I was born on August 3, 1939, a tiny, 7-month preemie. The attending physician, Dr. Richter, informed my parents that I would surely be mentally defective and it was not in the spirit of National Socialism that such children should live. He had me moved into a storage room to die, authorizing no feedings. It took my father two days to get the doctor’s order rescinded. But I had refused to die! I stayed in the hospital for several months. According to my mother, by the time I was a year old, I was talking in sentences. I haven’t stopped since.
Around 1948, I was reading one of my aunt’s old magazines and noticed the picture of a gigantic pile of broken dolls. Suddenly, in one terrible revelation, I realized that these weren’t abused dolls but human bodies. I read the article and discovered that those people were murdered simply because they were different. I ran home and stormed into our kitchen, screaming at my mother, asking her if she and Papa had known. I refused to be pacified, so she finally yelled back at me that I’d understand once I had kids of my own; that anyone who would have dared object would have been arrested and probably killed. Parents had to protect themselves to save their children! I yelled back that I sure hoped I would NEVER understand. I was filled with revulsion and guilt. I couldn’t understand why people would allow others to be tortured and slaughtered to protect themselves. Since I could do nothing about the past, I promised myself that I would do my best to fight against hatred, cruelty, and injustice wherever I found it. I gave my first public lecture at age 14, on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and my first major presentation for a seminar dealing with current US History at the University of Vienna, dealing with the Integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. At the time, I was already working toward a Ph.D. in American Literature.
Human Suffering haunted me. I came to this country in 1960 to do research at the University of Southern California library for a dissertation on Archibald Macleish’s JB, a contemporary version of the Book of Job. On the way home, I stopped to visit friends in Oklahoma, a ride to the OU library turned into a date, and the date turned into a husband. By the end of the 1963, we had two children. I did not return to Austria to finish that Ph. D., but eventually acquired degrees from the University of Oklahoma. In 1968 I turned down a considerably better paid position at West Texas State University in order to come to USAO, then OCLA, Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts. The College had only recently been changed by legislative action from a women’s college into a coeducational institution with the stated mission of developing experimental models of education designed to challenge artistically and academically gifted students. I chose OCLA because it was a small liberal arts college and I could be part of developing and implementing the new core program and especially a series of interdisciplinary, team-taught courses dealing with global history of ideas from human beginnings to the present – the courses now known as the World Thought and Culture sequence.
Ingrid Shafer on OCLA
Excerpted from USAO: The Impossible Dream, 1908-1992: A Love Story
First published as "USAO--The Impossible Dream: A Love Story." Chickasha Oklahoma 1891-1992: Our First Hundred Years. Chickasha: Centennial Committee, 1992. 91-115. Full text at: http://projects.usao.edu/~facshaferi/dream.htm
OCLA under President Martin was indeed a sort of Camelot. "Bob came in the new dispensation and his marching orders were to transform this women's college into a full-blown liberal arts college, with all that it connoted," recalls Dan Hobbs, whose daughter Kathy was one of OCLA's first students. Martin had portfolios to make changes, to create, to do all that he possibly could to make a new institution out of it, and, indeed, it became a new institution. "They were able to bring in new talent and particularly bright people and this kind of change, eventually," Hobbs notes sadly, "runs into opposition. Change theory says you can make two or three major changes and after that you begin to engender enough opposition that it then loses it's momentum." Eventually, you had two parties--"a new party and an old party, and after the changes that were made began to threaten, in was almost inevitable that there would be a reaction among those who had been there for a long time." Hobbs believes that "there was too much of a good thing . . . a euphoria that accompanied the revolution, everyone was equal, everyone was fraternal, and there was no special privilege or no special rank . . .. The abolition of rank and tenure was probably the precipitating event leading to Bob Martin's demise and it brought the old and the new faculties into collision with each other."
Hobbs is right about the democratic spirit. The Martins still laugh about an incident while Bob was college president. Occasionally weddings were performed in the chapel. On one such occasion an irate father called Martin's house, complaining that the women's restroom was dirty. So, Dr. Martin (according to his wife Daisy) picked up a bucket and a mop and walked on over to the chapel to clean up the mess, saying, "No woman should have to get ready for her wedding in a dirty bathroom." And then there was the story about his ingenious way to stop a protest sit-in before it really got started: Seems that a group of students wanted to have a little rebellion. Martin is reputed to have observed the commotion from the office window. He mumbled something about what a lovely day it was, picked up his pipe, and wandered on down the administration building stairs toward the group. When he got there he simply flopped down on the lawn with the kids. End of sit-in.
All this democratic fervor led to the new college symbol, an exploding square: The new self-image of the college--or at least part of the college--was succinctly put in a small article called "Signs and Symbols" in the Trend: "The Exploding Square is the symbol, not only of a school, but also an ideal." The piece points to "a group of social dissenters called beatniks" who had used the term "square" to describe the traditional and established ways of doing things, "because a square is a regimented, strictly defined area. To be a square, all sides must be the same length, all angles must be the same. This was their impression of society, conforming to the strict standards." OCLA would be an intellectual nemesis of squares--particularly "the conventional teaching methods and philosophies found at schools all over the world." The article concludes, "The Exploding Square then is the symbol of our attempt at OCLA to break out of the traditions and move ahead to new horizons in the field of liberal arts education. As our symbol, it affirms our dedication to the experimental and innovative concept of OCLA." What few of us appear to have noticed at the time was the fact that the Spirit of OCLA was simply a new incarnation of the OCW Spirit which, a half century earlier, had propelled a tame local vocational girls' school toward a magic couple of decades of national flowering as center of scholarship and the arts. At least one member of the "old-guard" OCLA faculty did understand, the only one who was in any position to know what OCW had been like in the beginning--Louise Waldorf, violinist and long time chairperson of the music department who had come to OCW in 1933, straight out of Oberlin. I found several extant specimens of the exploding square plus the little piece I cited in one of her scrapbooks. She was part of a minority.
Ironically if understandably, it was this very spirit of academic ferment which was perceived as subversive and dangerous by some members of the faculty and some local residents. Almost overnight they saw their campus invaded by long-haired, beaded, barefoot young people of indeterminate gender wearing faded blue jeans. Several of this new breed of students came from distant parts of the country. Some claimed they smoked pot. Most just looked as though they did. The majority were literate, idealistic, inquisitive, eager to learn; and they found courses to stimulate their imagination and challenge their minds. They also found a school where there was only an intermural athletic program and little emphasis on social clubs. Instead of being separated into freshman to senior classes, students were encouraged to interact with one another and the faculty.
Norman H. Calaway--Hardy is a typical student of the early seventies. Now a veteran history teacher with a master's degree in education, he has sent us an entire flock of excellent students. In the thirties, two of his father's sisters graduated from OCW, and his mother attended the college for a year. Hardy's father has fond memories of the dances there. Twenty years ago, when Hardy told his aunt Marie that he had decided to attend OCLA she said that she had quit sending money to the alumnae, not because the school was now coeducational, but because they changed the name. "Her" school was dead! He remembers laughing: "Marie, would that be a status degree for me from Oklahoma College for Women!" So she started contributing again.
Why did Hardy decide to come here? Male, a veteran, railroad worker, union activist, involved in the American Legion and the JCs, and eventually President of the Young Democrats, he seemed worlds removed from the finishing school refinement of OCW. "I grew up thinking of Chickasha as a women's college (though his father graduated from its high school). My dad had fond memories of the dances, and the big bus they called the meat wagon that went to Fort Sill to get men to dance with. On the Halsey side, my mother's brothers all were banned from the campus at one time or another." He had certainly never considered coming to school in Chickasha. However, he found himself researching colleges while he was off the coast of Viet Nam, "wishing he were elsewhere." That's when he discovered OCLA. It looked like exactly what he wanted: Liberal Arts. He got out of the Navy in '70 and came to Chickasha in April of 1971.
He fell in love with the program. "The student body was involved and enthused with the new approach to education--'Let's just not look at things from small disciplines but from several'." There were even hand-made textbooks, written by faculty and students for several of the new courses. He remembers one of Leon Cherrington's "famous" pre-computer multi-media productions, "film, eight millimeter, two or three slide projectors, dimmed lighting, he narrated, recorded music throughout, one hour long, during a lecture section--about war. In twenty years of teaching I've never had a class just get up and file out in silence when the bell rang. Everyone was moved.
Hardy recalls an amusing story connected with Cherrington's presentations. It seems that one night around three in the morning Mrs. Cherrington called LeRoy Rampey, the Assistant Dean, because her husband was missing. Rampey drove to the President's house and got Bob Martin (who had a master key) out of bed; together they went to Gary Hall. According to legend the president was wearing a robe and slippers. He himself thinks he might have stopped to dress. Either way, they got to Cherrington's office, and there was Leon, slide projectors going, music blaring, projector whirring, busy assembling one of his productions. He peered up at them, wondering what they were doing there. "Oh, we just decided to drop by," said Martin, and off they went, leaving Cherrington to his technical wizardry.
"Yes," Hardy remembers with pride, "we were blowing apart the square!" Significantly, the way the square was being attacked was NOT at all in the customary manner of the sixties--taking over campuses and hounding administrators and relaxing standards and getting rid of traditional, arduous, required courses in search of some elusive ghost of "relevance." OCLA administrators, along with about half the faculty were determined to shatter the square of academic mediocrity by challenging students with a demanding, highly structured curriculum mingled with opportunities for small-group discussion and independent study. Hardy has fond memories of the Human Ecology class. "Always had four or five instructors, and only four or five students ever really took the course, but they had to hold the thing in the conference room of Austin Hall to house the people who showed up. I am sure that class never paid for itself but it always filled a large room of people who were really interested." All of this grew out of a contagious love of learning which was quite disconnected from practical considerations.