Nathan M. Pusey: Culture Moves East

Lawrence College -- 'Hotbed of Morality' -- Doubled Its Endowment During His Term

Appleton, Wisc.--Despite its location in the midst of Wisconsin farmland Lawrence College is definitely not Godforsaken. Rather, it is His adversary who seems to have passed the college by, for with stringent rules against alcohol and automobiles, and a required course in religion, Lawrence is, in the words of one professor, "a hotbed of morality."

Dr. Nathan Pusey (pronounced PEWzee), the president of Lawrence, was proud of his college: scholastic standing was high, endowments had more than doubled during the nine years he had been president, and life at Lawrence was pleasant, leisurely, and worthwhile. Pusey had more plans for the future; he was carefully screening applicants for his faculty, was improving his favorite course, the all-inclusive, "Freshman Studies," and was planning a new course which he was to teach in '53-'54. Then, Monday morning, June 1, the Harvard Corporation announced its selection of a new president for Harvard University, and once more Nathan Marsh Pusey had to begin planning, not new courses, but a new life.

Torchlight March

The first days after the announcement exploded with long-distance calls, telegrams, visitors, reporters, and photographers. "For a while," the president's secretary said, "Dr. Pusey would have been willing to say, 'Let's just forget all about it.'" Monday evening 500 Lawrence students paraded with torches to the President's House to serenade Pusey and his family, as had been done in 1944 when he was picked as President of Lawrence. This time, when the news first came from Cambridge, three senior girls wrote new lyrics to familiar melodies, mimeographed the song sheets in the afternoon, so that in the evening the Lawrentians could sing, to the tune of "Surrey With the Finge on Top":

To the Charles from the Fox river valley

The Pusey family soon forth will sally

We'll send you with an all-college rally

To Cambridge, Mass.

We are singing congratulations

Our President is the pride of the Nation

He'll be a boon to the administration

Out in Cambridge, Mass.

As the tanned, T-shirted undergraduates sang Pusey's thoughts returned to his first year in Cambridge twenty-nine years ago, when he had come to Harvard from the public schools of Council Bluffs, Iowa, on a Charles Eliot Perkins scholarship. He had found the Boston museums, particularly Mrs. Jack Gardiner's, fascinating, and had been more interested in "running around Boston than in student activities. "Then, too," Pusey recalls, "I didn't take much part in College life because I was pretty hardbitten with Harvard indifference." He lived in Gore Hall, then a freshman dormitory, and gathered a group of five good friends, all of whom stuck together throughout college. He gave up his one venture into athletics, freshman basketball, to devote all his time to study. His singleness of purpose gained for Pusey membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and a magna degree in English literature.

Teaching and Studying

From his graduation in 1928 until his selection as President of Lawrence in 1944, Pusey taught at Lawrence, Scripps, and Wesleyan returning to Harvard in '32 and '37 for his M.A. and Ph.D. During his study and particularly in the two years he spent abroad--one in '28 "bumming around Europe" and one in '34 as a Coolidge Fellow in Greece--Pusey's interest shifted from English to classical history. Delving further and further into antiquity, Pusey found pre-history and the Bronze Age especially engrossing. But in his later teaching experience, Pusey seldom has had opportunity to draw on his extensive study of the classics. Early in his career, Pusey became involved with the humanities and the movement to make liberal education truly free of narrowing specialization.

Lawrence College trustees called Pusey back as president primarily because of his leading part in the curriculum innovations at Wesleyan. Since its founding in 1847, Lawrence had put its emphasis on a broad inclusive education, and Pusey, then a rising educator of 37, was certain to uphold the tradition.

Ties with Harvard

Lawrence, Pusey soon found, has many ties with his alma mater. Amos Lawrence, its founder, was the brother of Abbott Lawrence, President Lowell's grandfather, and was a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers and a heavy contributor to the building of Memorial Hall. Perhaps as atonement for this architectural sin or perhaps because the land was of no use to him (the Lawrence won renown for their frugality) he donated some Wisconsin acreage he had acquired to the Rock River Conference of the Methodist Church to use in founding a college.

Lawrence, an Episcopalian, said later that he would have preferred granting the property to members of his same faith, but since the Methodist sect was the frontier religion, they could make better use of it. Lawrence was careful to insure, however, that the College would not be denominational and forbade "propagating the tenets of any sect." In 1932 the College severed all remaining religious bonds with the Methodists, so that while religion continues to be a prime force on the campus, it is more than ever non-denominational.

Scholastically and financially, the new college did not always fare well. Students with the necessary qualifications for college work were so few that until 1908, the College maintained a preparatory school to boost applicants to the necessary academic level. And in the '80s the school was debt-ridden to the point that the president offered to resign so that his salary might be used to keep Lawrence from buckling.

Lawrence has always been co-educational, though in the Victorian era there were constant dicta forbidding pleasantries between the sexes. One elderly former co-ed remembers the rule banning any Lawrentian gentleman walking with a Lawrentian young lady without a chaperon. The one exception was during a rainstorm in which event the young man could offer to share his umbrella with the girl. "We used to call them our rainbeaus," the lady smiles.

Compulsory Chapel

Pusey, an Episcopalian opposed to a sectarian approach in campus religious life, does work at encouraging the spiritual growth of his students. A course in religion, with philosophy as a possible substitute, is required of all freshmen. And at the weekly convocations, attendance is compulsory. Once a month, a convocation is likely to be of religious nature, with speakers invited from every faith. The convocations are generally not too popular with the students, but Pusey thinks they have a definite value. "I know they kick about going," he says, "and sometimes the programs are poor. But by the time a student is a senior, I think he comes to realize that it has been a very unifying experience." Pusey adds that to establish such a program at Harvard would be almost impossible since there is no auditorium large enough to hold the entire college; and unless attended by the whole student body, the meetings, lose much of their effect.

Even more than encouraging a religious atmosphere at Lawrence, Pusey's chief concern has been in recruiting a superior faculty. He has drawn often on Harvard and its graduate schools--six of the 53 active faculty members have a Harvard degree and two more have been engaged for next term.

Near Miss

Pusey, always careful in his screening of prospective teachers, has had only one near tumble. In 1949, he hired by mail a professor from Australia, Robert Peters, whose qualifications on paper were excellent. When the new term began, Roberts had not arrived. Pusey took over his course in ancient history, waiting anxiously for his new professor. After 4 weeks had passed without Peters, student speculation was rife: one story had Peters captured by Australian canibals, another had him washed overboard during his voyage to America. Jaime, Pusey's younger son, then 7, immediately named his imaginary friend "Peters," and the President wished increasingly as the months dragged on that his long overdue employee would turn up. For years passed and this spring when the errant professor was almost forgotten, a small news item appeared in Milwaukee newspapers. The College of Wooster, with a collective red face, had just discharged one Robert Peters, a fraudulent "professor" with bogus references and no degrees. No one at Lawrence knows why Peters changed his mind about the College, but the incident is always related with a sigh of relief.

Once Pusey has hired an assistant professor, there is no iron rule about promotion. He requests each year a list of publications by the faculty, but as he says, "Out in this part of the country, we put much emphasis on the great teacher concept. I am in no way minimizing scholarship and research, but I can see little value in large volumes of short articles." At Lawrence, where the faculty carries a heavy teaching load, Pusey has been very tolerant about a small published output. Then, too, the College library with its 75,000 volumes is too limited for advanced research. Ideally, however, Pusey prefers to promote professors on a combination of their writing and classroom work.

Pusey's Choices

Among the eminent men on the Lawrence faculty are Herbert Spiegelberg of the philosophy department, recently awarded a Guggenheim Grant to study phenomenology in Germany; Warren Beck, the novelist; Craig Thompson, an Erasmus scholar; and William F. Rancy in history. In the last three years, eight faculty members have applied for Ford Fellowships for study abroad and all eight have been accepted. Professors credit much of this record to Pusey; not only does he pick superior men, but he encourages the worthy professors to compete for the awards. Many college presidents hesitate to allow their best men the year's absence and dislike finding

The song, set to the tune of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top":

To the Charles from the Fox river valley

The Pusey family soon forth will sally

We'll send you with an all college rally

To Cambridge, Mass.

We are singing congratulations

Our President is the pride of the Nation

He'll be a boon to the administration

Out in Cambridge, Mass.

We'll say goodby with a tear in our eye

But a bright cheery smile on our faces

We'll miss you, true, but we know you'll do

The best job there of all places.

Now farewell to Nate, Miss and Jamic,

They're right in the headlines with Mamic

And their Mom'll make a great first lady,

With lots of class

At Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. replacements, but Pusey is willing to take on this extra effort and has found the the professors come back mentally refreshed and refreshing.

Pusey's interest in Lawrence shows up in less orthodox areas than his desire for a top-notch faculty. Before Pusey's administration the college buildings were institutionalized inside and out. His first project was refurbishing the dilapidated Science building, much in need of repair but not a cause of concern to the trustees Pusey took them on a brief inspection tour, pointing to the ancient, inadequate facilities. "The trustees thought they were lucky to get out alive," Mrs. Pusey said, and the funds were forthcoming. The building was completed rebuilt within its frame and Pusey picked the wall colors as he does for any new building. The walls of the main hall were quickly labelled "Pusey pink" a very popular hue with the President that year. Similarly, when the Worcester Art Center was constructed in 1905, Pusey chose most of the furniture. One overstuffed barrel chair, comfortable but hard to get out of, was dubbed "Pusey's Folly" by faculty members who had been trapped in it.

Student Union

Pusey's artistic talents reached their peak in his decoration of the Student Memorial Union. A spacious lounge with picture windows overlooking the Fox River below, a moderately-priced grill open 12 hours a day, and a Terrace Room for dances are the Union's chief attractions, and they are strange ones. Some on the faculty think the lounge is a little too inviting and the dances too frequent for a seriously scholastic college, but Pusey and the students are well pleased with their new building.

In politics, Pusey and the students also agree, with the professors again dissenting. Pusey, a Republican but not formally, and the student body, supported Eisenhower in the fall. The faculty preferred Stevenson. But on one point all are united: Lawrence and its President have only contempt for Wisconsin's junior Senator. During the campaign, Pusey endorsed "The McCarthy Record," an objective condemnation of the Senator and his tactics. As one professor said, "Anyone can be anti-McCarthy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but for the President of the college located in Appleton, Wisconsin--McCarthy's stronghold--to sign that report, well, that took nerve"--especially since some of Lawrence's trustees are avid McCarthyites. On the whole however, relations between town and gown have been unstrained. Townspeople interested in the college often attend the school's plays and open lectures. The rest seem to have forgotten that Lawrence lies at the end of College Avenue.

The real measure of Pusey as a president, however, comes not from faculty or townspeople, but from the students, and they are enthusiastic. Pusey is not a college character; he is far from backslapping and his relations with students are somewhat distant. But they soon realize that his is Pusey's personal reserve and no indication of coolness toward them. He is appreciative of wit and a clever turn of phrase, but he is essentially a serious person. One long-time friend remarks that he always sees the grave side of things first.

An Uproar

A tall, tanned man with chestnut colored hair and a friendly but not flashly smile, Pusey speaks earnestly and fluently. Another friend has said, however, "There's going to be an uproar when he gives his first speech at Harvard. His speeches always rend well, but Pusey doesn't. His voice is flat and a little monotonous, but he does get his ideas across--and he has the ideas in the first place."

And Mrs. Pusey remembers as the most frightening night of herl ife, the first time Pusey went to Milwaukee to address the Lawrence alumni. He had expected a small group sitting around a table, informally taking over the college. Instead he found a huge banquet room with hundreds of guests expecting a prepared and polished speech from the new president. He had none, but only he and Mrs. Pusey realized it. "We often think," she says, "if we could get through that night, nothing else would ever be too difficult."

Despite his reserve, Pusey is universally acclaimed a "good sport" by the students. A few carp that hi is too strict a disciplinarian, but concede that regulations at Lawrence are tougher than at most colleges and that someone must enforce them. At convocations, he unloosens his dignity a bit and takes part in the skits. In "The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew," a recent offering, Pusey donned a false mustache and celluloid pop eyes to play a bartender.

Pusey's air of friendliness without forced joviality fits perfectly at Lawrence. The students are a homogeneous group--a little too similar and politically unconscious according to some of the faculty--and they like Pusey's restrained manner. "We're not sophisticated here," one girl said, and the undergraduates pitching pennies in front of their fraternity house seem to confirm her view.

But in their conversation the students are more mature than they might appear from a distance in their shirt-tails and bluejeans. "We get excited about learning," said one, and meant it. The intellectual counts foremost at Lawrence and the students support Pusey completely on his vehemently amateur-athletic policy. Lawrence belongs to the Mid West Conference, which includes schools such as Carleton, Rippon, and Grinnell. Pusey, while President of the Mid West President's Conference, balked at the growing professionalism at Beloit College, one of the members. Finally Beloit's basketball team played in Madison Square Garden, and that was the limit of endurance for Pusey and the Conference. Beloit was bounced from the league, and though this did not make Pusey a favorite on the Beloit campus, it was another instance of enforcing the rules.

Enjoyment Above All

The Vikings, Lawrence's athletic teams, have good sports records, especially in football. The Union holds cases of trophies, each awarded to a team who enjoyed its sport--that enjoyment, to Pusey, is the measure of a successful athletic program. He opposes any recruiting of athletes, and students attest that the quparterback is given no special aid or favors.

In fact, Lawrence has little financial aid for anyone. The largest scholarships, about the cost of tuition, are awarded to four students in each class. These awards are financed personally by one of the trustees and could be withdrawn at any time. The other scholarships are rarely large enough to attract any but the high school graduate already interested in Lawrence. As a result, Lawrence is free from athletic subsidization, but also from a diversity of student backgrounds. What one professor calls the "country club back-ground" of the overage Lawrentian, however, refers only to his father's income, not to a snobbish attitude on the campus. Lawrence instead prides itself on friendliness. "Sure, we know just about everybody on the campus," one fraternity member said, "and if we don't, we say hello anyway"

The fraternities and sororities occupy aM-3Main Hall, the first building at Lawrence, is 100 years old. In the structure are located most of the class-rooms, a faculty room, the college book store, and the College's publications, a weekly newspaper and a yearbook.