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Interview of Elmer F. Baumer by Fred Roecker

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Title: Interview of Elmer F. Baumer by Fred Roecker
Creators: Baumer, Elmer F., 1923-
Contributors: Roecker, Fred
Keywords: Student retention
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: Ohio State University Archives
Series/Report no.: Ohio State University. University Archives Oral History Program. Ohio State University Oral History Project
Abstract: Dr. Baumer was a graduate of Minster High School, the eldest son in a family of seven children. His parents owned a relatively small farm, and so he decided he needed to explore career options other than farming. He decided to enroll at Ohio State where he found the large campus “a huge emotional and educational experience.” Once there he excelled academically and decided to major in Agricultural Economics. He earned two advanced degrees at Ohio State in that field, and finished his Ph.D. degree in 1951. The unexpected death of a faculty member in the Department of Agricultural Economics created an opening in that department, and Dr. Baumer was offered a position as an Assistant Professor. His ascent in the Department was rapid, and eventually he was named a Full Professor. He taught several courses in Agricultural Economics, conducted several research programs, and was very active as advisor to some 40 undergraduate students each year. He also advised four of five graduate students each year. Dr. Baumer was also making a name for himself in the wider university community. He served on several departmental, college, and university-wide committees. These included The Conference Committee of the Teaching Staff, the Faculty Council, the Athletic Council, and many search committees. His most important committee assignment came when President Fawcett named him to the University College Committee. He served for a time as the Associate Dean of the University College serving under Dean Richard H. Zimmerman. Additionally he was also asked to be a full-time Associate Dean of the Graduate School to oversee the graduate fellowship programs and the graduate programs offered by Ohio State at the Wright Patterson Air Force in Dayton. Holding two such demanding jobs was not feasible, and so he resigned as Associate Dean of University College to work full time in the Graduate School. Higher Education was in a state of flux in Ohio in the early 1960’s, and a key outcome of various discussions held around the state was the creation of the Master Plan for Higher Education. There was widespread support at this time coming from political and educational leaders, as well as the general public, for increasing the availability of college and university courses and programs. The major result of the Master Plan was the establishment of the Ohio Board of Regents in 1963. It became operational in 1964. Its purpose was to provide a more comprehensive approach to such key problems as state funding for the six institutions of higher education then operated by the state, and to determine how best to expand physical facilities, establish priorities for academic programs, and to avoid duplication wherever possible. Once the Board of Regents was fully operational it added four more universities to the state system. These were the Universities of Toledo, Akron, Cincinnati, and Youngstown. Shortly thereafter Cleveland State and Wright State were also established and became a part of the state system. Heretofore the state had operated only six major institutions of higher education; these were Ohio State, Ohio University, Kent State, Bowling Green, Miami, and Central State. One response by OSU to all this activity at the state level was setting up what became known as the University College Committee. Governor James Rhodes and various state legislators championed a more decentralized approach to higher education in Ohio. They advocated providing a state -supported campus within 30 miles of every citizen in the state. Among other benefits of this expanded system would be to make higher education more easily available to persons who held full-time employment. This initiative led to the creation of various branch or regional campuses throughout Ohio, including many Community and Technical Colleges. Eventually there were some 64 state-supported campuses in Ohio. Despite this proliferation of campuses the total enrollment at Ohio State continued to rise. There were approximately 50,000 students on the Ohio State campus in Columbus. Some members of the Board of Regents as well as others believed that Ohio State had gotten too large and should concentrate on upper division undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, and that lower-division undergraduates should be concentrated in the branch or regional campuses. Since the other Ohio universities wanted to keep their own graduate programs, and since Ohio State did not want to abandon freshmen this proposed change never happened. One other matter that entered into the discussions about higher education was talk about setting up a state-wide supervisory system. The consequences of creating such a “system” were unknown, and created much apprehension at Ohio State. The major issue was the rights and responsibilities of the new Ohio Board of Regents (OBOR) as compared to the Boards of Trustees of the various universities. Despite such concerns it fell to OBOR to develop a system for determining funding levels for the state-supported colleges and universities. OBOR took into account such factors as the cost of offering various courses and degree programs, full-time student academic loads, what courses, programs and enrollments would generate state support and how much. There was also much “pure politics” involved. OSU was limited under this plan to 40,000 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) enrollments, but at first students from the Colleges of Agriculture and the College of Veterinary Medicine were not counted in this total because they were located west of the Olentangy River. This early assumption that students enrolled in classes located across the river would not be counted against the 40,000 FTE limit probably contributed to the decision to locate University College west of the river. In time all students were counted. One other major issue of the time was the need for additional facilities in Franklin County for offering college level courses. After much discussion a new institution, Columbus State Community College (today Columbus State University) was located on East Spring Street independent of OSU. Clearly there were many important issues facing higher education in Ohio on both the state and institutional levels. President Fawcett suggested in June, 1964 that a plan be drafted “that includes a two-year general college as an integral part of the University, operated separately and under a given set of aims and objectives, but located in the fringe of the campus.” (p. 4). At this new college, to be called University College, and located west of the Olentangy River, there should be a strong emphasis on guidance and counseling services. It was expected that students who did well in their first two years at this new campus would transfer with full credit to the central campus to finish their degrees. In December 1964 the Faculty Council formally approved the creation of University College. Dr. Baumer was appointed to the committee to plan the new college. The full membership of this important committee was Elmer F. Baumer, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Robert C. Fisher, Professor of Mathematics, Edwin W. Robbins, Professor of English, Delos D. Wickens, Professor of Psychology, and Richard H. Zimmerman, Professor of Education. Professor Zimmerman was named Chair of the committee, an “excellent” choice. The Committee developed a set of “First Principles” as a roadmap for organizing University College. Dr. John Corbally, newly appointed by President Fawcett as Vice President and Provost, raised objections to the “First Principles,” and it soon became “obvious to the committee that we were operating on a different page from that of the President” and the Provost. This realization was a “significant disappointment” but after intense discussions with the President and the Provost the committee largely prevailed with its original vision. The “First Principles” are summarized as follows: Excellence in teaching and counseling; simplicity; emphasis on improved instructional features; clear curricular and functional articulation with the university; internal control of its budget; and image. The last principle of “image” implied that University College should not be thought of as harboring second-class students or faculty, and that it must be the common portal of entry for all students at Ohio State. It would require a considerable expenditure of the Committee’s time and energy to sell the “First Principles” to President Fawcett and the faculty of the various undergraduate degree colleges. Once agreement had been reached that University College would be the common portal of entry for all students entering the university it was essential that college programs respond appropriately to the needs of students and faculty. This involved acquainting incoming students with opportunities and facilities at Ohio State, good advisors, and a simple admission process. Libraries would need to be expanded and strengthened. It was the hope of the committee that these measures “would reduce the student dropout rates, especially those affecting students during their first and second years. We felt those dropout rates were appalling.” (p. 7) The Committee realized that one important reason for this dropout rate was the “first come, first serve” policy with respect to admissions, a policy since abandoned at Ohio State. The great majority of students who came to Ohio State were seeking a degree, but there was a second important segment of students, generally adult students, who were basically interested in a terminal program. They often needed to pursue coursework in evening hours. Serious efforts were made at University College to accommodate these students. From the beginning the University College Committee insisted that all courses taught there, as well as at the four regional or “branch” campuses, must be taught by regular university faculty. It soon became clear that “courses offered on West Campus were, in every way, equivalent to the same courses offered on the main campus.” (p. 8) After much discussion and consultation with various interested parties the basic plan for University College, as embodied by the “First Principles,” was approved in 1966 by the Faculty Council and the Council on Instruction. An additional matter discussed by the committee was whether University College should be thought of as a branch campus. The Committee argued successfully that it must be considered an integral part of the main campus. Other issues involved the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) program, which was required of male students on the main campus but not at the branches, and the Physical Education courses, which had been required of all students on the main campus. As a consequence of the founding of University College both ROTC and Physical Education courses became voluntary. Dr. Baumer briefly addressed the major arguments posed by some against University College. One concern was increasing university administration since the addition of the four branch campuses plus University College added five new Deans, thus raising the “Dean Count” to 19, a number many considered excessive. A second concern was the loss of control by undergraduate colleges. Some colleges had had a tradition of providing excellent advising and counseling services but others did not. Dr. Baumer believed that the counselors at University College did an excellent job of advising all students. Finally, the decision to locate University College west of the Olentangy River was controversial and one taken at the highest levels of the university. Most committee members felt this West Campus location was not a good or necessary move. When pressed by the Committee on this point President Fawcett said “this was what he had to do and he could not tell us why.” (p. 10). The Committee believed strongly that adequate facilities existed on the main campus to provide classroom and office space for University College. Furthermore, this would have avoided the problems and costs associated with the hourly mass movement of students between West and main campus. Most faculty offices were on main campus and few wished to teach on West Campus. Many faculty believed that the development of West Campus was just a way to by-pass the 40,000 FTE limit imposed by the Regents on OSU. Dr. Baumer was named the first Associate Dean of the University College serving under Dean Richard Zimmerman. He believes he was appointed to that position since he had been chiefly involved in explaining the new College to the various departments and their faculties. Although he was uncertain as to how well the College had met the goals of President Fawcett, he did consider it had been “a significant step forward in the total effort by the university to assist new students.” (p. 12). University College, like all other colleges at OSU, was responsible to the Office of Academic Affairs, and in general this Office supported the College. After a time Dr. Baumer resigned his position at University College in order to work full time in the Graduate School. Looking back on his work at University College he takes pride in the major role he played in setting up a viable plan for assisting new students who enrolled at OSU, and in his pivotal personal role in winning approval for University College from the faculty and administration. Although University College was closed down after an existence of 35 years, Dr. Baumer believes the College in its time helped slow down the drop-out rate for students, and provided crucial opportunities for new students to make effective career decisions. He complimented Dean Richard Zimmerman, the “right person for that position,” in his leadership of the College. Although University College is no more Dr. Baumer expressed the hope that through other venues that “new students be given the necessary assistance …to give them a reasonable opportunity to finish a degree program. We seem to be concerned about this for athletes and I hope the same holds for all students.” (p. 13)
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1811/459
Other Identifiers: SPEC.RG.40.223
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