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Interview with Thomas Stovall

Audio (first part)

Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Thursday, December 15, 2005, and the interview today in the Peabody Library is with Thomas Stovall, academic dean at Peabody at the time of the merger. 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 Peabody/Vanderbilt situation at that time.

Thomas Stovall: Well, that's a mouthful. Well, in the summer of 1975, I had been with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission for three years -- that's the coordinating agency for all of the public sector, and I'd been there as the chief academic person. And I was approached relative to the position of Executive Dean for Academic Affairs at Peabody. Now, that was, in a sense, a new position. It was a reorganization that came about in the '74-'75 academic year. John Dunworth came as president in the fall of '74, as I remember, and so he -- with the support of the faculty senate of Peabody -- set up a committee to take a hard look at Peabody: where it is, where it's been, and, more particularly, where it should be headed. And this committee came up with a study that they called Design for the Future. And in that study, which was carried on during the '74-'75 school year, they recommended a reorganization of the college into faculties representing different disciplinary groups and programs. That is, rather than have a traditional department, with the faculty in that department and then certain degree programs that are offered there, they thought of the faculty as a pool of resource people which the program areas would draw upon to supply certain needs in the academic program, or major, that was being operated by that program area. And at that same time, they had created the position of Executive Dean for Academic Affairs. And there was some significance in that, because the prior situation had been a rather typical one, with the Dean of the College and the Dean for Business Services, or whatever, with certain responsibilities delegated from the president. This was designed to provide more responsibilities and more authority to the executive deans: the Executive Dean for Academic Affairs, the Executive Dean for Business Affairs... And so I was encouraged to accept that position in the summer of '75, to move from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. And so it was in the fall of '75 that this new organization really was implemented. They set up the program structure and the pools of faculty resources, and that caused some tremors, of course, because it was a new concept, and there were some budgetary problems in that -- particularly that first fall. Because, oh, things hadn't been allotted out. For example, there was a big question of roles -- roles as to, "Who's responsible for the basketballs?" (laughter) Well, there wasn't a Department of Physical Education. Things like that. But they were minor matters that could be worked out. But during that year, '74-'75 -- no, I'm sorry, '75-'76 -- there was a reorganization that took place; I don't think we need to go into that too much. It's just something that was going on prior to subsequent events, but they were not particularly -- there was no particular cause-and-effect relationship that I could see. Well, so, in the -- oh, first, second year after the coming of the new president and the implementation of this Design for the Future, there was a hard look, properly, at the financial resources of the college and the future role of a specialized teachers' college, with the development of regional universities. I'll say what I mean there. During the period, oh, of the -- prior to this, really, but particularly it was clear during the 50s and 60s -- the state colleges, which in many cases had developed out of, say, teachers' colleges, were expanding their roles and becoming true state universities, with all this broadening of the kinds of offerings and so forth. And also with -- they had an impact on the level of degree programs. Prior to the 50s and 60s, a typical pattern for a person was to go to a state teachers' college -- if they were going into teaching -- and then teach, and then they would aspire to a higher degree than a baccalaureate degree. And some of these teachers' colleges offered Masters' programs; they were just being developed, and none of them really offered doctoral programs. So the point was that if you wanted to climb up the academic ladder degree-wise, and you looked around this state and most other states, you found that there weren't a lot of public institutions that offered such programs. The state universities, but the state universities were not always -- I mean, the major university, land-grant university -- typically served this role to a certain extent, but because of geography -- the state's small, or... there was a growing need for more programs of that sort. And Peabody had been offering such programs for decades. But when these programs -- the more advanced specialist -- in particular, doctoral programs -- began to be developed at these regional universities, there was a growing question of, "To what extent will it be" -- not "necessary," exactly, but -- "will institutions like Peabody, that are specialized professional education institutions, to what extent will it impact on them?" Well, it had significant impact on enrollment. Because the practical question was, "Is it worthwhile to go to a Peabody, or a Columbia, or whatever is in the neighborhood, and pay, oh, two, three, probably four times as much, for a degree, a credential, that will get you the same salary as one from a public institution?" And as we all know, professional educators, by and large, haven't been extremely well paid, and this had been a consideration, because of the -- well, it was worth it, financially if nothing else. Well, that had an impact on all institutions like Peabody, non-public institutions that were offering these programs. And so the teacher supply was up -- during the, oh, into the 60s, 70s, there was a great demand for elementary and secondary teachers, as a result of the Baby Boom of the 40s, but when you get into the 70s, this is beginning to turn the other direction. The supply, you might say, of school-age children, elementary and secondary, was beginning to slow down. The entries were slowing down; it was reducing (inaudible). And so the question was one of demand for teachers, and one of the problems of those that are in professional education climbing up the degree ladder and trying to make (inaudible)... The net result was that most all institutions of (inaudible) in the country that were professional schools of education outside of the public sector, were seeing their enrollments at least level off, if not beginning to taper off. And Peabody was certainly in that picture. And, of course, expenses were increasing, faculty salaries; everything involved was becoming more expensive. And a hard look at the financial situation of Peabody was somewhat disturbing. We all know that relatively few -- compared with other kinds of professional programs -- relatively few graduates of professional education programs are from family backgrounds, or make a lot of money themselves, to be substantial contributors to their alma mater. There was loyalty there, and there was giving, but not the kind of giving that it took to make the big wheels turn. And so a real hard look at the financial situation was disturbing, because the endowment of Peabody, which in the early '70s was somewhere around twelve to thirteen million -- now, that seems like pure peanuts, but even then, that was not a large endowment. And it wasn't growing. And all of the income from the endowment was used to pay current expenses, and there was no real possibility of reinvesting it to increase the endowment because of the need to keep the show going. And so the question... not only the practical question of financial difficulties, but more particularly, more seriously perhaps, the question of the extent to which the job of meeting the needs -- in professional education, not in the school systems -- was being assumed by the public sector, and slowly but surely it was having an impact on the private sector, maybe. Their role was central. Maybe it was more desirable for them to stay in specialized areas and not try to meet the general needs. And so this caused some serious examination of where we would go from there. Now, I don't know whether you have any -- (inaudible) you stop somewhere along there? Do you have --

Dohrmann: Well, I think that you've just given us the overview -- including overview of the financial situation and how it resulted in a merger being necessary. So can you talk about the merger possibilities and alternatives?

Stovall: OK, so, the executive committee of the board -- which communicated with the whole board, but the executive committee is made up largely of people who are within commuting distance and who really are, on a month-to-month basis, much involved in what's going on. The executive committee, in December of '78 -- there was growing concern during the time prior to '78, but by 1978 the concern was really getting serious on the part of the executive committee. "What does the future hold? What are we going to do? The enrollment -- the endowment's not increasing, our enrollment is decreasing, and we look around and other institutions like this are experiencing the same thing, and so apparently we don't have some exotic disease, it's just what's going on in the world." And so they began to nudge for answers. You know, "What do we do, Mr. President, Mr. Deans?" And so our recommendation was that it would be not totally outside the question to begin to look at the other possibilities -- that is, at becoming affiliated with -- merging with -- some other institution. Well, then you begin to say, "Well, what institutions?" Considering their historical background, the orientation of Peabody, and where it is geographically, and so forth. Well, there were some possibilities that emerged. We consulted with people at the Southern Association, the president of the Association. And with their help -- (primarily our own, and humility to my side?) -- we came up with some names. "What about Emory University? What about Duke University? What about George Washington University, in DC?" "OK," the executive committee said, "well, you have our support in exploring with these what the possibilities might be." So -- now, this is where it begins to be a little amazing. We began to get into a phase of the history of this whole thing that was done in a very -- well, frankly, a secretive manner. In other words, there was not much knowledge of what was going on outside of the executive committee of the board and the chief administrators of the college. And then I look back now, and I think, "Well, that was -- this is incredible, this" -- all this that I'm about to get into now was going on, and very few people knew about it. OK. So, we began to make contacts and explore the possibilities at some of these institutions. First of all, we looked at Emory. And Emory's an institution, a lot like Vanderbilt, in the city of Atlanta. And in the city of Atlanta is a major -- what was originally a teachers' college, but -- a major state university, Georgia State University. And they had gotten deeply into all kinds of programs in professional education, at all levels. And so the question was, "Would it make sense, or would we get into the same situation we're in here in Nashville? What would Peabody gain? Is there a place for another professional school of education in Atlanta, to compete with Georgia State?" And we concluded it didn't make very good sense, because the needs were being met by Georgia State University. And as I said before, the trend was strictly in the public sector, and it just didn't seem to be wise talk. So we didn't go very far with that, but it was considered. But we didn't contact any people there; we didn't -- nobody went down to explore on the ground. I stress that because the next was a little different. We had the case of Duke University, in North Carolina. And they -- oh, contacts were made with the, let's see -- Sanford was the president. And contacts were made with him and his provost, who was the chief academic officer. And we were invited over -- "we" being President Dunworth and Tom Stovall, Executive Dean for Academic Affairs, and Jim Whitlock, the Executive Dean for Fiscal Affairs. And we went over and spent two or three days at Duke meeting with our counterparts, separately and in groups, exploring the possibilities. We were welcomed -- it was seen on both sides -- in both camps, you might say -- that it would be of great benefit to Duke to beef up their program, and it might very well be sensible for Peabody to become a part of Duke and put the two programs together, and then we'd have a position of strength that might be good. But it seems that there had already begun on the Duke campus something like what was going on here, in that Duke was beginning to wonder, looking at the future, whether it made sense for them to beef up or even to continue their professional education program, which mission was being pretty well carried out in the public sector. And so there was difference of opinion as to whether it would make sense. Now, I remember very well, Terry Sanford was president at that time; he later became a Senator for North Carolina, and very well known in the fields of higher education as well as politics. And he was a real developer, you know? And I remember that the three of us were in the car with Terry Sanford. He was driving us around campus, and he'd say, "Now look. Here's this hillside up here; it's a beautiful hillside. I picture in my mind a new building, the professional education building, that will be called George Peabody College for Teachers of Duke University." You know, he was ready to go. And then we would get back in our session with the provost, and he would say, "Well, I don't know, you know? We've had some good programs; we have some now; but we're actually in the process of phasing out our professional education programs because of what's going on in the world." And it just wasn't going very far. It became increasingly obvious that, though it might be a good idea, there was no heat in the effort to move forward with it, either on our side or Duke's side, you know... We saw, "Well, look, if there's not real solid support for this from the top to the bottom, we don't want to get into that. Sanford's maybe out to becoming aware and actually know the things, and he's a dreamer, an empire-builder, and all that, but maybe -- maybe he's not going to build it." So we dropped that, came back and reported to the executive committee of the board on our visits, and they were immediately convinced that, "OK, you tried that; that's what we want." You know, to explore possibilities. So then they said, "Well, what do you think about -- what are other possibilities?" Now this is getting into the fall of '78, and there was going on during that time some talk between Peabody leadership and Vanderbilt leadership about the possibility of working out an arrangement there. It was in many respects kind of a natural... But, again, there were interesting differences of opinion about that on the part of the leadership. Vanderbilt had, about a year before, created a position that it had never had before. It created a position of president. And they -- the chancellor had been the chief administrative officer of the university, who had major responsibilities on and off campus -- everything that regards the university, which is a pretty big job. And so the idea came that, "Well, let's create a position of president, whose primary responsibility will be the administration, the running of campus affairs. Primarily. And we'll free up the chancellor to deal more with external affairs -- that is, relationships with the givers, relationships with the world at large." And so this new position of president had been created about the year before, and Emmett Fields came here from the State University of New York system to occupy that position. This was the first in Vanderbilt history, and then just a few years later the position was dissolved, and they're now back to what they had before, which is a chancellor as the chief academic officer. This is important to note because of the fact that, in a way, it kind of had something -- not quite as pronounced, but it was reminiscent of the Duke situation, in that Emmett Fields felt that -- well, he expressed it so many times that it's almost a broken record in my memory here, hearing this. "It may be a very good idea, but the time is just not right. I came in and was given the mission of tightening up the ship for a rough voyage ahead. Costs are going up," etc., etc., etc., "and we have a lot of programs that could be better and certainly wouldn't be as expensive if we did some tightening up. We may even have some that need to be eliminated," and so forth. "And faculty, and people around campus, know that we are undertaking this assessment." And he said, "So how would it look -- or how would we explain -- 'OK, while this is going on, we'll just incidentally, we'll just -- just kind of attach to it -- bring Peabody into the mix!' Which is -- there are good, solid reasons for it, but on the other hand, the response of many people would be, 'Well, how can you talk about reducing and maybe discontinuing programs at Vanderbilt, and then you add this great big appendix of Peabody?'" (laughter) And this was, I think, his true feelings. But what was happening at that time was, meetings involving the president of Peabody, the president of Vanderbilt, and the chief academic officer and the chief fiscal officer -- there were three of us -- and then we were meeting together, we were meeting with our counterparts across the street... At many different places: at the chancellor's home, at the president's home. And again, I marvel at the fact that this wasn't publicized. Very, very few people, on campus or off campus, knew that this was taking place. (laughter) Even the people in the -- you know, the immediate office staff for each of these positions was -- only one or two people knew. Somebody had to know, other than just the head of the office, but it wasn't -- it's just a remarkably successful effort to keep it quiet. Why? Because it would just immediately -- we'd get the whole thing involved in public controversy, and it had to be more carefully considered on its merits. So anyway, this was going on, hot and heavy, all during the fall of '78. There were meetings of one sort or another involving some of these people two or three times every week. When we got up to -- early December, but I just thought this down -- the very middle of December of '78 -- we met with the executive committee of our board, and gave them a report on where we were. Which was: we weren't making much progress. And they asked -- the response of Vanderbilt, of President Fields, had just been, "Well, the time's just not right. Let's wait... in a year or two... The idea itself makes sense; let's just get things kind of worked out at Vanderbilt, and then we'll do this." Well, our response was, "The time may not be right from that vantage point, but the time is now for Peabody." Because we had done careful analyses, and though we were in the black that year, it was very clear that, unless there was some major miracle, that Peabody would begin to go into the red in the '79-'80 year. And we weren't bargaining from -- well, we were not bargaining from super-strength, but at least we were OK. And how would we operate -- what kind of chips would we have to play -- if we waited a year, and everybody knew that we were in financial trouble. So, back and forth, back and forth. "The time's not right." "The time is right; it's now or never for Peabody." (laughter) And so that's what we came back and told our executive committee. "This is it, and we don't think we're getting anywhere with Vanderbilt, so what do you want us to do?" Well, that's when -- I got the time kind of mixed up -- that's when they said, "Explore possibilities with other institutions." So we did that, fast and furiously, during primarily January of '79. We were going to one of these places, you know, we were really going all-out, because we needed to figure out some kind of answer to the problem that we were facing. And so during that time, before we had really brought back unfavorable reports to the executive committee, sometime in early to middle January, the chief academic officer of the State Board of Regents invited me to have lunch with him over at the University Club. I had known him -- Ray Buchanan, I had known him quite well when I was with the Higher Education Commission, because I was the chief academic officer, and he was the chief academic officer of one of the systems that we coordinated, so we'd been working together for a couple of years prior to that. Anyway, we got together for lunch, and it was at this time that this Tennessee State University began to plan to get the University of Tennessee at Nashville merged into Tennessee State University. There are all kinds of things that run into the tributaries to this stream that we're talking about here. And I don't mean to -- just stop me if you want me to clarify a little bit better. Anyway, Tennessee State University had obtained approval for some doctoral programs in the field of professional education, which was new. The nearest other state university was at Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee State University, and they had at that time, as I remember, one doctoral program, in psychology. And so here came Tennessee State University, making a pitch for doctoral programs, and demonstrating the need for it, and so on, and so on, so... And, well, the question that arose from the Tennessee State University side, the more recent side: "Why do you need to develop doctoral programs when there are strong doctoral programs going at Peabody?" And they stressed cost, and so forth, which is real, and they said, "Well, where are your faculty who can provide leadership for a doctoral program, who have staffed a doctoral program, been involved in it at some other institution?" And they said, "Well, we can bring some people up from Memphis State," which by this time had some programs. "Well, OK, but... it's just kind of complicated, you know? Are they going to move here and work full-time, or are they just going to come occasionally?" Well, then another idea was, "Well, maybe we can make an arrangement for some of the Peabody faculty to teach in the program, to provide -- we can buy some of the time of some Peabody faculty, and they can help us develop the programs." So Ray Buchanan got together with me in January of '79, and this had -- all that I just said, it had all developed in the preceding fall of '78. And Tennessee State had the green light to try to do something to beef up their faculty. And so he got together with me to ask me what I thought about that, and how would we work it so that we could tap into that? And I said, "Well, frankly, Ray" -- I knew what was going on; I'd been to the board meeting, (inaudible) very much affected the Peabody situation. I said, "I don't think that I'd have very much success convincing our faculty to go over and help develop a program that we know full good and well will provide very substantial and unwelcome competition with our program. Here they're going to go over and help set up a program that's going to cost a small fraction of the program that they're teaching in, and so what's going to happen in terms of competing enrollment?" Well, he said, "I thought you'd say that, and I can understand that." And he said, "But I have another idea I want to bounce off of you," although this was a new idea. "Go on ahead," (inaudible). He said, "What would you think about the possibility of working out a merger of Peabody and Tennessee State University?" And I said, "Well, that's a whole different proposition. I see some problems there, but I also see some good things coming out of it for both institutions." We said, "We might have developed here a rebirth of the University of Nashville -- maybe we merge these two institutions, and so we can get away from some stereotypes about what the institution used to be. This is a new institution, made up of the former Tennessee State University and the former George Peabody College for Teachers." In the history of higher education in Nashville, you know, back in the 1820s, '30s, there was a strong move in higher education, the establishment of the University of Nashville and so forth. During all of which Peabody developed, historically, but I'm not going into that. Well, OK; we agreed that (inaudible), so we said, "Let's get together the chief actors here and see. We'll get together the president of Tennessee State, Humphries we'll get Nicks," who was chancellor of the Regent system, "and Dunworth, and see what it looks like," you know... So we got them together within a week's time -- this was within the month of January; things were moving right fast -- and there was very strong support all the way around. There were problems, but we thought they were all surmountable, and the goal that we all saw was worth working for. OK. We got into it. And we got involved to the extent of involving some of our major academic program people, in both institutions, to see how we could merge faculties as well as programs themselves, physical facilities, and all those things, you see. Well, lo and behold, when we got into February, things were beginning to leak out somewhat. Now, not generally -- among the faculty -- but I mean, members of the Vanderbilt board had heard about this, and, you know, John Seigenthaler, who was editor of the Tennessean at that time, had heard about it, and so we asked him to keep it quiet if he could -- which, you know, "There's things coming along" -- and he said, "Well, I'll just have to tell you," he said, "I can't keep it quiet anymore. And I'm not about to be scooped by the Banner." He said, "I was at a social get-together the other evening, and I heard some of the wives of Vanderbilt board members talking about the fact that they had heard that there might be a merger of Peabody and TSU." Well, there was even some rumbling out there that some of the Vanderbilt board members, who were avid athletic supporters, had -- you know, they'd begun to think, "Well, wait a minute now. What impact would this have on many things, including athletics?" And they reminded themselves that on many occasions, four of the five starters in basketball games under the Vanderbilt flag were actually Peabody students. Same thing in football. Why? Because Vanderbilt didn't offer any professional physical education programs. They'd always said, "We don't need to do that; that's something that Peabody does." OK, wonderful. And so a very unusual arrangement was approved by the NAACP -- wait a second -- (laughter) National Collegiate -- NCAA -- National Collegiate Athletic Association. I'm just getting my A's... Anyway, anyway, be that as it may, one of the few such arrangements that was ever approved, whereby there could be students who were students at one institution playing on the athletic team at another. And this was because the faculty had a joint library, and we had cross-registration, and we had a lot of things going on with Vanderbilt that made the case for this, and so, lo and behold, they saw sharp problems for the Vanderbilt athletic program. Because everybody knew that, if Peabody became a part of TSU, that TSU had athletic programs too that were very strong, and there'd be no way that the NCAA -- (laughter) -- would approve that. OK, so, that was -- you know, there were all kinds of things rumbling around out there. Who knows what's in the minds of people? But anyway, on the fateful day of -- (inaudible)? -- February 13, I don't know, but in the middle of February there was a big headline story: "Peabody and TSU Considering Merger." Oh, boy, did it hit the fan. Because this whole thing, see, going way back to our visits out of town, and so forth, had been kept more secret than I ever thought it could be. And so there was great excitement, you know, the faculty, "Oh, uh, uh," you know, a sense of panic. That is, understandably, they wondered, "Well, what's going to happen to us?" and this, and this, and this. But by that time we were well on the way to developing a plan. We were getting it down in black and white, what we would do to bring this all together. And so we proceeded. We, you know, we had to explain, you know, now that the top was off the box, you know -- nothing confidential going on now; we were headed full blast, because we were not making progress with Vanderbilt, and it just made good sense for us to move this other direction, to preserve our programs in another setting that might be more secure. And so when the plan was fully developed, and it was, I don't know, somewhere around the early (inaudible)... The next step would be to receive a formal invitation from the State Board of Regents, for us to work out a merger. So the Board of Regents had a special meeting. I think I'm up to late March or early April now, somewhere right along in there. The State Board of Regents had a meeting, and the main item of business was this proposal that was being submitted, and would the Board of Regents accept it? Would the Board of Regents approve such an arrangement? And they said that they would. So then, the next step would be for the board of Peabody, governing board -- not just the executive committee; they knew what was going on, but the whole board would be invited to come to a meeting to accept the invitation. Board of Regents says, "You're invited to work there." "OK, do we accept the invitation?" Well, that's for the board to decide. So the board met for that purpose, and it was very interesting. As I remember, it was on a Monday. And -- oh, by that time, Robert Gable from Kentucky was chairing the Peabody board, because of the fact that (inaudible), who had chaired the board for many, many years, was not sympathetic with any drastic change in the nature of Peabody, which was -- he had good reasons; I'm not criticizing him. That's just fact. And he just said he thought it best that he not serve as chairman. And so Robert Gable, who was from Kentucky -- former candidate for the office of governor of Kentucky -- he was on the board, and the other members made him the chairman. OK. So he was presiding at the meeting, and he said, to put it simply, that, "Before we get into the main item of business for the day, I do need to tell you one thing, because it relates to that. We have just received an invitation from the executive committee of the board of Vanderbilt to proceed to work out a merger with Vanderbilt." And it seems that in the days just preceding that weekend, there had been meetings on the part of the principles of the two boards, here and various places where they might be, and they had gotten the approval of the executive committee to offer this invitation. Whereas, when you get back into December, you see, it seemed there was no way. No potato. Now, here we are into early April, I believe; I'm not sure of the date. And they see that the idea of a merger with Tennessee State -- which many people back in February thought was just a bluff on the part of Peabody, that we were pushing this and not really serious about it -- that apparently we're serious. Because it had gone to the Board of Regents, and the Board of Regents had said, "Here, we invite you to do this." And the Peabody board was meeting to accept or reject; it looked like they'd probably accept. And then, you know, the show's over. So they scampered around and got enough of the board members of Vanderbilt to support this, and... So then, at that time -- it was pretty obvious to everybody who was at that meeting what would happen, you see, that -- really, the overwhelming majority of the Peabody board were much more supportive of merging with Vanderbilt than merging with Tennessee State, for all kinds of reasons. Good reasons, mostly. So, you know, school was out, in a sense. And there was then a vote on the question of, "Will we, then, accept this invitation from Vanderbilt, to proceed to develop a plan of merger with Vanderbilt?" And the vote was overwhelming. I don't think it was quite unanimous, but it was pretty darn close to it, on the part of the Peabody board. So, this was April -- early April, as I remember -- and so, then, "Here we are." Some of us had just gone through (laughter) the hell and high water involved in working out a detailed plan of merger into Tennessee State. "OK, here we go, we'll develop another one!" (laughter) And at least I will say that our experience was helpful, because we had already designed one, you know, first. So it'd be, like, faculty positions, program -- course offerings, and financial arrangements, and buildings and grounds, and all that, you know, it just boggles your mind to think of all of the things that would have to be considered. So we got working on that day and night, and finally developed this plan for merging with Vanderbilt, which was approved -- ah, I forgot exactly when... April, maybe May? You probably have that date someplace... (inaudible)...

Dohrmann: I believe --

Stovall: In other words, it was developed pretty rapidly. And we -- you know, we had already -- some of the pieces were warm, in a sense, because the chief administrative offices of the two institutions had, during the fall of '78, considered, "Well, what if we did? How would this work, and how would this work, and then..." So, though we had never put together the pieces, because there wasn't encouragement to do that, nevertheless we had talked about most of the elements that would be involved, and so that, plus the experience we just had with working out a plan with Tennessee State, made it a little bit more reasonable than otherwise it would be... (inaudible)

Dohrmann: Uh --

Stovall: Now, I'm sure that I've been much too wordy about it, but, you know, you get me going on this, and --

Dohrmann: That's all right. (laughter) It's very good --

Stovall: -- (laughter) my memory, which is not the best anymore, begins to kind of get warmed up, you know, and...

Dohrmann: (laughter) Can you talk a little bit more about the key people in the merger?

Stovall: Well, let's see... It would be the ones that I have mentioned... That is, on the Peabody side, President Dunworth, of course; and Jim Whitlock, in fiscal matters; and Tom Stovall, faculty and academic programs; and then Art Cook was the dean of students at that time -- and he was, of course, involved, but merging student affairs was not quite as complicated as merging academic affairs, and faculty positions, and money matters, and property arrangements... all that kind of thing. And then, of course, there was President Fields. And I didn't -- I guess, by implication, I had said this before -- it was apparent during the earlier days, back in the early fall of '78, when we were working on this thing, back and forth, back and forth, and being told that the time was just not right. Not publicly, but very quietly, very privately, the chancellor, Alex Heard, made it clear that he thought it was a pretty good idea. But he wasn't going to, you know, push it too much; there had to be support from the president, and the board, and, you know, the people. And he just didn't feel like he should get into the middle of the argument that was going on. So, anyway -- he played a role, however. As did the provost -- doggone it, who was the provost... (pause) Shoot! I can't remember the man's name!

Dohrmann: It's all right.

Stovall: It's important to know that, because he, of course, was very much involved. He and I were the ones who were most responsible for -- the little pieces, some people thought -- but the very important pieces -- faculty, course duplication, and all of those things. Which courses were now offered at Peabody that, if we work out this merger, would no longer be appropriate or no longer be necessary? And what's Vanderbilt doing in its program that might better be under the Peabody flag? Not so much there. The pressure was more on us, you know... What we wanted to do was to eliminate unnecessary duplication of program offerings, of faculty. And then also in the area of plant management, you know, buildings and grounds and... All of those things are going to become one. Well, what's the impact of that -- or implications -- in very practical terms -- for each of these areas where we're trying to, you know, eliminate duplication? In buildings and grounds, and financial management, and program offerings, and faculty status, and... What faculty, if we eliminate these courses specifically, then what faculty does that mean we will no longer need at Peabody? And that's -- I got onto that because I was thinking about Vanderbilt's provost at that time. I should remember, but I just don't, not right now. So, anyway, he came over to -- I remember when he came over to my office, which was over -- oh, I think it was top floor of the administration building -- to go through the personnel files of our faculty, to see which ones... He wouldn't make the decisions, but he needed to get a feel of, which Peabody faculty members could we justify keeping? Because they teach things that are duplicative of Vanderbilt's offerings, but if we merge the two institutions, then, you know, enrollment in these Vanderbilt arts and science courses will increase, and we may need some more faculty, and, you know, that kind of thing. We were going at it as carefully as we could; we weren't just assuming that there'd be no impact on faculty, because there would in fact be impact on faculty. And the net result of that was that -- well, I can't remember the exact number; you probably have it someplace.

Dohrmann: Of the number of...?

Stovall: Thirty-something, as I remember. Thirty-something faculty positions that were eliminated at Peabody. Part of --

Dohrmann: I think (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) as much as 39, or even 40?

Stovall: That sounds about right. 39 or 40 positions, many of whom -- I can't remember this number either, but some of these were occupied by tenured faculty. Some of them were occupied by non-tenured faculty members. And so we worked out different arrangements for those. Tenured faculty, as I remember -- see, this is in the late spring of '79, and so we said to them, "Since it's late in the academic year: if you're a tenured faculty member, and the things that you're teaching, unfortunately, will not be offered by Peabody anymore, and so we won't need that position that you occupy, but -- we will keep you on full salary and benefits for the next academic year. Now, you're free to teach elsewhere; you're free to sit home and twiddle your thumbs; that's your business. And if you'd like to teach at Peabody, we'd like to have you. And of course, you're being paid. But you've just got to understand that next year is the last year you're going to be in a salaried position." And I can't -- I'm sorry, I can't remember the number of those. But there were several. And then, on the part of the non-tenured faculty... (pause) I don't remember right at the moment. I should. Did you ever get in touch with Ed Rugg, by any chance?

Dohrmann: I have still got his name and number; I don't remember what letter has been sent to him right now.

Stovall: Well, he was my right-hand person through all this thing, and very much involved, from Day One. He didn't go to all these meetings that I've described, but when it comes to working on implementation, he was -- without him, I would have gone down the drain. Maybe not, but I was... (laughter) He was just invaluable, and he might even remember the numbers. I wouldn't be surprised. And I mean, he was fully informed at every step of the way. He was one of the people that I confided in, all the way back to the first discussions with Vanderbilt people in the fall of '78. He's a key, key person. And Betty Lee, who's now the Peabody registrar, was, in a sense, his colleague... well, I don't mean she worked for Ed Rugg, but the two of them worked very closely together. Ed was more involved, and Betty was fully informed and worked closely with him. And so both of those are really important, and I can't remember some details at this right moment. They'll pop into my mind. But anyway, there were a certain number of those who were tenured people, and then a certain number who weren't tenured people. As I remember, with those non-tenured people who wanted to stay, we worked out an arrangement -- and I've dug through my files about it; I couldn't find it. But we worked out an arrangement whereby they would receive some certain percentage of their salary for each year of experience at Peabody. It was -- it was not super-complicated, but it was very precise, what would happen if you were a tenured person, what would happen if you were not tenured, and we don't need the position anymore, so... There was an effort made to make it as easy as possible on the faculty who were affected, in the sense of being let go. And there was set up by the Faculty Council a committee, an appeals committee of faculty members. That is, program directors would look at what their offerings are, and then I'd get together with them, and they would, in effect, recommend to me -- and they had (inaudible), you know, kind of shortcutting it. The recommendation would come to me that, "We think this course or these courses can be eliminated; we couldn't really justify them; they duplicate." Now, that in itself is a, you know, a lot of talking necessary there, because people hate to give up pieces of their empire, you might say. And then, "OK, you're going to drop these courses, and what's the impact on faculty? If you don't offer these courses, then you won't need faculty to teach those courses." And after that all got washed through; we got recommendations of which faculty members we wouldn't need, beginning with the fall of '79. And so then I -- with the assistance of a couple people -- I had the responsibility, then, of passing that recommendation on to the president, and saying, "Here is our analysis of the offerings and the impact on faculty positions, and here are the individuals, by name -- here are the people that we think we won't need. And here's what we recommend for tenured people. Here's what we recommend for the non-tenured people." And then, before the president took that to the board, those individuals affected who wanted to could appeal this decision that was about to be made, through this faculty review committee, which had the responsibility of assessing the situation, the reasons why this particular recommendation was being made, and then their judgment. They didn't -- they weren't given the authority to say yes or no, but they were asked to render an opinion that was supportive or not supportive. Well, that was helpful, but on the other hand it... it's hard for a group of faculty to assume that responsibility, for deciding innocence, life or death, (laughter) for their colleagues. So there were various kinds of recommendations, but most commonly, what came through was that, "This person's situation is very different, and you just need to find a way to keep them." Well, we expected that, but -- it wasn't just going through the motions; many people said it was, but maybe -- there was a certain amount of that, let's face it. You know, we wanted to at least give the faculty a voice -- but not give the faculty the authority to make the decision, because that wasn't their responsibility. So anyway, that went on for a while, and out of that came the recommendations to the president. And then he took these recommendations to the board. And, interestingly enough, there was only one lawsuit filed relative to this. Many people predicted, and I fully expected, that there'd be a lot. But there was one case where an individual -- his complaint was that we had chosen to let him go, as compared with this other person -- who was a woman, and that was a factor, but also he thought the main reason was ethnic origins. He had a -- as I remember, it was a Chinese surname, and he said that that, coupled with the fact that we favored the woman over the man, meant that he had been treated unfairly. And he, of course, in the suit named me and the president. Well, his attorney, finally, after talking to us and getting into it and examining more closely, his attorney concluded that he had a pretty weak case. And before it went very far through the court system, he agreed to drop it. And I think all of us were absolutely amazed that we got through all this stuff and only one lawsuit, and it was withdrawn, and during the early stages.

Dohrmann: What about the most positive outcomes of the merger?

Stovall: Well, the most positive outcome was -- well, really, there were two. You know, there was the mundane matter of financial stability, and cutting out duplication would of course have a significant effect on the finances of the institution. And duplication, and reducing faculty positions because of that, helped a lot, but the buildings and grounds merger played some part... All of these things, you know, that consisted of elimination of duplicated services, would add up to financial savings. And that was important. I think also -- well, there were other cases during that post-World War 2 period, particularly on up into the 60s and 70s, when institutions were merging, and specialized professional institutions were becoming part of a larger entity known as a university, which, by definition, is a big tent that holds a whole lot of programs under it. And with -- again, to eliminate duplication, and add strength to programs. So this was good. It made... (pause) Well, it was primarily that. But then, you see, there's another side to that coin, in that -- when you get that, and when we became a part of Vanderbilt, there was a particular increase in the pressure to do research, and publish in professional fields. Because Vanderbilt was strengthening its motivation to become known as a major research institution. And Peabody had been, in some ways, a major research institution in professional education. But honestly, it had never really pushed that. It had seen as its job, from its beginning, historically, as upgrading education, in at least this part of the country, through preparation of professionals -- teachers, administrators, and so forth. That's where the emphasis had been. And just as the various professional schools at Vanderbilt have more than just developing professionals, it's... to further the knowledge in that field, to make -- to further the knowledge, as well as make use of it. And I guess you'd say the professional-oriented institutions like Peabody, their emphasis was really on using existing knowledge and preparing people to go out and make use of that. And if some new knowledge is created along the way, that's great, but that's not our primary purpose. Now, I think that it has become much more important now. And (inaudible)... (pause) arguments there, as to whether that's good or bad... I don't know if I want to go into that too much, but when you have people who are -- well... One immediate outcome of the merger was that in the fall of '79, after the merger occurred officially July 1, I was no longer the dean, and John Dunworth was no longer president. This was all part of it, you see. You know, people, faculty members, unhappy about (inaudible) -- I said, "Well, you know, my position is being abolished. And fortunately, I have a tenured faculty position, and I'm going to go back and teach it. I'm not going to be one of the top level of administrators anymore." Well, then when I got into the teaching aspect... Well, I'll have to say that if you're working with faculty members, practicing faculty members in institutions of higher education -- or junior-level administrators -- who are trying to prepare themselves credential-wise to climb up the administrative ladder... It was pretty obvious that they would prefer to be taught by, or be associated with, a person who's been there and done that, as opposed to a person whose emphasis has been on keeping up with the literature, and going to be professional meetings, and hearing about it, but they've never done it. And this is kind of the difference, I think, between the before and after. I mean, I don't mean to be critical of the people who are there now, but I know that there were cases like that, where, you know, something would come up in the class, and I was able to come up with a situation that I'd been involved in, see? Now, here was a -- if you had been in this position as an administrator, what would you have done? Because I had had the good fortune of having been Vice President of Academic Affairs of a public institution in Kentucky, as well as dean here, and I must say, they even know about my doctorate, which was in history. And I felt like through experience I probably had learned some things about higher education administration, from practicing it. And that probably was useful, just as knowledge of the latest literature and involvement in research projects -- there's that whole -- that gets into the whole question, you know, of research versus practice and so forth... I just -- I think -- well, I'll have to just come right out and say it. I sense that there has been less emphasis on preparing good professional practitioners, and more on preparing research scholars. Now -- well -- I don't mind at this point getting a little critical, because it's just part of the picture. During the -- I became a member of the Higher Education Administration faculty in the fall of '79. I became fully involved; I was teaching, working with the students we had up in New England, and so forth, from '79 until I retired in '90. And I was (inaudible) to take on the responsibility of being the executive secretary of an organization in Tennessee that had been developed back then, in the 1910s, the Tennessee College Association, which was an organization of some 60 institutions, public and private, that had been going strong since the 1910s. The purpose of them being to bring the two sectors -- bring the people who were in leadership positions in these two sectors -- together to work on common problems, to get to know each other, to facilitate cooperation and all that sort of thing. And I was the executive secretary of that organization for several years, and so -- we always tried to get people to come to those meetings who were not only the practitioners -- the chief executive officers, chief financial officers, chief money officers, and so forth -- of the various institutions, public and private, bring them together, so that they could discuss and look at common problems and all that kind of thing. And then, of course, we felt that it was important that those people in institutions like Peabody -- the University of Tennessee, to some extent Memphis State, now the University of Memphis -- those institutions that had professional degree programs that were designed to prepare people to be college administrators -- this was an opportunity for them to get in there and mix and mingle with the people on the firing line. And it was obvious that this was of great benefit to both. OK, so what? Well, so, then I went out of my way, of course, to... At that time, I had an office over in one of those buildings on campus -- it was near where some of the higher education faculty were, the new ones coming in -- and I'd always make a special effort to let them know early what the program's going to be this year, and when it's going to be, and all that kind of thing, and give them a program, and then urge them to come, you know, and... I was surprised, and very, very disappointed, when during the time that I was the executive secretary of the association -- there's an annual meeting in the spring every year -- I remember during the period of, oh, 15 years, because I did it a while after I retired -- (during?) the 15 years that I did that, one one occasion, we had one faculty member from the Peabody Higher Education faculty come to that meeting. And I don't -- well, I -- why? Why? Here you have people that are trying to make names for themselves in research, and in their professional organizations, when they have their meetings and all that kind of thing, and they have in their classes people who are preparing to do things as administrators in higher education -- and neither they nor their students even came to a meeting of the state higher education -- top administrators from all over the state, public and private... I was just -- they were missing a rich opportunity, I thought. Then -- I -- that's too much, there.

Dohrmann: No, I --

Stovall: You better --

 

Audio (second part)

Dohrmann: This is a continuation of the interview with Thomas Stovall, former Executive Dean for Academic Affairs at Peabody at the time of the merger. Today's date is Thursday, December 15th, 2005. Can you talk about other stories you have about Peabody?

Stovall: Well, of course, I -- we all know, in higher education, that there's kind of a pecking order of institutions. And all of us who are closely affiliated with an institution are proud of that affiliation, and of that institution, and so... Obviously, I would think some of the Vanderbilt people felt like they were kind of taking in one of the poor cousins, that they were much more prestigious, much better-known, than Peabody was. And, well, that depended on a lot of things. You know, you can point out the historical origins -- Peabody was much older than Vanderbilt, in terms of where it is. But I remember there came a letter to the dean's office sometime during the early summer. We had sent letters out to all of the prospective students, all those who had applied and been admitted for the next year, explaining to them what had happened, so that they wouldn't panic and run, you know, that the institution still existed, that it existed in a framework that we felt would strengthen it and enhance the whole program. Which we really thought; I did. Still do. But I got a letter from some person in California. And the sense of the letter was this, almost verbatim. He said, "For x number of years, I've been saving my money and time to come to the George Peabody College of Teachers to get a doctorate in Special Education. Now I get this letter saying that Peabody is merging into Vanderbilt University." And this isn't a direct quote, "What is this Vanderbilt University? Is it a fully accredited institution?" Well, you can imagine, we made laughing use of that many times in dealing with our counterparts across the street, you know? Just say, well, "It depends," you know? If you were in the field of medical education, and you say, well, "Peabody in medical education?" Well, Peabody's not in medical education. "Peabody in special education?" Well, yes. "Vanderbilt in special education?" No! They had nothing to do with it until the merger. So that's kind of an extreme case, but it's a true one, you know? The reputation of the institution is -- well, it depends on the criteria you're using to evaluate, in terms of the areas of specialization. Peabody's never had a strong school of medicine; Vanderbilt never had a strong special education program, in its history. For very good reasons; that doesn't mean that one institute is better than the other.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

 

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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.