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Interview with Robert Newbrough

Audio (first part)

Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann, for the Peabody Oral History Project. Today's date is October 11, 2005. And the interview today is with Professor Robert Newbrough, who was at Peabody from 1966 to his retirement in 2002. To begin with, 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.

Robert Newbrough: OK. I was -- I'd been at Peabody since 1966. I came as a recruit by Nicholas Hobbs, who'd recruited me down here. I was at the time, working in Washington DC, at the National Institute of Mental Health. I'd been there for six years, and Mr. Hobbs called me up one day and said, "We've got a job down here, would you like to come?" So I did, and eventually I came, and I was hired to be the director of an institute in the Kennedy Center. It was called the Center for Community Studies, and it was to be a kind of social science research group at the center, and to study various aspects of mental retardation and family coping, and that kind of thing. And at the same time, I was hired to be the director of the Community Psychology Program area, in the department of psychology. So I had been here for, let's see, 14 years when the merger came. So it was -- I'd been here a while. The Peabody-Vanderbilt situation, let's see. When I came, there was a great deal of interest on Mr. Hobbs' part to see that Peabody and Vanderbilt might get together. He talked about that when I had been recruited, and he characterized it as a dance which the board of trustees did, where when one was ready to go, the other one wasn't. And so over the years, there had been several brushes, several attempts to get that to happen, and it just hadn't happened. And so there was, I thought, you know, there's a kind of a cooperation that went on at the -- below the level of administrators, that was pretty cooperative in program areas. OK.

Dohrmann: And what caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?

Newbrough: I think it was the hiring of John Dunworth. He came down from Ball State University, and he had been a Dean of the College of Education there. And he had public university experience, and he was used to doing things which were publicly funded, and you got from the legislature on a budget. And he wasn't used to a private school, with the need to sort of make your way as you go, and get things to pay and so forth. So he then initiated some reorganizations in the college, which were really disastrous, because he essentially wanted to do away with departments. And he set up what was called program areas, and had program directors, and they really -- it was a matrix organization idea, and it wasn't a bad idea, but the way he went about it, everybody resisted him. And he also had some programmatic moves that didn't make any money and were costly. For example, they started an overseas program in Germany. Actually, it was in England and in Germany that was for counseling, when it was a contract program, run with the US Department of Defense. And it was very popular, and a lot of people went over and taught. And people got into the program, and they never had to come to campus. They did all their work abroad. And it made some money there, but not really very much. And then it sort of began to go downhill about 1975. And there were some changes in government at that time, so they were beginning to lose money. And what they did, eventually, was move everybody back to campus, where there was no program, and had to set it up, and so that was costly. And they then started losing money, and then there were some other programs in the other departments that were doing that. And so overall, the income was less than the outgo, and it went on that way for about five years before they decided that they just couldn't fly it.

Dohrmann: Now there were alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt?

Newbrough: Well, there were rumors of being sold to Duke, and to American University in Washington DC, and there was one other, but I can't remember what that was. And then the move, once that came into town, that is the idea that we're going to stay in town, then they -- the alternative that was on the table was a merger with TSU. And we went down the road on that a long way before suddenly Vanderbilt appears, having negotiated an agreement with Peabody, and so we had sort of emotional whiplash there. Suddenly one day in the paper, while we're thinking we're going to Tennessee State, we're going to Vanderbilt.

Dohrmann: Well, who were the key people in the merger?

Newbrough: John Dunworth, the President, and Dean Stovall, who was Dean at that time. Sort of acted as Vice President. So those were the two Peabody staff and faculty, and then there was Mr. Gable, the chair of the board of trustees, and others I don't know, who all they were.

Dohrmann: What were the central issues of the merger?

Newbrough: Well, it depends on who you talk to. The survival of the college clearly was the issue of the administration, and so they were looking for a home that would ostensibly keep Peabody together by name, and have some sort of programs that are identified with Peabody, and have it survive. The faculty were very concerned about this, because they didn't think that we had -- really had to merge, and so there was that disbelief, and they also thought that we ought to have tried a few more years to have gotten some programs that would be paying programs, and that we really didn't need to merge at that time. Students were very concerned, graduate students in particular, because they were afraid that they couldn't finish their graduate work, and that they thought the people they were studying with would leave or be fired. And so there wouldn't be a program for them to be in and so forth. Staff were very concerned because they figured that they would be moved into the Vanderbilt system. Many of them maybe fired, and the others who would be moved in would probably downgraded, so that they would make less money, and so they were very worried about that. And I think those were the -- what do you say -- the agendas of various groups, right.

Dohrmann: And what was the reaction once the merger was announced?

Newbrough: Shock. (laughter) People phoned up and said, you have to look at the paper, you can't believe what we've got. So the thing was announced in the newspaper, in the Tennessean. Nobody knew about it until then. And then pow, you know, we were really into it, and the faculty rallied very quickly, and sort of circled the wagons, and prepared, and set up a committee, started up a fund. We rolled in some money, and that became a fund which supported our hiring a lawyer, David Pack. And so that was the main reaction. The students sort of came into the offices the very next days and were wringing their hands, and wondering what was going on, wondering what they could do. Staff similarly, that was the kind of reaction that I saw.

Dohrmann: And we've touched on this a little bit, but what were the main negatives of the merger?

Newbrough: Well, I suppose that the biggest negative was that a bunch of people got fired. Faculty let go, and the other was that they got rid of the music faculty and the music program. There was a plan apparently, which had been negotiated before the merger, that Vanderbilt would take Blair School as their school of music, and this was seen as a competitive situation, so they just cut the -- cut it out. And I think that was the main issue for the college, people in the college. Now the faculty, well let's see. When you've got this kind of thing, and there are a bunch of faculty who are ready to -- think that they're vulnerable, they become very concerned about what the settlement's going to be like. And the board of trustees had said in a meeting that they met with all of the faculty, that this was going to be a model merger, that they were going to take care of the faculty, and so we really didn't have to worry, that this would be an exemplary thing, that we would be well taken care of, and so we should just go about our business and keep the college open, and it will be all right. Well, we believed that for about a day, and then as the word began to leak out about what they were going to do, they basically were not going to do anything, but -- they say they were going to give -- they were going to fire some people immediately. That was at -- that would be at the end of the spring semester. Others would go in January, and others would go the end of the following spring semester. The senior people would get a $2,000 severance, and junior people would get $1,000 severance. (inaudible) No counseling, no support, that was it. So it was the opposite of a model -- when they hit the ground.

Dohrmann: What were then the most positive outcomes of the merger?

Newbrough: The survival of the college, with a very strong set of departments, and high quality programs. They got good deans, and made money. That's actually been, I think, a good outcome. But I sort of grieve the people that we lost in the process. That's my main worry about it. But I think on the whole, you know, we've survived, and it's been to our advantage to be part of Vanderbilt. I actually was for the merger. The idea, when I first came down here, because I thought it would, you know, give us more standing, make it easier to recruit and that sort of thing, so.

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

Newbrough: Yeah, a lot. (laughter) OK, well let's see what to say. The administration became very beleaguered, because they -- I guess this is what would happen in any merger. I mean, you come out and you say what's happening, and people around you say hey, wait a minute, and we don't believe it. So then you're in a position of being defensive. And the President and Stovall both didn't have good skills to handle that kind of thing. So they got, you know, they clam up and they'd say sort of aggressive things, and that would get people on their ear. And they'd write these memos and say these things. And so there was that kind of thing going on. There never had been a tradition of involving the faculty very centrally at Peabody. Peabody always felt that we had an advisory committee to the administration, and lots of universities, the big ones, have a faculty senate that has power, and the administration has to take it into account and so on. Well, that never happened at Peabody. So we all felt that we were kind of kept, and not taken care of, and so when that happened, they didn't consult the faculty. So the faculty decided they were going to be consulted anyway. So with me as co-chair, and Sam Ashcroft, who was chair of special ed at the time, we started a process of basically informing the board of trustees what's what. And we put together a memo. We got some working papers on the elements of the merger. We talked about it. The elements had to do with maintaining the programs, maintaining the child study center, maintaining the -- there was a Center for Political and Social Sciences, that's (inaudible). Music department, oh yes, and the relationship with the joint university's library. And so we put all those in, and actually, in the terms of the agreement, they incorporated a lot of that. So they made use of us, but they didn't acknowledge that we had contributed. We were all -- we all felt like we were being treated sort of disdainfully, and kind of offhandedly. But they did listen to us and so on. Now, here's a little story that is kind of interesting. We thought it was at the time. We had heard that, well, there were four -- three or four possible scenarios for what to do with the college. One was to go to -- sell it to Duke, and move the whole program over there, faculty and all, faculty and students. Same to American University, so there was that kind of give it to another university scenario. There was a merger here in town. That was a second thing, and they had two options, TSU and Vanderbilt. The third one was the creation of a foundation where the story was that they were going to sell off the buildings, stop the programs, take the endowment and money that they got from the sale of the buildings and the land, set up a foundation, and keep Dunworth employed. So we, you know, we got really angry at that idea. And we heard that from our lawyer, who was a person of the city. There was a -- he was from old wealth, and they lived in Belle Meade. And so he had a lot of connections, and that came through his connections, so we believed that story. So what we did was we put it right out on the table. We went in, and we said are these the alternatives? And they backed away and said no, no, that's not an alternative and so on. So we thought we had smoked it out and stopped it. But we were really worried about that as a possibility.

Dohrmann: I've wanted to ask you a couple of other things from your -- from your notes in your file.

Newbrough: OK.

Dohrmann: What about newspaper coverage, and who were the reporters who covered the story?

Newbrough: Let me get that out of my file here. Tennessean covered it. I don't remember whether the Banner really had much coverage or not. OK. And I was going through these notes last night, and I ran across it, but the question is where did I put it? OK, there we go. (inaudible) I got (inaudible) of my old file with me. Got lots of (break in tape)


Audio (second part)

Newbrough: The famous day was February the 13th, 1979, a Tuesday. And the headline -- the banner headline on the Tennessean said TSU, Peabody to join? School's Consolidation being Seriously Studied. And then it goes on to talk about the board of regents and that they proposed a consolidation of Peabody programs into TSU. And the Peabody administrators indicated that they were interested. So then there ensued a series of talks which were covered by -- let's see -- I think Sandra Ivy was the main person. Yeah, here's another one by her. February 18th. TSU, Peabody talks (inaudible) There's another one by Sandra Ivy, Resignations of Peabody Officials not tied to TSU Merger Proposal. OK, I've got another one. This is February the 14th, so this is the day after the bombshell. Let's see what they had that day. Peabody may leave the State if Merger Fails. That's also Sandra Ivy. So she was the main person, and let's see, there's something else here. Go easy on TSU Merger, Legislative (inaudible). There was a group in the General Assembly that was coordinated by Steve Cobb, who was at that time, on the faculty -- no, I guess -- yeah, he was on the faculty at TSU, in the criminology department, and was also in the State House. And he was very concerned, and he said now, don't go too fast, this thing could get off the track, and so on. He was generally in favor of this. Steve had a particular interest in it, because he worked for me as a graduate student, and we had done a study for the steering commission in 1978, on the civil disorders in Nashville, Jackson, Mississippi, and Houston, Texas. And Steve had been central to that with me, and so he had gotten acquainted with Peabody and that through us, and had some additional interests. And he wrote a book on his experiences called Pigs -- let's see -- Pigs and Punks. And it was about police, that's the pigs, and the rioters as punks. OK, so anyway, that's my coverage so far on it.

Dohrmann: OK. So are there other things that you would like to add about this merger?

Newbrough: OK. Might shut that off a moment.


Audio (third part)

Dohrmann: We've resumed here the interview with Professor Robert Newbrough, who will be talking about the terms of the merger of Vanderbilt with Peabody.

Newbrough: The faculty ended up with a copy of the draft of the terms of merger, dated -- February, March -- April, April 23. So that was what, two months and a week or so after the announcement. And this had been apparently hammered out in a hotel room in New York City, where Chancellor Heard, and President Dunworth and some others met very much on the QT, so nobody knew about it, and they did it out of town, so nobody would find out about it. And then they came back with this worked out. And essentially what it does, is it says that all the property of Peabody will be transferred to Vanderbilt on the date of merger, that the relationship with the joint university's libraries will be redefined, and in fact, what it will do -- the way they were going to do it, was Peabody was to resign from the corporation, then they would assume ownership of all the materials that Peabody had, and then they would rename the university -- oh, they had to do something with Scarritt College, cause Scarritt College had some materials as well. But they were going to rename it Vanderbilt University Library. Now, there was a problem with that, because when they did that, the joint arrangement with Fisk was terminated. So there wasn't any longer possible for students at Fisk to take courses at Vanderbilt, or Vanderbilt to take courses at Fisk without any transfer of money. And the libraries were then made not available. Before that time, Fisk students were as good as Vanderbilt students, to come over and use the library and do all that stuff. That was, in my view, a major problem, and they -- I'm sorry they did it. But anyways, that's what happened. All right, now let's see. All the assets would go -- let's see. OK, it is the intent of the parties, and the parties do hereby agree that George Peabody College for teachers of Vanderbilt University will become an integral part of Vanderbilt as a professional school, concerned with education and human development. So that's the definition of it, and it sounds like the Kennedy Center. And I think they probably got that wording from there, as a matter of fact. Then they say that Peabody will be governed by the policies and principles of the university, and they will take the staff in, and the faculty in and so forth. The part that was of most concern to us was what they were going to allow us to teach. And they allowed four undergraduate majors: elementary ed, early childhood ed, special ed, and health and physical education. And then they said general education requirements beyond those specified for Vanderbilt students, will be taken at the College of Arts and Science, not at Peabody. So that becomes the basis for letting those people go. So they said they -- undergraduate courses in the following disciplines will be terminated as of spring 1980: art, English, humanities, mathematics, music, natural sciences and psychology. So psychology was transferred over to Arts and Sciences' psychology department. The music school was terminated, and we had a terrific art department. That was terminated as well. We had a studio, a set of studio artists that were very good. And then we had a smattering of other people who were here in math and humanities and so on. Well, all those folks went. And then they would allow us to do professional education for the masters, and they called it post baccalaureate. And let's see. And we could have post baccalaureate programs except in art education and music education. So there's that. And Peabody's authorized to offer programs in the undergraduate degree in the Bachelor of Science. Peabody is authorized to offer program (inaudible) in the following professional degrees, so on -- master of education. The reason I'm doing this is I want to show that where the human and organization development program came from. With Peabody being forbade to have psychology, we had all these psychologists over here, and psychologists who looked like -- educators who looked like psychologists in special ed. So they -- Bob Innes, who had been in the psychology department, had had a training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health in the '70s called Child -- what was it called -- Child Development Consultants. It's a masters program, and it was a human development thing, and they would teach people, individual human development, group dynamics, organizational development and so on. And it was very popular. People came in from all over the place, and took that. It was a two year masters degree, and he was pretty much -- Bob, he was the curriculum, and he was very charismatic, and he set this program up. And then NIMH phased it out. So Bob got the idea that maybe what we could do is to do an undergraduate program in this, and is wasn't psychology, and we'd call it human development. Well, let's see. Ten years before that, Joe Cunningham and a guy named Robert Heiney, Bob Heiney, in special ed, had started a program exactly like that called human behavior. And it was again, very popular, and interdisciplinary and so forth. And I think the reason that it ground to a halt was it was just these two guys that were running it, and Heiney left. He got -- he was a little too liberal for the college at that time, and he was doing touchy feely kinds of things, and getting people to you know, sort of express themselves and so forth, and that wasn't the idea that the administration was very comfortable with, so they were glad to see him go, and they closed it down. So when Bob came forward with this, Joe was still around, Joe Cunningham. Some of the rest of us who remembered the human behavior program, so we sort of steered Bob in that direction, and he took inspiration from that and his masters program, and he got the thing started. So he went over to the board of trustees meeting, and he proposed it. And they debated it, and they said, no, it's probably all right. They'll be lucky to get 15 students a year. So no problem, they need something to do, and it won't pose any threat to the university. So they started it, and in the first year he got 30, and in the second year, he got 75, and in the third year he got over 100 applications, and it just grew like Topsy. I mean, it just went wild. Starting about 1985, I think. So I got conscripted into that in about 1988. Paul Dokecki and I, who were doing the community psychology program at the doctoral level, we weren't being very successful in getting any grant money, so we didn't have good support for our graduate students. So we went to Bob, and we said, if we're going to do this, we'll come in full time, and teach in the program, and we want you to put up -- promise us it's going to have money in the form of teaching assistantships that we can recruit students with. So he said OK, and so we pitched in on that. And we got a lot of interest in what we were doing. And I thought we did a terrific job actually, of sort of bringing community psychology into the program. But we never got our TAs. And so, you know, we always kind of come up to it, the recruitment in the spring, and we'd say, and Bob would say no, we just don't have it. And what was happening was the administration found we had a cash cow here, and was making a lot of money, and they were preening it off, and using it to support people over at VIPPS and stuff. And so the program was being starved for resources while it was generating all this money. And so there was kind of a hew and cry in the faculty about that. And eventually, there was a -- I want to say -- what Bob did, was he hired John Fogler. John was a faculty member here, and a sociologist, and he was very well connected and very well known, and he was on the verge of retirement, so Bob hired him as an assessor, as he called it, or an evaluator for the program, gave him a research assistant to work with him. And they documented this program, and so they really had documentation on what it was doing. And then he used that for negotiation with the front office, and he got a bunch more resources out of that. Then, there was another plot going on, and that was that the administration at Vanderbilt, up at the provost level, was very concerned about our community psychology program, cause it didn't fit, in their view, of what we ought to be doing at Vanderbilt. It fit our view of what we ought to be doing at Peabody, but they didn't like it. So they -- there was a visiting committee -- well let's back up. That was -- I can't remember that guy's name, he was a psychologist from Washington that they hired down here as provost. He had decided that he was going to really have an impact university wide. So he mandated that there would be a departmental review by every department on campus over a five year period, and there would be then a sort of strategic plan set up, and they would -- this was where we headed toward upgrading the status of the university. It was that time, we weren't in the national rankings. So for that -- it happened, and then eventually there was a visiting committee that came, and by that time, we were -- the community psychology program faculty were being roundly attacked by the clinical faculty. And I had been, sort of in both positions of being director of community and director of clinical, and I got smoked out, and I had to resign, cause I was really -- they were really after us. So we -- Paul and I and Gene Class found ourselves very much marginalized in the department and so on. And so we were kind of wondering what to do. And the visiting committee came, and I could see it coming. I could see that they were going to write it up so that we were not contributors. So I prepared a very detailed memorandum, and I then -- I knew one of the people on the visiting committee. I thought he would be sympathetic to us, but he turned out not to be. And I then set up two visits with the visiting committee. Normally they come in and they just have -- they divide up the department, and one person will go talk to each section, and then they all get together and write the report up. Well, I was concerned about that, so I got two different committees of two people to visit, to meet with me, and the rest our faculty. So I made sure we had what I thought was adequate communication. And I'd written it up, I knew what was coming. Damned if that report said exactly opposite to what we said, and said we didn't belong in this department. So you know, we knew it was a set up job at that point, so we basically just folded our hands and decided that we were on our way out. OK, now back to the story of HOD. In the meanwhile, the Dean had been concerned -- this was Jim -- can't think of his name, but it's one before Camilla. And he said we've got to have a proper department over here, this department is a mishmash. And I don't know what to do with the human development counseling program. And I don't know what to do with HOD, and so I want you to do a self-study, and propose something. He didn't tell us what, but we were to propose something. And at that time, that included the faculty, the faculty included Dave Cordray and Mark Lipsey and people at (inaudible) and so on. And so there was a group under Mark Lipsey that proposed they -- basically a community psychology program in that department. And then there was a group that was working on the counseling program, and a group that was working on HOD. And we came up with this, what we thought was a really good plan. And we had several consultations with the Dean, and the Dean encouraged us. So we wrote it up and put it on his desk in June. And he had been out of town, he came back to town in July, read the report, and issued a memo which abrogated the whole report. Well, we were just furious. Everybody was just furious. They thought we'd been -- you know, we've just been double-crossed. And it so rankled everybody, and it got everybody that the Dean had to resign over that. So then Camilla comes, and she says well, I think we need a doctoral program in the department, which had now taken the form of human and organization development, and it had at that time, a counseling and human development -- human and organizational development, and that was it. So she basically said why don't you fold community psychology in there? So we went to work on that, and we then -- that passed, and we looked around for a chair, and we saw Joe Cunningham, who was in the department of special ed, who had come back from the Dean's office. So I suggested him. And people were very worried about him, because Joe's role in the Dean's office was Dr. No. People come up there for money, or programs, he'd say no. I mean, he was a real good guardian for the purse up there. So I had known Joe beforehand, and I knew that there was another part of him. And so I said, well there's a person in here who will probably respond to us as a chair instead of as a Dean. And the good thing about it will be that he knows the Dean's office, and he knows how -- what the money situation is like, and he knows how to get it. So essentially we -- the faculty agreed, and they eventually agreed. And he came in as a chair, and he's been fabulous. He's just been fabulous. The department there has continued to be a cooperative arrangement of people. Psychology was that when I first came, and it turned in to be a group of vultures who were so concerned about resources and their own careers, that you couldn't get anything passed, basically. There was a big fight every time you started to do something. So I was very glad to be out of there, so anyway, that's the long story, so (inaudible) human development, of human and organization development.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.