Interview with Robert Innes
Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project. Today's date is September 6th, 2005, and the interview today is with Professor Robert Innes. To begin, please talk about your connection to Peabody, and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger, with an overview of the Vanderbilt/Peabody situation at the time of the merger.
Robert Innes: OK. I had come to Peabody in 1971, and I was director of a master's program called the Child Development Specialist Program. So I was pretty wrapped up in running this master's program at the time of the merger, and actually wasn't that concerned about it, because I assumed I might be leaving, and I was young. So I didn't have a lot of concerns about it. I wasn't worried about it. And Vanderbilt the school we were supposed to merge with, so I wasn't even thinking about Vanderbilt very much. I didn't have a particular perception of Vanderbilt at that time, but it wasn't like, super-negative. But it was kind of not that positive.
Dohrmann: Who were the key people in the merger?
Innes: Well, I suppose John Dunworth was the key person from one perspective, but I assume the key people were actually people in the community that had influence and were on the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, and were in conversations with people on the Peabody of Trust. So I think the real merger probably got negotiated at the Belle Meade Country Club or some place like that.
Dohrmann: And what were the central issues in the merger?
Innes: I think for us, we were just on a kind of downward trend, and there wasn't any way we could survive financially forever, and the general trend was away from people majoring in education. I just think it was probably an accurate prediction that we wouldn't survive for the long-term, and so it made sense for us to look for some alternative to the direction we were going in.
Dohrmann: And what were other alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt?
Innes: Well, we all thought we were going to merge with Tennessee State, so that was an obvious alternative. And we explored a bunch of other schools. But the Tennessee State one was the most obvious one, since that was supposed to be in the offing.
Dohrmann: What was the reaction once the merger was announced?
Innes: Well, I went to a press conference, to what I thought was going to be the announcement we would be merging with Tennessee State -- and I hadn't heard anything any different than that. And so it was kind of shocking to have them say, "We have completed our merger with Vanderbilt." Not "we are proposing" it, or "we might work on this," but that the merger was complete, and the document had been signed, and there was no negotiating anything. I guess it was kind of very surprising that that happened, and we hadn't heard one thing about it, so...
Dohrmann: What ended up being the negatives of the merger?
Innes: I think most of the negatives were immediate. I think we felt like we didn't have a role in negotiating any of the particulars of the merger, and there were several people let go that were pretty outstanding professors. And so the negatives were those few people that got a kind of bad deal -- although a lot of people got a pretty good deal. And I'd say with the exception of maybe five or six people, people were pretty satisfied with the deal they got. And the potentially most unfair aspect of it was the dissolving of the Music Department, and then starting Blair again sooner than they should have, except everybody I knew in the Music Department got such a better job than they had dreamed they could ever get that I don't think anybody sued them over that. I think the Chairman of our department went to Indiana, which was the best job in the country, I think, outside of a conservatory. So that's one thing that I was mad about at the time, but it turned out pretty well for everybody. And Blair, I think, has really become more than we could've ever become as the Peabody Music Department, even though we were the best department in the South.
Dohrmann: The Department of Human Organization and Development is one of the most important results of the merger. Can you talk about it, and your own role in HOD and its development?
Innes: Yes. At the time of the merger, as I said before, I was involved in this master's program, the Child Development Specialist Program, that was pretty successful, and it was totally federally funded. And so it was part of a national network, and I just assumed I would go somewhere else and do something like that. And after the merger, that grant continued, and I was just doing that, and really hadn't been very involved in all the reactions to the merger, any of that stuff. But Bill Hawley, who was the Dean, asked me to chair a committee to develop a new undergraduate program. My interest in it was that I had a particular theoretical orientation, and I was kind of interested in whether it would work on the undergraduate level. So at least on the designing the program level, I said, "Yeah, that'd be interesting to do." I told him I wouldn't direct it or be involved in it because I was already doing something. But the committee kind of developed this program, and I got talked into starting it up -- you know, kind of doing the first year. And I really did like it almost immediately. I had never taught an undergraduate before that; all my teaching was in graduate-level. And so I got sucked into it pretty quickly, and Kathy Hoover-Dempsey and I, who taught the first course, enjoyed doing that together, and the undergraduate students were enthusiastic and kind of na´ve, and fun to work with. The program, I think we went to the Board of Trust at their main meeting, their after-school-ends meeting, and got permission to start a pilot on the program. The original idea was we'd start a year later, and I don't like doing that. I like developing a program with people instead of abstractly. So I actually thought we'd get maybe five or ten people or something, but actually, I got a call the morning after the Board of Trust meeting from a Board of Trust member, one whose daughter wanted to be in this program. I ended up with, I think, four Board of Trust kids or grandkids in the first class, and by the next fall, we actually had 30 students, which was unbelievable. A lot of them, admittedly, this was the way to get into Vanderbilt, and it was easier than getting into arts and science, and so... All of them stayed in HOD, even though every single one of them told me the first day they were transferring out. And then I just got wrapped into running this program. I'm really interested in this theory -- John Dewey's theory of how you educate people. And as Peabody developed in the first few years, they had redeveloped into one of the nation's leading research centers for learning science, which is the kind of modern incarnation of Dewey. And so everything that started to happen at Peabody was pretty exciting, and one of the things that's a positive of the merger is we just got the money to hire some people, and to hire people that were expensive to hire, and that would kind of make a big difference. And so they hired five people, all of which, I think, made a big difference. That gave us some leverage to hire some more people that make a big difference, John Bransford being one of them, Jack Lydwell. There were just several people that were outstanding leaders in education and in human development. So the big plus for me was bringing in this intellectual capital in terms of professors and research, and that made me want to stay here, and gave me a lot more people to talk to about how to develop this program, because we started to be a place where people that I agreed with philosophically were right around me. That's still the case at Peabody. It's an exciting place to be because Paul Cobb is here, and Leona Schauble, and all these people in education. So even though HOD is not an education program, it thrives because it's in this environment with all of these people that I can talk to and our faculty can talk to about how to run a good program on the undergraduate level. I think the program made a difference to Vanderbilt and Peabody, because it got to be the largest major at Vanderbilt. And the amount of tuition money, that leveraged a lot of other things that we could do at Peabody. I think that was a major reason why we didn't turn into a policy institute, as the original merger people intended. It was that they would sell off our land and use our dorms, and... So I think it actually turned out well for everybody, but I don't think Vanderbilt really intended for us to be much of anything when they bought us.
Dohrmann: And what were some other positive outcomes of the merger?
Innes: Well, I think just the resources of Vanderbilt to build dorms and keep the lawns nice, and Blair and engineering. I mean, just the whole rise of Vanderbilt to a top 20 university, we've ridden that tide up, and our programs have all benefited from the general reputation of Vanderbilt. So we're number one in Special Ed., which we probably were in '65, too, but we're number one in a lot of areas of education. And part of the reason for that is that HOD provides an extra source of funding, and also Vanderbilt provides a kind of more legitimate home, just like at Columbia, the Teachers College has the benefit of being at a good school. I don't think Peabody could've ever floated ourselves up except in Special Ed., where we really were probably the best school in the country for a long, long time, and we're still number one in special Ed. But I don't think some of the areas of education would have been able to keep up with Michigan State or some of these other places that have state funding and resources, and large programs and large faculties.
Dohrmann: And do you have other stories about Peabody and the merger?
Innes: Well, there was another question on here I was interested in. (laughter)
Dohrmann: Oh, OK. OK, go ahead.
Innes: "What caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?"
Innes: I'm just interested in what people say about this, but it seemed to me that the president who preceded Dunworth, Claunch, was so incompetent that it caused just a general dulling of the intellectual... People didn't stay here because he wasn't very competent, and I almost didn't come here even though I wanted to come here, because he was unimpressive to me. But when John Dunworth came in, I think he made some changes that alienated a bunch of people. And I actually liked the plan. There was probably only one person that liked it, and I was that person, I guess. But the decision-making process that Dunworth used was not good. It involved a small group of people that came to an agreement about this thing called "the Design for the Future," then they sprang it on the rest of the faculty, and most of them reacted pretty negatively. Where I think if there had been an involvement in that, it might have worked. But it alienated, like, not only people at Peabody, but some key people in Nashville -- Mrs. Blair for one. (laughter) Pruitt (sp?). She wasn't Mrs. Blair; she was Mrs. Somebody Else. I forget her last name. Wilson.
Innes: But I think she was so mad about some of the things that Dunworth was doing that was taking away the performance part of the music school that that really snowballed on him. I think he was a very good planner, but he didn't seem to know who you didn't step on in Nashville, which in the South, I think, was a different thing than what he was used to, where you just planned things, and... But around here, you have to watch out whose head you step on. (laughter) And I think that was a lot more important. Also, that he had a person working for him whose name I can't remember, but he was a young guy who did a lot of spreadsheets. And I wish I could remember this guy's name, but he'll probably come in in some of the other interviews. But he showed me these spreadsheets about where we were headed, and they were quite convincing. So I think Dunworth had this message: "You've got to do something extreme to save this place, because it's going downhill." And I do think he was correct. Now, he didn't count HOD as being an absolute unknown in the future, but the trend in education majors did go down in the '80s very low, and now it's kind of back up again. But we would've gone under for sure. And then Vandy could've just repossessed us, I guess, or something. (laughter) But other stories? I don't have as many stories as most people because I was kind of off on my own little thing. CDS was a master's program that was kind of self-contained, and I even taught the classes at my house, and so it was this kind of little clique of people off doing something else, and it was very community service-oriented and community based. And so I almost didn't feel that attached to Vanderbilt. Another kind of other factor was I was in the music business then in addition to being a professor, and so I was connected emotionally a lot to what was happening in that part of my life. And so I was rushing around doing these two jobs, and then had two little kids then, which took -- you know? So I had three halves of my life that I was fitting into one life. And it was all fun and exciting, but my kids were like, three and five then, and I wasn't all that worried about the merger. (laughter) So I don't think I have anything else that interesting to say.
Dohrmann: OK. Well, thank you very much --
Dohrmann: -- for being with us today.