Interview with James Hogge
Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History project. Today's date is October 25, 2005. We are talking today with Associate Dean at Peabody, James Hogge, and 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.
James Hogge: I joined the Peabody faculty in '67 and at the time of the merger, was director of an organizational unit called computer services, which provided computing support of both the academic and administrative activities of Peabody and so there was a sense in which I was part of the administration of the college, although I held a faculty appointment as a member of the psychology faculty.
Peabody, going into the merger, did not have departments because we had a reorganization in 1974 which was known as the design for the future. That's another story for another time, but may have, in the minds of some, contributed to the situation that later necessitated merger.
You asked for an overview of the Vanderbilt Peabody situation and I would say that there were many cooperative relationships that existed including, I might add, participation in what was known as the Joint University Library, which was a separate corporation that served Peabody, Vanderbilt, Scarritt College for Christian Workers, Fisk, I believe, and I am trying to remember if Meharry was part of it. Anyway, it was a separate entity that was an element of cooperation and there also were a number of joint programs, particularly in the education areas, and a number of our faculty held joint appointments, even then.
There were a lot of entanglements between Peabody and Vanderbilt and I think those, in the aggregate, one of the reasons why Vanderbilt ultimately was amenable to a merger with Peabody. There was a sense in which the university felt like it would be a very expensive loss if Peabody were to either cease to exist or become part of some other institution.
Dohrmann: What caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?
Hogge: Well, Peabody had been in decline and there had been, as I mentioned earlier, an effort made to reorganize the college to facilitate fund raising and design for the future, which was essentially a creation of John Dunworth, the last president of Peabody, was an effort to reaffirm Peabody as a professional school of education. There was some trimming of areas that could be considered liberal arts, at that point.
In 1974, at that time, a decision was made to sever, actually, the word that was used was, plans to close the Demonstration School and the Blair Academy, which existed. Blair was a preuniversity program offering music to students in the community. The Demonstration School had been not really a lab school but a place to demonstrate curriculum innovations, at least in its early days, and it had evolved into really kind of a private school attached to the college and was a money loser. Both of those entities, Blair and the Demonstration School, had patrons that quickly organized and continued them.
As a footnote to this, the action of severing ties with Blair Academy set the wheels in motion for an eventual creation of the Blair School of Music. It meant that the school of music that existed in Peabody at the time of the merger was doomed by that action because by the time the merger occurred, the Blair Academy had developed strong relationships with some of the members of the Board of Trust of Vanderbilt. So, it's kind of an interesting footnote.
The effort to reorganize the college really hadn't turned things around, financially, and the Peabody administration realized that the college was tottering on the brink of needing to consume its endowment to stay open. So, their account of their motivation, which I think is probably truthful, is that they felt that the college ought to seek some kind of merger or redefinition of itself, do something radical while it still was attractive, if you will, while it still had a dowry. Its dowry consisted of a modest endowment of $14 million or $15 million and a physical plant consisting of building and residence halls, with a good bit of deferred maintenance.
There is a sense that the merger with Vanderbilt was a real set deal that was pretty attractive to the university, even though they had to immediately do some of that maintenance that was deferred.
Dohrmann: Were there alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt?
Hogge: That was an issue of some dispute. The news broke, in the newspapers, on Valentine's Day, 1979, the same year of the merger. The news broke in the papers was not of a merger with Vanderbilt but of possibly with Tennessee State University. I think it's accurate to say that what had happened was late in the calendar year of 1978, the Peabody administration, having concluded that a merger was inevitable, had talked with its own board of trustees, as it was called. The man who chaired the board was H. G. Hill, of the food stores and real estate fame, who was opposed to merger, but when he realized that he was in a distinct minority on the board, he resigned as president, rather than stand in the way. So, with an insistence on secrecy, the Peabody administration made an approach to the Vanderbilt administration to feel them out about any interest in merger.
The timing was really pretty bad because at that time, Vanderbilt was in the midst of what was called a reassessment study, which was an internal study of priorities with plans being to reallocate financial resources in accordance with the priorities set in that reassessment. It was really to be a kind of hydraulic system, no change in total funding, but there would be winners and losers and it was a rather painful exercise. I might add that the library was one of the winners. The computer center was one of the losers. Those are two that I am aware of.
Anyway, that whole process had been managed by the only president that Vanderbilt ever had, a man by the name of Emmett Fields, freeing up Alexander Heard to do fund raising because the centennial campaign had been under way and so when Peabody made this approach, to Vanderbilt, it was antithetical to the reassessment that had been going on. That was done in a kind of atmosphere of financial stringency, or at least a good bit of discipline, and here was the university being asked to pick up a boat that might or might not stay afloat. Some thought that rather a boat, Peabody would be an anchor and that it would sink like a stone after the merger.
After that initial approach which was made in secrecy, it elicited a very cautious reaction from the administration. Emmett Fields was opposed to merger and without much consultation within the university, those responding on behalf of Vanderbilt felt that they could only make a very cautious response, so they said something along the lines of well, we might imagine a policy institute, but we would be able to retain only a very small number of the Peabody faculty, maybe 20 or 30, something like that. The faculty at the time was more like 120. The administration of Peabody, Dunworth and his immediate associates, said well, that's not acceptable and I have to look elsewhere.
They had contacts with George Washington University and with Duke and portrayed them as interested. I was involved on one of the faculty committees that were trying to investigate whether or not there really were viable alternatives with these other institutions and my assignment was to make contact with somebody at Duke.
I spoke with the man who is the equivalent of the Chair or President of their faculty governance organization, equivalent to the Vanderbilt Senate. He chuckled when I called him and he said, yes, I heard something about this on the radio on the way into work today, indicating it was the first he had ever heard of it. So, my guess was that maybe the president of Duke and the president of Peabody had a conversation and that the president of Duke had made interested noises. It didn't sound to me like a real viable possibility.
George Washington University, I am not able to judge, but I think there might have been more serious interest at that point.
The TSU possibility grew out of an approach made by Roy Nicks, the state Board of Regents, who had aspirations for TSU to have a school of education, doctoral programs, and thought that if Peabody would consider becoming the school of education for TSU, that would just be a wonderful solution to what he wanted to accomplish. So, people at Peabody took it seriously and a group set about developing a proposal that would have to be eventually be approved or would have had to have been approved by the legislature, and there were Peabody faculty engaged in trying to lobby the state legislature. It looked like it was going to be a tough sell, but when that news broke that there was a possibility of a merger with TSU and things were no longer secret, that opened the door to broader consultations within Vanderbilt, sort of taking stock of what would it mean if Peabody went away, in some sense, and how should we respond and the conclusion, fairly quickly was that it would be a huge loss and Vanderbilt would be better off to entertain a possible merger.
Some felt that racism was part of the considerations because a merger with TSU could be viewed as creating a black enclave across the street from Vanderbilt, predominantly, historically white, institution. I don't have any way to judge that, although it's a plausible possibility, given, shall we say, the conservatism of some of the members of the board of trust of Vanderbilt, but that's speculation.
For Vanderbilt, it basically amounted to committing a payment of $7 million, doled out on an annual basis, one tenth per year over a ten-year period, that was referred to a merger of subvention to help Peabody get on its feet. There was probably another million and a half to two million so-called costs of merger that were paid out of the Peabody Endowment so that the cash outlay for the university was not huge, and in return, they got a lot of real estate. They got residence halls; they got a number of buildings on the Peabody campus; they got things like the parcel of land which has since been leased on a long-term basis to become the Village at Vanderbilt, which generates revenue from the university. So, it was not a bad financial deal for Vanderbilt.
There were people who thought that after a period of time, probably Peabody would have to be cut back, if not eliminated. There were doubts that it would be financially viable. There were doubts at Peabody. The faculty, frankly, some were saying, well, this is just the first round of cuts.
Anticipating your next question, who were the key people in the merger, I have already named some of them. The President of Peabody, John Dunworth. His two most active subordinates in this were people who were roughly equivalent to vice-presidents, although they had different titles under the Peabody organization scheme. They were called executive dean of administration, a man by the name of Jim Whitlock, and executive dean for academic affairs -- I believe that was the title -- and that was Tom Stovall. So, they were quite visible, Stovall, in particular, who was not popular with the faculty and took a lot of heat. I think Whitlock was regarded as more of a straight arrow and managed to come through without as much faculty resentment.
On the Vanderbilt side, I think Alexander Heard, in the background, was very key because I think it was he who was strongly in favor of a merger and in a sense, probably overruled Emmett Fields, who would not have, had it been left to him, encouraged a merger with Peabody. The timetable was incredibly swift because the first public news of a possible merger broke on Valentine's day. The plan was to draw up this proposal for merger with TSU to be submitted to the board of trustees at a meeting in March. Instead, the proposal that was submitted was a memorandum of understanding, or first proposal for merger with Vanderbilt which was approved in principle by both boards of the respective institutions, and then final approval of the merger occurred in the latter part of April and the merger was consummated on July 1.
There were three mergers in Nashville on that date, two of which tend to sort of fade in prominence, one of which is almost always forgotten. There was the court-ordered merger between TSU and the UT Nashville campus, which was essentially a desegregated order. The other one that no one thinks about is there was the dissolution of the joint university library and at that time, it became the Vanderbilt University library. That was before it was renamed in honor of Jean and Alexander Heard. The librarians in the university system suffered through a merger that went comparatively unnoticed but had its own traumas associated with it.
I think the issues in the merger -- I am just moving through your questions if it's all right, were -- a big one was how many of the faculty would be retained and for those not retained, what would be the terms of severance? About two-thirds of the Peabody faculty were retained. Cuts were made programmatically. A cynic could argue that it was not a true merger in the sense that where there were comparable departments, there was not a merger of rosters and then decisions about who to cut, but rather, things were arranged very cleverly by Vanderbilt so that the cuts or layoffs of faculty were done by Peabody, as a corporate entity before the merger with Vanderbilt to minimize Vanderbilt's exposure legally. So, if you were a faculty member whose job went away and you wanted to sue someone, you wound up having to sue this entity that ceased to exist.
So, there were 40 faculty who were laid off. They lost their jobs. They had a year's pay of severance and there was an outplacement assistance office run by Vanderbilt and there was a claim, at the end of a year, to 100% success rate in finding other employment. I use the word, claim, in there because it depends on your definition of success. There were people who had to retool radically, probably pretty happy eventually. There was one history professor, I remember, who reemerged as a librarian, retooled. I remember a member of the art faculty who wound up as a curator of some segment of collections at Tennessee State Museum. There was another group of faculty who went to work at another institution in Alabama. So, there were various kinds of outplacements, but I think that was certainly the big issue.
The other issue that people fretted about was that Peabody and Vanderbilt were seen as different academic cultures and those associated with Peabody were afraid that the culture that had characterized Peabody would be lost, swamped, overwhelmed in the merger with Vanderbilt.
In retrospect, what I think has happened is that there was a big enough chunk of people and accompanying culture that came into Vanderbilt, coupled with the fact that Vanderbilt was rather highly-decentralized so that as you move from school to school within the university, within the university, you find different cultures that are able to coexist anyway and the budgetary decentralization. All of those things made it possible for Peabody to maintain much of its own culture and maybe, in some ways, influence the university that took it in. But, that certainly was an anxiety and a lot of alumni were very resentful of the merger because they saw their institution being absorbed by this different institution across the street.
The immediate reaction to the possibility of merger generated a whole lot of scurrying around on the part of faculty so there was this period of uncertainty between mid February, when the news broke in the Tennessean, and the actual occurrence of the merger, consummation of the merger on July 1.
Some faculty jumped in to try to make the merger with TSU happen, doing the lobbying that I mentioned. Others tried to find ways to block the merger, feeling that it really wasn't necessary and that Peabody really could, with greater effort, survive independently and there were some, I think, quietly hoping to maneuver for the merger with Vanderbilt. So, there was varied reaction in the faculty and some were just terrified that they were basically paralyzed.
Among alumni, there was some very negative reaction, I think. I remember one reaction to merger that hit me ten years later, at least, was a member of the community chiding me for the loss of the arrangement whereby Vanderbilt football players could have majors at Peabody because he saw that as having interfered with Vanderbilt's success in football. So, that was his main concern, that it was damaging their competitiveness on the gridiron. I think there were quite a few alumni who were distressed.
In the period after merger, there was a major program discontinuation that upset a substantial group of alumni. At the time we had a master of library science program which had been struggling financially and after a few years, the dean of Peabody, Willis Hawley -- I was actually in the dean's office as associate dean at that time -- after a lot of efforts to find ways to sustain the program, the college reluctantly decided to close it, after a whole lot of process, so I don't think it was done precipitously, I am sure it wasn't, and I think it was done as humanely as possible. But, of course, it was terribly upsetting to alumni of that program, which comprise a large set of the Peabody alumni. So, they were very negative. That was not really a direct result of merger, but I am sure in the minds of alumni, they probably felt the merger was not helpful.
The negatives of the merger, clearly, the biggest one was loss of faculty jobs, survivor guilt for those of us who were around after the faculty left, the people who had lost their jobs. In the near-term, there was a steep drop in enrollments because of the uncertainty and Peabody's undergraduate enrollment really became perilously small and it took a number of years to rebuild it. There was that kind of struggle to rebuild the college, which had -- some people thought maybe it had gone out of existence, even.
I think that the positive outcomes, the more positive ones, have been the financial stability that it brought to Peabody and its really good leadership -- we have been lucky in the kinds of appointments we made as dean and the rebuilding of the faculty proceeded very rapidly so that surprise, surprise, Peabody became financial viable and has done very well and is now the top-ranked school among all the schools of the university. So, it's a real plus in the holdings of the university so I think it's been good for Vanderbilt in that respect. Reputationally, I think probably some of the programmatic impact of Peabody within the university, the kinds of things that we have been able to contribute to the rest of the university have been positive and certainly, for Peabody, the association with Vanderbilt has worked very well. I think we are able to have more impact, as a college on the fields that we serve than had we been going it alone, even if we had somehow been able to survive financially.
There certainly was a lot of trauma associated with the merger and I might add, a lot of strain on the administrative systems of Vanderbilt. I can recall really being doubtful that people would even get paychecks. I mean, just the task of plugging into the Vanderbilt administrative systems, I thought, there are people who just wont' get a check the first time, not because the university doesn't want to pay them but because it hadn't worked and we had...
Some of my images, you asked about stories about the merger, one of my early images is as the news of a possible merger broke, it seemed like suddenly, there were all these figures and white lab coats roaming the Peabody campus and those were our good friends at the medical center who are always looking for space, and they were over to see what might become available.
I also remember that there was some furniture that disappeared at one point. I was trying to track down a desk that had been lost, only to discover that the person with whom I was speaking trying to track it down was sitting at the desk and wasn't about to relinquish it. So, there was that kind of problem.
I remember another merger story, about the first summer after the merger, we had a summer school course that was going to be taught jointly by a woman by the name of Ida Long Rogers, who was a Peabody faculty member for many years, and one of the direct descendants of George Peabody, for whom the college is named, whose in fact name, George Peabody (pronounced as on the East Coast), and at that time, ran a management consulting firm in Washington DC. he came in to be kind of a guest instructor, co-teacher in the summer, and we needed to get him paid. So, we sent over a pay request for a check issued to George Peabody in care of Ida Long Rogers. Our staff person who was handling this got a telephone call from somebody over across the street, saying, very funny. She said, no, this is not a joke. Finally, after some effort, she convinced the person on the other end that this was really a real person to whom a check needed to be paid, or amount needed to be paid, and so apparently, it went forward at that point, but eventually, when the check came through, it was made to Idalong Rogers in care of George Peabody, somebody, probably at the point of keying it in to actually run it through the computer systems in the university said, no, this can't be right, so we had a good laugh over that.
There were a lot of struggles and accommodations, initially, a lot of effort of getting Peabody programs fully incorporated into the university, but I think by this time, almost all the dust has settled on that, and we are down to maybe the usual persistent rivalries, issues of respect that exist among areas in the university where somebody in department A thinks their field is inherently superior to the one in department B and some of that, of course, involves Peabody departments.
I would say, at this point, as I look out at other prominent and not so prominent schools of education across the country, that Peabody enjoys a greater centrality in its host institution and more influence, and I would say more just plain respect than most schools of education and that includes places like Stanford and Harvard. So, we feel very fortunate and we are a part of Vanderbilt. There are always a few challenges but it's really gone very well.
It was interesting to see and certainly there was trauma involved and I am sure my view would be different if I had been one of the people whose job went away, but I think it's had a good outcome.
Dohrmann: Thank you very much.