Former President of the College
Interviewed on June 19, 1979
[This transcript was created at the time of the recording and may contain errors and omissions]
John William Ward
President of Amherst College
June 19, 1979
Horace W. Hewlett and Douglas Wilson
For: Amherst College
This is Horace Hewlett with Douglas Wilson in the office of John William Ward, 14th President of Amherst College, in Converse Hall on Tuesday, June 19, 1979.
HWH: Bill, what we’d like to do is to go over with you some questions that you already have from both Doug and me. We can stop at any time.
HWH: To start on an informal note-- was Leo Marx at all responsible for your coming to Amherst?
WARD: Yes, Leo was. Before I came here, I was at the Center for Advanced Study. I was then teaching at Princeton and expected to go back to Princeton. The academic world, as you know, is a very small network. Both Stanford and Indiana University were talking to me about whether I would accept a job. Leo called me and said, “Are you seriously thinking about NOT going back to Princeton?” I said, “Yes I am.” And he said, “Well don’t do anything until I talk with people at Amherst..” So surely Leo was an important part in the professional sense of knowing that I was in the market. He also was a close friend. He and I had known each other since the end of the Second World War. So, yes, he did play an important part both professionally and personally. Amherst was more attractive to me because he was here, but remember that there also were George Rogers Taylor, Ed Rozwenc, Ted Greene, and Hugh Hawkins; and at Smith, Dan Aaron; Jules Chametzky at UMass. They were all personal as well as professional acquaintances. So there was that network. But I’m sure if Leo hadn’t been here, Amherst probably wouldn’t have thought to see if they could hire me.
HWH: I guess you were studying and working together at Minnesota, too, weren’t you?
WARD: When I finished as an undergraduate at Harvard, I went out to Minnesota as a graduate student. Leo was teaching in Graduate School at Harvard and I went out to Minnesota as a student. He came out a year or two later. That was his first academic appointment. It was very funny because when I was at graduate school I would never take his courses. He would be offering a course, so I’d sit in on his courses. We spent a great deal of time together, but I was never going to confuse the relationship by becoming Leo’s student at the time. There’s one little aside in our acquaintance. My first visit to Amherst College was as early as 1957. That was because when Leo was here and I was at Princeton, one year I’d invite him to come to Princeton to give a lecture-- with an honorarium which would allow him to bring the whole family to Princeton for the weekend-- and the next year he’d invite me up here to give a lecture. We used to swap back and forth that way. So because Leo was here during those years, I came up to Amherst fairly often. It wasn’t always to give a lecture in a course or a public lecture. The reason I remember ‘57 was because I used that essay on Lindbergh here as a public lecture before I published it.
DW: What appealed to you about Amherst besides the quality of the American Studies department?
WARD: I don’t think I ever would have come to it. I did come out of that university world where I had my own graduate seminar of Ph.D. candidates, that world. Maybe the mere fact that I mentioned: the network of people that were here. There was a better faculty in American history and lit(erature) in the Valley than there was at Harvard at the time. And when I talk about Five-Colleges, I often use myself as an example. I don’t think I ever would have gone to teach at a small college if it had been all by itself. It was the sense that there was this Five-College network, and that you’re close to Cambridge and New York City.
HWH: So Williams had no attraction to you.
WARD: I guess not. [Laughter]
HWH: I was talking to Mrs. Alice Felt Tyler recently and she recalled that your major work at Minnesota was in English. Is that correct?
WARD: I started out as a professor of English. When I was hired at Princeton, I was hired in the English Department. And I made tenure in English before I switched over to history. I didn’t make the switch to history until fairly late. I was always drawn to historical problems through literary texts. I guess when I talk to you two, I tend to be reticent for fear someone years hence is going to listen to this thing or read it. I guess the most popular essay I ever wrote was on the meaning of Lindbergh’s flight. That’s been reprinted many, many times.
HWH: And you were interviewed by the Voice of America on that, too.
WARD: Right. But I came to that subject because I was really interested in the writing of the so-called expatriates-- Hemingway, Fitzgerald. It was the literature of the ‘twenties and I was looking for something to play off against the high culture. I looked at a popular hero and wondered how people understood Lindbergh’s flight, in order to suggest that the same themes which are there in the literary culture were also in the popular mind. The same thing is true about the book on Jackson, which really began as a book on Emerson and Melville, but they’re nowhere in the book, now. Looking backward, I’d say I tend to identify an historical problem through literature. That shows, I guess, the kind of historical writing I do. My own son, as a social historian, thinks it’s literary in a pejorative sense. That is, I tend to explicate the pattern of meaning in language even if it’s a political speech. It’s obviously a sort of “lit crit” way, as Ben DeMott would say, of going at language that has always been there.
DW: That’s somewhat different from the so-called new criticism, because you’re very conscious of the historical context.
WARD: Well it was very much a rebellion. The man that I did my graduate work under, Henry Nash Smith, then at Minnesota now retired from Berkeley, was very self-consciously against the “new criticism.” I mean the notion that the literary text was a self-defined thing. In his early years, when he taught in Texas, he was very much a critic of the fugitives who published the magazine at Vanderbilt-- people like John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate-- because he thought they were ahistorical, asocial. That was very much part of the whole American Studies movement-- to put literature back in its cultural and historical context.
HWH: Yale had a program that began in the middle ‘thirties called “History, the Arts, and Letters,” which was really American Studies. Were you involved in any way with that?
WARD: No. Harvard did it at about the same time, did the same thing. The History and Literature program at Harvard was what I was in as an undergraduate. Think of George Rogers Taylor. In the ‘thirties all over, almost simultaneously, it happened here at Amherst with George Rogers Taylor, and at Harvard and at Yale. George says that because of the economic breakdown of the society in the crash of ‘29 and the Depression, because he’s an economic historian he started to look for the inter-relatedness of things in society. What I am trying to say is that there was a politics, in the most general sense of that word, implicit in the development of American Studies, which was trying to show the interconnectedness of things rather than their separateness.
HWH: We might drift a little from the outline which you have from both Doug and me. Have you had a chance at all to keep up with the scholarly work in your fields?
WARD: You mean since I became President? No, not at all. I taught a course the first four or five years, and I stopped because I realized that I was really out of touch with the literature. It came home to me one time when I read a manuscript for Oxford University Press-- this was three or four summers ago. I could read the manuscript and make a good judgment on it, but I suddenly realized I was literally out of touch with the literature, that is, the articles, the research that was going on in an area where I presumed to be confident. To teach well and to write is, first, a kind of private, solitary kind of life. I suppose this sounds as if I were a compulsive worker, but when I knew that I might not get much done on Saturday, I would always go to the Library and scan all the periodicals that were related to history and literature. When I was on the faculty if somebody wrote an article I would know where that person was, what else they had done, I would know their work. And if you were talking about something I knew, I would know the literature-- not only books and monographs, but articles-- in it. Well, in this job, in the President’s office, no way can you find the time to do that kind of reading, so you fall out of touch. There’s a whole generation of young academics now that I don’t know at all. I went out to an American Historical Association meeting last winter and it was a real shock to me to discover that all the people I knew were all middle-aged or older. And there were ten years’ worth of bright, young historians, men and women giving papers, and I didn’t know who they were or what they had done. That would have been inconceivable to somebody who’s a faculty member.
DW: Bill, obviously that would come under the heading of a sacrifice that you underwent when you took the presidency. I’m curious about what you gained. More specifically, you mentioned to the [Amherst] Student that the presidency put you in the way of people who have deepened your “sense of the possibilities of life.” I wondered what you meant by that. What kind of people that you might not have encountered as an academic?
WARD: A good professor is a person in his study. He’s not dealing with people or the number of kinds of human beings, whether they be alumni or from the public world that he’s never going to get into. I’m a gregarious person so I obviously enjoyed that. Sometimes I’ve said the Office gave me the opportunity to meet people I otherwise never would have met. I can give you examples. When we were trying to get Justice Thurgood Marshall to come up here to give a lecture on Charles Hamilton Houston, when I was in Washington I went to his chambers. This was after the Bakke case had been pled before the Court, but I knew it would be improper to bring up a case that has already had a pleading before the Supreme Court. There I was with Justice Thurgood Marshall and he brought the case up. We sat in his chambers for almost two hours talking about the education of minorities, equality of opportunity, and things like that. He didn’t have me in there because I was Bill Ward; it was being the President of Amherst College that got me there. Also-- and I’ll give you a little plug-- since he was having lunch with an historian, he thinks it’s marvelous to get people like me to reminisce a little bit right now. I said, well, maybe it would be better to wait until next fall and get a little perspective.
I think there’s another gain I’ve had. I don’t mean this to be critical of faculty, but I am skeptical and I think that the sociological conditions of people’s lives will condition the way in which they perceive reality, and I think most academics and intellectuals have terrible stereotypes about how the world functions and what people are. It’s easy to talk about the “corporate” type or something like that. As president you meet people from different walks of life-- lawyers, judges, business men, social service workers. It’s a much more rich, diverse kind of engagement, I think.
DW: And that would be true of a large university or a small college, do you think?
WARD: I really don’t know, but I think there’s a higher probability that a president of Amherst College would have that experience because the place is small enough so that the president represents it more personally and directly. For another example: I had lunch one day right here in Amherst, alone, with Betty Shabazz, who’s the widow of Malcolm X, and Mrs. W.E.B. Dubois before she died. Both of them! And I said to them, “I never expected to meet either one of you, but for me to have lunch with the two of you!” Betty Shabazz became a fairly close friend. But as a professor of history, I never would have been precipitated into that kind of occasion. So there were a lot of benefits on that side.
HWH: Did some of these questions run through your mind when you were considering the invitation to become president of the College?
WARD: No. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what the job was like. Part of it, I think, was that I’d been teaching and writing for twenty years. Barbara said that I was starting to show signs of getting bored. I’d been doing it for twenty years. Was I going to do it for twenty more years? So I was obviously restive or restless. Part of it was just being on the faculty to be asked to be President. It’s ego-gratifying. It’s an enormous compliment. So ego had a lot to do with it. So both those. I think I was at a moment where I was willing to think about not going on just being a teacher and a writer-- and the prestige, the compliment, all of that.
DW: Did you have any strong reservations at the time?
WARD: No, I don’t think I did. But that can’t be true, because in the middle of the search process, in the very middle, I was asked if I would be considered as a candidate and I said, “Absolutely not.” I had been asked in other places whether I wanted to be dean of the faculty or president (and I won’t tick them off), but three or four times people had asked me if I were interested and I always said, No. I remember writing-- and I’ve used this anecdote in public-- I remem ber writing to Mr. Francis Plimpton, who was chairman of the Search Committee, a letter saying, no, I didn’t wish to be considered, that I consider myself an intellectual. He wrote me a very wry note asking if I thought there was a necessary contradiction between being an intellectual and the president of a good college. So obviously I did. I had the same stereotype, you know, of “he’s a bureaucrat so he must be mindless.” Right? “Nobody in his right mind would do that.” It wasn’t until the very end of that search, when they were down to three candidates that I realized that there was a better than fifty-fifty shot, and I did weigh it. As I said to the Amherst Student, I don’t think I would ever function in a large institution very well as a chief executive officer; I don’t think it’s in my style to do well as an administrator of a complex organization. And as I said in that interview, the best compliment to Amherst, is probably that it was able to tolerate me as its president, because life around here is more individual and personal. I guess I thought I could go on thinking, if you will, and still be president.
DW: You say, “because life is much more individual and personal.” Would you explain that a little bit more?
WARD: Well, if you do anything at Amherst College, you know who’s on the other end. If there’s a decision to be made, you know who’s going to be affected by it. It isn’t whether the Art Department has studio space; it’s whether you know Bob Sweeney can do his work, and Dick Schmalz has the right materials for doing serigraph work. It’s not an abstract organizational problem. You know that whatever you decide is going to affect somebody’s life, and you talk with them about it. Whereas, in a larger organization, you get intervening structures in which all questions become rather abstract. You know that just can’t happen here. It also drives you crazy.
DW: Did you find that that was a serious impediment to making negative decisions?
WARD: Yes, it is. An impediment in the sense that it’s very hard to say no to people whom you professionally and personally esteem. I think it’s very hard to say no around here. We always joke about it around the table, that nobody ever says no at Amherst College. It’s always, “How can we do what they want done?” Yes, like all of life, there are defects to these strengths.
HWH: Doug, you had a question that could well come in here-- about coming from the faculty.
DW: Yes. Coming from the faculty, did you find that it tended to help or to hamper your faculty relations as President?
WARD: I think it hampered them. Not at first. It made the transition seem very easy and it made everybody feel that there was a long, long honeymoon period-- longer than almost any other new president would experience. I think, generally, faculty respected me as a teacher and a scholar and as a member of the faculty and so it seemed very easy at first. Barbara, my wife, pointed out to me once that one of the problems I’ve always had comes when the President is speaking for the College or the Administration on a faculty matter and the faculty and I are in opposition. She pointed out to me, “Your trouble is that you’re on both sides of the question.” She said, “You can articulate what the faculty speak for as well as they can, and at the same time you are also the President on the other side. It confuses people.” It also arouses their hostility, that I don’t belong over there. I’m not a member of the faculty. I want to go over there on my own turf and let the faculty define what are the faculty’s position, so I think it’s in that structural sense that I’d say I think it’s a disadvantage to come out of the faculty.
HWH: I think it would amuse some of the younger members of the faculty, who can’t remember you as something of a spokesman for the faculty in the previous administration, to hear what you had to say then and what you have had to say more recently.
WARD: Yes. I must have sounded APPALLING at times! [Laughter] One night this year, when we were going on about compensation and I was going to faculty meeting which I knew was going to be very critical, I was going out the door and as I put my hand on the doorknob, Barbara yelled at me and said, “Bill!” I was so tense that I was irritated with her. What does she want now? I have to go to a faculty meeting. And as I was going out the door, she said to me, “Just remember one thing. If you were still living down in the Snell House and were a professor of history, you’d be beating on the President tonight.”
HWH: Can you think of examples of what you consider some of the pleasant aspects of the job, and then come later to the less pleasant?
WARD: I’ve often described what I think the function of the President is: to be a good seminar leader-- that is, to try to articulate what’s essentially at issue. So, again, I come back to the smallness of the institution: that’s required of the President here more, I think, than it would be in a major university, a large institution. I hesitate because I am sure both of you have been present when I’ve used the same metaphors again and again. The one I’ve always used is that a college is like a spider’s web: you touch it anywhere and it vibrates everywhere else. So for me there’s a kind of intellectual interest in the way in which the college works, just as a problem that is professionally satisfying.
On a more human level, rather than an intellectual level, I don’t think you could ever have a job in which so many people try to help you. You may get cross about this or that, or you may have a problem, but I would say that a very, very high percentage of the time, most people are trying to make you look better than you really are. So there’s that sense of a sort of affectionate support which is not personal. You can see it acted out especially if you go to an alumni meeting and people will always stand up. They’re saluting the office, not the individual. The individual has the great pleasure of being the recipient of that kind of affection. There may be a few people around here that I’d never think to ask to do anything, but I would say ninety percent of the time, if I had something that I needed somebody’s help in, I could pick up the phone and know that I was going to get it-- know that people were going to be supportive. So it’s in that: the nature of an institution, which is interesting, and the sort of personal supportive network, which is the institution, also.
It sounds sort of childish, I suppose, but I could pick up the phone and call anybody in the United States, and if I begin by saying, “This is Mr. Ward, I’m the President of Amherst College,” they listen to me. I don’t care whether it’s a senator of the United States or a person in the business world or anything; the reputation of the College is such that you have easy access to anybody you want to ask about something. And there again, it’s the institution, not the individual who’s in the job. I get a kick out of the fact that I could do that.
DW: Before we go on, I’d like to go back to your term, that part of the job is being “a good seminar leader.” I should think that if that’s so, having been on the faculty would have been very good training for the job. Wouldn’t that be the case?
WARD: Yes, except, as Robert Frost said, “You can only ride a metaphor so far.” The big difference is that as a teacher your job is to lay out the complexity of something, and once you’ve done that, you’re finished. In this office, you don’t have time to stay with the problem as deeply as you’d want to. You may lay out the complexity, but you’ve got to make a decision and there’s a kind of fine balance. When you decide, “I will do this,” you also know all the reasons why you might do something else. I’d use the recent events as an example. Whatever I wrote to the campus, it’s not inconceivable to me that I could have written just as powerful a statement on the other side of the question, except that...
DW: about early orientation for black freshmen?
WARD: Yes. Another example-- I guess the one that I like best: that long, long process about co-education, the admission of women. After I had originally recommended that the College admit women, the Board was split and we had another year and a half in which the Board wanted further study. Well, during the whole process that took something over four years, I tried very hard to get somebody-- whether it be a Trustee, an alumnus, or a member of the faculty-- to write the case as to why the College should remain a college for men. Now, I was already publicly committed to the notion that the College should admit women, but that last casebook, if you’ll go back and look at it, begins with two essays-- one called “A College for Men,” and the other called “A College for Men and Women.” Both are unsigned. I wrote both of them, and I remember going to a Board meeting where some member of the Board said, “That statement is the best thing I’ve ever read about why Amherst College should be a college for men. Who wrote that?” I said, “I did,” and he couldn’t believe it. I said, “As an historian, I could take all the mail I had and all the issues and imagine the argument that you would make.” I don’t know what effect it had, but I think the fact that I could understand and give voice to all the arguments on the other side and still come down on the side of admitting women carried some weight. At least it did with that individual trustee.
DW: What did you consider the strongest argument for remaining a college for men?
WARD: Well, the strongest argument, and I don’t know how to put it, is voguishly called “male-bonding”-- the kinds of friendships, male friendships, which quite clearly if you know the alumni body-- persist through life, friendships that were established in an atmosphere which is sexually not competitive. Now I get very uneasy with that argument; there’s something that I don’t like about it. But it’s a very strong reason for those special kinds of friendship. I’ll just leave it at that. That seemed to me the hardest thing to define and probably the most important thing. I think that’s part of what a lot of alumni were trying very hard to give voice to when they would say, “You’ve got the best of both worlds.” That is, you’ve got Five-College cooperation with women in the environment, but an all-male learning and play situation. I think that was probably the strongest argument for remaining all male.
HWH: Were you at all surprised by the alumni reaction to your recommendation on opening to women?
WARD: Well, I wasn’t surprised, Bud, that the alumni were very much opposed. I think I was happily surprised by how quickly the alumni body accepted the Trustees’ decision. We didn’t get what Dartmouth, Yale, and Princeton did; we didn’t get the persisting resistance against the decision. I guess I was not terribly surprised, but I was happily surprised that, literally, a year later, when I would go out to speak to alumni, it wasn’t a question they’d push to me. I have a hunch that probably alumni who still were unhappy would talk with you, Bud, or Al Guest or to the Alumni Secretary or to a trustee, rather than with me, since I was identified with having made the recommendation. But I think the great overwhelming attitude was that it’s been decided, so let’s get on with other questions about Amherst College.
HWH: I think the results of the Alumni Fund in recent years are a pretty good indication that it’s been accepted.
WARD: It’s a little bit like the stock market. As long as there was uncertainty during those three years while it was being debated, the Alumni Fund fell short of its goal every year. When the decision was made, the Alumni Fund went way over the top the next year. And it’s a little bit like investing in the market: I don’t know which way the place is going to go, and until I do know, I don’t know whether I want to give to it or not. Then, even though I’m sure at least seventy or seventy-five percent of the Alumni were opposed to that decision, when the decision was made, they accepted it very gracefully. Also, I think they thought, “We’re going to act out the fact we still care for Amherst College and we’ll SHOW you we still care for it even though we didn’t like that decision.” There was an enormous surge of alumni giving after the decision was made.
DW: There are individuals who’ve said they would no longer give money to Amherst College. I take it they are quite the exception. Would you say they are extremely few?
WARD: Very few. I know we lost two or three Class Agents, four or five people have blustered like that. You don’t know for sure if they were going to give.
DW: Or what they gave before.
WARD: Or how much. Usually it’s a case of, “I’m going to write you out of my will.” On one score, one of my favorite people is Kurt Daniels of San Francisco. And perhaps this should be off the record. Actually this one wasn’t on coeducation; this was on getting arrested. Kurt flew all the way from San Francisco one time to say that while I was President of the College, he would have nothing to do with Amherst College and that he was going to write Amherst out of his will. We sat right here in this office. It was the first time I’d ever met him. It couldn’t help but grieve me that anything I did would affect his relationship with the College. He went home and he did change his will, and the first notification we got very formally from his lawyer-- the treasurer got it, I didn’t-- was that he had changed his will and that Amherst was no longer a beneficiary. Then about three months passed, and we got another letter from the lawyer. He decided that Amherst College, generally, was not going to be a beneficiary, but he was going to leave the amount of money he originally had planned to the Art Department. I remember writing him a letter saying, “Like Solomon, you’ve found a way to slice this baby.” And I said, “I realize how difficult I’ve made your life, because you don’t want to do anything which approves of ME, or generally of the College, but you care so much for Amherst College you’ve got to find some way to give your money to it.” That led to a further kind of correspondence, and I think it’s fair to say now that Kurt and his wife are a couple of our closest friends, the most supportive people in the world. I would say of Kurt Daniels that the College means so much to him that he may get upset about this particular thing or that particular thing, but over the long haul he’s going to go on caring and helping and supporting the College.
HWH: I think Kurt would like to have that left in.
HWH: Great guy.
WARD: Yes, he is.
DW: On coeducation: How has coeducation changed the quality of Amherst College? At all?
WARD: I want to be very careful how I say this, so it doesn’t sound as if there’s something called intellectual life over here, and over there there’s something called social life. I think the most obvious change has been improvement in what I would call the felt, day-to-day quality of undergraduate life-- some improvement, even though we’re only in the early years. Then, I do think that women faculty and women students tend to go at questions in a way which causes men to reconsider their assumptions. I’ll give you an example, though I hate generalizations. There are two women on the faculty who were going to be candidates for tenure next year who have already formally notified the Dean and the Committee of Six that they do not wish to be considered for tenure-- that is, they are not going to go through the tenure decision process. They will resign the year after that. That was known among the faculty and there was a lot of apprehension. Was this because they were women? Or was there something at Amherst College which they found particularly uncomfortable? So both of them wrote a letter to the faculty inviting anybody who wished to do so to join in a conversation about their reasons. This happened while we were having a Trustee meeting so I couldn’t be there. Were you at that?
DW: No, I missed that.
WARD: What happened was-- and I got this from one of the women and also from a younger male member of the faculty-- that they started to talk about how they perceived Amherst College and why it was difficult for them. The younger members of the faculty, men, said, “Well, that’s not because you’re women. We face exactly the same kind of problems. We have the same unease.” Then the women replied, “But that’s the trouble. You take this kind of competitiveness in achievement and professional coolness as a ‘given.’ What we’re saying to you is, you ought to start questioning those things you assume and the way in which you behave.” It’s in that dimension that I think that would happen in American society, generally, because of social change, not just because of change at Amherst College.
So there has been a subtle effect on relationships-- most markedly, I think, in undergraduate social life, but also in the way in which faculty perceive what it means to be a faculty member and their relationship with their colleagues. I don’t think it has had any discernible effect on the organization of the curriculum or on the emphasis about the meaning of the liberal arts. The traditional educational purpose of the College seems to me to have been in no marked way affected by the admission of women.
DW: You referred to an improvement in social life, however. Do you mean that students behave better?
WARD: Well, it would be pretty hard to be empirical about that, I think. There’s still a lot of foolish adolescent behavior. When the place was all male, on a Friday night James and Stearns dormitories would empty. Everybody would get out of them and go somewhere else for a party, for the very simple reason that there was nothing but men in the building, so why would you stay there of an evening? Now you’ll see relatively low-keyed wine and cheese parties-- like what Pratt Dorm did last year when they had parties to which they invited other people-- very low-keyed and quiet. I found them very pleasant. And it is that kind of social interaction in a relatively unstructured, relaxed way which I think is better than the rather febrile attitude of the past: you know, “We’re all men-- we’ve been working hard this week, we’re all living in a dormitory, let’s go have a party tonight.” I think that that’s been modulated a lot.
HWH: I think even the configuration of Moore has something to do with making social relationships easier than they were at James and Stearns, for example.
WARD: Yes, and that’s why I think you are also seeing the College Council talking about the desegregation of the freshman class-- having freshmen live in dormitories which have upperclassmen as well as freshmen, so that they don’t have that sense of being set off in a kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere. Again, you lose something when you do that. You lose class identity, the sense of friendships which go over four years while you’re together.
HWH: This is full circle. Before World War II, it was a complete mix of classes-- it was the New Curriculum, really, of ‘47, that isolated freshmen.
DW: May I ask one other question on coeducation-- and that is...
HWH: Do you mean the admission of women?
DW: That’s right, admission of women. I stand corrected. [Laughter] With it has come a reduction in the number of men and I wondered how seriously that has affected, or can be expected to affect, our ability to compete well in intercollegiate athletics.
WARD: It clearly will affect most seriously the football program. I find that when people talk about intercollegiate athletics, they are usually thinking of major sports. The fact that we won Little Three championships in golf, tennis, squash, whatever else we did this past year-- yes, baseball-- doesn’t seem to have as much visibility. It’s usually in the contact sports of football and hockey and basketball when numbers are important. You know, Jim Ostendarp and I are probably the only two people in the Little Three or in so-called NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) who would like to see football go back to the old system of playing both ways, getting out of two-platoon football. Once you play two- platoon football, you have two squads, each with one substitute, so you’ve got twenty-two on the offense and twenty-two on the defense; you’ve got to have forty-four people.
The freshman program hasn’t been doing that; they’ve been playing a lot of students both ways. I’d hate to see it go, but I don’t think Amherst College can sustain a freshman program. That’s going to mean that the freshmen who play football are going to get launched right into an intercollegiate competitive sport just as they start College, which I think is unfortunate. It will also mean that the kid who doesn’t think he can really make it will be dissuaded from trying it, so that I think football will be very much hurt.
On the other side, I don’t think the other sports should be hurt very much. We have an enormous increase in the number of intercollegiate teams because of the women’s teams, so that in a way, participation on the men’s side, as well as on the women’s side, has gone up. But if we take football out of it, I don’t think there’s going to be very much effect on the quality of intercollegiate competition-- except, of course, that we are the smallest around. Williams and Wesleyan now are both up to 2300 students, so that the probability is that we’re not going to have as rich a pool of athletes to draw from. I think what is really hurting is that Dean Wall and the Admission Office try to give preference to the qualified children of alumni and to qualified minority applicants. If you add consideration of intercollegiate teams, of people who have athletic ability, there’s hardly any room for him in which to move. So I think there will be pressure on the quality of intercollegiate competition.
[END OF SIDE ONE BEGINNING OF SIDE TWO]
HWH: We started talking about the pleasures of being President and we got onto the admission of women. Can you think of some of the displeasures of being President?
WARD: Well, I’ll start with the most serious difficulty. I’m not sure I want to characterize it as a displeasure, but one which I would call a constant source of human discomfort. When you are in office there’s a danger people will not treat you as a human being; they see you simply as an office. But that’s inevitable. There’s also the danger which is personal-- that is of losing touch with, not trusting, your own feelings and judgment. You’re caught in the center of that tension between role and self always. I think the most wounding thing in the job is when you hear the kind of gossip or speculation by people imputing to you a motivation which you know never existed. Particulars may be better. Having lunch just today with a member of the faculty who was away on leave, he laughingly said he had heard from another member of the faculty, that because Armour Craig was coming up close to retirement, I had leaned on Armour by a corrupt bargain in which I promised to extend his retirement, that that was the way I got him to do it. Well that hasn’t got the faintest shadow of truth about the reality of Armour’s delight in being asked and how good he’s been at the job. I think the brightest thing I ever did here was to make Armour Dean of Freshmen. There are people out there constantly creating little fictions about you; so that you do have the sense of people talking over your life all the time, and it does get to you-- there’s no doubt about it.
DW: That example also reflects a suspicion. Do you find a lot of suspicion at Amherst?
WARD: Oh, yes. A great deal. But I think that’s a more general phenomenon in, if you will, the clinical culture today. We have come off, for shorthand, the ‘sixties, but I don’t care whether it's the carnage of the war in Southeast Asia, or Watergate-- all those things. I think we’re coming off almost fifteen to twenty years where people are deeply, deeply skeptical about authority; or anybody who’s in a position of privilege or power must be up to something. That’s the premise with which everything begins: “What is he up to? I’m not taking anything at face value.” There’s a kind of healthy skepticism in that. When you’re the recipient of it, it wears you down. There’s no doubt about that.
HWH: Have you noticed whether it’s changed relationships with people that you count as friends?
WARD: Oh sure. To go back to your very first question about Leo Marx. When Leo and I were on the faculty-- and having known each other for thirty-five years-- if he and Jane were out walking, they’d just drop in the kitchen of a night for a cup of coffee. We moved in and out of each others houses. After I became president, I became instantly aware that Leo and Jane were not dropping by, so we went to their house one night and I quickly became aware that if we wanted to see them we had to invite them. Here I’m talking about the person I was most close to and felt the greatest sense of ease with-- and even there a certain kind of space opened up almost immediately. So that happens.
Another point. It’s not that it’s such a small college, but it’s a small community, physically, so that socially your life is constantly involved with the people that you are also associated with daily. If you’re working for IBM, you’re not having drinks and dinner that night with the people who work in your department. You’re off in a different suburb. So there’s no way of escaping-- literally not a minute of the day of escaping the office. You feel as if you were walking around in a box of lucite: “Here he is!”
Whenever Barbara and I go anywhere, and even if we leave and go somewhere else, we’re always running into somebody from Amherst College who wants to ask you a question about Amherst College, and after a while you keep saying, “I wonder how the New York Yankees are doing?” There must be something we can talk about other than JUST Amherst College. So in that sense, it can tend to get oppressive. But as Willy Loman says, “It goes with the territory.” It doesn't surprise me, but it is hard.
HWH: It struck me that just the social responsibilities of the job are about as demanding as any kind of post I can think of. You have visitors from outside, alumni.
WARD: Yes, you have a kind of constant involvement. But I think it is fair to say that Barbara and I enjoyed that part of it. I don’t think you HAVE to do that, although the level of expectation around here might be very high if you chose not to be social. Sometimes the President’s House is a guest house and you must have those parties. I remember a marvelous time once when some faculty member said to Barbara, “You must hate all these meetings with alumni; how boring those must be.” And Barbara said, “No. There are some rather interesting people; you must remember you taught them.”
DW: Bill, you mentioned the tension between the role and the self. I suppose that came into sharpest focus early in your administration when you “sat in” and were arrested at Westover. Looking back at that incident-- first of all, would you do it again?
WARD: Are you going to stop right there? “First of all would you do it again?” I have a very nice answer to that. I mean I think it’s a nice answer. As an historian I’d say, “If the EXACT circumstances repeated themselves (which I know never will happen in history), I would say yes, I would do it again.” Another way to answer the question, Doug, is to say, “I have never for one flickering second ever been sorry that I did it.” Now, retrospectively looking backward, there’s not a flicker of doubt in my mind, because I have been President for eight years, that I would probably move much more prudentially. I think it would be harder for me to do it again.
DW: Considering what you said about the “office” always being with you, do you think now it was naive, as some people said at the time, to try to make that distinction between yourself as a private citizen and as President of Amherst College when you sat in?
WARD: It depends upon what you mean by naive. I don’t think it was naive for me to try to insist on the distinction. I think it was naive of me to expect that the public would either understand or accept the distinction. A year later I was invited to the National Education Association in Chicago, a huge meeting, and I was invited to address the question, “Should College Presidents Take a Stand on Sensitive Public Issues?” I still think it’s a terribly important point for the conduct of our public life that people don’t get trapped in their roles, that they are capable of understanding the demands of the role but not have their life or their conscience or their political action defined by it. Otherwise, since we all have jobs, the public vanishes, if that’s the case. It was naive, probably. It didn’t surprise me that people would say, “You know you can’t split yourself up into private citizen and the President of the College. The reason that you’re going to get all this attention is because you’re the President of the College. If Bill Ward, Professor of History, had got arrested it might have gotten some notice, but not much.” It was the fact that the president of the institution did it. That kind of dramatized it. I will say, using your word “naive” again, that I was absolutely flabbergasted at the public response. I never expected the kind of press, television and radio, news coverage-- the volume of it. I obviously touched a sensitive nerve. I think it was not just simply opposition to the War, but that people in authority should not do these things. That’s what I think touched the nerve.
DW: Didn’t you say at one point, though, that you got much more support mail than...
WARD: Oh, I did. There are 12,000 living alumni, and Peggy Boyd, my Secretary then, had to organize a fantastic amount of mail. We separated out alumni from non-alumni and those opposed and those supportive. We also broke out the alumni by generations. The alumni mail that we got, which was of the order of about two thousand letters, was about two to one in support. The general mail, the public mail, was almost wholly in support, although I got a lot of crank letters, but mail generally ran about four to one in support. But, most important to the College, the mail from alumni ran two to one in support-- which really was a surprise.
Since I mentioned the generational difference, this was also true on the coeducation decision-- the decision to admit women and turn the College into a college for men and women (I’m just trying to help you out, Doug). I’ve often said there is not a single alumni body, there’s not something called “the alumni” any more than there are “the students” and “the faculty.” You’ve got lots of differences. In the most crude slice, there are three alumni bodies out there generationally-- nineteen-thirties, older alumni; those after the second World War, or up to, say, the early ‘sixties; and then, from the early ‘sixties to now, which is now getting on to be almost twenty years, eighteen years of graduating classes. I’ve come to have my most special affection, I think, for the older alumni, because they care most for the College. They will tell you they think you’re a fool, or they’ll tell you they think you did something wrong; they don’t do that in a bullying way, they don’t do it even to get you to change your mind, but just to tell you that this is what they think. Then, they, in effect, will say to you, “My time is past. Do what you have to do. God bless you.” They may disagree in a way: “But you have to do what you have to do.”
The younger alumni are, I think, the more worrying body, believe it or not. I think it’s fair to say I probably had more support from younger alumni, having been a teacher. Younger alumni I find being more sympathetic in opposition to the War or for the admission of women. But what interests me is that that’s a political decision. They like you because they agree with you and that worries me. What if you did what they didn’t like? They would oppose you. They don’t have that kind of general commitment to the College above and beyond the particular issue. It’s a volatile group. You know they like you because they agree with you, or they support the College because they agree.
The most difficult group has been my own generation, because those who graduated from the late ‘forties into the ‘fifties, well into the ‘fifties, are more conservative-- I don’t mean socially, economically, politically, but rather conservatively resistant to any change in the College. I think that’s more a function of their own unease with change that’s going through their own families. They’ve got kids about to get out of high school and they’re uneasy about a society where there does not seem to be respect for authority or tradition. There’s drugs, there’s sexuality and permissiveness, and they just don’t want things to change. And the one thing they don’t want to change is the College that they remember. So I always found that group from the late ‘forties through the ‘fifties the most vociferously antagonistic; and whenever there was a question being considered, you would get more hard mail from that group than you would from the older or the younger alumni.
HWH: It struck me at the most recent reunions that the group you describe almost precisely was the Class of ‘54, the twenty-five-year class. They seemed the most conservative in the sense that you meant.
WARD: There was a great moment when David Palmer led the 25th Reunion Gift for the Class of 1950. No class had ever raised over $100,000 and he took them up over $l50,000-- and that was when the Class of ‘52 really cocked their hats to go at it two years later. When the Class of ‘52 was here, they had their own sort of mini-reunion and I went over to the Science building to talk with them. Eighty-eight percent of the Class came back-- eighty-eight percent of that Class returned to the College! They set a record that I don’t know how many years it will take ever to come close to again: over $300,000 for their 25th Reunion Gift with less than 300 members in the class, which meant they averaged out over $1,000 a head. Well such a love feast you can never imagine. When I was there to talk with them, somebody asked me a question about how it was going with the admission of women. I suddenly looked at that Class and I said, “Aren’t you the Class, 1952, that five years ago I was with at the golf club? You could have driven a stake through my heart that night.” Really, I’ve never been through as hard or ugly an evening in my life. They were just unanimously hostile because we were discussing the whole question of admission of women, and five years later, here they are eighty-eight percent back, raising all that money, and telling me they thought I was the greatest guy that ever walked down the road. I said, “What were we fighting about so hard five years ago?”
HWH: On another topic, unless you’d like to continue: Do you consider your relationship with the Board to have been a good one?
WARD: How well they judged the relationship is up to them to say. I always found it completely open and easy and always supportive on the Board. I never felt any inhibition in the least about saying exactly what I thought about anything, or even sometimes getting irritated with the way in which the Board was doing its business.
HWH: Were there any individuals that you could single out as being model trustees?
WARD: Model trustees? yes. I could do that easily. In my mind, Judge Hastie and Walter Gelihorn stand for what I think are the absolutely ideal trustees. Eustace Seligman, too, although I caught Eustace late and Eustace’s powers were declining because of age, but he was pretty much the same style. Eustace Seligman or Judge Hastie or Walter Gellhorn would harry you with hard questions, they would just push you very, very hard on any question, and you never had the faintest notion where they stood on the issue. It was just like a good Socratic dialogue, and what I finally learned was, it didn’t matter whether they agreed with you or not. What really mattered was that they wanted to be absolutely sure you thought through and had your own considered reasons for what you thought. They never would cross that line; they never presumed to tell you what to do, or even imply. The Board never does that, the Board never did in my eight years, never gave me directions on something. But that’s my sense of the ideal trustee and the way a Board should act. If the administration wants something to happen and cannot satisfy the Board with its answers, what the Board does then is simply say, “Take it back and think about it.” They don’t just say, “We’ll vote you down.” They just say, “Look, let’s not do that; think some more about it.”
That’s starting to change a little bit. I don’t mean this as a criticism of a lot of the current members of the Board. Maybe it’s nostalgia for when I think of Seligman, Gelihorn, Hastie, Francis Plimpton, and June Merrill, I sense a very marked shift in the composition of the Board, which is also a shift in age. These were men who were at the peak of their professional life. They were older because of Life Trusteeship, whereas now it kind of shatters me to look around the Boardroom and realize that I’m older than many members of the Board. They’re in their early fifties and they’re immersed in the most intense moment of their own corporate or professional life and they don’t have the time to give the College as some of those older Trustees that I’ve named did. Also, I think they come with a different notion that they should be more actively involved. Rather than asking Socratic questions, they want to be in on the making of a decision. I’ve said to the Board that they’ve got to be very careful that they don’t cross over that line from the responsibility of being critical, but not involved in the internal life of the College.
I think Bill Hastie was truly one of the great men-- not just at Amherst College, but a great man. I remember when he stayed at the house one weekend of a Board meeting. Others were coming and he and I were alone downstairs and he was kind of dancing around on something and I kept saying, “Bill, there’s something you want to ask me. What are you being so reticent about?” And he said to me, “Well, I know you’d never want the Board even implicitly to suggest what you should do.” And I said, “Well look, I really don’t think I’m that forbidding.” He said, “Well, you’ve drawn that line very sharply for us all.” And I said, “I’m always willing to listen to what you think, though I don’t expect you to tell me to do this or that,” I think that kind of reticence came as much from his personality as it did from the way in which I related to the Board.
You don’t get at Amherst College what I’ve heard from presidents of other colleges where there is a powerful trustee who calls up the president and says, “This is what I think ought to be done.” I never had that once. When I listen to student or faculty speculation about the power of the Board, I don’t think students or the faculty have a real sense of what the Board actually does. I think they think they’re a body of power that uses this power covertly, not open to public inspection; but the Board doesn’t really work that way.
DW: Can you explain why it would be undesirable from your point of view, for the Board to become more involved in the College’s day-to-day life?
WARD: That would obviously be, Doug, a comment on my own personal preference. I could imagine an organization organized so that there is a kind of management team which in no way affects or undercuts the importance of the president. In other words, organized so that the Board in a sense was bringing to the administration strengths that are not present. For example: I never had any experience administering anything on the money side, although Kurt Hertzfeld is a splendid Treasurer and I have learned a lot from him. I can easily imagine a situation where the organization of the Board would take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the president and where some members of the Board would be much more actively involved with the administration in the analysis and recommendation of things to be done. I’m really speaking, obviously, of a personal style in that I’d like to keep the Board at an aesthetic distance. But I think a Board should have a very strong corporate sense of what behavior is expected of a member of the Board. There’s been so much pressure in recent years, maybe through the whole eight, that I think that is not clear as it was when I first became the President. I think the Board needs a pause-- especially with a new president who may want a whole different style of organization. I don’t mean that one is good and one is bad; it probably depends more on the personality of the individual who happens to be president.
HWH: This is perhaps a silly question. What would you consider your greatest achievement as president?
WARD: No, it’s not a silly question. It’s an embarrassing question, but it presumes that there were some achievements with the order of good, better, best. I’ve thought about that because the Amherst Student asked me that question at one time. I think the greatest achievement was handling the process of the question about the admission of women. I take great pride in the fact that I had the stamina to hang in there for four years and just keep defining what was at issue; that, to me, is more important than the decision itself. Now, I probably wouldn’t be able to say it, if the decision had gone in a way which I thought was unfortunate. I go back to my metaphor, if you will, of the seminar. It seems to me that the function of the president is to try to-- you can’t always do it-- is to try to maintain that process by which decisions are reached and not presume, because you’ve got the “office,” that you therefore know what’s right or wrong and that’s what people should do. So somewhere in that area would be my greatest satisfaction.
DW: Traditionally, many presidents, modestly or otherwise, think first of taking credit or part of the credit for continuing to attract a good faculty. Would you characterize the faculty that has come here under your presidency and whether that’s sustained the past quality or changed it in some way?
WARD: Maybe the best way to do it is by looking at the associate professors-- people who were hired by me and made tenure while I was here; and that’s a very distinguished group of young scholars and good teachers. I’ve had a number of faculty say to me that the fact that the President of the College interviews candidates for jobs on the faculty is important, if you want people who are committed to teaching as well as to scholarly work. I think the faculty is really quite good. One of the three most important Amherst people in the twentieth century for me is Alexander Meiklejohn, most importantly because of his insistence on that whatever else the College was, it was a place of mind and he really turned it into a place where intellect and mind were at the center. Bill Wilson is another, because in admission he enlarged the sense of who should be at Amherst College, as much as he was opposed to the admission of women at Amherst College. Coming back to the faculty question now, the third is Charlie Cole. I think Charlie Cole built a first rate faculty here so that Amherst was well known for the quality of its faculty. On balance, I’d have to say that the younger faculty coming along are worthy of Charlie Cole’s standards. The hardest thing is to get variety. I don’t mean variety by the objective criteria-- do you have women or minorities or something else on the faculty-- but variety in the sense of intellectual and pedagogical style. There is in any institution a very strong strain toward one kind, and then when that kind is hiring and also making the decisions about who gets promoted and who gets tenure, you maximize that strain-- not toward conformity in the sense people agree or think alike, but conformity in an intellectual and even personal manner. I find the hardest thing to do is to decide those border-line tenure cases where I appreciate the person who isn’t quite like everybody else who’s here. I think you’ve got to keep your eye on that in order to keep the variety, to leaven the lump.
DW: What do you think of the practice of hiring “superstars”-- I don’t mean many, for a small place like Amherst, but a few?
WARD: I’ve always thought it was a terrible mistake.
DW: You, in fact, haven’t done it.
WARD: No, I haven’t done it, if by hiring a “superstar,” you mean bringing someone in laterally as a professor with a great reputation and having him at Amherst College. The academic profession is such that you wouldn’t know how well somebody would behave or how effective they would be at Amherst College, just because they had a stunning reputation as a great scholar and a dynamic teacher. I would want to see them on the ground, working for three years before making that decision. We have hired at the Associate level, where the tenure decision is made in the third year. But I have really resisted bringing anybody in on tenure laterally. There are an awful lot of people who would not do well at Amherst College because of the curricular style, the expectation of students, the expectation of the College. That’s why I think it is really better to promote from within than it is to bring people in from the outside. I believe this even though I’m an exception to it: I was brought here as a full professor.
HWH: You’re probably aware that in the late ‘forties about half of the Amherst faculty were alumni.
WARD: Was it that high? I’ve heard often, of course, that there were not enough alumni on the faculty. I guess we never made a self-conscious effort in making a faculty appointment to see whether or not there are qualified alumni out there at other institutions. In our pools we get very few applications from alumni who may be in the teaching profession.
HWH: Do you think the tenure procedure should be continued as it is, or should there be changes? Or should Hampshire’s example be followed?
WARD: When you say “the tenure procedure,” should be changed, do you mean the procedure of how the decision is reached? I take it you’re not talking about that; you’re talking about the criteria of whether tenure decisions should be made in the sixth year, so one has, in effect, life-long employment.
HWH: Yes, it’s more the criteria than the procedure.
WARD: Let me go at it backwards. I would not go in Hampshire’s direction, to a contract system, a one- or two-year appointment, and then a seven-year appointment, and then a five-year appointment, and then a seven-year appointment. There have been very careful studies of those institutions that are on contract systems and not on tenure. They usually tend to be like Hampshire; they’re institutions which define themselves as innovative or experimental, so in the academic sense they’re not our peers, they’re not institutions like Amherst College. But last year a study of all the decisions made on a contract system, showed that ninety-four percent of all the people whose contracts were up for renewal were renewed. At Amherst College, if you take a long-run secular trend over twenty years, of all people who enter the faculty-- and I don’t mean the people who come up to the tenure decision line but the people who enter-- only about one out of four over a long run achieve tenure. I think the danger of the contract system is, “If I’ve got somebody on a three-year contract and I’m really not quite sure whether to renew their contract, I can always say, ‘Well, I’ll put that off another three years.’” You don’t really have to face it.
Now, it may be that we’re facing the decision too early; that’s a possibility-- that is, the six-year AAUP rule. At Johns Hopkins, for example, nobody gets tenure until they make full professor. In other words you might be there a long time before you get tenure at Johns Hopkins. At Princeton, when I was there and it’s still the case, you only make tenure when you make associate professor. You might have four three-year appointments as an assistant professor before you finally make associate; and the AAUP doesn’t mind as long as your criteria are explicit. Now Amherst has followed the AAUP regulation of a six-year probationary period with the tenure decision in the sixth year. I think the Administration has to make that decision. Whether it’s made at the right moment in professional development, I’m not quite so sure. It might be a little later, rather than in six years, since people are still pretty young. I must sound like a middle-aged man. But it’s better to have to make it than to be able to put it off and say, “Well, it’s just a renewal of contract; I can come back to it, make another judgment three years hence.”
DW: Some people think the faculty should have a greater teaching load. Do you agree with that?
WARD: Well, I’m lucky I’m on my way out I guess! I can answer that very simply by saying that when I came to Amherst College, the standard teaching load was three courses one semester and two the other. In the language departments, it was three and three, sometimes three and four. Not only that, but in the big American Studies staff course, where you would be giving some lectures and you’d have a section, you had two sections and that was one course. Now, not only has the faculty come down to a two-two teaching load, but in all staff courses, one section, plus some lecturing in the course, is one course. I’ve often said to the faculty that the most expensive and significant change in terms of the economics of the College was made without any discussion at all-- and that was the change in the teaching load.
DW: When was that?
WARD: It began somewhere in Calvin Plimpton’s years, the early ‘sixties, around ‘63 or ‘64. I remember when it happened because the English Department, which always taught three-two, just decided one year that they wouldn’t any longer. There was no discussion with the Dean of the Faculty or the Administration; they just said, now henceforth the normal teaching load is two-two. Then the next year in English 11, where you always had two sections, they decided that one section would constitute one course. The other departments were very aware that that was happening, and so everybody just started to change what they thought was a normal teaching load. There was never a discussion of it by the Administration, there was never a vote on it by the Board of Trustees or anything, so the faculty, in effect, self-defined their teaching load. Now, I don’t mean to imply-- and I’m not being nice because I’m on record-- that the faculty doesn’t work very hard, but Amherst really is one of the most privileged places in terms of teaching load, leave policy, Sabbatical leave, and so forth.
When any member of the faculty says to me, the demands are so great, there’s no time to do scholarship, I keep saying, that can’t be true, because you teach two fourteen-week terms, that’s twenty-eight weeks out of fifty-two, and you have leave every third year for a term hookup with the summer: that’s six months off every three years and you only teach twenty-eight out of fifty-two weeks. Now, nobody can tell me that it’s not possible to have enough time to do your own work, as we say in the profession. I tell them I had a much heavier teaching load here and was fairly productive all the time that I was on the faculty. So I guess I would say quite bluntly that the faculty could take on more teaching. I think it would be very, very hard to do now-- the norm has now been so accepted.
DW: It’s like the thirty-seven hour week, now.
WARD: The same shift happened at Princeton and Harvard and other places at the time it was happening here; it wasn’t unique at Amherst College. So now our peers, if you will, are probably on the same teaching load that we’re on, and you’d be at a competitive disadvantage if you started to try to increase the number of courses taught.
HWH: Do you know of any other institution like Amherst that has the program of endowed fellowships for younger faculty members? Also, for students who graduate?
WARD: The ones for students who graduate, to my knowledge, must be unique. I believe we spend something in the order of eighty to ninety thousand dollars annually on fellowship support for graduating seniors to go on to do graduate work elsewhere. I don’t know another institution in the country that does that. Except for the Trustee Faculty fellowships and the Miner Crary summer fellowship, there aren’t many endowed fellowships for younger faculty. But under the leave policy, in the second three-year appointment any assistant professor can take one term off. For a younger person it takes three years to sort of get settled into a place and get his own course-teaching and everything organized. So that as far as leave and the space for younger faculty to do what they have to do, it seems to me about as good here as anywhere else, though it’s not especially unique.
HWH: It strikes me that a distinct change in attitude came along, probably in the middle of Cal Plimpton’s administration, when the loyalty of the faculty member was directed more toward his specialty or his field than it was to the institution. I think that’s grown, too.
WARD: I don’t think you ever will, nor do I think you should, get a situation in which you are asking, “Should a person be more loyal to the institution or loyal to his professional colleagues elsewhere in the country?” The metaphor I always use when I interview young faculty for an appointment is that I think it’s possible to carry both pails of water, you know, without spilling either one. You can be a good teacher and do your scholarship here. You can be a good member of the profession and committed at the same to Amherst College. There’s a kind of fruitful tension between those. I won’t be particular here, but if I were to take the faculty list and pick out the faculty that I think are best for Amherst College, they will always be people who are deeply involved in something outside of Amherst College-- that is, they have two worlds. I think the worst people here on the faculty are the people who have nothing but Amherst College, who sit around and talk about Amherst College all day long. Quite bluntly, it’s a kind of intellectual and emotional immaturity. They may be well-regarded by some, but that’s my own personal stand. Anybody who writes turns to his peers for approval. In my own case, it would be somebody at Berkeley, as well as perhaps one or two people here. Those are the people to whom I would send off a draft; that’s my professional world and I very much want their esteem, their respect. At the same time, I would expect a faculty member to be wholly committed to teaching well and to know that it’s important whether students perceive you as a good teacher, as well as your colleagues feel you are a good colleague and do your share of work inside the place. I like the way William Butler Yeats defines life as linked pairs of opposites always in tension one with the other. To make that tension bearable or fruitful, it seems to me, is always the way to go at that kind of a question.
DW: Bill, I think Bud was also trying to get at something slightly different. One hears talk about fragmentation and criticism that basic loyalties and responsibilities reside more in the academic departments now than with the College as a whole. The early difficulties of getting enough professors to teach ILS (Introduction to Liberal Studies) courses, for instance, might be a case in point. Do you think that that conception is valid?
WARD: I think it’s there, but I don’t think it’s any stronger than it ever was. I would even go so far as to say there’s probably a greater possibility that more people would risk doing something at which they are not already professionally competent, at Amherst than elsewhere. Gordon Levin once gave a course in modernization that used India and China as historical examples. Partly because I was interested in the concept, but also out of great esteem and affection for Gordon Levin, when he asked me if I’d work with him in that course, I said I would. I was down at Harvard for lunch one day and a friend in the history department asked, “What are you teaching?” And I said, “Well, I’m doing my course in intellectual history and I’m also teaching a course in modernization in India and China.” Well I could feel myself fall right over the edge: there I was, a terrible dilettante. But I think there are more faculty at Amherst that would be willing to try that, or try the ILS courses, or take some risk, believing that an intelligent person could be involved in a course in which he is not already professionally competent. But that doesn’t mean that the tension isn’t there. It’s a lot more comforting to teach in an area where you really are in control, than to move into an area where you feel as if you’re scrambling in order to just be adequate.
[END OF TAPE I. BEGINNING OF TAPE II]
This is the second of two tapes of an interview with President Ward by Doug Wilson and Horace Hewlett. Taped on June 19, 1979.
DW: We’ve been talking a little about the ILS program and you’ve indicated often that you think a liberal arts education is the most valuable kind of higher education. Would you summarize why you believe this?
WARD: When I say that, I am using the way in which the Faculty Report on the ILS curriculum would define liberal education, that is, namely, the asking of questions and the process of being responsible to a question, not looking upon education as a product of mastering certain skills or acquiring certain bodies of knowledge. In that view, especially in a complex, interdependent society, the generalized ability to be able to define what is the question, and then push yourself to say, “What do I have to know in order to be responsible to that question?,” and being able, in effect, to confront new problems or new areas of experience, seems to me to be the most important sort of quality of mind and imagination. The world is so complex and it’s changing so fast, that it is not enough to prepare somebody in terms of certain skills or certain bodies of knowledge, because there’s a very high probability they’d be obsolete. That’s why I think Amherst students that I have known have done so remarkably well in a variety of fields. This isn’t an empirical or quantitative thing, but the Board recently, thinking about the desirability of having a recent graduate, a younger person on the Board, asked me to look at those graduates who were at least three years and not more than nine years out of the College. Now this is a personal judgment, because another person, whether it be somebody else in the administration of the College or somebody else on the faculty, might pick out different students. But I started to make a list. I just got out the freshman picture books and started to make a list of people and what are they doing now. If-- I’ve always been uncomfortable with the language-- but if Amherst is to turn out graduates who are going to play important roles in the major institutions of American society, at whatever level of making decisions, and are going to continue to grow and become more and more effective in their lives, I think that the student who catches a glimpse that that’s what education is all about is better prepared than the person who is prepared by something we could very crudely call vocational preparation.
DW: And yet, by stressing the process rather than content, you put an emphasis that’s a little different from the value many alumni attach to the core curriculum that they had-- that is, the notion that a person cannot really be called an educated person if he or she hasn’t been exposed and trained somewhat in science, or exposed and trained somewhat in history. Do you think that that argument is also valid?
WARD: Yes, I think it’s a valid one. Let me put it this way-- I think it’s a valid consideration, but you know the interesting thing about the core curriculum is that it was exactly what I was just describing. If you think what English 1 and Arnie Arons’s Science 1-2 were, they weren’t covering material; it was really a mode of inquiry-- except that people were required to do it in Science, and required to do it in English, and required to do it in American Studies, so they thought there was a body of knowledge that all educated people have to have. Now, your question still has great force. I think it would be terribly unfortunate if somebody didn’t catch a sense of the meaning of history. To give everyone education in a discipline is hardest in the sciences, because science has its own language, mathematics, and except in the elementary courses, if you don’t know calculus and beyond into some of the more sophisticated algebras, you just simply cannot major or take an advanced course. So the notion that there are various bodies of knowledge with which an educated person might conceivably be conversant is most difficult to realize in the area of the sciences. But I don’t think anybody ever learned anything that began with the pre-supposition that I must know this or that thing. I think an historical imagination, a fairly good sense of what are the assumptions and the methods of science, are the basic needs. I sometimes think we ought to take out a required subscription to Scientific American for all students, make them at least read about science, if they can’t do it. But when you’re in a classroom teaching, the authority doesn’t come from the fact that you’re reading “a classic”-- that usually will kill it. It’s really a question of what connections I make between myself and that intellectual experience. So if push came to shove, I would come down much more strongly on the side of process and not on the side of substantive bodies of material, but I hope I wouldn’t have to make an either/or distinction.
HWH: In terms of this, Bill, does the curriculum recently adopted meet these criteria? Does it satisfy you?
WARD: Well, it satisfies me. Everybody talks about the freshman Introduction to Liberal Studies courses, but I think the most interesting part, which is yet to be tested, is the whole notion of the adjunct program, which says to a student, you must select four courses-- including three outside of your major-- and you should select them in response to a theme or question. That tells the student that there are many lines of connection between or among things, and that the “knower” and “learner” is at the center of establishing what patterns of connections he or she is going to make. I don’t care if only thirty percent of the students experience what is behind that idea; I think it is much more valuable than the notion that I am better educated because I take a distribution of courses in the sciences, the social sciences or the humanities, which is what most colleges do. The example that I used in the introduction to that little booklet you put out was that I might take a course in genetics, a course in Jacksonian political theory, and a course in fiction between the two world wars. I can’t say that I’m a better educated person because I’ve had something in science, the social sciences, and the humanities. Whereas if somebody said to me, “You define a theme and now you pick courses outside the field of your major,” I suspect what will happen is that you will not get many science courses taken. But that again is part of the very heightened specialization of modern science more than it is the wisdom of taking science.
DW: Do you think a liberal education can or should try to impart a sense of morality or ethics or try to improve character?
WARD: Yes, I do, but I don’t know how to do it. I think that that’s the sort of lesson learned from the conduct of courses and the insistence on intellectual honesty. We’re not going to have chairs on wisdom or courses on morality; I don’t think that would get us very far. But there are moral qualities built into the very act of teaching itself: a respect for others; responsibility to evidence; the striving-- no human being ever reaches it, but the striving-- to be objective; a diminution of arrogance, that you can’t know the whole truth so you must listen to the other person, too; and finally, the notion that you are open to new experience-- that you’re not rigid, you’re not closed, you don’t believe that you’ve got the Truth with a capital T.
So there are an awful lot of moral qualities built in to teaching and learning. If you could generalize them, it would be a pretty fair description of what I think would be a pretty decent and attractive society.
DW: Would you say that those qualities, in effect, are at the heart of morality?
WARD: I think so, but that’s if I had a different kind of moral philosophy, because I’m essentially skeptical, relativistic in my own moral posture.
HWH: Let’s switch from this subject. Does Amherst benefit substantially from Five-College Cooperation?
WARD: I think it benefits enormously. It’s implicit in what I said earlier when you asked me why I came to Amherst College. There is not a flicker of a doubt in my mind that we attract faculty that otherwise we could never attract. Also, as Dean Wall has observed, it’s a big plus on the very strong applicant pool we have. Without Five-College Cooperation, I would not be able to understand why our major competition for students is Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. As you know, we’re not competing with Wesleyan, Williams and Bowdoin. We’re not competing with the other little colleges. There is the sense that we have all the advantages of a good undergraduate college with all the potential variety of a multi-versity because of the cooperation. I think that’s not measurable; I don’t think you could quantify it; but I’m confident that Amherst is a much better institution because of its presence in the Five-College network. Now then, there are other dimensions and various levels of cooperation-- all the way from the three-college computer to joint purchasing; but the most important thing, of course, is educational. We could do the numbers, not simply the number of students that move around. But I think more than that is whether they do or do not move around, in the sense that they’re not enclosed in a small college, that they can move out to something interesting somewhere else or a different kind of course.
DW: Do you think that Five-College Cooperation would ever substantially affect the College’s basic autonomy?
WARD: That’s the buzz word-- ”autonomy.” By definition, if you commit yourself to a pattern, if we have a Five-College astronomy department and a Five-College department of dance, and we have a common curriculum in Five-College Black studies, by definition we have already given up some of our autonomy. We could unilaterally pull out, but that would be a very difficult thing to do. I think that both Dean Gifford and I would come down much stronger on not allowing Five-Colleges, Inc. to become too formal a structure. Five-College cooperation should be looked at as offering opportunities-- not all five institutions necessarily: it might be bi-lateral, it might be three institutions or just two cooperating in whatever way they may choose. But Five-Colleges, Incorporated should not be allowed to become a sixth institution. There are people in the Valley who would like to see cooperation made much more formal and have much more curricular control vested in Five Colleges. I think that would be fatal, myself. At any rate, to answer your question, there is inevitably in cooperation the surrender of some autonomy, and I’d be very, very cautious not to let it increase so that you’ve lost control over your own curriculum, your own faculty, or again, your own allegiance to the people of your own institution.
HWH: Another institutional arrangement, Bill: is the Doshisha connection an advantage for Amherst?
WARD: I don’t think it’s much advantage to Amherst. It has an enormous historical institutional interest, but the connections between the two institutions are really quite slender and, except for the Amherst fellow who goes to Doshisha each year after graduation, some modest exchange. I don’t think it’s of any great advantage. I would not diminish, though, the enormous importance it has for international goodwill-- the fact that these two institutions have this long relationship. It would be very hard to think of ways in which Amherst could take advantage of the fact that if anybody wants to go from Amherst to Doshisha University or to Kyoto, they’ll find the most auspicious welcome there. Through the AKP, the Associated Kyoto Program in Japanese language-- it’s separate from Doshisha-- we’ve had a number of students take advantage of going to Japan. At times, we will have faculty whose interest may be in Japanese history or culture at Amherst House in Doshisha. But these are relatively modest influences on the day-to-day life of the College.
HWH: How about the Folger connection?
WARD: The Folger connection, much the same. Except that it has always puzzled me why-- and I guess this is a criticism of me, too-- why we haven’t made more of the Folger connection, why it’s not more important at Amherst, right here on the college campus. We could even begin with simple things, like making the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library an adjunct professor of English and have him lecture here occasionally, because not only is the present Director but each previous director usually has always been a great scholar in Renaissance literature and history. There is one of the great cultural treasures of the Western world and very, very few people at Amherst are really acquainted with it or use it. And further, for institutional self-interest, I think the Trustees and the President of the College could make more publicly of that association. I don’t think we’ve seized the advantages which Folger represents for Amherst College.
HWH: Would you care to comment on your relationship with the faculty-- particularly on the recent opposition you faced from the faculty, and also, the support?
WARD: I think the only opposition I’ve had from the faculty grew out of the whole compensation issue. I can’t remember another issue on which I had a sense that the faculty were opposed to the President. Let me first define it. There were a number of times during the last eight years, where in faculty meetings I talked explicitly about the ravages of inflation and the policy we had, for only three years, of tipping what money we had, down to younger faculty, who did not have the security of tenure and who were more affected because they had lower income and inflation hit them harder. That was clearly explicit and addressed by the administration. One great mistake I made was that it never crossed my mind that any member of the faculty at Amherst College would think I didn’t appreciate the kind of person who committed themselves to being a member of the faculty at Amherst College. I just took that for granted. And it came as a real blow to me when the compensation issue-- which is a real issue, the relative decline in income and the tough economic world for faculty-- got interpreted that I didn’t think the faculty of Amherst College was as good as the faculty at, say, Harvard University. At this point I might tend to get irritated, I guess, or sensitive. I remember coming out of a faculty meeting one night when Ted Greene walked along beside me and said, “Bill, you’ve just made the worst mistake you could make.” I said, “What is that?” And he said, “You’re asking the faculty to recognize reality. They never will do that.” And then, of course, in my typical way, I get cross. I might go out and speak at an Alumni meeting, I might speak on the Frost Library steps to the Alumni Council at Reunion, about the great strength of Amherst College being the kind of faculty who would commit themselves to teaching and scholarship, because it is a very productive faculty at this kind of institution. But I found something demeaning about the notion that I would have to say that to the faculty, themselves, so I always resisted doing that. I guess standing back from that one issue, at times it’s a little bit like the Stalingrad defense: you start to build up resistance. that is you don’t do what somebody wants, or you oppose somebody on something like this, or you’ve had an argument about it-- that starts to accumulate and then after a number of years something comes up and people who have been a little cross about other things will use that occasion to be resistant. Obviously I was starting to run into that.
Don’t print this in the magazine, but I guess the only time I was ever really hurt was to have a member of the faculty, in meeting, make that sort of allegation, or to have a faculty member in public print say that I had lost the confidence of the faculty. Not that they said it, but that nobody else would say that they didn’t share that position. It’s that senatorial courtesy in the faculty, when people can say some of the most curious things, and outside, people come by and say privately, “Well, Bill, I don’t think that at all. Don’t take that too seriously.” But there is a kind of public servility which is demanded of people in those kinds of situations. In the outline you gave me you had one question: “Why did you really finally stop?” Before, I would see things like that happen, but they’d bemuse me, I had what I would call aesthetic distance on it. But when I found it was starting to get at me, when it started to make me feel hurt, I decided I was losing my capacity to put up with that probably inevitable kind of behaviour and decided that if that’s the case, probably it was time to move along.
HWH: So that would in part explain the timing of your resignation.
WARD: Yes. In part.
DW: You told the Amherst Student that faculty criticism, which was sometimes, you said, close to abuse had begun to bother you. Did you think that criticism was unfair, well-intentioned, or somewhat mean-spirited or contentious?
WARD: Well I’m not being polite, Doug, when I say that, by definition, I’m surely not the best witness. I thought some of it was unfair, although I would not want to go so far as to say mean-spirited; but surely it was not generous. Again, I go back to what I said when I was talking very generally about being in the office, when people were publicly imputing things to you which you never thought of-- you would never look at yourself that way. That does not mean that one might not properly have that perspective of you. But the kind of language that we heard this year in faculty meeting, that the Administration and the Trustees were trying to exploit the faculty, that just seemed to me so wildly apart from the reality and fact of the situation. Despite the loss of real income, I really can’t buy the language of exploitation or repression for people on tenure making in the thirty thousands, with the working conditions we have at Amherst. It just seems to me a kind of rhetoric which is so far out of touch with reality that I tend to get impatient with it. That’s about as far as I can go, I think.
DW: Just for the record, though, the main thing at issue was compensation.
WARD: I don’t recollect anything else that I was doing that caused general unrest. I’ll go back to an earlier question that you asked. I am totally at a loss to say why there was that general suspicion, which affected not only me but other members of the administration, that somebody was trying to take advantage, or to withhold information, or not being responsive. And there’s some more generalized mood that to this moment still puzzles me.
DW: I think it’s a mood that is not personally directed at you. I think it’s a mood that others know how to deal with.
HWH: Is there anything you can say about minority relationships at the College? I was one who was very surprised at the protests over black issues here in April. I thought your administration was attentive and sensitive to the needs and problems of minorities.
WARD: Well, that may be part of the cause, though, of the concern or apprehension. I couldn’t add a thing to what I said in that letter to the campus in April-- not the particular issues, but what was generally behind them. One black student said to me, when it was all over, just what you said. He said, “We’ve always seen you as the one person we could be sure would understand and be sympathetic,” and he laughingly said, “We wanted to get everything nailed down before you left.” But I really can’t say any more than that on the issue or of the kind of pressure a black student or a minority student feels under at an institution like this. I think the biggest danger is that next fall the minority students will feel a little bit demoralized and confused and not know quite how to get their act together, or how to get a sense of “being on the up,” feeling strong and positive about themselves as well as about the College. And I think that the faculty and the administration are going to have to be very, very eager to reach out and suggest that there has not been a diminution of commitment to minority students at Amherst College, because I think that somehow that is being felt by some, not all, but some black students.
HWH: A final couple of questions: Would you consider being president of another college?
WARD: No, I wouldn’t at all. I wouldn’t even have considered being president of another college when I was asked to be president of this one. I don’t understand these people who want to be presidents of colleges or universities. I accepted the presidency of Amherst College because I was on the faculty; I knew the place and cared about it. If at that time someone had said to me, “Do you want to be president of Williams College?,” I would have said, “Why should I be president of Williams College? I’ve got nothing to do with Williams College.” I was called by a major university this spring as to whether I would allow my name to be put in, a really great state university, and I said, “No, I don’t want it. First, I don’t want to do it again, and secondly I don’t understand wanting to be president of an institution unless you have some personal, close identification or experience with it as an undergraduate or on the faculty.
DW: Would you consider running for political office?
DW: If you could write your own ticket, what kind of work would suit you the most in the years ahead?
WARD: That’s hard for me to say, because I think I’ve said to you, Doug, before, that I’m in a mood right now, as we’re ending this year, where I don’t even want to think about what I don’t want to do, let alone what I do want to do! So it’s a very hard question for me to answer. I won’t be quite so blithe next November if I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. I said to the Senior Class that one of the great advantages of being a teacher or being the president of the college, in a small college, is that you stay in touch with the oncoming generation. I would like to find some role not as a teacher, perhaps, but involved in the area of what’s happening to young people today. I am leaving on a very skeptical or even pessimistic, note. I see it with marvelous humor at home in my own children. I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. for two days which was on youth and national service.
[END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE TWO. BEGINNING SIDE TWO, TAPE TWO]
It was run by what I will call the old Peace Corps liberals who were concerned about the sense of alienation of young people from American society or its institutions. At it were high school seniors from San Diego, Seattle, North Dakota, New York City, the South and wherever else, and they had all run polls. One question put to them was: Do you think that young people eighteen years old should do a year of social service at a minimum wage and on a voluntary basis? Ninety-one percent of the students polled-- and there were many, many polls run at different locations all over the country-- thought it was a good idea, but eighty-seven percent didn’t think kids would do it. Now what was astonishing to me about that statistic was the attitude: “I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think anybody else will do it.” There was a skepticism about their own peers as well as a mistrust of an older generation. The title of the thing was “Youth and National Service,” but they didn’t want that word “national” in there at all. My local community, OK: daycare centers, hospitals-- but not the nation. The concept of the nation they saw as a back door to the draft, wholly opposed to military service, ninety-eight point nine percent, no way!
But to come back to your question about what am I going to do next, I have no idea what I’m going to do. But I think somewhere in the mid-eighties we’re going to run into a highly volatile situation with increasing inflation, an unstable economy, real concern about national and international problems, and this skeptical, oncoming generation. It could swing one of two ways: you might have the incipient beginnings of a kind of new left coalition between young people, minorities, and old people. I know it sounds like the old welfare state or New Deal politics, but there’s a possibility that that might be brought off again. Or it could become a very sullen, private, reactionary, conservative impulse in politics and society. That’s a very long-winded way of saying that for the next ten years, whatever I do next, I’d like to find something that would hook me into that problem.
HWH: This leads rather indirectly to my next-to-last question: What do you think your successor’s major problems will be?
WARD: I can answer that in one word: Money. The financial integrity and soundness of the institution, its ability to go on supporting the sort of educational and intellectual style it’s assumed for so long-- that’s going to be the toughest question.
HWH: Final question unless you have one: Where’s Sabrina?
WARD: In Calvin Plimpton’s home in Riverside! [Laughter] I think that’s the funniest answer I’ve gotten off in a long, long time.
HWH: That was great! Bill, thank you very much.
WARD: You’re welcome
DW: Yes, thanks for letting me join you.
[Final copy finished 12/16/79]