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Interview with Edwin Gleaves


Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann with the Peabody Oral History Project concerning Peabody's merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Tuesday, August 16, 2005, and the interview today is with Dr. Edwin Gleaves, former faculty member at Peabody in the School of Library Science. To begin, please talk about your connection with Peabody and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger.

Edwin Gleaves: OK, thank you, Molly; it's good to be here and good to be back at Peabody after an absence of nearly 20 years. Let me say that recalling this after all these years is a little like the story of the turtles and the snail, in which a snail reported that he had been beaten up by a couple of turtles. And when he was asked by the officials what happened and who the assailants were, he said, "Well, I'm not sure; it all happened so fast." And as I look back on this, I feel a little bit like that snail -- that after the year was over, I felt like I had been beaten on a little bit because I was chair of the faculty for that momentous year and the year before as well. And it did happen fast. When you look back at the timing, at the dates, the first serious discussion that I know of by Peabody administration on options for the future that might have involved merger were back in September of 1978, when President Dunworth began to send forth messages that the school was in trouble. And on October 6th of '78, his Board directed him to begin the negotiations with Vanderbilt about a merger, from which there was on apparent progress in the early days, from what I understand. And the Peabody faculty, by the way, during that time, knew little or nothing about the negotiations. The whole matter became public in February of '79, when the TSU story broke -- and that is the possibility of a merger with Tennessee State University. And on March 19, 1979 -- that's not many days after that -- the Peabody board met and approved Vanderbilt's proposal for merger. Something still remained to be done, among other things, and that was the approval of the memorandum of agreement; that took place on April 27th, and the Board voted very closely, as I understand, 28 to 27, to approve the memorandum of agreement, even though they had approved almost unanimously the idea, at the meeting of the 19th. But then, on July 1, 1979, it was all over. Peabody College was no longer a separate and independent institution. Now, the Peabody faculty really knew little about what was going on for much of that time. Certainly until the TSU story broke, we knew very little; we heard some things that were going on, but -- between that time, between the time we heard about TSU and the time everything was essentially cut in stone -- that was only a matter of a few months. A lot happened in a short period of time. I was chair of the faculty during that time, and I can tell you that by July the 1st, I did feel like that snail did -- that I'd been beaten on -- but it wasn't just me; it was a pretty rough go at times.

Dohrmann: How did Peabody get to the state of having to do something as drastic as merging? In other words, what caused the financial situation?

Gleaves: Well, I'm not the best person to ask about that, because neither I nor other faculty were privy to all the financial information. But it was pretty obvious, I think, from several years before that, that things were going to have to change. Peabody was the last free-standing college of education in the United States, with the possible exception of the Bank (Street?) of Education in New York. And it's not surprising that the administration would begin to look around for a host institution where a college of education hadn't made their home. A lot of our teachers' colleges had become universities in and of themselves, as you know. And then in 1974, which was just a few years before the merger, the college made a drastic -- kind of last-minute -- attempt at reorganization called the Design for the Future, which reorganized the college along programmatic lines. And I was director of one of the programs, that kind of educational support personnel. But I think, looking back at that, that that particular design may not have accomplished its purposes. It certainly didn't bring Peabody out of its financial situation. So I think we saw it coming early on. There were also, I think, economic factors at work at the national level, education across the board. So I can't say that it was really a shock to everybody when that time came.

Dohrmann: Did all of the Board members agree about the decision to merge, and also the faculty?

Gleaves: Well, you know, neither the faculty nor the full board of Peabody were involved in very much of these discussions early on. From that September date when President Dunworth began to talk to Vanderbilt, the first time that the full board met was on the 19th of March, and that was the day on which they actually approved -- in principle, anyway -- the merger as proposed by Vanderbilt. So I don't think that the entire board was involved, nor did they always agree. I have a feeling that the Board members were -- and I was at that meeting, March 19 -- were a little kind of overwhelmed by the proposal. And most of them did vote for the merger with Vanderbilt at that time. And I'll talk about TSU in just a moment. But the real crux of it -- the more difficult problem -- was the memorandum of agreement, which was discussed in the meeting on April 27. And from what I have read -- and I was at that meeting as a member of that faculty -- it was very close; the Board voted 28 to 27, counting absentee votes and all that, in support. But key people, like Dr.Ramer, who was a member of the Board and long-time president of the Volunteer State Community College, and Albert Rose, and others, were quite opposed to it. H.G.Hill, who of course was Peabody's great benefactor for so many years, really withdrew early on in the process, back in '78, before the negotiations got very far. I think he just said he didn't want to be a part of that. So with that went some major financial loss, but I think also some support from a number of board members who felt very much like Mr. Hill did.

Dohrmann: What alternatives were there to merging with Vanderbilt?

Gleaves: Well, I don't think there really were very many good ones. I think, looking back at it, we all had to say that the proximity of Vanderbilt and the interrelationships that existed there was really a very natural one and almost inevitable. And it could have even happened earlier. And it's my understanding that at the time of the merger there were about 50 joint programs between Vanderbilt -- everything from athletic programs to music programs to undergraduate programs -- so it wasn't really a great surprise. The TSU, though -- TSU was an interesting alternative, and I think that probably was one that the faculty in particular were interested in when it came up, because it -- among other things, it sort of appealed to our egalitarian sense, I think, versus Vanderbilt, and the idea of merging with a predominantly black institution, but also of having public support, which really addressed the issue of long-term viability of the institution. It really had a certain appeal. So I think that was possible. Now, early on, both Fields -- both Emmett Fields, who was president of Vanderbilt -- well, Alexander Heard was Chancellor -- both he and President Dunworth had talked about Peabody being really something else, being a research institution or graduate center. Something. And one of the things that leaked out of the administration was a handwritten note by President Fields to that effect. And I saw that, and a number of other people saw that, too, and it sort of ignited the flame (laughter) of resistance, because this is the last thing that I think the Peabody board wanted, and certainly the Peabody faculty. Because it would have reduced Peabody to something very small -- more or less, the Kennedy Center. (inaudible) And fortunately, that never did happen. There was some talk about going with Duke and with George Washington University along the way, and that didn't amount to very much. And obviously the distance and a lot of things like that would make that a very difficult idea.

Dohrmann: What did the Board members think of the possibility of merging with TSU? What did the Peabody faculty members think? What did the Vanderbilt faculty members think?

Gleaves: Because the Peabody board did not meet during all that time, until March 19, I don't know what the Board thought. I don't think -- the full board never met and discussed it. And as chair of the faculty I met with the Board, but that wasn't very often, and it was just the executive committee that was meeting from time to time, so I wasn't there to find it out, and I don't know who else really knew what was happening. The faculty, as I was saying earlier, I think did find it rather appealing, for the reasons that I've already given. But again, a funny thing happened on the way to that merger, and that was that even though John Siegenthaler, who was the publisher of The Tennessean, really thought it was a good idea -- and I think said so in public -- one of the sports writers, John Bibb, wrote an article after this came up, talking about all of the implications for Vanderbilt's athletic programs. And all of a sudden, that kind of put Vanderbilt on the defensive, and made Vanderbilt, I think, have second thoughts -- not just about the athletic programs, but all those joint programs that Vanderbilt, in its own way, depended on pretty heavily. And to pull Peabody out of that mix would have -- I think -- gave Chancellor Heard, in particular, some real second thoughts. President Fields had been a kind of hard-line negotiator in this, and so had Dunworth, from what I understand. And their negotiations with each other didn't seem to go anywhere. But when Chancellor Heard, who'd been on leave, came back and kind of saw the lay of the land, he softened and broadened, I think, the proposal for Vanderbilt to merge with Peabody and vice versa. And I think that really made a very big difference. It's really a puzzling thought to wonder if it really would have happened -- that is, the merger with TSU -- because there was some movement in the legislature, including Representative Bragg from Murfreesboro, who was kind of a fiscal hawk -- he was a very good, very responsible overseer of the budget on the House side -- but he was also close to MTSU, and he saw that something like this kind of merger with Peabody and MTSU could make a big difference in funding for MTSU. Plus they weren't sure where they were going to get the money anyway. But it never came to a vote, as you know, because Vanderbilt, having had second thoughts, came back and made their proposal that was brought to the Board on March 19th. And that's the one that eventually was approved.

Dohrmann: And what was the reaction to the merger (inaudible)?

Gleaves: Well, you might say all hell broke loose. And it did set a lot of things going on campus. I can't say it was a total shock. But again, this happened so fast, I think it was something of a shock for everybody to wake up on March 20th and say, "Boom," you know, "This has been done, and the merger's going to take place." So I think it was kind of panic, mixed with concern, mixed with some hope -- all of the above, I guess -- when the faculty realized that it was inevitable. And the thing that was left to do was to make the very best of it. There was really no going back now. Once Vanderbilt had made that proposal, it was a matter of hammering out details. And it's a little like the Iraqi government now, of -- you know, the Devil is in the details. And there was a great deal to do there. My job, I felt at that point, was to make the very best of it in terms of the faculty and the programs, within the confines of what was going to be this memorandum of agreement. And it was clear early on that some of the staff and faculty, including tenured faculty -- and this had never happened before -- were going to lose their jobs. So we began -- and I will mention a little later the severance package that came with it -- but there was the whole issue of who was going to stay and who was going to go, was what we had to deal with.

Dohrmann: What were the central issues in the merger?

Gleaves: Well, I think the central issue was the identity and very nature of Peabody: what it was and what it had been. What would stay, in terms of programs, and what would go. And of course, from the point of view of the faculty, who would stay, and who would go. So all of those were mammoth issues to deal with. Probably the biggest one, in a way, was the music program, because in the memorandum of agreement there was simply no space for the great music program that Peabody had all of those years. And I guess personally, and professionally too, I think that was one of the great losses and one of the areas in which Vanderbilt probably was not as candid as they should have been. Because the idea was that it was just going to go away and would not appear in another form, when in truth it did become, basically, the Blair Academy -- which went from academy that didn't even offer courses for credit, as I understand, and certainly not at the college level, to a full-blown program. Naturally I was happy to have Blair, but the way it was done, I think, was very (inaudible). JUL, the Joint University Library, was another issue, of course, as you well know. And that just had to be hammered out. And in the process, Scarritt was no longer a player in that. And JUL was a unique institution in the country, nothing quite like it. And it had been in existence since 1936. Dr. Kuhlman was the founding director of JUL. But it was doable, I think, in the long term, by becoming the Vanderbilt University library. It had been enough of an operating unit, I think, that when the time came to become the Vanderbilt library -- broadly speaking -- it worked out reasonably well. Better, I think, than music, anyway.

Dohrmann: What were the main casualties and fallout of the merger?

Gleaves: Well, you know, there's a -- I was at Peabody for over 20 years. And Peabody had kind of a special role, a mystique, I think, as a teacher's college -- it's a college of education. And I think one reason for that was it had a strong liberal arts component, a strong core of faculty who were not only good teachers, but they were good scholars. And so Peabody graduates -- at the undergraduate level, and through the graduate programs as well -- really came out, I think, with a special kind of education that was not just pedagogy. It was something with a heart, with a core to it, that I think was very important. We used to have lunches in a room over at the Hill Center for many, many years, in which the faculty -- all the different faculty -- or those who wanted to go -- from psychology, from the library school, from English, from history, from art -- would get together and have at it. And we would discuss everything. It was great. And it was a great mix, I think. And I think that showed in the undergraduate and the graduate program. Basically, we lost that. And I was there for quite a number of years after the merger, and Peabody became very departmentalized after that, compartmentalized, in a way that we hadn't before. And one of the reasons was that we -- and I think this is the biggest loss -- I think the main casualty is losing those faculty members in the liberal arts program. For reasons I don't understand, I don't think any of them were actually picked up by Vanderbilt. Not for any serious period of time. But people like Kenneth Cooper in history, Bob Thomson -- some of whom were able to find jobs soon, and some weren't. Jack Allen, people in art, and of course those in music as well. So to lose these great faculty members... And a number of them were at the peak of their careers. Late 40s, early 50s. And they were in a devilishly difficult job market. And some of them never found a job. And some of them took jobs -- I think they could have done much better in the Vanderbilt system or somewhere else. But it was very difficult. And that was -- personally, to me, it really broke my heart.

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

Gleaves: There are some good things. And I think Vanderbilt can certainly look back on this as a success story for them, because they gained a college of education of great renown. And to their credit, they have put enough into it for it to become -- I guess we'd have to say regain some of its lost fame in the past. So now, somewhat ironically I think, it is Vanderbilt's number one school in terms of ranking among its peers. It's, I don't -- second or third or something like that. And whatever imperfections there might be in the rankings, that does tell us a lot. So Vanderbilt came out pretty well on that. Those who survived -- and I was one of those, for a while -- I think did well, and where they fit into the Vanderbilt -- where they somehow matched Vanderbilt, or they had something special to offer that Vanderbilt did not have -- that's like our brand of psychology that was taking place here, and special education, and things like that. And some of the undergraduate programs, which have since become very popular. Those -- I think they did OK. Now, I'd have to say that the library school -- or, the Department of Library and Information Science, for the last part of its history -- was treated quite well after the merger. And we did OK. It was not, again, exactly a shock that Vanderbilt, or Peabody, decided to close the library school. But I think it was a great loss -- not just to me personally, because I was fortunate enough to be able to move to another position. Some of the other staff were able to stay here in other positions, and some just kind of took whatever they could get. And most of us did reasonably well. But that was a program that'd been around 60 years, and it was really very hard to see it go. While we were here -- while we were with Vanderbilt, things went OK. And I won't get into it -- I don't have a very good explanation of the rationale behind the closing of the school. And there were some other programs that were phased out, too. Let me mention one other thing. I mentioned earlier that I think one of the best things that came out of this was the severance package for the faculty. Given the fact that they were having to leave or having to go out and find something else, the faculty did all that we could to negotiate a severance package that would be -- and I think turned out to be -- as good as you could have ever expected. And it was done with Peabody money; Vanderbilt didn't pay for it. It was part of the deal, the money that came to Peabody from Vanderbilt in the first several years and was left over from Peabody's money. But it was a -- just very briefly, it gave every tenured faculty member an extra year of employment, for the next year, plus a (seven?)-percent raise. And you didn't even have to work for it. If you could find another job, or if you just wanted to do nothing, you got paid. But most of them worked. And then, in addition, we had some things built in that gave each faculty member -- each tenured faculty member -- an additional two percent of annual salary for every year they'd been at Peabody, and then one percent of annual salary for every year remaining to retirement. In addition, a 2000-dollar relocation fee -- if they needed to relocate -- but they got the 2000 anyway. So what it really meant was almost double your salary the second year; it was certainly 150, 170 percent of the salary, which would give them a good start to go somewhere else. Non-tenured faculty didn't get the extra benefits, but they did have an extra year, and they were given 2000 dollars relocation fee as well. So we felt pretty good about that. Then the last thing that was part of this is that Peabody set up an Office of Faculty Services, I think it was called, that would help faculty find new jobs. And I think they did -- I think it helped some. There were some faculty who said they weren't going to have any part of it, but others did, and I think it -- all that together -- I felt pretty good about that.

Dohrmann: Who were the key people in the merger, and how are they remembered?

Gleaves: Well, if you read Paul Conkin's book, he has his own comments about them. And I think probably in most cases whether we agree with him or not, there's some truth in what he says. John Dunworth and Thomas Stovall, I think, particularly President Dunworth, took a great deal of heat. And by the time he left, he was, in the minds of a lot of faculty, persona non grata. And that's just a fact. Tom Stovall was the dean, and he was having to work closely -- he's been a lifelong friend of mine; I've known him well, then and since. And I think he took quite a bit of heat from the faculty, by trying to do what he had to do. But he was able to stay on with the faculty and find his way back into the faculty. I can't judge too much from Alexander Heard and Emmett Fields, but from my perspective, President Fields was the hardliner and Alexander Heard was the politician -- was the statesman, I guess I would say. And it was Alexander Heard, ultimately, who made it go. And now I would have one thing to say about that in just a second. Sadly enough, H.G. Hill was out of it very early, and he wasn't a player. And I think he just kind of faded away. Two other people -- of course, Sam Fleming was chairman of the Board of Vanderbilt, and Robert Gable (inaudible) chairman at Peabody. And I think they had a great influence on what happened. Other board members, I think, like Dr. Ramer, really felt strongly against the merger -- or at least the merger the way it happened. But once it was done -- I know Dr. Ramer still comes back to tour, alumni activities and things like that. And I think he and others of us who felt, "Once it's done, we'll still try to do what we can to support everybody."

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

Gleaves: Well, I have one, that doesn't appear in Professor Conkin's book, and I've never heard any actual account of this, but it -- to me, I think it was the deciding factor on the Board. I mentioned that the Peabody board didn't meet from September of '78 until March 19 of '79, and that's when it considered the proposal from Vanderbilt. And that proposal sort of preempted what had been going on with TSU, so that TSU's never really ran its course. So we don't really know what would have happened with TSU if Vanderbilt had not come back with a much broader and, it appeared, a much better proposal than had been set forth earlier on. But I'm sure that there were a number of board members who were doubters at that time. And in that meeting, as I recall it -- and I've not seen the minutes of it, so I don't... There were a number of reports. I think that I gave a report -- I would normally have done that -- from the faculty. But somewhere on the agenda was the appearance of Alexander Heard. And I think he was actually written in there, but whether they just told us that or whether it was actually on the agenda, I don't know. But after some discussion about all of the things kind of leading up to this, Alexander Heard came in -- he wasn't there all the time -- he walked in. And without further ado, and with just a cursory introduction, he began to talk about why he felt that this merger was made in Heaven, why it had been ordained from the Creation. A little exaggeration, but not much. All the reasons why he felt that it was to everybody's advantage, because of the relationship that we'd had all those years, and all the great things that had gone on at Peabody, and all of that. And he came in -- he kind of swept in, in a kingly fashion, and spoke in a way that only he, I think, is capable of. His eloquence was beyond words sometimes; he was the best at that. And then, when it was over, he thanked everyone in his gentlemanly fashion and swept out the door. And -- no questions, no discussion or anything. And my recollection is that it was immediately after that that the Board voted -- I think with one abstention -- to approve what Chancellor Heard had brought. It was quite a performance. I don't know if that's written anywhere or not, but that's my most vivid memory of all of this, that -- all the things that happened there -- that I think he made the day. And what he did was kind of, in a way, make up -- or gloss over the kind of difficulties they'd had earlier in the merger -- but to put it in the best possible long-term scenario. He was able to do that. Looking back, looking forward, and it happened. I wish we had a video of it, because I think that was really one of the things, anyway, that really made it happen. And having said that, the sticky part came in the next meeting when the vote was close, when the Board had to sit down and look at all of the details in the memorandum of agreement. And some of those stuck in their craw, but we just had to live with that. But from Chancellor Heard's overview, you know, he made it sound like it was a thing that basically could happen, and really should happen, and it did happen.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much, Dr. Gleaves.

Gleaves: Thank you.


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.