A MEMOIR FOR THE JUBILEE YEAR
Why I came to the University of
Kansas City, and why I stayed, are two rather different stories.
This is the story of why and how I joined the faculty.
It is best to begin with my
enrollment at the University of Illinois, in Urbana, in the fall
of 1942. The nation had been at war for less than a year,
and the draft age had just been lowered to include
eighteen-year-olds. I would be eighteen at the end of
January. I enrolled as a
chemical engineering major
for no better reason than I had grown up thinking that a career
as an engineer was an appropriate professional goal, and that I
had done well in my high school chemistry class. And I
quickly learned that others saw this as suitable, especially
after I had taken scholarship examinations at the University of
Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. I won no
scholarships (but was admitted to the Chicago schools), so I
went to the
State University. My tests there argued that I
should be placed in newly formed (for the war effort, no doubt)
accelerated courses in chemistry and mathematics. It is
enough to say that potential notwithstanding, I was not
suited—at least psychologically—for the courses as they were
packaged and taught. Perhaps it was my disappointment at
discovering how much rote memorization was required, or the slow
realization that these disciplines did not penetrate my deeper
interests. Also, the anticipated draft call meant that the
end of my college days were bound to occur during my second
semester. Indeed, each week saw a reduction of the size of
the enrollment in the several courses I was enrolled in, as one
or another of my fellow students was called up.
If my memory is correct, I
received my notice within six weeks of turning eighteen. A
trip to Chicago to see my draft board, to ask for a deferment to
the end of the semester, led to my being able to complete my
first year of college. But my year's performance in my
chemistry courses made it clear to me that whatever future
schooling I would pursue would not include additional work in
The only enlightening academic
experiences I had in my first year of college consisted of a
discovery that I had a real aptitude and interest in engineering
drawing, and my discovery of the field of
A senior in my dormitory was studying architecture, and he
provided me with the introduction to the discipline and the
environment of the Architecture Building on the campus.
This building, with its large hall of casts, its exhibition
gallery, and the large drafting rooms with student prize-winning
designs from former years, was a far more attractive place than
the chemistry labs. Also, the Art Department was in the
same building, providing a somewhat, for me, exotic environment
(though I knew the Chicago Art Institute's collections well, and
I had always liked to draw). Even now my memory is
remarkably clear concerning those early contacts with
architecture and art in an academic setting, and of course they
were even fresher when, after the war was over, I was waiting to
return to the United States to be separated from military
I was no sooner a civilian than
I was back at the University of Illinois, now as a first-year
architectural design student. That was in time to start in
the summer session of 1946. The
GI Bill plus my savings
accumulated over three years of military service permitted the
luxury of economic and social independence. I had ceased
being dependent on my parents when I went into service, and now
could continue this way. The result was that I had no
compulsion to move swiftly to a degree. Thus, when I
found architectural history more interesting than the design
courses (which seemed geared to serve those students who already
were somehow experienced in the field), I saw no reason why I
couldn't concentrate on the former by the device of taking, in
addition, courses in art history. Similarly, I
discovered I had both an aptitude and an interest in sculpture
when I took the required clay modeling course for architects,
and promptly took additional courses in sculpture. Little
did I know that as I indulged myself I was actually preparing
myself to be employed by UKC, then a place and indeed a
location totally unfamiliar to me, despite my extensive
My academic indulgences carried
me well beyond courses in the Department of Architecture, and the
required courses for their degree provided by the Department of
Art and other units of the university. I didn't exactly
browse through the catalog, but I certainly did go off on
various excursions, One day I realized I had accumulated
nearly 200 hours of credit in nearly two dozen academic units of
the university, and had actually ceased to progress toward my
degree in architecture, despite the fact that I had taken about
three-quarters of the required courses. If I wished to
finish, I would have to take four more semesters of work, and
that now seemed foolish. My only option for
graduation, which I took, was a BS in the Division of Special
Services for War Veterans. This was a short-term device to
permit veterans to petition for graduation in a major that was
individually designed. This got around the university's
extremely slow process of instituting new degree programs, and
it recognized that the older student—the veteran—could have
legitimate goals and training that were (in those days) seen as
interdisciplinary. I declared for a major in "the history
of art and architecture," and showed how I had taken all of the
relevant undergraduate courses offered, as well as additional
courses in cognate fields. Thus it was that I graduated in
June 1949 with a BS and 200 hours. As far as I can tell, I
was the first student to graduate as an art history major at the
University of Illinois, though naturally my diploma does not use
that designation, since technically the major did not exist.
Before I had taken this
momentous step, I had dropped in to speak with the Head of the
Frank Roos, to learn a bit
about the opportunities such a specialization might provide.
He was an art historian, and he was harshly realistic about the
prospects, even with graduate training, pointing out that
present circumstances could not be used to predict the future,
since the surge of returning veterans had distorted the state of
higher education. The future, which then seemed to be a
return to past practice, did not hold promise. But at the
same time he somehow encouraged me to try if I was interested.
I knew nothing then of the
politics of the Art Department, and that very soon Roos would be
voted out of his Headship by the senior faculty (all of whom
were studio people). I never learned the full story, even
years later when I was a close friend of Frank and
wife. Except for one aspect of the internal politics then
affecting the department, the situation did not influence the
unfolding of my career. The only place that it became
relevant was that while I was converting myself into an art
history major, I was also working on becoming a sculptor, this
under the tutelage of
the only sculptor on the faculty, and thus something of a fringe
member of the powerful studio people who actually held control.
So there I was, with a foot in the studio camp and clearly also
a rare enlistee in the Roos camp. The fact that my studio
affiliation was at the periphery of the department's principal
studio interests kept me safe from being caught between opposing
forces. As things turned out, I was able to become an
assistant to both Roos and Martin at the same time and survive.
This too proved to prepare me for the job at UKC.
As soon as I graduated with my
curious BS, I enrolled again at Illinois as a graduate student
in Art, to take an MFA (the only degree offered), with the art
history option. There was no undergraduate degree, but
oddly enough a graduate option. It was taught by the
three-person (2.5 fte) staff
in art history (the new head was
once again an art historian,
Allen Weller). I was only the
third student to opt for the art history MFA option, and since I
had taken virtually all the courses that were offered relevant
to that program, I did most of my work in tutorials. I
filled in with additional sculpture courses. My GI Bill
money was sufficient to cover the MFA, and I still had some
savings. Thus my self-indulgence could continue. I
made no effort to get an assistantship, and I suspect I didn't
think about it because all previously appointed assistants were
studio people. So it was quite a surprise when I was told
by someone to go see Weller, and he offered me a half-time
graduate teaching assistantship. This I held for four
semesters while taking 42 hours of graduate work, with about
one-third of it in sculpture. Indeed, I taught sculpture
each semester, and I was also Frank Roos's reader-grader in his
Art Appreciation course. And it was this situation that
constituted my preparation for a job of some sort, provided I
could identity one appropriate to my qualifications (such as
they might be).
I completed my MFA in June
1951, and I thought I might find a job teaching somewhere.
At least Frank Roos encouraged me to think I could, and I
certainly had enjoyed my experience teaching the sculpture
sections, and in giving occasional lectures for Roos. So I
began early in the spring the tedious task of seeking a teaching
job. Since the Korean War had started, and since the
post-WWII enrollment bulge had passed through the college system,
jobs were extremely difficult to find, whatever the
qualifications one had.
What were my qualifications,
and were they marketable? I had an MFA, still a rather new
graduate-level degree, and one associated only with practical or
studio courses—not art history. As for graduate study in
art history, there were remarkably few places in the United
States where one could get a PhD in the field. While
perhaps there were a dozen such programs, nearly all of the
average 20-per-year graduates came from five schools: Columbia;
Harvard; NYU's Institute of Fine Arts; Yale; and Princeton.
Chicago had an occasional graduate, as did a few other schools.
There were, of course, more Master's programs, but even then
the production was so limited that there were numerous museums,
and not a few colleges, who used B.A. graduates on their
professional staffs or faculties. The real difficulty was
the fact that there were very few teaching positions in the
field, and museums were notoriously understaffed with
professionally trained people. The "old boy network" was
still very much at work for the few available jobs. Over
the years this had also permitted some gifted amateurs, who
"knew their fields," to get some of the few jobs (especially if
they had society connections). There was nothing really
wrong with that, but how was I, with an oddball degree from a
non-PhD program, supposed to compete?
As I noted, I was the third one
to participate in the graduate art history program at Illinois.
The first who graduated had succeeded in getting a teaching job
as a temporary replacement, and then had gone on to get a PhD at
Chicago. Afterwards, he settled down at a small college.
The second, a woman, sort of vanished insofar as anyone ever
learned what happened after she completed her degree. The
employment world I faced with my new MFA consisted of: large
universities which might have at the most perhaps three art
historians, usually to teach service courses, such as
two-semester introductory surveys; and small, private colleges
with an emphasis on the humanities and fine arts. The
largest schools offering art history, those with PhD programs,
had perhaps no more than eight faculty members in art history.
I clearly needed help. My two mentors suggested that I try
to market myself as one who knew both studio and art history,
and who had a bent for interdisciplinary work. This I did
using a rather meagre [sic] résumé which I sent with
a cover letter to a wide range of schools. My mailing list
had been chosen from the
American Art Directory, where I
looked for evidence of schools where some sort of studio and art
history were being offered, and avoiding those schools which I
assumed would opt for a rare PhD or one at the dissertation
Why didn't I choose instead to
enter a PhD program? The principal reason was that I was
close to being dead broke, and I had drained my GI
eligibilities. I needed a job on which to live. In
fact, things were looking positively grim, and as the responses
came in to some of my letters, I began to despair of finding any
sort of teaching job, even as a one-year replacement for someone
ill or on leave. To conserve money, I typed each résumé
separately on my portable typewriter; getting them printed or
mimeographed never occurred as a possibility.
Finally there was a nibble; the
University of Oklahoma saw a possibility in my being able to do
both sculpture and art history. Their interest in me was
high, but they had to see how the budget evolved. Then
came the wrenching news that the position had not been funded.
I began to think seriously about looking for work in one of the
crafts, like non-union carpentry, since I had some skills along
that line. And when all seemed totally hopeless, I
received a communication from the University Placement service
about a possibility. Brief details were given to me and it
was thus that I wrote
Robert Mortvedt, Vice President of the University of Kansas City,
indicating my interest. Interest was a modest way of
My letter to Mortvedt crossed
one from him written the following day. He told me he had
been at the University of Illinois on a recruiting trip, but the
time was so short he was unable to get in touch with me during
his brief stay in Urbana. He chose this letter to outline
their needs and to inquire if I was interested. So at last
there was a real possibility for a teaching appointment, but I
would have to get somehow to Kansas City for an interview.
His letter was dated the 30th of June, and he noted he would
appreciate "hearing from me as speedily as possible." I
had his authority to call, reversing the charges, which I guess
I must have done for I was in Kansas City for that interview on
the 5th day of July, 1951. It was a
UKC had been one of the schools
I had contacted earlier, with a negative response in reply.
At least I did get a reply.
Henry Scott had sent me the
form letter, noting the lack of openings but that my letter would
be put in the files. I never did learn whether the change
in circumstances at UKC had led to a review of those files, or
whether Mortvedt discovered me through the U of I Placement
Service. Regardless, I was willing to do anything under
any circumstances, and there never was a question but that I
would go to Kansas City and KCU (as it was called, rather than
UKC) if I had the chance. I was that desperate. But
I was also eager to begin teaching full-time.
I later learned why a position
had opened up so late. KCU then had had an
Art Department consisting of three full-time faculty and an
occasional lecturer. Scott was the Chairman, split in his
teaching duties between art history and studio. The second
position was strictly studio. And the third taught art
history. This last position, in 1950-51, was held by David Wilkie, a PhD from Wisconsin. Completing his first year at
KCU, he had been abruptly terminated. The reasons for this
are known to me only through hearsay, so it is best I not
comment on them other than they apparently were based on his
behavior rather than his subject competency. But in
addition to this unexpected opening, the studio faculty member
had quit in frustration; he was
Thomas R. Thomas. He had
developed a popular program in ceramics at KCU along with his
other duties, and this program the university wanted to
salvage. Also, the art historian was responsible for the
Foundations of Art course which was required of every student
wishing to graduate from the institution.
The university in its wisdom,
and facing declining enrollments, decided to fill the two
disparate openings by consolidating them and finding one person
to cover both needs. And it was this development that made
my meager qualifications suddenly desirable and also marketable.
I seemed to them to be ideal for their situation, and I was not
about to dissuade them of that opinion. My sculpture
background it was assumed might enable me somehow to cover
ceramics. And since the only art history course the
administration was truly concerned about was the introductory
Art 110 (even then the number), a person with a Master's degree
would suffice. Scott had only an MA, and the Department's
enrollment of majors, in all its options, rarely exceeded
twenty-five, with an average of three or four completing a
degree each year. Finally, in 1951 a beginner could be
hired for very little money, another plus to KCU, and indirectly
an advantage to my application.
I borrowed train fare from my
father, and went to Kansas City from Chicago. I arrived by
the overnight run on the
Santa Fe Chief. That meant that
my first experience in Kansas City was the great interior space
of the grand concourse of the
Union Station, which was still
its glory as a passenger terminal. As I exited, I saw
directly ahead the
Liberty Memorial with its landscaped lawn.
I was genuinely impressed, but I had no time for
exploration as I was soon due at the university. I got
into a cab in front of the station and asked to be taken to the
university. This was an easily made request, but this cab
driver had absolutely no idea of where I wanted to go. "The
University of Kansas City," I said helpfully. Still this
drew a blank. "You mean the
medical school?" he asked.
"Medical School?" thought I. I knew nothing about that.
"The one in Kansas?" he said. Surely not! I was
certain from my correspondence that KCU was a Missouri school.
In time we got things squared away after some consultation of
reference material, and finally I was on my way to what and
where I knew not.
In 1951 KCU was but eighteen
years old, and while its then
brief history was not known to me
at the time, in retrospect it seems that both the school and I
were more a matter of unrealized potential and promise than any
sort of proven accomplishment. Perhaps we were then well
matched in the prospect of joining forces.
I arrived in time to make my
meeting, and we drove in under the porte cochere of the
In a remarkably brief time I was
being interviewed. Part of that experience was being
Norman Royall, then Dean of the College. No
one from the Art Department was in town but then there was now
only one person on that staff. Before the day was over,
Robert Mortvedt, Vice President, had actually tendered me an
offer. (The President of KCU was out of town.) I was
to teach five courses per semester, in both art history and in
ceramics, on both a day and night schedule. And since I
was replacing two people, and would be doing so at the last
minute so to speak, a concession was made in the starting
salary. This was increased from the usual $2,600 (for a
beginning Instructor) to $2,800 for the nine months. That
seemed fair to me; in fact I was ecstatic. I was also a
naive, 26-year-old idealist. Against odds I had, pretty
much on my own, gotten a job doing that for which I was
supposedly educated (and trained). I questioned nothing
and was suitably impressed by everything.
It was mid-afternoon when all
this was concluded, but my train back to Chicago wouldn't leave
until the late evening. So off I went, walking to the art
museum I had been told about. Up the walk I went, over the
sweeping south lawn. Up the grand south stairway. Up
to the locked doors of the south facade I went. That dead
end put hardly a blemish on my store of euphoria. What a
grand building, and within such easy walking distance of the
campus. So around I went to the other side, as per the
little sign on the south doors. There I discovered that
the Nelson Gallery was closed on Mondays. Now I finally
was let down. In desperation, I decided to try the
business entrance, which I learned about from the directory
which had informed me that the museum was not open.
Perhaps it was my woebegone look that prompted the guard at that
entrance to decide to expend some extra effort in meeting my
simple request. I asked if it was possible to buy a
handbook, or some such, of the museum to take home with me to
study, since I was in town only for the day. I had
explained that I was newly hired to teach art history at the
I had been told to wait, but
then what else did I have to do, given the fact that I was in
town of necessity until late evening? After some minutes
the Registrar of the Nelson Gallery,
Ross Taggart, came
in the door. I repeated my little story and
my request for a handbook. This he found to be reasonable,
and I was allowed in the museum. I followed him up to the
information desk, and there he obtained for me a gallery
handbook, took my dollar (or was it two?) which he placed with a
note on a desk. Then, as we turned to descend back to
where we had started, he said, "Would you like to see the
collections?" Would I? Indeed I would. And
there began one of those magical experiences which are truly
We went through an almost
totally dark building, and periodically Ross would switch on a
light and wondrous things literally burst upon my vision.
That is how I first saw
Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist,
Head of Hammurabi, little
Pilon's St. Barbara. And dozens upon dozens of
others. Cezanne, Van Gogh, Hals and Rembrandt, period
and treasures of oriental [sic] art, which I could only
guess at, paraded before me, or rather I paraded before them in
the darkened museum, illuminated room by room, like some sort of
controlled theatrical event. The Nelson had begun
collecting only twenty years earlier, and the results to date
were to my fresh eye on that warm day the furnishings of a
treasure house. I could look forward to using it as my
own, provided I could learn to do so.
I finally exited into the
bright afternoon sun in a state of excitement that I still
easily recall, though now with a bit of amusement. I
seemed to have been catapulted from the edge of despair to a
situation far better than I dreamed I could attain. I
seemed to have stumbled into something very special in Kansas
Earlier, I learned I could catch
a streetcar for Downtown [sic] by going over to Main
Street. Downtown Kansas City was then indeed the vibrant
heart of the city. Once there, I saw in the late afternoon
a density and variety of architecture and people that confirmed
for me that this was an urban center of the sort I truly
preferred. Soon I found myself on Baltimore Street, and
then I saw a bookstore. I went in and I told the
proprietor that since I had just agreed to come to work in
Kansas City, I wanted to know if there was a good history of the
city I could buy? I was, purely by chance, in
Glenn's bookstore, which then was housed in the
Glenn had published in the previous year City of the Future,
by Henry Haskell and Richard Fowler, a book to mark Kansas
City's centennial. Glenn responded to my interest in
books, and to my curiosity about the city to which I had come
in order to teach art history, and so in short order I felt I
had found another excellent reason to be grateful to be employed
by KCU. Here was a quality bookstore that had a
knowledgeable bookman as proprietor.
From there I wandered further
north on Baltimore and soon saw a pleasant looking
Frank Wachter's. I went
ordered a draught [sic] beer. "Light or dark?" the
barman asked. The last time I had that sort of automatic
choice had been in one of the German restaurants in Chicago.
According to my experience and criteria, this sort of option was
definitely a sign of high urban culture. And as I sipped
my beer—dark by the way—I glanced
over the menu. That sent me to a booth where I had a
Wienerschnitzel, another beer, and looked at my new books, the
gallery handbook and the history of Kansas City.
Periodically I reassured myself by checking on the reality of
the signed contract. Yesterday I had been, so to speak, at
the edge of the precipice. I had no job, my funds were
almost exhausted, and I had no certainty that I could land the
job in Kansas City, And what then? In contrast, that
evening, I had a job, a decent salary for the nine months, and I
would be in a city that had desirable amenties.
days I didn't have any long-term goals other than having a job
teaching in a college somewhere. Three years of military
experience so soon after the decade of the Great Depression had
conditioned me quite well to be grateful for little things.
Thus it was that, on the 5th of July 1951, I thought I had hit
the jackpot of good fortune. But then I received another
offer of a job, and this one I couldn't refuse.
hours in Kansas City that evening are not clear in my memory.
Probably I took in a movie, since my train would not leave
Kansas City until midnight. I got back to the railway
station around 10:30 and learned I could board the sleeper car
ahead of time, and it would be added to the train when it
arrived from the west. I got into my berth, did the
contortions one did to get undressed and settled down, and to my
later amazement I fell into a sound sleep. When I
woke to the rocking motion and clicking sounds, I saw I was
about an hour from arrival in Chicago. Great! Only
then I learned that we were far from Chicago. In fact we
were just outside of Kansas City. Trouble on the tracks
had kept us stationary in the train yards all night, which
explained my sound sleep. We still had an eight-hour run
ahead of us. Was this snafu a portent of what awaited me?
Chicago I reported to my parents my grand success and the next
day headed back to Urbana to get ready for my move to Kansas
City. Upon my arrival I found I had received on that
fateful Monday a formidable envelope from the government.
In it were orders telling me to report in a week to
Force Base to be processed for return to active service.
When I was separated from service in 1946, I had agreed to join
the Reserves for five years. I quickly discovered that
there was absolutely no interest by the Reserves in an ex-B-29
radar operator, and so reserve status had proved meaningless;
there wasn't even a training program. I could have
resigned, but thought it prudent simply to let the commission
lapse so as not to create a possible blemish on my service
record. Little did I know how unimportant that would have
reserve commission did not lapse in June 1951 because the Korean
War had intervened, and the limits on appointments had been
indefinitely extended. Suddenly there was great interest
in all of us who for the previous five years had been so much
worthless baggage to the Reserves. Where once I had wanted
to keep up with developments in airborne radar, now I couldn't
care less. But now I could not ignore the Air Force, since
finally it chose not to ignore me.
marshaled my remaining funds, and on July 8 I got a bus ticket
and left Champaign to go to Kansas City. I arrived in the
morning of the 9th, and headed by streetcar to the university to
deal with my pending disaster. I hoped to get some sort of
document from Mortvedt explaining to the Air Force what calamity
would happen at KCU if I could not fulfill my contract, given
the proximity of the coming semester. I recall nothing
about that overnight trip, with its long layover in the wee
hours in the gloomy St. Louis terminal. The details of the
trip were trivial when contrasted to the sensibility that I
faced a probable shattering of plans that so recently I had
At KCU I
sought out Dr. Mortvedt. The secretary informed me that he
was on vacation, but Dr. Decker, the President, was now back; I
should see him. And thus it was that I had my only
face-to-face meeting with
Clarence Decker. His office was
in the southeast room of the main floor of the Administration
Building. His secretary checked with Decker to see if I
was to be admitted, and in short order I was ushered in.
The desk was at the far corner of the large room; one had to
cross the entire space. Decker, a small man, was behind
the large desk. I was seated in front and quickly told my
sad tale. Decker seemed properly sympathetic, but unmoved
by what I thought of as "our" plight. However, he did
realize that my abrupt departure into military service would be
a true inconvenience for KCU and so he prepared a letter which
explained this. When he signed the copies he wished me
luck and suggested that I inform him if I was unsuccessful in my
appeal. The entire interview couldn't have taken more than
a half an hour. So it was back to the bus station and the
long haul back to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
processing at Chanute deserves mention only in three matters.
First, the physical examinations were cursory; they needed us.
I saw then and later people certified as fit for flying duty who
would have been grounded or even discharged in World War II.
Pilots who needed glasses for reading, men with ulcers who
needed special diets, and one fellow who had an arm he could not
extend fully due to a wound received in combat. All were
when I was asked for my profession in civilian life, so a
suitable code could be entered in my record, I said, "art
historian." The large book that listed professions and
codes did not include art historians. "Any other
profession?" "Sculptor," I said. Once again there
was no entry in the book. Finally we settled on "teacher."
This had a code, and so that was how I got listed.
there was my one chance to plead for an exemption to being
recalled. I went before a colonel and presented Decker's
"To Whom It May Concern" letter. He read it, looked at me
and asked, "Do you know what I was doing before I got this job?"
Of course I didn't, and so I pled ignorance. "I was a
Professor of Law at the University of Florida. Petition
scheduled to go back onto [sic] active service in the
United States Air Force.
communicated all of this to Decker and received condolences from
him, Mortvedt and Royall. Then I got a letter from the
University of Oklahoma. Was I still available for a job?
The budget situation was likely to improve and so they had
reactivated their search. What irony. I now had two
certain jobs and one pending, but I no longer had any freedom to
choose. There was no relish in the fact that now two
universities were interested in hiring me as a faculty member.
seventeen months of active duty are not relevant to this
narrative, but two elements deserve comment since they
illustrate why I am more appreciative of UKC/UMKC than many of
my colleagues, whatever the faults of the university might be.
Here, at least, I almost always have felt that I had some degree
of control over my professional life; in the service I was
totally subject to an impersonal numbers game.... However, I cannot say
that all of my experience was negative; I did learn a few
indelible lessons, some of which still serve me well in coping
with being an "officer of instruction and research" in a
as I was free, I wrote Mortvedt (on the 9th of February 1953)
that once again I was a civilian. I had some reason to
hope I could rekindle my chances at KCU, since he had written
once to me soon after I was called up asking how long I was to
serve. His reply to my letter told me that KCU had hired
someone in 1952 who was doing well, and so that was that.
But since I would be driving up from Texas to Illinois, I could
just as easily go via KC as not, so why not pay KCU a visit?
I could see the place again, and perhaps this way lessen the
sense of loss I still felt. After all I now had some money
out aside, and I no longer had that desperate sense of urgency
which had driven me during my job-hunt two years earlier.
Also, I guess I wanted to see if my memory of the place was
accurate: after all, I had been there only a few hours the last
best of my recollection I left San Antonio, Texas on or shortly
after the 18th of February, 1953. I arrived in Kansas City
on the second day of my travels, and this put me on the campus
of KCU at the height of the crisis which is now known as "The
Revolution." Mortvedt's letter to me (which is dated the
16th and was waiting for me at my sister's apartment in Urbana,
Illinois) gives no clue whatsoever that there were problems at
KCU which were of such enormity that there would be a mass
resignation of a number of administrators within the week.
And so I was totally unprepared for my reception when I turned
up on the campus.
parking very near the campus, I walked over to the
Administration Building and decided to seek out Mortvedt.
I asked at his office if I could see him. "He isn't
was told. I went over to Royall's office and asked there.
"He isn't in." I then went downstairs and asked to see
Decker. "He isn't in." What kind of place was this?
Three key administrators not in, and I was given no suggestion
of when they would return, or why they were out. Nor was I
asked what my business was, nor was there even a minor effort
given to finding someone—anyone—to "help me." I now
vaguely recall having seen something in a San Antonio newspaper
about some sort of demonstration by students at a university in
Kansas City, but I certainly didn't connect that with the
strangely noncommittal attitude of the office staff to the
Administration Building. I doubt if I even thought that
the faces of these unfortunates had a haunted look, but I
suspect they had. For my part, I was thoroughly annoyed,
so I left the campus in a "to hell with them" attitude, and
headed out on the highway to find a motel to stay the night
before completing my trip.
after arriving in Urbana, I decided to find some sort of
temporary job to conserve my savings while I decided on what my
next course of action would be. Thus it was that on the
2nd of March I accepted a position as a
draftsman for the
digital computer laboratory at the University of Illinois.
was in the final stages of being brought into full operation as
the first large-scale civilian-operated electronic digital
computer. As a civil service employee at the University of
Illinois, I was entitled to free tuition for courses at the
university, provided my supervisor approved of the courses.
This led me to launch a program to take a PhD in History,
something which was approved though it had nothing to do with my
work (since I agreed to put in my full forty
hours per week by coming early or staying late to compensate for
time lost to classes).
I pick a PhD in History? There was then no PhD program in
Art History, and if I wanted to take advantage of the free
tuition I had to take something that was offered at the
University of Illinois. In discussing this with Frank Roos,
he suggested that I contact
Arthur Bestor of the History
Department and outline for him a plan Roos and I had worked out.
Essentially, it asked if Bestor would accept me as a special
student in a combined history/art history program with an
emphasis on American art? Roos, who had himself gotten a
PhD under a somewhat similar situation years before, had been a
visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, and thus knew
of their American Studies program. Bestor, a product of
Yale, had worked with people sympathetic to that type of
interdisciplinary program, and thus he too was supportive.
Yes, he would sponsor me, but he needed a formula acceptable to
the History faculty.
was that I began a program in "The Social Implications of the
History of American Art," combining my previous MFA with new
coursework in American History and American Literature.
Parenthetically, I should add that while technically I was
pursuing a PhD in History (which I received in 1960), I
was in fact doing something very strange in the context of
that discipline. Without Bestor's support, and that of
another historian on the faculty,
Chester Starr, I would have
been in deep difficulties.
completion of that program takes us several years beyond the
terminus of this narrative, so we leave that account to another
time. It does mean though that I am an art historian with
a PhD in History, the format of which neither the traditional
art historians nor regular historians would readily recognize,
and few would probably accept as "equivalent" to their degrees.
My dissertation is listed as "Fine Arts" in
Abstracts, and I am of the opinion that most art historians
would recognize it as "art history." Indeed, I have had
some indication of that. But it is also seen as a form of
American Studies, and users of the dissertation (insofar as I
can discover this data) range rather widely by disciplinary
interest. If it is accepted as being legitimately "art
history," regardless of the granting department, then I do
believe my dissertation is the first one in that discipline done
at the University of Illinois.
History Department at the University of Illinois was troubled
mostly by the possibility that I would ask them for help in
getting a job. Once I managed to do that without calling
on them, they were remarkably relaxed about the eccentric in
their midst. As for me, the pace of the first year, taking
eight hours of seminars while working full time, nearly put an
end to my program; I was exhausted! Also, I was growing
enormously interested in the computer business, and was strongly
understand that I was right there at the cutting edge of
developments in what I now choose to call the "neolithic period"
of the electronic computer. I helped—as a draftsman—on
work dealing with magnetic memories. I did illustrations
for a dissertation exploring the use of transistors as
substitutes for vacuum tubes in computers, and I actually
designed the dot-matrix for the letters used in the first
cathode ray tube output installed on the ILLIAC. It was
very tempting to return to science and mathematics and do more
than act as a visual translator of the sketches of the
engineers. My work consisted of making the drawings and
diagrams that the technicians and engineers could read,
especially when reduced to the size of this page.
indeed very close to switching fields, but I continued to play
the game of trying to be an art historian. So when Allen
Weller informed me in the spring of 1954 that the University of
Nebraska had an opening, I applied. After the initial
exchange, all became very quiet on that front. I thought
I should clear that up, especially if I decided to cross over to
computers, so I wrote Nebraska and asked if my candidacy was
till alive. When the answer finally came, I learned that an
appointment had just been made, a Mr.
Fehl. He, I was
told, had been at the University of Kansas City.
well, well! This was the fellow who had replaced me when I
could not go to KCU. And here he was leaving, and rather
late, since academic '53-'54 was over. It was so tempting
to bring the circle full around that I immediately wrote to
Mortvedt (whom I assumed was still at KCU). This was at
the end of July 1954, and I asked that I be considered an
applicant for the vacancy caused by Fehl's departure.
Mortvedt's reply finally arrived, from
Bethany College where he
was the President. He told me to write
John Barnett, now
the Dean at KCU. The circle was not yet closed; to do so I
had to write to Barnett.
letter to Barnett brought a reply, but he had no file on me and
asked for data. This I sent. It was now past the
middle of August 1954. Then I received a telephone call
and I agreed to go out once again to Kansas City for an
interview. This was around the first of September. I
took a few days of accumulated vacation leave so I could play
out the game to its conclusion. Off I went, by automobile.
summer of 1954 was one of those notable for its excessive heat.
In my memory there were three such killer heat waves: 1936;
1954; and 1980. In 1936 I lived in Chicago and we sought
solace at the lakefront. In 1980 we had air conditioning.
In 1954 we simply suffered day after day of over 100-degree
heat. The journey to Kansas City was grim.
was going to an interview, I took along a suit. It was
"summer weight," but it felt like a heavy tweed in that heat.
I wore it to the interview because I felt I had to make the
proper gesture. At Barnett's office in the Administration
Building at 9 a.m., people were already wilting. The few
men in evidence worse short-sleeved shorts with open collars.
I sat stiffly waiting for Barnett, who was detained, wondering
if I shouldn't at least remove my coat (I'd keep the tie on of
course). But I held firm. After all, I had sweated
in enough airplane interiors when the thermometer inside
registered 125 degrees. I could survive.
it turned out, had injured his eye on a shrub's branch when he
had put out the trash that morning, and he had had to seek
medical attention. He arrived around 10 a.m., with a
bandage on one eye. He also was wearing a gray flannel,
double breasted suit. Clearly, my decision to keep on my
coat had met some sort of unspoken standard of behavior, though
secretly I thought both of us were crazy as I watched him sit,
one-eyed and implacable, in the increasing heat.
through an interview which included three members of the faculty
who had been rounded up:
Philosophy; and Misbach of Psychology. After all, it was
after the conclusion of the summer term and before the start of
the fall term. Relevant faculty members were scarce for
such exercises. Once again, there was no one from the Art
Department, but then once again it was reduced to one member,
Henry Scott who was in the east.
interview two things stand out in my memory. The first was
the question of what would the teaching load include.
While the only real concern of the administration was still the
offering to the Art 110, there was a desire on Barnett's part to
require a total load of fifteen hours. We discussed the
problems of Art 110, and these problems centered on the fact
that it was required of all students, but also it was reputed by
the students to be the one they
most disliked of all of the
general graduation requirements. I suggested that the only
remedy would be to use a new approach, and since there were two
sections, one at night, both would have to be taught by me if I
was hired and charged with improving the course. But under
those circumstances, I flatly refused a fifteen-hour load, and
said twelve hours would be the maximum, period.
second feature that stuck in my memory was a private
conversation I had with Lorenz Misbach after the official
interview was over. He had asked if I wanted to go
somewhere for a beer, and considering the bear and the strain of
the interview I readily accepted. Off we went in Misbach's
bedraggled car to
some bar on Troost. Which one I simply
don't know; it was a bar without decor or pretensions, but
it was air conditioned. Over a cold beer, Misbach urged me
to accept the position, though I had not in fact been offered
it. Barnett could not make an offer without the authority
of the President, who was now
Earl McGrath, who was out of town.
Indeed, there was no discussion of money during the interview,
that too had to come from the President. Only the teaching
of Art 110 and related matters seemed to have occupied the
serious aspects of the interview session. Under these
circumstances, Misbach's urging that I agree to come to KCU was
strange, to say the least.
number of years, things had not gone well in the Art 110 course,
and they knew that it needed improvements. Misbach saw in
me someone who could do something about the problem.
Though he was Chairman of the Psychology Department, Misbach was
deeply involved in the Foundations Program (as the general
requirements in the liberal arts were called), and he sometimes
taught a section of World Literature. He was also the
unofficial "Chairman" of the faculty group that taught
Foundations courses. Thus he had a real stake in resolving
the problem. I was given to understand that if I came I
would have a free hand to make changes in Art 110, and that I need
not fear lack of support from the Administration in doing so.
Since I had yet to meet Scott or anyone else who had taught Art 110, I was placed
in a curious situation of not knowing how
to respond. Our conversation over, Misbach returned me to
my car and I went back to my motel.
couldn't sleep that night, despite having an air conditioned
room. The situation struck me as "not good," and why leave
Champaign-Urbana, my friends, and the computer world? Free
tuition also had to be considered. Exchange all of that
for a messy situation? I argued the case within my mind
instead of sleeping, and finally I figured I might as well head
back to Illinois in the "cool" of the night since I could not
sleep. And off I went about 2 a.m.
home I decided that I really did want to try my hand at
teaching, and that I hated to throw away my investment in
becoming an art historian. I was 29 years old, and if ever
I was to see if I could be a successful full-time teacher of art
history, I better get on with it. But I had some
reservations, so I set some pre-conditions by which to judge
their offer, which I had reason to expect would come.
First, KCU had to agree to my restrictions on the teaching load
and confirm my authority over the courses I was to teach.
Second, I would not move unless I received at least $3,600.
My salary as an engineering draftsman was $3,300.
very few days I received a telephone call from Barnett. I
was offered an appointment as Instructor in Art at the salary of
$3,700, and my load was twelve hours, and I had full charge of
Art 110. I accepted over the telephone, and a few days
later I received the memorandum of appointment, a catalog, and a
class schedule. I signed the contract on the 10th of
September, sent it on two days later, and
arranged to leave my
job at Illinois. I packed and had movers take my things to
KC, and place them in temporary storage there.
on Saturday, September 18, arriving in the late afternoon.
I planned to find an apartment on Sunday (which I finally did)
and arranged to move into it from the motel the following
weekend. On Monday the 20th, registration started, and
classes were to begin on Wednesday. It was a series of
close connections all around, and I felt fortunate in that I had
succeeded in completing everything except the move to the
apartment before registration duty began.
Swinney Gymnasium and greeted Barnett, who showed me the
location of the Art Department advising station. I sat
down there to learn what I could about the school and its
procedures. Unfortunately, I was alone for Scott was not
yet there. Furthermore, the art station was the one
nearest the entrance to the gym, and thus I found myself the
focus for all inquiries as people entered the gym to begin
registration. Pleading ignorance was creating more
problems than it solved, so I began a crash program of
self-instruction on the rules, regulations, requirements and
procedures. Within the hour I was able at least to direct
people to the correct place to get the needed answers, and in
time I could find most of them. There were, by the way,
virtually no questions about "art." Finally Henry Scott
arrived, greeted me, explained his unavoidable delay, and seeing
that I was coping he went off to greet his colleagues and to
chat about this and that. And there I was, hard at work,
obviously fully integrated into the operation of registration.
In less than 48 hours I was to meet my first class, in American
Art. I had not yet found my office, nor had seen the slide
collection or the library (though I had seen the latter briefly
in 1951). But none of this mattered; I was finally a
college-level teacher of art history.
is the story of why and how I came to join the faculty of the
University of Kansas City. As I said at the start of this
memoir, why I stayed is another story.
Ehrlich / March 1984