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Interview with Betty Lee


Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Tuesday, February 14, 2006 and the interview today in the Peabody Library is with Betty Lee, Registrar in Peabody Records and Registration and at the time of the merger, Administrative Assistant to Dean Stovall. 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.

Betty Lee: OK. I actually came in 1975 and it was a time when there was no catalog because the Design for the Future had just been presented by President Dunworth and I was in the Admissions office and at that time I was an Admissions Clerk and I would review applicants for admissions. And I would carefully review them along the criteria for admission and every time I put "reject" on a student, it came back "admit," which was my first clue that there probably was a need for additional income. So, that was the first inkling I had that there might be some issues at Peabody College. I continued to work in Admissions for a year and then I became the Administrative Assistant for Dean Stovall and a very interesting thing there was, although we worked very closely together, I knew there were financial difficulties, but had no idea how severe they were and therefore a merger with anybody had not even entered my mind or the possibility of closing. So, when I was driving home -- or to work -- on February the 13th and had the radio on and I heard that Peabody College to merge with TSU, I was sick. Physically sick. I had no idea. I think I was a little angry that I worked for the person that I should have known it from before I heard it on the radio and I think I went in that office that morning and said, "What is this that I've just heard?" And so, I think my being -- my anger and surprise, it was more shock, I think was the same thing that the students, the faculty, other staff were feeling about that that we were never made aware that there were problems and that potentially something like that might happen. So, that was pretty much how I found out about the merger and I do remember things happening in the years coming up to that. I do remember the selling of the Peabody Demonstration School were we had had many of our practicum students and some student teachers not so many. At that time, more were doing student teaching in the public schools, but I do remember different things being sold, which was another indication that Peabody was needing money. I remember times when we were told there would be no staff raises and it was very close to -- it might have been '78 -- that it came out there would be no staff raises at all and I think almost half of the staff left. I stayed. But I found it a wonderful place to be working and one of the things that I really appreciated was that faculty, staff, and their children could earn a degree for free at Peabody College. You didn't have to have any money put up. You could just apply and you could go to school and earn the degree for free. That was a real plus for working at Peabody.

Dohrmann: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the relationship between Peabody and Vanderbilt prior to the merger?

Lee: Right and that goes back to when I started in the Admissions office and I would review applications for admissions and, of course, most of the football team were Peabody students and so I was reviewing applicants for, technically, Vanderbilt, but they had to be Peabody students so, I imagine they did not meet the Vanderbilt admissions standards. So, there was that agreement between Vanderbilt and Peabody and I guess the Southern Association approved that the students could be Peabody students and play athletic sports at Vanderbilt. It wasn't just football players; it was other students. So, that was one of the connections that we had with Vanderbilt and I can remember their Compliance Officer would come over and scour the records of the students and we got to know him very well. In fact, it was Gary Gibson who was now currently the University Registrar for Vanderbilt University. The other connection was that Peabody students, we had a cross registration where they could take certain courses at Vanderbilt and vice-versa. We had the -- Vanderbilt did not have a Teacher Education program, so we were very convenient for them for students that wanted to major in maybe History, Math, Science that wanted to be teachers, so they would come over to Peabody and do their professional courses. And they would appear on their Vanderbilt records. Vanderbilt did have a teacher licensure office, I guess you would call it teacher certification back then, but they did have an office over there and Olivia Shanks (sp?) and I can't remember, there was a faculty member that worked with her. They had their own office and we had a teacher certification office over here now, Peabody carried the NATEC National Accreditation of Teacher Education Certification, which Vanderbilt did not have. So, that their students, although they completed their teacher licensure courses at Peabody, could not get recommended with an NATEC approval to teach. So, they really did not have the advantage that Peabody students had with states that were looking for that NATEC accreditation and your teacher education program. And there were a number of students that wanted to be secondary education teachers and then took that avenue, but pretty much that was, you know, the athletes and the cross-registration was pretty much what I was seeing between Vanderbilt and Peabody at that time. And there were not huge numbers of Peabody students that opted to take Vanderbilt courses.

Dohrmann: And were there earlier unsuccessful attempts at a merger between Vanderbilt and Peabody?

Lee: Well, I've read about it and I really, I know that when they realized they were in such deep trouble, they looked for other schools that were pretty renowned such as Duke, George Washington, to see if they were interested in our School of Education and apparently not. I mean, Duke dropped their education program I think in '82. And then the opportunity with TSU. I read about how that came about as an option and those were the only ones that I knew of, but then I understand maybe as far back as the '60s there was talk of maybe a merger between Vanderbilt and Peabody, but I wasn't here then.

Dohrmann: OK. Who were the key people in the merger from Vanderbilt and from Peabody?

Lee: OK. From Peabody I know it was President Dunworth, Thomas Stovall, Jim Whitlock, who handled the financial end of things. There was -- Arthur Cook was the Dean of Students, but I don't think that he was in on the merger details. He was my boss in the Admissions office, but on the Vanderbilt side I know Emmett Fields and Chancellor Heard, and Glen Clanton is a name that I heard a lot right after they said they were merging and I think he took care of a lot of the details and the financial arrangements and things like that.

Dohrmann: OK. What do you think were the central issues for the merger?

Lee: The issues that actually created the merger or issues in and around the details of the merger?

Dohrmann: Go ahead and talk about both of those.


Lee: OK, OK. I think one of the problems and reasons for merger was that, of course, we were in financial difficulties and part of that was because of the national economy and the situation where Schools of Education were routinely closing down. There seemed to be a large number of -- an overabundance, shall we say, of teachers and so, being primarily a teacher training institution our numbers of undergraduates were declining and so, we wanted to preserve Peabody. Peabody's fine history, Peabody's reputation, and so, closing was not something that really anybody really wanted to have happen. I think that issues with the merger -- there were things on how we were going to finish our students up for the programs that we were going to discontinue. How we would retain our identity and our prestige and accreditation. How we would make decisions about faculty, retaining the faculty and working with Vanderbilt on who of our board would be on their Board of Trust and, I think originally, there would be four and it ended up being six, which was really good. There were issues of tuition and I do remember a time in the early '80s -- I left, actually, in April of '79. April maybe about around the 17th and I was never gonna work again and I came back the following year in May of 1980 as the Director of Teacher Licensure, so when I came back, we had six different levels of tuition as a result of the merger. We had students that were undergraduates, pre-merger, undergraduates that came in after the merger in the fall of '79, so there were two different rates for the undergraduates. We had professional students that started before the merger and professional students that started in the fall of '79 and then we had these abroad programs, which came along with the merger with Peabody. We had a series with the Air Force in Europe, different sites in Europe and then we had some programs that we had started here in the United States where our faculty would travel to New Hampshire, Washington D.C., Louisiana, and teach courses so, there was a pre-merger rate for those students that was different for the others. But there were six different tuition rates to keep up with like who are you and I am trying to adjust your tuition so, you know, and that lasted really right up through probably '85 or '86. So that was one of the issues of how to phase in the Vanderbilt tuition and really, we hit our very lowest enrollment for undergraduate students in, I think, 1980. That was a really difficult year and then it started building again. I think, some of the issues were the property acquisitions, not just the buildings and the land, there were the furnishings and I do remember people coming over and putting stickers on everything. (laughter) Your typewriter -- back then we had typewriters and furnishings and it was just like we were being absorbed, you know, with little regard for your office space or being unannounced or whatever, so there were some issues in and around that. I do think the athletics was a huge issue in and around the merger and I think that really got Vanderbilt thinking, if Peabody were to merge with TSU there goes their football team because you couldn't have two teams in the SEC -- no -- in the NCAA. Our students that were football players would become TSU football players and Vanderbilt would not have that avenue so, I think they got a lot of heat from the athletic side and the donors and the boosters and whatever. So, the athletics became a huge issue in the merger. I think that pretty much is what, from my perspective, I was seeing. Of course, Peabody had -- we had cut back to being education programs pretty much from '75 until '79, but we had to keep and maintain departments in Math, English, History, Science because of our secondary education programs. Those students had to have a major in those fields in order to be licensed to teach. So, there were issues in and around with the merger all of those areas would be dissolved and, of course, the arts and science courses would replace those departments, so structurally, although we had already made some changes with the Design for the Future, there were still more structural things that we had to change as far as subject areas and things like that. And part of my position with Dean Stovall was to do - write the catalogs -- I wrote every catalog from '76 on through '79, '80, in fact. It got published prior to the merger, so it's kind of a relic that really did not -- was not applicable by the time this -- the 1980 fall semester started, but it was -- I could see the changes in the structure through doing the catalogs and I would do the schedule of courses and so I would see the faculty that were leaving and the ones that were being retained, so it was very interesting to watch it all unfold.

Dohrmann: You've already talked a little bit about the reaction, was there -- do you have other things that you want to say about the overall reaction, maybe at Peabody, Vanderbilt?

Lee: I think that I missed a lot of -- because the merger, I believe, was announced in Apr -- it was late April of '79 and I had left right before that, so I missed the march on the building when they suspended classes and I have read about it and when the faculty and the students -- I think there were about 500 of them -- came and, apparently, attacked the administration building and not attacked viciously, ferociously, but gave lectures on the steps and expressed their discontent. And I think a lot of the discontent was more because they were not conversations and it was such a shock to everybody. They were just simply told this was going to happen and, of course, with that, there's uncertainty for the students and their programs, for the faculty and their positions, and usually there is faculty governance at institutions of higher education and so I think they all felt very left out of the process and uncertain about what was really going to happen. And I do think there was some feeling that Vanderbilt was the big person in the playing field and that they were going to take Peabody, their buildings, their furnishings, and figure that in three years we would be gone and they would have all this real estate and expand their other programs. And we certainly did fool them. I think our national accreditation just carr -- carried us through and good leadership after the merger.

Dohrmann: So I think you've already pretty much talked about the negatives of the merger, but other things that you think?

Lee: I think, you know, being treated kind of like a step-child for a few years and I do know for our students and I had heard faculty in arts and science say, "Oh, you're a Peabody student." It was like there was some stigma that you couldn't achieve especially for the ones that were carryovers between pre-merger and post-merger. There was something like they were lesser intelligent or something and that was -- that was quite hurtful, I think, for a lot of people. In -- in having the -- to release so many really good faculty, I mean, it had to happen, they couldn't all be absorbed by Vanderbilt. That was definitely a negative and, of course, you couldn't use the free benefit of going to school anymore for you, for a spouse, employee or your children. That was lost. Now, I will have to say, having come back a year later after the merger in the -- as Director of the Teacher Certification Office at Peabody, I immediately could see some very positive things happening. I think it was wonderful for our liberal education core to have the advantage of the arts and sciences courses. And it also gave our education students more fields in which they could study and prepare for licensure whether they were secondary, elementary or early childhood, they had all had second majors so, the -- it opened up a lot more than what Peabody had whittled themselves down to. So, that was very helpful.

Dohrmann: Other positive outcomes?

Lee: Yes, I think the fact that when they merged, Vanderbilt then had the advantage of the NATEC teacher education program accreditation and our national standing, which is really the highest ranked school at Vanderbilt University so, we have done some really good things. I think that we are very grant oriented and our -- our funding has been impressive among Vanderbilt. I think, next to the Med School, we bring in the biggest dollars on research grants and we have done some really spectacular things in special education, which is ranked number one in the country and psychology, although there are two psychology departments at Vanderbilt we are still there with the clinical program and some undergraduate majors. I think that was a real plus. I think that is pretty much the positive outcomes that I have seen. The quality of our students, of course, every year it just gets better and better and I think that has a lot to do with the Vanderbilt standards and -- and the fact that we are financially solid. (laughter) And we can do gr -- better things and our -- our buildings had -- in the '70s -- had been neglected and they are all in tip-top shape as you can see by the library. So, we really have put a really nice face on teacher education and been an asset, I think, to Vanderbilt.

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

Lee: Well, I'll tell you one of the funniest ones is that as upset as all the students, faculty, and alumni were at the merger, it didn't take but maybe two years being Peabody College of Vanderbilt University before students were wanting to trade in their Peabody diplomas for Vanderbilt diplomas and I would always get these requests, "My diploma was burned in a fire, could I get a Vanderbilt one?" I'm thinking how upset are you people, but the answer, of course, was always no, you had to have the diploma from the school in which you got your degree. I think I have heard a lot of stories from other colleagues that actually lived through that year that I was not gonna ever work again, but I do think that, over time, there has been a really good relationship that's been built between Peabody and the other colleges at Vanderbilt. Of course, I've been here the whole time, so I've seen a lot of people come and go, and -- but I can see nothing that every year it just got better and better after the merger as far as the relationships.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

Lee: You are very welcome.


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.