" If these walls could talk..."
Many people — educators, community leaders and of course, students — have played a part in shaping the university’s history. You are invited to meet some of them through a series of monthly installments written by Doug Vinson, instructor of journalism at UWG.
Bob Dylan said “the times are a changin “in the '60s - that was certainly the case on the West Georgia campus. During this time period the college was noted as being “the fastest growing college in Georgia.”
Dr. James Boyd, who was appointed president in 1961, spearheaded the unprecedented decade of growth.
Boyd was a member of the original junior college faculty. He taught math from 1933-1935. He then taught at Georgia Tech and later served in the Navy in WW II rising to the rank of commander. After the war he returned to Tech to teach and he held a number of key administrative positions. He also was involved in the development of Tech’s nuclear program. (The quality of the faculty from those early junior college years is underscored by the fact that Dr. Boyd was the fifth member of the former West Georgia faculty to lead an institution of higher learning.)
Boyd was known for his ability to get things done. You couldn't find much red tape in his office. The proof is in the pudding and the statistics tell a story of sustained growth.
In 1961, the college enrolled 1,089 students and in 1970, Boyd’s final year, there were 5,503 students. From 1964-68 the annual enrollment increased by more than 20 percent. At the beginning of the decade two degrees and five programs were available, in 1969-70 the college offered seven degrees and 45 programs, including graduate work. The number of graduates rose from 94 in 1961 to 741 in 1969. In 1969, 80 new faculty members were hired – that’s more than were on the entire faculty in 1959.
You were about as likely to run into a construction worker on campus as you were a student during this time. Nine residence halls were opened. Five academic buildings were built: the Social Sciences and the Math-Physics buildings, the Education Center, the Academic Center, which included the library, and the Humanities building. Some of the other major buildings that were completed were the Student Center, the Health and Physical Education building, and the Student Health Center.
Of course with all these new buildings and programs staffing increased. For example, for most of the previous years the only campus police officer had been Jesse (Nate) Bracknell. When it was time for his nightly rounds Jesse and his dog Joe, the campus mascot, maintained law and order. By the fall of 1968 there were 11 officers on campus.
Dorm regulations changed. In 1966, the curfew for junior and senior women was abolished. (The curfew for freshmen and sophomores stayed in place until 1974.)
The WGC athletic program earned honors by winning the Georgia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GIAC) in baseball, tennis, track, and cross country. Ronnie Burchfield became West Georgia’s first baseball All-American.
Lillian Williams was the first black student in 1963. She earned two degrees in education and received the college’s highest honor, the Founder’s Award in 1985. Charles Wilson, an assistant principal at Carrollton High School, became the first black faculty member in 1969.
A number of national leaders came to the campus – novelist Erskine Caldwell, “God is Dead” theologian Bishop Thomas Altizer, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and Justice William Douglas.
The speech that garnered the most attention though was given by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who came to campus on May 26, 1964 to dedicate the John F. Kennedy Interfaith Chapel. The 1893 building, which had been an Episcopal and a Catholic church, was moved from downtown Carrollton to campus next to the Bonner House.
All was not peace and love during these turbulent times. There were some rumblings, marches and protests on various issues, but on the whole, the campus did not degenerate into the anarchy that took place on many major campuses.
During a Parents Day in 1967, students got out of hand during a “happening” between the old Administration Building and the biology building. Some student artists were demonstrating their psychedelic protest art. Students started throwing eggs. Some fights broke out. Eventually, President Boyd appeared on the porch of the old biology building and persuaded the crowd to go home.
Although the students had a new student center and a new cafeteria system, there were regular complaints about cold meals being served because of problems with the kitchen and the food delivery system. A student protest rally was held and within a week money was allocated and changes were made.
When the director of maintenance announced that all stray dogs meandering on campus would be “systematically eliminated,” the campus newspaper started a save-the -dogs campaign. Several faculty members helped with an effort to help the homeless canines through an adoption program.
Students didn’t show much patience and tolerance though when they created a scene because Johnny Rivers was late for a campus concert in 1969. The following year students heckled and walked out on a speech by cartoonist Al Capp because they disagreed with his views.
A catch phrase for the hippie days was “give peace a chance.” Perhaps the best example of peace and harmony from this era was the action of an astute administrator who found a novel way to reason with some agitated students.
In May 1968, some student scholars with too much time on their hands and a touch of spring fever decided to stage a “lie-in” on the front campus to protest the regulation against reclining on the grass in view of Maple Street. Over time, 50 protestors and 400 spectators gathered. An unpleasant incident could have ensued had it not been for the foresight of the Dean of Students Dr. John Pershing. He pondered the protest and decided to try something beside rhetoric and confrontation.
Pershing made some phone calls and arranged for the college pep band to play for the students and he served free Cokes to the demonstrators and spectators. The tension was defused and trouble was averted. The Dean’s innovative approach at conflict resolution was reported by the Associated Press and the story was sent to newspapers throughout the country.
Sometimes a little civility and common sense can carry the day…maybe Donald Trump and Rosie O’ Donnell could have learned a lesson from Dean Pershing.