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Interview with Euline Behm


Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Thursday, November 17th, 2005, and the interview today is in the Peabody Library with Euline Behm, former Secretary of the Peabody Board of Trustees, and Assistant to the President at the time of the merger. To begin, please talk about your connection with Peabody and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger, with an overview of the Vanderbilt/Peabody situation at that time.

Euline Behm: Yes, um, good afternoon, Ms. Dohrmann. Peabody has been part of my life for many years, and I was with Peabody for 15 years. At the time of the merger, I was actively involved with the Trustees and the meetings concerning the merger.

Dohrmann: OK. What caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?

Behm: Well, there were a number of things that did affect the financial problems. Of course, one was the very fact that we were a teacher training institution, and it's a well-known fact that teachers who are in education are usually not privy to a great deal of money. Peabody had several programs that were heavily oriented toward research and of course that's expensive. The alumni structure was not wealthy. There had been a continued decline in the enrollment, particularly at the undergraduate level, and Peabody had been having some deficit financing for about 13 years. The big, big problem was that the gifts that we were getting were deferred gifts, and what we needed was spendable cash for an ongoing budget. The job market for teachers was very bleak at that time, and getting the source for major gifts was very difficult.

Dohrmann: OK. Were there alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt?

Behm: Yes, and they were considered. There was a lot of conversation with Duke University, George Washington University, and Tennessee State University.

Dohrmann: OK. Who were the key people in the merger?

Behm: Well, the key people that I was concerned with were the chairmen who was Bob Gable, of course Dr. Dunworth, who was President, and Dr. James Whitlock, Dr. Tom Stovall, Frank Farris, who was our legal advisor. From Vanderbilt, of course the ones that I knew about was Chancellor Heard, Sam Fleming, who was their Board Chairman, and Emmett Fields, who was their President. I know there were other people that were other people that worked with them from the financial standpoint, I do not know their names.

Dohrmann: OK. What was the reaction once the merger was announced?

Behm: Well, there was a lot of negativeness from some sources, where people were directly affected, but for the most part I think there was not a lot of surprise that finally the merger had taken place.

Dohrmann: OK. What were the negatives of the merger?

Behm: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is the obvious termination of 39 faculty members of Peabody, good people, who because of the nature of their particular assignment, were not to be a part of the new structure. There were 65 staff people that needed to be terminated, and then I think a big change for so many people was for the students, was a change in the tuition. The difference in tuition at Vanderbilt was about $1,600 at the undergraduate level, and that's a big jump. And of course it was going to mean a change for students who had come here specifically to study art or music, and those were the big fears plus there were some students who were past as alumni who were fearful that their degree would not be as prestigious because of the merger.

Dohrmann: OK. What have been the most positive outcomes of the merger?

Behm: Well, this is the part that I am most glad to share because I feel like that Peabody today continues to enjoy national and international prestige. I think it is amazing and unique that in spite of, and yet because of changes wrought by the merger, Peabody thrives. It is truly remarkable to me how much the pre-merger traditions have been upheld. Viewed against the backdrop of its distinguished history, Peabody has yet shown its ability to reinvent itself while staying true to its mission. Peabody was so lucky to have merged at such a propitious time for both institutions. Becoming the ninth school under the Vanderbilt umbrella was a blessing and lifesaver for Peabody, and I'd like to believe a incredible addition to an incredible university. Peabody still has the opportunity to impact the future of American education, and preserve its identity under the nurturing [reaches?] of a distinguished and well-known university complex. It's a good marriage, and it is my thinking that we brought heart, soul, and a more social awareness to Vanderbilt University. There are so many positives. At the top of the list, we are still alive and well. Research and fields appropriate to educational advancement is nurtured and strengthened. Better salaries for professors, attract distinguished scholars. As Martha would say, "It's a good thing."

Dohrmann: Do you have other stories about Peabody and the merger?

Behm: Well, my personal story I hope would be interesting maybe to others. The tapestry of my whole life has been woven around Peabody College and Vanderbilt University. I hold a Bachelor's and Master's from Peabody. One daughter has a Bachelor's Degree from Peabody, another graduated from the Demonstration School, and all attended Blair Academy of Music. H.G. Hill, who was the Chairman of the Board for many years, was my father's employer from 1926 until 1941, and I was his staff member for 15 years, starting at Blair Academy and then to the President's office until the merger. I had the privilege of working at Peabody under four presidents, Felix Robb, Henry Hill, John Claunch, and John Dunworth. I was assistant to the President for Dr. Claunch and Dr. Dunworth during their entire tenures, and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for 12 years. Also during this time I served as Director of Affirmative Action, Title IX Coordinator. I told Dr. Hill that he had, in the sense, paid for my education, and then my children's, throughout our lifetimes. Mr. Hill was the largest donor to Peabody, and dedicated much of himself to the well-being of that school. From my employment as the first Registrar of Blair, and continuing still, my life has been forever affected by Peabody. I love the campus, the traditions, the ideals, and I can honestly say that I am so pleased that Peabody has been saved, strengthened, and able to devote its spirit to promote leadership in education because of the phenomenal leadership at Vanderbilt, and the wisdom it has exhibited, I think in preserving the best of Peabody. To me, Peabody is a jewel, and Vanderbilt has provided a beautiful setting and backdrop for it to sparkle anew. Peabody has gone through a lot of metamorphosis, and of course I'm sure that the people that are interested in the story of Peabody knows about its auspicious beginnings going back to 1785 as Davidson Academy, then on to Cumberland College, University of Nashville, and then when the Peabody money came, State Normal College opened on the campus of University of Nashville, then when the trustees voted to allot other funds, it ended up becoming George Peabody College for Teachers, located on its present campus in 1909, and I'm sure it has been noted in other people's speaking about this, that the trustees specifically asked that the school be located near Vanderbilt in order to use their buildings. And I love Peabody, I'm grateful for the part that it's had in my life, and I'm grateful to the people that have seen fit to see it continue.

Dohrmann: OK. Do you have any other stories you want to share?

Behm: Well, I might tell you about my first encounter with Sam Fleming. One cold day, the first winter that Dr. Claunch was in office, the Chairman of Vanderbilt's Board made an appointment to come over at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and there was a fireplace in our office, and it looked so warm and inviting when people would come visit, and I looked up at the clock and it was ten minutes to 2, and I thought, "Sam Fleming needs a fire," so I ran out to get some wood and I had a bundle in my arm and this nice man came by and he said, "Young lady, can you tell me where the President's office is?" and I said, "Follow me." And he said, "I'm not going to follow you, let me take that wood for you." So, Sam Fleming entered the President's office with a big cord of wood, well, not quite that much, under his arms and that's the way he met Sam Fleming, and that was our introduction to the Chairman of the Board. Was that like bringing coals to Newcastle?

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.