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Interview of William S. Guthrie by Robert B. Sutton

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Title: Interview of William S. Guthrie by Robert B. Sutton
Creators: Guthrie, William S.
Contributors: Sutton, Robert B.
Keywords: William S. Guthrie. Dean of Men
Ohio State University. Director of Student Affairs
Ohio State University. College of Arts and Sciences
Ohio State University. Office of Student Finances
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: William Guthrie had a lifelong association with The Ohio State University. He was born in 1912 near the campus and graduated from North High School where he was a friend and classmate of Brandon Rightmire, a son of George Rightmire, the President of Ohio State. Guthrie graduated from Ohio State in 1932, a year of severe depression. Most university faculty including President Rightmire took pay cuts at that time, and other faculty members were dismissed. Guthrie found a job after graduation with the FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Agency) that provided employment both for high school and college students. Many students working in colleges were assigned to janitorial staffs, although Ohio State made a concerted effort to slant as many student positions as possible in an educational direction. From his experience in student placement with FERA and NYA (National Youth Administration) he was recruited in 1936 by President Rightmire to head a new Student Financial Aids office at OSU. This initiative marked the introduction to Ohio State of the whole concept of university-sponsored student services in an organized way. This included starting university dormitories, a student information office, and Orientation Week for freshmen. Since total enrollment at Ohio State had recently exceeded 10,000 students President Rightmire, “a fairly austere, scholarly type person,” felt the urgent need to personalize the students’ experiences so that they could focus on their primary goal of academic achievement. He continued to serve as President until about 1940 when Howard Bevis succeeded him. Dr. Bevis was a more aggressive and open person than George Rightmire. He had been a judge in Cincinnati and had had little academic or teaching experience. Yet he came to Ohio State with a strong sense of mission and goals in mind. His effectiveness, however, was limited by his uneasy relations with the Board of Trustees, an “ultra-conservative” body that was “dominated by the anti-communist feelings of those years, and the loyalty oath,” both highly controversial issues. There were also those who said that Dr. Bevis relied too heavily on the advice of his secretary, Miss Vogel, and his wife. Both women seem to have exercised great influence in his administration. Having offered this mild criticism Guthrie stresses, “I don’t want to leave a negative feeling about his administration.” One goal that Bevis doggedly pursued in the face of rather unexpected resistance from the faculty and community was to assure WWII veterans that they could enroll at Ohio State if they chose. Clearly the sudden and great influx of thousands of returning veterans seeking a college education posed a great challenge. All private colleges and universities in Ohio, and all other state universities other than Ohio State, set limits to the number of veterans they could accept. Bevis’ insistence that Ohio State must remain open to veterans “was not a popular point of view.” The faculty didn’t mind having veterans enroll in large numbers, but “not in my department.” But Bevis would not yield. He believed “there must be someplace Ohio veterans can go to college after they have taken their turn in this war effort.” This decision put a tremendous strain on physical facilities, budgets, class size, and just about everything else at the university. The enrollment at Ohio State ballooned from 12,000 in 1946 to 26,000 within twelve months. All faculty and administrators were severely taxed by this sudden influx including Guthrie. He was named Junior Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1945, where he continued to manage the Office of Student Finances, but soon thereafter he was also named Assistant Dean of Men, and Coordinator of Freshman Orientation Week. As the “army” of new veteran students arrived it was necessary to assign Arts and Sciences students to whatever classes had room for more, and so Guthrie would “assign them to literature classes, to history classes, to mathematics classes” without regard to the students preferences. “There was “no way that we could let students choose programs during that first year anyway.” Other colleges faced similar challenges. At the time all five undergraduate colleges had open enrollment at the freshmen level so students could go directly into education, agriculture, arts and sciences, engineering, and commerce. Many additional staff, including may part-timers, had to be hired, and this caused hard feelings and misunderstandings from the regular faculty. Class sizes became very large. Many were held in auditoriums and lecture halls. In the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Harlan Hatcher, “one of the great statesmen in higher education in the country,” along with President Howard Bevis, deserves great credit for their determination and success in meeting the challenge of the veteran influx. At the departmental level there were generally people who emerged to meet the challenges, although a few chairmen had to be replaced. All in all Ohio State “was a very exciting campus in those 4 or 5 years immediately following the end of the war.” Guthrie served as Assistant Dean under both Harlan Hatcher, and his immediate predecessor, Bland Stradley. The latter was described as “a rustic, rough, blustery man who enjoyed his authority. He liked to talk about it. He certainly was not modest.” He enjoyed students and their parents, but he didn’t fit the usual pattern of an Arts College Dean. “I don’t suppose he would be remembered as one of the outstanding persons in the Arts College role.” Other persons who served as Dean were Jim Fullington, a Professor of English, and a “quiet, pleasant scholar,” and Fred Heimberger, Professor of Political Science, as well as Harlan Hatcher. Fullington lacked the charisma and polish of Hatcher, and was not excited about serving as Dean, a job that “was not really his cup of tea.” Heimberger succeeded Hatcher as Dean, and he felt comfortable in the job and was well accepted within the College. Like Bevis Heimberger had some difficulty with the conservative Board of Trustees. He was promoted to vice President under Novice Fawcett. He understood his role very well even though he didn’t make great speeches or play politics. Some say Guthrie could have been named President of Ohio State to succeed Bevis but that never happened. Guthrie felt in any event that he would not have been “the appropriate choice at that time.” Guthrie himself was never named Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences, and never sought the position. He spent his entire 25 years at Ohio State in advising and assisting students in such areas as scheduling appropriate classes, improving study habits, facilitating proper health care and psychological counseling, and, of course, student financial aid. In his final years at Ohio State he was named Executive Dean for Student Relations. President Novice Fawcett named Guthrie to this position. Guthrie comments extensively about the leadership qualities of Fawcett. He saw Fawcett as a “well organized” person who introduced a “new, more precise pattern of organization,” something that was badly needed at a big university. Fawcett leaned heavily on John Herrick in designing and implementing this plan for administrative reorganization. It was monumental because it was the first one that planned for closing off the Oval to automobile traffic, closing off Neil Avenue to north-south traffic, closing off Olentangy River Road, building a campus loop road, starting an entry college across the river, and for student housing on all sides of the campus. Parts of the plan were never realized, but much of it was. Two persons had preceded Guthrie as Dean of Men. Joe Park was the first to have that title. He had been the YMCA secretary in an era when student YMCA’s and YWCA’s were essentially the campus service organizations, and he was important in transferring student services from volunteer to university sponsorship. Mylin Ross, a Navy veteran and former teacher in the Columbus Public Schools, succeeded Park. Like Park, Ross worked incessantly on the job, seven days a week. It was a “killer” job, one that was never done. In Guthrie’s view both Park and Ross were “saints” because they never soured on student life despite the challenges and frustrations. Guthrie comments further on two persons who served as Dean of Women, Dean Chris Conway and Dean Esther Allen Gaw. Both were effective but they had different leadership styles. Dean Gaw was an “early feminist” who took that cause “seriously.” Like a general she followed the rules and had little patience with people who did not. Dean Conway was much more patient and personable, but each contributed significantly to an important change in the governance of the university. This was the creation of the “whole student Court and student Senate system.” When student unrest and turmoil broke out in the turbulent 1960’s Ohio State was better prepared in that student participation in the life of the university had already been initiated in the 1950’s. The key figures in setting up the new student governing system were Deans Ross and Conway and Guthrie himself as Executive Dean for Student Relations. As students were granted more authority through the Student Court and Student Senate there was another issue needing urgent attention – this was the issue of student discipline. Some professors felt that they –the professors—could dismiss a student from class for alleged cheating with no hearing and no record keeping. In the era of the 1950’s there was throughout the country a general acceptance of the “in loco parentis” legal doctrine which implied, among other things, that the faculty and the Deans could mete out discipline to students as they saw fit, “and that nobody else need to ask about it.” But Guthrie and others saw a clear need for more formal steps and written procedures that would protect the rights of the students as well as the faculty. Charlie Gambs was recruited from the University of Illinois and the FBI, where he had earned a solid reputation as a top legal investigator, to serve as legal counselor to the staff. His first assignment was to look at the student rulebook of the time and to see what it said about student discipline. Next he was invited to sit in on impending cases involving possible dismissal for non-academic reasons. Out of this research and experience, and with also the consultation of students, there was developed “a whole new set of procedures respecting student’s rights for representation by their parents or by their lawyer.” Record keeping was also upgraded and formalized. These important changes in student discipline were, of course, only one part of the major changes Gambs, Guthrie and others brought to the revised Student Rule Book. Guthrie regards such changes as his major accomplishment as an administrator at Ohio State. At the same time these changes were effected at Ohio State almost all other universities faced similar problems, and Guthrie discussed these issues in meetings of the National Organization of Deans. In addition to this achievement in student discipline other steps that were taken during his tenure included student representation on some faculty committees, especially those that dealt with student life. It was also made certain that the Student Senate had substantive issues on its agenda, rather than merely Homecoming, etc. As Executive Director of Student Affairs Guthrie served as a permanent member of the Committee on Student Affairs. A key faculty member who served on that committee was Mars Fontana. Unlike some faculty members who viewed committee assignments “on a take-your-turn basis,” Fontana took a truly active, constructive role. One ongoing issue that both Fontana and Guthrie faced was dealing with the student newspaper “The Lantern.” There were times of confrontation since Guthrie stated, “I suppose I was no pussycat with the students.” Unlike some Deans “who spent their careers being popular” Guthrie sometimes refused to give The Lantern what it wanted, like the time when he refused to divulge to the newspaper the details it demanded on reasons for dismissing two students following a fraternity party that got out of hand. Despite such differences, and the occasional editorial denouncing him, Guthrie made a lasting and major change in the status of the student newspaper. Until 1957 or 1958 The Lantern had been a subscription newspaper. Guthrie lobbied successfully to add The Lantern to the Student Activities Fee so that the newspaper would have free distribution. It also became the “official bulletin” of the university. This meant there was added one section where the administration could put anything it wanted, but that students would have full editorial control of the rest of the newspaper. There was no censorship. Guthrie reflects on his own days as a student at Ohio State in the depression years of the early 1930’s. No one had very much money; many students were living quite marginally. He remembers the bargain meals at Pomerene Hall. A cup of oatmeal cost five cents, as did a cup of soup. But a student could also wipe out his soup cup with a napkin and also help himself to the coffee urn, which were there for free refills. The manager of the cafeteria, Agnes Skinner, knew this was happening but always looked the other way. To survive in college students had to scale down their expenses any way possible. Conditions for students improved after Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, and FERA was created. Guthrie was a student at the Law School, not because he liked it but “because there was nothing else to do.“ When he was offered a full time job in 1934 under FERA to manage a new student work program at some 69 Ohio colleges and universities, including Ohio State, he happily left Law School. His friend, Ralph Smiley, was hired at the same time to travel the state to organize 3-C (Civilian Conservation Corps) camps. The program at Ohio State under Guthrie’s direction placed about 3,000 students in various jobs at $15.00 a month “which at that time bought something.” Every effort was made to find jobs that had some meaningful correlation with the student’s academic objectives, such as placing him in a laboratory or a library rather than as part of a janitorial or grounds keeping crew. Ohio State’s program was recognized as one of the best nationally. In 1935 it was expanded into high schools. These early programs, although successful, led the university to conclude that it would be better served by a central coordination of all employment opportunities at Ohio State, including scholarships and student aid. At the time there were multiple and scattered committees in all of the Colleges, as well as the YMCA and YWCA, all of which had a hand in job placement and student aid. President George Rightmire offered to support a new central student service office with regular university appropriations, and to give it a home and place of importance. Guthrie was recruited to head this new office, and he started his assignment as Director of the Student Employment Office (or Student Financial Aids Office as later it would be called) on September 1, 1936. At the same time he was also given the title of Assistant Dean of Men. In both capacities he reported to Joe Park, the Dean of Men. Guthrie headed the Student Financial Aids office for eight years until 1944 when Harlan Hatcher, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, recruited him as acting Junior Dean of the College. Founta Green (who became Founta Pollard when she married Jim Pollard, Director of the School of Journalism) was named as his replacement in the Student Financial Aids office. One of the key aspects of administrative work in the College of Arts and Sciences at the time was creation of a more organized, centralized office for counseling students on selection of courses and majors. Mrs. Christine Conaway was one of the key early organizers in the College of this office. Later on she would advance to higher administrative positions, “and she distinguished herself all the way through the years of her career as history will show.” (p. 21). Guthrie later worked for a time in central administration as an assistant to Vice President Stradley. Following the rather sudden death from cancer of Bland Stradley, Guthrie filled in for him for a time. By the time this happened Harlan Hatcher had left Ohio State to become President of the University of Michigan, and Fred Heimberger had become Vice President and Provost. Guthrie’s final assignment at Ohio State came in the administration of President Novice Fawcett when he was named Executive Dean for Student Relations, and also named to the President’s cabinet. In 1961 at age 50 Guthrie resigned his position at Ohio State to become President of Buckeye Savings and Loan, the largest Savings and Loan bank in Columbus. In this job he succeeded his father who resigned from the bank at age 80. Guthrie feels he was fortunate to have had two successful careers in “different worlds,” that of the university and in business. As a banker Guthrie joined the downtown Rotary Club that at the time “was still swallowing hard because it had its first Catholic members, and did not yet have its Jewish representation.” But on campus, he notes, “the fraternities had gotten away from the exclusion of Catholics and Jews.” As President of the largest Savings and Loan association in town, Guthrie was able to recruit several prominent citizens to serve on the board of his bank. These men included such as Senator, and former Governor, John Bricker, Judge Reynolds, Harry Miller, President of the Electric Company, and John Galbreath, prominent and wealthy businessman. Thus, in summary, Guthrie felt that given his almost unique contacts with prominent persons in both “town and gown” that he could help both to better understand the other. He discusses briefly the role of the Wolfe family, the publishers of the Columbus Dispatch, as well as the owner of television and radio stations, and the significant influence of the Wolfe family throughout the city. Leading Themes Creation of an office of Student Finances, and creation of first university dormitories Challenges faced by OSU in face of a huge, sudden influx of WWII veterans Contributions of various Deans of the College of Arts and Sciences Contributions of various Deans of Men and Deans of Women Free delivery of The Lantern throughout the campus Creation of centralized offices for student finances and counseling Furthering understanding between “town and gown.”
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1811/479
Other Identifiers: SPEC.RG.41.T
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