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The Calkins Saga -- A Second Chapter

Explaining Why Cleveland's Schools Affect Harvard And Why Calkins Is Not the New Kennedy Part II

By James M. Fallows

(This is the second in a two-part series on Hugh D. Calkins '45, Fellow of the Harvard Corporation.)

I

ONE OF the best ways to understand some of the things Hugh Calkins has said at Harvard in the last month is to see what he has been saying in Cleveland for the last ten years.

Calkins has made his public reputation largely on his record as a school-reformer in Cleveland. Many of the criticisms and proposals he has made there have obvious applications to his views on how Harvard should be run.

After his service on the President's Commission on National Goals ended in 1961, Calkins went back to Ohio. His nominal purpose was to resume his interrupted law practice, and to work on his specialty, tax problems of small businesses.

But Calkins also began to rise in Cleveland educational circles. In 1961, he told the city's Adult Education Council that it needed to put some enthusiasm into its commitment to educational excellence. In late 1962, he gave a much-publicized speech at the Ohio School Board convention in Columbus.

That speech seems to have been one of the turning points in Calkins' public career. Newspapers throughout the state reported his indictments of Ohio schools. Calkins said that the elementary schools were producing students who could not read, and he suggested competitive examinations of graduates of various schools of find out just which school systems were failing.

Another panelist the convention told Calkins that educational muckraking was not enough. The man said that if Calkins really wanted to help the illiterate elementary school graduates, he should suggest some concrete remedies.

Calkins apparently had that idea in mind already. Eight days later he was named chairman of a 22-member citizens' committee in Cleveland. The committee, called PACE (Plan for Action by Citizens in Education), said its purpose was to investigates Cleveland's educational woes and suggest ways in which local citizens could help solve the problems.

In April, 1963, the PACE report was ready. The report presented a depressing picture of Cleveland's schools, and it blamed public apathy for many of the problems. The school system was "steadily deteriorating," the report said, and the solution was more community support -- and much more community money.

The report said that rich suburban school districts were siphoning away the Cleveland system's tax base, and that Cleveland's scanty teacher force could barely man the classrooms. It said that the city needed a better "vocational-education" system, since only 30 per cent of its high school graduates even went to college. Using the jargon of the early sixties, it said that schools in "culturally-deprived" areas needed special help, since the "culturally-deprived" homes in Cleveland's ghettoes were "not able to do their vital part" in educating children.

The formulas PACE prescribed for repairing Cleveland schools were hard for Clevelanders to take. At a time when the city's annual school budget was about $130 million, PACE estimated that all its proposed reforms would cost another $56 million--almost 45 per cent of the total school budget.

Since the rural-dominated Ohio legislature was not likely to send the money to Cleveland, PACE flatly told the city's taxpayers that they would have to come up with the $56 million themselves to save their schools.

II

LARGELY because of this expense problem, the PACE report had little immediate impact in Cleveland. But five months after the report came out, some of its supporters formed a new group. They called it the PACE Association, and they elected Calkins as its president.

The Association said its goal was to apply continuing pressure on the same sensitive areas the PACE report had pointed out. For the next 18 months, Calkins gave speeches and provided quotes for newspaper articles in an attempt to swing taxpaying-Cleveland's mind toward the Association's point of view.

The reasoning behind Calkins' public-ralations campaign was a sophisticated variation on the original report's relatively simple task. The report unearthed the problems, but Cleveland still slumbered. What Calkins had to do was make the public feel sufficiently disturbed about its crowded schools. Then they might mobilize their city's finances to hire more teachers.

The Association's platform reflected this public-persuasion strategy. Instead of dealing with specific proposals like ghetto school improvement, it concentrated on broad tactics. It planned to "gain active participation from as broad a segment of the community as possible," and to "provide mechanisms for citizens and business leaders to work in the best interests of the schools."

The project's clearest success came among Cleveland businessmen. By late 1964, bankers and industrialists were telling business conventions that the whole Northern Ohio economy was in trouble if Cleveland school's kept decaying.

"An inferior public school system is the greatest single problem facing all of us in this region," the president of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company said. Other businessmen quietly looked over reports showing that Cleveland's industrial growth rate was suffering in comparison with cities that had revamped their schools.

Calkins did his part to woo the business community. He put a new cover on the PACE report's vocational-education plan and presented it in the interest of "improving industry-school communications."

The new version was a Greater Cleveland Vocational Education Council, and its purpose was to "keep abreast of job skills in a rapidly changing technological society, and to steer students into those occupations of benefit to themselves and to industry."

As public support for the general PACE idea rose, Calkins rolled out some other specific plans in 1964 and 1965. At a panel discussion, for example, he suggested merging Cleveland's neighborhood high schools into a city-wide system in order to expose white children to "people of other races, religions, and economic levels."

The single most important proposal Calkins made in his year with PACE was probably a tax-reform study he made in early 1965. The city schools' fundamental financial problem was clear: the Cleveland school district had a lower tax base to draw from than the suburban schools did, and Cleveland had to pay more of its tax-base revenue for police and firemen. There was simply too little money left over to support any kind of adequate city school system.

After the Ohio Appeals Board cut some $2.2 million out of the Cleveland school budget by slashing property valuations in 1965, Calkins started the special PACE study of new ways to get money into the city schools.

The study probed several promising sources of Federal aid, and also devised a way of decreasing the embarrassing disparity between school budgets in the richer suburbs and those in downtown Cleveland.

The plan was a county-wide income tax throughout Cuyahoga County -- which includes many of the suburbs, as well as Cleveland. If the proceeds were distributed to the poorest school districts in the county (i.e., Cleveland's), the practical result would be suburban subsides of the Cleveland system.

In April, 1965, two months after the tax study was started, Calkins resigned as PACE president, moved from Shaker Heights into Cleveland, and jumped into the race for one of four seats on the Cleveland School Board.

Calkins was immediately cast in the role of crusading reformer challenging the entrenched party hacks. He ran an exhausting campaign, fought hard to shake a suburbanite-carpet-bagger image, and finally came in third out of six candidates. That was enough to get him a four-year seat on the Board.

Since then, Calkins' record has been surprisingly consistent with the outlines he set during his PACE days. During the campaign and after the election, he emphasized the same PACE issues. Cleveland needed better schools, more money, closer cooperation with industry.

In his Congressional testimony, which has become more frequently in the last year, Calkins has again stressed the problems that came out of the old PACE study. In 1967, he told the Senate subcommittee on education that inner-city schools could work if they had enough money and enough good teachers.

At that hearing, Robert Kennedy derided Calkins' request for school aid as "pouring money into the same old system when there's no sign it works." Calkins retorted that the city schools have failed only because they have been continually shortchanged.

In 1968, Calkins appeared before the education subcommittee again and urged them to send more money into the cities' vocational education programs. And less than six weeks ago, Calkins--serving as chairman of the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education--hit the same theme, saying that job training classes in schools would save the country millions of dollars that it now spends on remedial training for unemployable adults.

III

THESE CLEVELAND details are currently interesting only because they offer important clues to the way Calkins thinks about Harvard.

One undeniable mark of Calkins' school board record is his commitment to standard "liberal" causes. In his action on the school board, in his intricately-designed tax plans, and especially in is testimony before Congress, he has pleaded for more money to let the big cities meet their crying ghetto needs.

Calkins has urged private investors to put some of their money into black businesses in the ghetto. He made a speech last fall and suggested the creation of some national foundation to direct those philanthropic investments.

In the internal function of the Cleveland board, Calkins has also tried to make governmental procedures more accessible to the people they serve. Last year he fought with other board members in order to get the board's meetings moved to local schools, where parents who were being affected by integration plans could question the board members.

Two years ago, Calkins led another crusade. He headed a drive to repeal an 18-year-old loyalty oath that Cleveland had required of all its school employees.

There are many other examples of Calkins' allegiance to classic liberalism. In his school board campaigns, he received unprecedented backing from labor unions and the Americans for Democratic Action. He said at Harvard last month that he wants the U.S. to get out of Vietnam, and his opposition to the war was on record long before that. He has supported Civil Rights movements, in the South and in the cities.

But there is another clear strain in Calkins' thought that keeps this budding liberalism for veering over into ROTC-abolishing radicalism in his views on Harvard. Underlying his commitments to specific political and educational goals has been Calkins' unflagging devotion to pragmatism as a political philosophy.

Calkins is a man who likes to get things done--in the most immediately efficient way possible. He finds the vulnerable chink in the problem he wants to solve, and he begins his attack there. If the attack is fruitless he moves elsewhere. He does not ram his head into the wall.

If he wants to get ahead in life, he moves west to Cleveland.

If his school board needs money, Calkins finds the federal law that will let him get the money. If the suburban schools are too rich, he changes the tax law to send more money to the inner city. If there are too few teachers, he sets up a corps of teacher-auxiliaries. If all these plans cost money, he tells businessmen why the money is a good investment.

If a plan seems futile, it is dropped. If integrating the Cleveland schools seems less effective than improving all the schools, he leaves the schools imbalanced and tries to improve them all.

This outlook has its effects on Calkin's approach to Harvard. Back when the University's failure to invest in ghetto businesses was a hot issue, Calkins explained the Corporation's reluctance. The gesture was pointless, he said. Harvard simply did not have the power to solve the problem. If students really cared about helping the ghetto, they should put pressure on the government to wield its might there.

The same ethic makes the attack on University rental policies seem foolish to Calkins. The University cannot pragmatically afford to take losses on the apartment buildings it owns, he says. As a practical necessity and as a preventative against federal influence, the University needs to be self-supporting.

But students say that there is not enough housing for the poor people in the country. He agrees. But he says the energy being used to force changes in the rents in a few Harvard units or to prevent the eviction of several hundred Boston tenants is being wasted. If it were applied to the federal government, he says, some worthwhile programs to house millions of poor people might emerge.

Calkins adds another practical argument to his reply to SDS expansion demands. You want to stop the Affiliated Hospital Center from being built? he asks. Then you are depriving the millions of poor people who will profit from the new medical techniques it will develop.

Baroque variations are possible. When students asked him at a panel discussion last week why the Corporation could not take a loss on investments and rentals, Calkins responded with an artful practical problem. You want us to spend more money in the ghettoes? Then we will have to cut down somewhere else, like in the new Afro-American Studies program or in the new fellowship for black graduate students.

The same formula applies to the University's government. Bureaucracies should be accessible to their constituents; Calkins has tired to move his school board closer to the people.

Are students on the Corporation the next logical step? No. The Corporation is already straining to run efficiently. Calkins says. Add more people and it will never get its business done. The men who fly in every other week to meet in Massachusetts Hall are busy, and an overblown Corporation would probably drive them all away.

But the Corporation's remoteness also poses a pragmatic threat. Calkins realizes that; he realized it before the bust. The solution he found was to keep the Corporation small and efficient, but to set informal contacts with students whenever possible.

Most of these arguments-from-practicality could easily be mistaken for old-style conservatism. In April, most of them were. The one application of Calkins' theory that came as a surprise to most students was his "elegant dissent" scheme.

This too was an idea rooted in practicality. The real goal of the ROTC protests, Calkins said was to end the war. Just getting ROTC off Harvard territory won't that. What the protestors need to do is to win a national following--the civil rights marchers did in the South. National sympathy, he said, was the only way to have a successful campaign.

But the protests so far eve had just the opposite result. The list of the country is mad at the students. So when they win the local battles, they may just be increasing the national war machine, Calkins says.

Why does the country hate these protestors? Because their dissents not "elegant." Calkins says the key the civil rights victory was the elegance of its protests. The people were martyrs to their cause. Protestors who demand amnesty aren't martyrs. And so the tactic Calkins suggested on television and in talks with students was for University Hall demonstrates to accept punishment willingly. Then their protest would be effective.

And Calkins' keen sense of what it necessary at the moment dictated much of his own activity last month. Like President Pusey, he thought that the University was threatened. Unlike, Pusey, he knew what to do about it. The Corporation had to

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