was Ronald Amundsen (a distant relative of the Antarctic explorer). "He was immersed in English history," McLain says. "In his lectures, he never used a note. His examinations asked you to put pieces of information together. The questions would be something like, 'Pretend you're traveling from London to Glasgow in 1660. Describe what you would see and hear."'

McLain, who is now an educational administrator for the state of Pennsylvania, says, "I've always been glad that I went to Pitt. I had extremely good teachers. They took a lot of interest in you."

But what also made an indelible impression on McLain was the extensive social life at Pitt. McLain joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, and, like most students in the Greek system, she spent countless hours up to her elbows in newspaper and chicken wire, building floats for homecoming or Spring Carnival. With a chuckle, she remarks, "I always say I learned to papier- mache at Pitt."

Carol Smart Renk (Education '58), a Delta Zeta, points out that though the Greek and other campus activities were lighthearted, they had meaning. "I enjoyed the camaraderie," she emphasizes. Renk came from Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh. Arriving at Pitt, she joined a group of students far more diverse than the people with whom she had grown up. The campus organizations she joined, such as Heinz Chapel Choir and Pitt Players, gave her a sense of loyalty to other students and to the school. Sometimes, students formed bonds simply because the activities were so demanding. At Spring Carnival, for instance, in addition to building floats, students also prepared 20-minute skits that they performed again and again over the course of days. "We were amply exhausted by the end of the week," she says. "Many friendships were made that way."

Helen McLain remembers the powerful influence of the dean of women, the late Helen Pool Rush, who oversaw all of the women's organizations on campus. "Academic and social events for women were shaped by Helen Pool Rush, " McLain says, adding quickly, "in good ways, in positive ways." On the 12th floor, the floor" in the Cathedral of Learning which had a kitchen staffed by cooks, Rush taught her students the proper way to "serve"--that is, to prepare and serve tea, as well as larger meals. McLain praises Rush for giving Pitt women, most from middle- class families of modest means, the instruction they needed to feel at

home in elegant settings. Rush had an unusually strong sense of what was and was not proper, McLain says, but she often expressed it in warm and supportive ways. For instance. when McLain's

father, a faculty member at Pitt's medical school, died, Rush and her assistant dean, Savina Skewis, attended the funeral.

Yet Rush could be autocratic. As one of the officials who enforced Pitt's policy of acting in loco parentis--that is, in place of the students' parents--Rush considered herself responsible for regulating young women's moral and social actions. McLain, who participated in theater productions during the summers, says, "She didn't approve of my being in Pitt Players. Some of the kids were kind of 'maverick.' And this was something over which she did not have control. "

Where she did have control, Rush did not hesitate to impose her veto. "A couple of sororities decided to have a football game. We called it the Powder Puff Bowl," McLain says wryly. With fraternity men coaching, the sorority sisters played one game out on the Cathedral lawn. "But that had not been cleared with the dean of women's office. We were told this was not ladylike." The first Powder Puff Bowl was also the last.

McLain remembers tension on campus over some of the elaborate rituals and initiations (many of them formal, requiring white dresses) that the dean of women's office sponsored. She mentions the ceremonial coronation of the senior queen. "That was done away with during my time. There was some rebellion by the women. I guess they didn't think it was fair to honor just one person. There was a perception that it was archaic--and it was, in a way." McLain herself came out in favor of abolishing the ceremony, but today she finds it hard to remember exactly why. "At that time," she says good-naturedly, " it seemed important. But now I think, 'Why did I bother?"'

Over THE TELEPHONE from Texas, where he is now a professor at the University of Houston, Irving Rothman (Arts and Sciences '57) also expresses mixed feelings about his opposition as an undergraduate to the policies of Dean Rush. Rothman was the editor of The Pitt News, whose editorial-page writers had probably as many reservations about Rush as Rush must have had about them. "We were always fighting the rules," he recalls.

Nevertheless, Rothman remembers a real sense that, because of restrictions, women were missing out on opportunities. On deadline nights, The Pitt News staff often worked late into the morning. But many of the women staffers had to leave early. The women living in Pitt dormitories were subject to strict curfews--as early as 8:30 p.m. for freshmen on weeknights. (The men who lived in dormitories could stay out as late as they pleased. ) "We thought that was anachronistic," Rothman says.

And it wasn't only the dean of women's office that placed restrictions on women. Teresa Romanowska Lakshmanan (Library and Information Sciences '81 ) was the only female graduate student in Pitt's geography department in 1959. On one occasion, her fellow graduate students were going on a field trip outside the city, and one of her professors told her that because she was a woman, she would not be permitted to go with the male graduate students. Lakshmanan--who had come from the University of Warsaw in Poland, where men and women studied together on an egalitarian basis--expressed shock. The professor told her that in order to travel with a University group, a woman needed written permission from a dean. Lakshmanan eventually got the permission, but still felt angry and left out.

Yet many undergraduate women at Pitt simply accepted the fact that men and women received different treatment. "The idea was that we were supposed to get married. When I look back on it, what they told us was, 'There are only three avenues open to you,"' says Sandra Vogel. "You could be a teacher, or you could go into nursing, or you could get into social work. And we didn't really question it." Vogel speaks without bitterness, but adds that, because of their experiences, she and many other women of her generation welcomed the new opportunities for women that opened up in thefollowing decades. Vogel, whose daughter is a psychiatrist, says, "The mothers of the '50s supported their daughters by saying, 'You can do whatever you want. '

AT A TABLE ON HER Screened-in back porch in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill section, Esther Mishelevich Nathanson (Arts and Sciences '59) is leafing through her scrapbooks from her years at Pitt, scrapbooks full of the memorabilia of an especially active college career. She pages over ticket stubs from dances, invitations to dinners, a cloth corsage from an initiation ceremony for the sophomore honor society, Cwens. "That," she says serenely, "was Pitt before the change."

The change that Nathanson is talking about was Litchfield's opening of the student union in the converted Schenley Hotel: "The student union was the space to make us feel like we were a real college--a real university. And it was very special to have this happen when you weren't anticipating any such thing."

The union also offered students like Nathanson new and exciting opportunities to connect with a larger world. turning the page to a pale yellow Western Union notice, Nathanson explains, "You could apply to be on the board of the Student Union, and if you were accepted, they notified you by telegram. That was really classy. It was a classy operation." As a member of the board, Nathanson arranged the programming for a noontime lecture and cultural series. She brought to campus the Netherlands String Quartet, as well as Thomas Mboya, a government official from Kenya.

In her senior year, she won a Nationality Rooms Scholarship to study in France over the summer. "The woman who called me to tell me swears I was so excited I hung up on her," she recalls.

Those days at Pitt were a time of excitement on many levels--not only for students, but also for many faculty members as well.

Mike Garfunkel, professor emeritus of physics, came to Pitt in 1958, leaving a job in industry. "Litchfield had been here a few years," he remembers, "and it appeared that Pitt was on the way to great things." Litchfield and his vice chancellor for academic disciplines, Charles Peake, gave a free hand to many departments to hire new, highly qualified faculty members. In just a few years, for instance, the physics department grew from 26 professors to more than 40.

It's important to note that the first few years of the Litchfield era had a painful side for some individuals and some departments. Litchfield was determined to remake the faculty. His success in building a top-ranked philosophy department, for example, is legendary. Professors who didn't meet his standards for teaching and publishing came under pressure to leave. "But in general," Garfunkel says, "people saw a glowing future."

Seymour Drescher, professor of history, came to Pitt in 1962 to join what was known as "Sam Hays' kindergarten"--history department chairperson Hays' faculty of promising young PhDs. The intellectual changes that were going on at the time, both at Pitt and in the field of history itself, were nothing short of revolutionary. "I had a sense that there was going to be a dramatic extension of the search for and the application of knowledge," Drescher says. Historians were moving into new scholarly areas, such as social history (which looks beyond stories of "great men" to the lives of ordinary people) and the mathematical analysis of historical events. Drescher benefitted from a breakdown of boundaries between disciplines, drawing, for instance, on the work of his colleagues in the sociology department to support his growing interest in the history of slavery. And as departments expanded, he says, "you always knew that somebody new was going to be coming and teaching on a different subject. Pitt in those days was like a box of chocolates. You didn't know what you were going to get, but it usually tasted pretty good."

AS STUDENTS AT A Growing, increasingly cosmopolitan school, however, Pitt students of the early 1960s faced difficult questions that students in the '50s in many ways had not. For instance, an exchange of editorials and letters in The Pitt News in the fall of 1963 raised concerns about the University's policy of acting in loco parentis that went beyond arguments over whether particular aspects of this policy were old-fashioned.

An October 10 editorial charged that a white woman who was dating a black student from Africa had, with her parents' agreement, been pressured into transferring to another school because of the interracial relationship. Several days later, though, a letter from student government leaders appeared, assuring students that these charges were a "compilation of half truths, unjustifiable insinuations, and actual falsity."

On October 29, however, another letter appeared, this one insisting that, on the contrary, the story was true. The two students who wrote this new letter explained that the woman who had transferred was a friend of theirs. With a keen eye toward the administration's aspirations to make Pitt a "great" university, they asked, "Would this sort of thing happen at the better schools?" Although the letter did not challenge the in loco parentis system itself, the implication was that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the system was administered. And a deeper implication was that under some circumstances students had a moral responsibility to challenge the University's parental authority--an idea that would have been unthinkable even five years earlier. These challenges were to grow more common and more forceful in the years to come.

Thomas Kane (Arts and Sciences '64, '65, '68), Pitt professor of communication, remembers that even in 1963, when he transferred here from Johnstown College (later the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown) the University still discouraged students from disputing or questioning their elders. Says Kane, "I can remember asking a question in a music class, and the professor gave the answer. Then I raised another question, and he said, 'This isn't a class in argument.'

But spurred, in part, by television news reports that revealed social injustices, Kane and many of his classmates, black and white alike, soon found themselves joining the NAACP to protest racism and participating in teach-ins against the war in Vietnam. Ironically, he attributes the rising activism in part to the strict upbringing his generation received. "In many ways," he says, "it was a natural extension. Once you knew the reality, the professed values of decency that you learned in your education came into play. "

ON THE ISSUE OF WHETHER the charges about the interracial couple were true, The Pitt News wavered. "Discrimination against interracial dating couples...has been reported to this office time after time," said one editorial. Ultimately, however, the paper decided that the charges had no basis. "In fact," the paper said, rather vaguely, "we have come to the conclusion that much of [the] criticism comes from over-sensitizing to any form of unusual attention."

The exchange as a whole took place within the context of a debate in The Pitt News about racial discrimination. In 1956, when most of the activity in the civil rights movement was taking place in the South, Irving Rothman rightfully took pride that the paper had understood the significance of the movement. But for some whites in 1963, as black leaders confronted Northerners with the racism " in their own backyard, " the issues seemed less clear. In an op-ed essay, one white student begged the University's administrators to provide clear leadership against racism. On the other hand, another white essayist accused some blacks of "inviting" prejudice by dressing in a "diddly-bopper" style. The paper pondered whether the University should refuse to hold its functions at clubs that discriminated against blacks. The underlying question that the debates purported to be addressing was whether there could really be said to be any discrimination at Pitt at all.

Yet Nelson Harrison (Arts and Sciences '64, '74), who is black, never doubted that when he came to Pittsburgh he was entering what was in many ways a "hostile environment." He knew that in the Tuck Shop he was expected to keep to the one corner where the black students sat. "It was safe," he grants. "You could leave your books on the table. Everybody knew everybody, and they'd say, that's so-and-so's books." Although he remembers there being only certain tables at which he felt he could sit, Harrison found himself bemused rather than hurt by this type of restriction. "It was kind of ridiculous," he says now.

Still, he goes on to say of his college years, "I miss those days." Of the majority of white students, he remarks, "We were having more fun than they were." Harrison and his friends spent their evenings at nightclubs in the Hill District, which attracted many of the world's greatest musical acts. "I was at the Crawford Grill and the Hurricane," he says, "listening to John Coltrane and Jimmy Smith."

Harrison recalls a community of high-achieving black students who united in the face of opposition to support one another academically and socially. "In those days, there were very few blacks at Pitt. We knew we had to be exeptional." he says, "and that was no problem." A member of Omega Psi Phi, he says that the African-American fraternities had a friendly rivalry with each other but no real sense of division: "The black l Greek groups all had a common denominator in civil rights. " With the NAACP, Harrison participated in the picketing of local employers that had excluded black workers. He helped to organized the Pittsburgh contingent to the 1963 l march on Washington, where he met up with Jesse Jackson, whom he knew and had worked with through the national Omega Psi Phi organization. Yet he says, "That was my last picket line."

Harrison was beginning to develop a personal skepticism about the goals of integration--a skepticism he maintains to this day. Citing the disappearance of the many black-owned businesses in the Hill District, which were lost as a result of integration and "urban redevelopment," he says the harm to the black community since the early 1 960s has been greater than the gain. For instance, when Pittsburgh's black musicians' union, of which Harrison was a member, merged with the white union, the result was a decline in jobs for African Americans. "Almost no black musician worked for five years," he contends.

The Pitt chapter of the NAACP that Harrison joined was founded by Ralph Proctor, Jr. (Arts and Sciences '65, '79) who came to Pitt in 1961 after several years of military service. While in the military, Proctor had been a student at Lincoln University outside Philadelphia, where he had participated in the Southern civil rights movement. As a somewhat older student--"at the ripe age," as he puts it, "of 20 or 21"--he offered guidance and leadership for younger student protesters. For example, he advised a group of students who were going to the 1965 march on Selma, Alabama, on what to expect when they arrived in the South. But he himself did not go. "I had had enough," he says now. "My experiences in the South left some indelible scars. I had been beaten, thrown in jail, run out of town. And I told myself I would never, never march again."

But Proctor did march against discriminatory employers in Pittsburgh. He coordinated NAACP protests over admissions to Pitt's School of Medicine, alleging discrimination against women and people of color. He also led protest against Oakland barber shops that were reputed to be turning away African-American patrons.

Like Nelson Harrison, he found Pitt in many ways personally inhospitable. "I did not feel that the University embraced me," he says.

Yet the early- to mid- 1 960s did result in new directions for the University. For example, one champion of change for women of all races was Caryl Kline. Hired as an assistant to Litchfield in 1964, Kline who later became secretary of education for the state of Pennsylvania, engaged in long conversations with the chancellor about the capabilities of women. Says Kline, "He felt- -and I agreed with him wholeheartedly--that there needed to be something done to give women an opportunity to find real places in this economic society. And therefore I started a program which encouraged women who had had some college to come back and continue their education." At first, the program helped only women who were 30

years old or older. "And of course that was ridiculous, " Kline says, "because there were many younger women who needed help. " Eventually, Kline extended the program to these younger women. She also used her position to encourage girls who had not yet completed high school to finish and go on to college.

Long before most other schools had programs in continuing education for women, Kline was doing everything she could to enable women to complete their education. Fighting rules that said that degrees had to be completed in six years or less, Kline prevailed on deans to accept credits that the women had earned many years before. "It was a time when you sought all means of training women and giving them opportunities," she says. She helped the women.many of whom were supporting their families, to plan their finances and improve study skills. Because many women lacked the money they needed, she accepted donations for tuition and books. Kline, a prominent educational reformer who had been President Kennedy's special ambassador to Sierra Leone on the occasion of the African country's indepence in 1961, donated her own speaking fees to the fund. This money helped many women to return to higher education. "Gradually," Kline says, "we got women back."

And Ralph Proctor's experiences at Pitt in the early '60s also led to an opportunity for him in the late '60s to change the University. The philosophy professor Jerry Schneewind, with whom Proctor used to chat after class, became the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Schneewind asked Proctor to come to Pitt as an assistant dean. Among other accomplishments, Proctor contributed to the development of the University Challenge for Excellence Program (UCEP), today a strong recruitment program that provides access and scholastic development for underrepresented students and offers personalized guidance and academic support during their first terms.

Still, Proctor retains a sense that, despite the optimism many people felt in the late '60s about resolving the problems of racism, the struggles of the early '60s are still unresolved today. "We are having to relearn tolerance," he says. "We are having to relearn peace. And that's sad."

DESPITE THE Optimism with which Litchfield looked toward the future in 1956, his tenure at the University ended in crisis in 1965. Budget estimates proved direly inaccurate, and as a result of his vigorous spending, the University found itself millions of dollars in debt.

If Litchfield's vision for Pitt had something in common with the joking vision of the students who imagined a totalitarian 1984, it was that neither of these visions came true. Litchfield managed to fulfill many, though not all, of his dreams for Pitt. As he had hoped, he left the school radically different from the way he had found it--larger, stronger, with a more important place in the world. Once the financial problems had been worked out (in part through Pitt's becoming a state-related university), most of his programs continued, and the University grew in many of the ways he had planned.

As for the students' vision, the future was not more regimented, as they had pretended it would be, but rather less structured and, in many ways, more free. Yet some of those who worked for change now mourn the loss of old-fashioned social structures that, restrictive though they were, imparted a feeling of companionship and camaraderie.

The United States is no longer the blossoming economic superpower of the post-war years. We no longer imagine ourselves to have unlimited possibilities. Yet a sense of unfulfilled promise may be the late 1950s' and early 1960s' greatest legacy. Somewhere in that legacy lie the possibilities for what we might become. And, in our future, as Chancellor Litchfield might have put it, finding them will be the order of the day.


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