A Report on Ole Miss
JAMES L. ROBERTSON 1L was editor of the Dally Mississippian last year.
In the fall of 1958 an English professor at the University of Mississippi told his freshman class that "before you leave this university, you will come to question every belief which you now hold."
Since that time many events have occurred which have made the University of Mississippi known to people around the world. Some know it as the school whose football teams have appeared in major bowl games in 9 of the past 11 years (winning 6). Others know it as the school whose girls took the Miss American crown in 1959 and 1960.
Still another group knows this university as one of the leading producers of Rhodes Scholars in the South, while others know Ole Miss because it is location in the home town of William Faulkner.
Unfortunately, however, a great many people today know of the most tragic of all Southern efforts of massive resistance to forced integration. Many people now think of the University of Mississippi as an institution whose student body is dominated by rabid racists, whose administration is spineless and acquiescent when the politicians of the state start playing rough.
Still, beneath this image of Ole Miss which has been sent around the world by the news media, there continues the questioning of beliefs, the search for new ideas and the analysis of old ones, the giving and taking of thoughts and opinions. Southern theories of racial inequality, the constitutional defense of states' rights, and the public careers of the major Southern politicians are constant topics for theses, term papers, and classroom discussion.
The English professor who addressed his freshman class five years ago is now Provost of the University, a position second in authority to that of the Chancellor. His ideas on the purpose of the university have not changed, and throughout the turmoil, the administration, though exercising discretion not to offend the state legislature which, for better or for worse, controls the purse strings of the university, has seen that these ideas have continued in effect.
Chartered in 1844, the University of Mississippi began its first session with a faculty of four members offering instruction in a general curriculum in the liberal arts. The university now includes Schools of Law, Engineering, Education, Medicine, Pharmacy, Business and Government, and Nursing, as well as a Graduate School.
Today the university has a geometrically increasing enrollment which is pushing toward 6,000, with campus in both Oxford and Jackson. All schools except Medicine and Nursing are located on the Oxford campus.
The faculty and administrative staff now number approximately 500, and the educational facilities of the university have so expanded that masters degrees are given in 17 fields and Ph.D's in nine.
When a barometer other than news paper reports is used, the darkest period through which Ole Miss has passed between 1884 to 1963 not the riots last fall, but rather the late 1920's, the days when prohibition, anti-evolution laws, and the Ku Klux Klan flourished. Then Gov. Theodore G. Bilbo had well over 100 professors and administrators fired and replaced by his political supporters.
Though the university lost its accreditation immediately, the incident awakened Mississippians to the dangers of a system of higher education subject to the whims of a governor who more likely than not would consider colleges a part of the patronage pool.
Consequently, after Bilbo left office, a constitutional amendment created a 12-man Board of Trustees for all the state's colleges and universities. The board is answerable for its policies to no one except itself, and only four of its members are appointed by each governor.
Though the Board has been subject to criticism from the state's politicians, the only instance of one of its decisions being circumvented occurred last fall. After the first of the three Barnett-Meredith meetings, the Board announced its decision to obey the court order and admit Meredith. The remainder of Gov. Barnett's actions were in violation of the constitution of the state.
Both before and since Meredith's enrollment, the Board stood firm before the vote-seeking bigots of the state who, fortunately, are more vocal than influential. In the summer of 1959 two members of this element, one a member of the legislature and the other a former legislator, drew up a series of "charges" against a dozen university professors for teaching alien and subversive ideas. The board conducted its own investigation, and issued a statement that the charges were completely false, and further expressed confidence in the administration of the university.
Only a few days ago, the Board demonstrated again that it has a mind of its own. With the state's racist politicians from Gov. Barnett on down screaming like stuck pigs, it voted eight to three to send Mississippi State's basketball team to compete in the integrated NCAA tournament.
Ole Miss today is leading the somewhat reluctant state of Mississippi through a period of transition. The rapid expansion of the transition. The rapid expansion of the School of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Engineering, Education, and Business is supplying the state's increasing needs, although many graduates of these school still leave the state.
The College of Liberal Arts and the School of Law, however, have discovered just how stubborn Mississippi inertia can be. It was towards the faculty in these two schools that the attacks of 1959 were directed, and it has been the professors of these schools who first began to "pick up the pieces" after the riots and educate the student body to the could facts of desegregation and the judicial process in America.
While the law school has generally stood firm against its attackers largely through the efforts of Dean Robert J. Farley, the social and political science faculties have experienced a relatively large turnover. In 1961, the Department of History lost four of its top six professors, though higher salaries at other schools also influenced their decision to leave Ole Miss.
The most glaring instance of outside political pressures on the university to discharge a faculty member is the case of William P. Murphy, the law school's constitutional law specialist, who consistently taught his students that Supreme Court decisions were the law of the land, including Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka.
Murphy was among those who came under attack in 1959 and was kept under fire largely through the efforts of one of his former students who now serves in the State Senate. During the 1961-62 school year he taught at the University of Missouri as a visiting professor, but returned to Ole Miss to teach in the 1962 summer session. But subsequently, he resigned to become a full professor at Missouri.
In spite of the harrassment and turnover in faculty, however, these departments have stubbornly continued to do their jobs. The very fact that the outside political pressures are if anything increasing is proof that the professors have not yielded. And the fact that since 1954, the year of the Brown decision, there has been a large element of dissenters among the student body is proof that the professors' efforts have not been in vain.
In the Campus Senate, the legislative branch of student government at Ole Miss, voices of protest are constantly being raised. Were it not for outside pressures, both from parents and indirectly from the political powers in the state (operating through the two Jackson newspapers which make sure that the name of every student who publicly speaks out against state policies is printed in such a manner that the student will get crank letters and his parents will be asked to explain to the home folk), these voices would often constitute a majority.
The campus newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, has generally been dominated by moderates and by the more intelligent members of the conservative element. Despite the fact that the editor is elected by the student body each year, there has not been a racist editor in more than a decade.
Except for the few months on either side of Meredith's enrollment in September, 1962, the majority of the students have been very antagonistic toward the Barnett element and its demogogic approach to the problems of the state. In the fall of 1960 Barnett was on the campus to crown the Homecoming Queen, and when he was announced to the crowd at halftime the boos from the student section were clearly heard over the applause elsewhere. In that same year, Barnett was invited to speak at a forum program, but after a few months of indecision, refused. During this time, a large group of students planned a demonstration and picket line outside the forum hall.
The popularity of Gov. Barnett among the students last fall (and, incidentally, the vast majority of his supporters among the student body were freshmen), was more a protest against the Kennedy Administration that support for Barnett. And this popularity has been waning rapidly in recent months, especially since the Governor has failed to specifically deny Look Magazine's allegations that throughout the week before Meredith's admission Barnett was negotiating with Robert Kennedy, to whom he wasn't exactly saying the same things he was to the people of Mississippi.
Before the Meredith incident, Ole Miss was a typical Southern university. While almost every student, some more reluctant than other, admitted that he was there to get an education, few confined that education to "book learning." The social life of the campus, created largely by the glamour and spectacle of big-time college football and a well-established fraternity system, was an integral part of the average student's definition of "education."
In recent years half of both the men and women students have been members of fraternities and sororities. The ratio between men and women at Ole Miss is 60-40. Though there are many exceptions to this rule, the Greeks usually have higher scholar tic average that the "independents," especially among the girls. Last June three students graduated with special distinction: all three were Greeks.
Close to 80 per cent of the campus leaders come from the ranks of the Greeks, and it has been four year since a non-Greek was chosen for the school's hall of Fame (six seniors chosen each year). Each of the school's last two Rhodes Scholar served as an officer in his fraternity.
Though this might imply that there is a certain measure of discrimination by the Greeks against the independents, this is generally not the case. The fraternities and sororities are much more stable in membership than the independents, many of whom never last over two or three semesters at Ole Miss. In fact, many of the independents (and, admittedly, some Greeks) would never get into Ole Miss were it not for the fact that the University has to accept practically. every graduate of a Mississippi high school.
Politically, the students have generally tended to be conservative though never quite to the extent that the vocal minority has represented them to be. Most students favor segregation, but few support discrimination (and the two can be separated). The majority supports a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, but few would advocate open defiance of court orders, especially after last fall's tragedy. Most students will express a concern at socialism being taught in the classroom, but few will support an effort to curb the free exchange of ideas among students and faculty.
Politics, in general, interests the upperclassmen much more than freshmen or sophomores. As a result the former group is far more aware of the fallacies of interposition and the other political maneuvers of the state to avoid integration. The freshman, however, are poorly informed, and it was from their ranks that most of the troublemakers came last fall.
Last fall the administration's foot-ting was very unsure and hesitant, but as the riots recede into the past and James Meredith drops into obscurity, Ole Miss is resuming its task of preparing its students to be better informed and more responsible citizens of their chosen communities