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Interview with David Kearley


Molly Dohrmann: All right. OK. This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is October 27, 2005, and the interview today in Sewanee, Tennessee, is with David Kearley, former director of the Education Library at Peabody. 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 tie.

David Kearley: I was invited to come to Nashville in the summer of 1973 to interview for the position of director of the Peabody College Library. I had been head of the Graduate Library at the University of Alabama prior to that, and had a former connection with the college in that I received my Master of Library Science degree from the college in 1969. In 1973, when I came and began my work as director there, there were some changes underway. The president of the college was President Claunch at that time, and I was informed that there were some changes in the wind; that a new president was being interviewed and would probably take over from President Claunch at the end of 1973. That came to pass when John Dunworth was selected as president of the college, and began his tenure there, I believe, in January of 1974, as I recall. My role at the college: when I came, it was obvious to me that the funding for a full library there -- a college library, to buy educational materials and liberal arts materials -- was not practical. The budget simply wasn't high enough, great enough. And so I immediately saw that we should really concentrate on educational and psychological materials for the Peabody College Library, and rely on the rest of the joint university libraries for liberal arts materials. And I sent out a questionnaire to the faculty, and they more or less reinforced that idea. That seemed practical to them, and kind of fulfilled the idea of the joint university libraries: that each area would have its specialty, with the central library -- which everybody called "JUL" (laughter) -- having really most of the liberal arts materials. And during my tenure, since we were concentrating on education in connection with "Design for the Future," the name of the library was changed from "Peabody College Library" to "Education Library." And it was interesting to me to note that it's now back to the "Peabody College Library," so... (laughter) But I was a strong supporter of the idea of the joint university library, and that each area would have its own kind of specialty, and that seemed to make a lot of sense to me. The Design for the Future, though, that program came in I believe in the spring of 1974, and things began to change a great deal at that time, setting up eight separate programs, I think, on the campus to replace the old academic departments. So at that particular time, when Design for the Future -- which was the new plan when Dunworth came and inaugurated -- when that came into effect, the old structure was done away with, and the new one was set up with new program directives, eight program directors, and it was kind of a top-heavy, administrative (laughter) situation for a small college to have eight program directors there and so forth! But this was something that the new president thought would bring about renewal in the college and that kind of thing, and would help the college a great deal. Actually, I think it eventually destroyed the old college. I think it was a big mistake, and in my own opinion, I think John Dunworth's vision for the college was simply not practical. And I feel that the downfall of the college, the enrollment going down, was directly due to the implementation of this plan. And the elimination of some of the programs that were so highly thought of the community -- the Art Department, the Music Department, and the liberal arts side of the college -- that was what made the college unique, I think: to have a college of education with a liberal arts faculty working with students who would be teaching in the field of education. That interplay was something that made Peabody College unique among educational institutions, to have that interplay where students were exposed to both the best in liberal arts as well as the best in education. And it made something of unique teachers; a unique quality that the students who came out of that institution... But I think this next question that you have here -- "What caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?" -- (laughter) I think it was President John Dunworth. (laughter) I think his vision and the Design for the Future, the enrollment dropped precipitously after the Design for the Future came into operation. And there was dipping into the endowment, which also affected that. Actually, up until 1975 or '76, it's my understanding that expenses and income were pretty much equal. Things were going pretty well. Then 1976 with the Design, and '78, things began to get out of hand financially. So I think with the drop of enrollment and so much of the financial expenses depending on the number of students, it was a bad situation there.

Dohrmann: Were there alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt?

Kearley: Well, my understanding is that there were talks of other kind of mergers: going with Tennessee State University; going with George Washington University; possibly going with Duke. Now, when it came to light that they were actually talking about that, the morale on the campus just dipped, went way down. People said, "This is incredible. How can we be talking about this? How can this be going on?" But I don't think there were talks with Vanderbilt until -- my understanding is -- late in 1978, early 1979 they began. And I think this was mostly the chancellor -- Chancellor Alex Heard -- and John Dunworth and the Boards of Trust who had started communicating about this at that time. And I think these were the key people involved in the idea of a merger. But from the Vanderbilt side, I think it was felt that there would be some need for financial shoring up of the college, and also it would mean that Vanderbilt saw no point in duplicating the liberal arts faculty that Peabody had, which really, as I said before, made Peabody a distinct institution, having that very close relationship of liberal arts faculty with education people being trained in the field of education. And Vanderbilt saw that if there was a merger, maybe one-third or one-fourth of the Peabody faculty would have to be dismissed, and when that came about, again, morale went way down. Some of the very fine professors on the Peabody campus who had been distinguished in scholarship and were recognized as some of the top teachers. One of my friends was several years chosen as the Distinguished Teacher at Peabody, a tenured faculty member who had been there since -- what? -- 1948 or '49, taught in the field of history -- suddenly dismissed and cut out. It was just devastating as far as morale and that kind of thing. And then of course when Design for the Future was first inaugurated, many of the department chairs resigned and sought other employment away from Nashville. And that caused the morale to go way down at that time.

Dohrmann: Can you talk a little bit more about Design for the Future?

Kearley: As I remember, there were three faculty members who were involved in drawing the design up. One was Professor Ida Long Rogers, who recently died. Another was Ray Norris, who also I think during the past year just died. And the third was Jack Allen, who was in the field of Social Sciences, as I recall. They were the primary authors of the Design of the Future. And I don't know what part the president played in that, but there must have been many conversations with the authors, with the president to determine how this would work out. I was asked to have some input in it, and my input was, I suggested that we call it the "Education Library" since that's what we were going to be. Let's call it what its primary holdings would be: in the field of education and psychology. That was about the only input I had to Design! (laughter) And shortly after that, we had already started transferring things over to the central library, where we had holdings in the field of liberal arts that they were lacking. So some of that had started going on at that time. But that was about my involvement, though, in the document, yeah.

Dohrmann: Well, you've already talked about central issues in the merger. Are there other ones that you think about?

Kearley: I can't think of any others. The dismissal of the faculty, the liberal arts faculty... Hmm... Well, the independence of the college was something else. In some instances when there were mergers of institutions like this, the names of both institutions were maintained; I think Case Western is an example of that, where there were two entities who merged, and they kept the names of both. But with this merger, Peabody became a department of Vanderbilt, rather than it being "Peabody Vanderbilt University." (laughter) I don't know if that was an issue or not in the merger, but that was certainly the way it played out.

Dohrmann: So reaction once the merger was announced, I guess it varied depending on who you talked to. Is that right?

Kearley: It really did. I think most faculty that I interacted with on the Peabody campus were not in favor of it, and thought that it would really completely change the character of the college. And I think it was seen almost as a grab of real estate. (laughter) I mean, what? Fifty or 60 acres over there, and some nice buildings, too! (laughter) It was quite a real estate transaction -- maybe one of the biggest ones that Nashville had ever seen! And something that I think had been hoped for for many years, from the time of Chancellor Kirkland, when he was there: that eventually there would be a merger of the institutions. But I think the initial reaction was one of sadness on the Peabody side: that the independence and the long mission -- which was so different from that of Vanderbilt. Where Vanderbilt campus, you had kind of a...I don't know how to describe it; this may not be quite accurate. But there was more of an elitist kind of feeling on the Vanderbilt campus, where it was more egalitarian over on the Peabody campus. Peabody strove for social service and outreach, and "service" in an entirely different way than Vanderbilt thought about those things. And 21st Avenue, it was quite different on each side of the Hillsboro Road. (laughter) And there was sadness that some of the spirit there would be lost in the merger on the Peabody side, it would be a different institution, and that it would just be kind of gobbled up by (laughter) Vanderbilt for its own purposes, you know? Now, I think in the long run, it's turned out a little differently, and I have been very heartened to read in the reports how Peabody has ranked so highly among the schools of Vanderbilt, first in Special Education, and then fifth in General Education, ranking not far behind Columbia, Stanford, and I can't remember the others. But I think that's remarkable. And it's amazing to me that that ranking is there when, on the Vanderbilt campus, I can't recall any of the schools ranking about 15 or 17 among national institutions. That is remarkable! And it must be a source of a little embarrassment on the Vanderbilt campus! (laughter) That this stepchild has come up and has received such recognition. But to get a little bit ahead, I think that that just shows in a sense that the merger has been beneficial to Peabody, and that the money, the support that Chancellor Wyatt gave to the Peabody campus -- I think there was a funding; I can't recall. It seems like to me Vanderbilt promised $750,000 or so for ten years to support Peabody, and in that period, Peabody began to make the transition and strengthen its programs there, and began to thrive. And I have a feeling that both institutions have benefited now from the merger. And one thing I pleaded for for many years was a bridge that would join the two campuses. There had been students who had been killed walking across 21st Avenue. And in my annual reports, several times I said, "Why not have a bridge that goes over there?" And I was so thankful to see that happen (laughter), that the bridge was actually there, and that they're contemplating a second bridge further south, so that students in the commons that are being constructed could walk across down there. So those are good things that have come to pass. And the renovation of Peabody College Library is something I pleaded for for years when I was there. We had terrible problems with the heating and cooling, and at one point, actually, there were pipes that broke and flooded the stacks with water there. So I remember turning in my annual report with a picture of a librarian in a place with water (laughter) flooding the place, which is actually what we were! But of course, at that time, we were part of the JUL, which had its own separate identity from the two colleges. So I was employed by Joint University Libraries until the merger; then I became a Vanderbilt University. (laughter)

Dohrmann: How did that JUL situation change with the merger?

Kearley: It meant simply that -- well, (inaudible) seemed to be kind of disappearing from that arrangement, and I don't -- "disappearing" is not the right word, but it seemed to be turning into some other kind of institution there. So that part of it seemed to be no problem. It simply meant that the JUL was dissolved and became, in 1979, the Vanderbilt Library. So JUL ceased to exist when the merger occurred, and it was at that point that, on the Peabody campus, I became an employee of Vanderbilt University, and no longer was an employee of Joint University Libraries. Frank Grisham, who was the director, of course, continued, and continued as director of Vanderbilt University Library while the Jean Alexander Heard -- that's the name of the building, I think, but the overall name was "Vanderbilt University Library" -- he continued there until 1982, which was my end point there. I think we left at exactly the same time. I came to Sewanee as the director of the library here, and Frank left there and became director of the Southeastern Library Network, SOLINET. Yeah.

Dohrmann: Do you have other stories about Peabody and the merger you think that are maybe unique?

Kearley: I remember at the time of the merger, we were trying to think of some way to honor faculty who were losing their positions on the Peabody campus. And we did have a celebration over at the -- is it the University Club? And we were trying to think of something that we could do that would be kind of a memento of the old college as it was in the old days. And I got permission from somebody on the Vanderbilt side to give to each one of the faculty members one of the chairs in the old Social Religious Building. So at that ceremony, we gave each one a chair! (laughter) That was their part of Peabody College that could be theirs. And that was approved from I think the Chancellor. He said, "Yeah, that's fine." But I had part in that, and that seemed to be appreciated by the faculty who were leaving there. But they left with sad and heavy hearts, though. And Kenneth Cooper I remember was one. Kenneth is still living there, near the campus. And Robert Pope Thomson was another one I remember who was there. Those two faculty I remember quite well. They had taught for years, and there was no longer a place for them on the faculty after the merger. And it was the absence of people like that after the merger that you felt their absence very strongly, you know? Their point of view, and what they had brought to the teaching of students there. That was no longer there. I think they were allowed to stay on for one year or something like that, and then by 1980, they were no longer around. I can't think of any other stories, really, connected... We didn't discuss the Library School, which was one of the things that disappeared after the merger, and I think that was a very sad thing. The Library School, which had a long and illustrious reputation and trained many, many librarians -- some, very distinguished ones -- was competing with new state institutions -- University of Tennessee, University of Alabama -- where the tuition was much lower than the tuition to come to the Library School at Peabody after the merger. The tuition, I understand, increased at that time. So the School of Library Science was not making it financially, and it was at that point I think it was decided to cut that out. And I remember going to the ceremony. There, Ed Gleaves, who had been the director of the Library School, invited many former librarians to come back, and there was a big ceremony, and Dean Hawley, I think, was the dean at that time, and he was present. And it was kind of like a funeral! (laughter) But something that had really produced some very fine librarians throughout the country was now going under, would no longer be there. And as I recall, Dr. Gleaves went down to the Department of Archives and became head of the State Library and Archives. I believe that's right. That's right. And I understand he has just recently retired if I'm not mistaken. Yeah. But the Library School was one of the parts of the institution that, again, no longer there. So I think it's an absence of some of these things that is on the negative side. Though some of these things... Vanderbilt has Art and Music now. The Blair Academy, that was another thing moving over to the Vanderbilt campus, and that came before the merger. The Blair Academy had produced some very fine musicians, and I think that was a big loss to the college when that left. But I suppose my conclusion is that overall, it was a good thing -- or I should put it this way: it's turned out, I think, more positively than I would have imagined. Because at the time of the merger, I think people were thinking, "This is the very end of the institution;" that education and the subjects that are taught here are not respected on the Vanderbilt campus, and were looked on as not as demanding in the coursework and that kind of thing, so the school is going to just go down and be gobbled up by Vanderbilt. (laughter) Well, I think Vanderbilt has been very good to Peabody, and probably Peabody's been good for Vanderbilt. I think that somehow or another, they're both stronger. With all the pain and agony that was inflicted in the earlier period, it's remarkable to me how well it's turned out in all these years. So I suppose my overall assessment is that perhaps it was the best that could be done. Had Design for the Future not come in, it might have been a different story. Peabody might have survived. It had a pretty good endowment for a small school at that time. But with the dropping enrollment and that kind of thing, I don't know whether it could have continued without Design for the Future or not. But I do place a lot of the blame on the president John Dunworth, who came in with, I think, some radical ideas that did not work, and upset the whole scheme of things at Peabody.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

Kearley: Oh, you're welcome, Molly. (laughter)


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.