Wisconsin Hoofers: An Oral History by Porter Butts
An Early History
An Oral History by Porter Butts,
Wisconsin Union Director, 1928-1968
Recorded in 1979
Interview by Donna Taylor Hartshorne
Transcription by Jim Rogers
Editing by Porter and Mary-Louise Butts
This interview is with Porter F. Butts, the director of the Wisconsin Union from 1928-1968. This interview is part of a collection of interviews completed by Donna Taylor Hartshorne in Porter Butt's office in the Memorial Union beginning on August 2, 1979. The complete set of interviews is included in the publication The Wisconsin Union--The First 75 Years.
Although Porter Butts was initially interviewed beginning in 1979, these interviews were not transcribed and edited by Porter and Mary Louis Butts until 1990. At that time Jim Rogers, 1990-92 Wisconsin Union President, lived with the Butts in Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin. Porter Butts died at the age of 88 in March of 1991 while still active in his life's area of speciality and vision --the college union--having helped design the buildings and programs for over 100 unions in the United States and around the world.
(c)1993 Wisconsin Union; 800 Langdon Street; Madison, WI 53706-1495. All rights reserved.
A Comprehensive Outdoors Recreation Program
-- The Wisconsin Hoofers
Well, to the forefront then comes the example of Wisconsin Hoofers, the Union outing club, as a unique and maybe salient example of how this all works in practice and worth spending a few comments on because at Wisconsin the outing club, the Hoofers, is probably now--oh, I'm sure it is now--the largest and most varied outing club on any college campus in America--some 5500 students are participants in the course of a year and pay dues to the Hoofers club in order to participate. They are that eager and that interested.
The other thing that I think I can rightfully say is that the Hoofers are noted for, are responsible for, is the establishment of skiing interest in Wisconsin. This wouldn't seem possible now with skiing universal in Wisconsin and throughout the country but in the 1920s when the Union came along, there was no such thing as skiing activity except for a few hardy Norwegians and Finns who brought their ski jumping interests and skills with them to the State and practiced on ski jumps in northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan and, indeed, the Norwegian students had built a wooden ski scaffold on Muir Knoll just a stone's throw from the Union. But this was in the early 1920s and when most interested Norwegian students left the campus, the wooden scaffold fell into disrepair and the jumping activity was not very visible at the time when the Union opened.
In all of Madison you couldn't buy a pair of skis except for these pine boards with leather toe straps put forth mainly for children to slide down hills with and tumble. There was no such thing as a ski with a binding, for example, or boots to fit the bindings or with poles either for downhill or for cross country skiing. So, one of the first and earliest achievements of Hoofers was to find a source of supply for proper ski equipment via the Dartmouth Outing Club which was flourishing already in New Hampshire at that time and which was acquiring its ski equipment from Switzerland. Through the Dartmouth club we were able to come by some twenty sets of hickory skis with leather thong bindings--it was the only thing available at that time--and boots to fit and poles, and so on. We racked these up, of all places, in the billiard room, for rental. They were checked out in at the billiard desk by students who wanted to give skiing a try and, of course--in accord with the theme that I have just expressed--with instruction in how to do it. How to use skis was a pioneer program for the Union.
Well, going back a bit on how Hoofers came into existence in the first place: I think it's right to say that as this was due as much as anything to the interest and leadership of Dr. Harold Bradley who was chairman of the Physiological Chemistry Department, member of the Union Council, and had been as the chairman of the Planning Committee for the Union deeply involved in what the Union could do recreationally for the students, and was himself a pioneer skier. He had seven boys who he was training in learning how to ski. But among other things, he, being a close associate of mine and some other folks associated with the Union, led us on a canoe trip in the Quetico forest in Canada one summer--a month-long trip throughout the wilderness by canoe--and in these long evenings we talked together about what a great experience this was out of doors and how satisfying it was to us; but why, we thought, couldn't this be extended to more people than just us? Why isn't this the kind of thing students on the campus ought to have the chance to do?
There followed several other kinds of trips including winter ski trips among close friends of ours and Bradley's, and this notion persisted: "if this is as fun and rewarding as it was--we were very excited about it--why not make it possible for students generally?" This led to a notice posted on the Union bulletin board in 1931, "Please sign here if you're interested in participating in an outing club with skiing, camping, and canoeing as a prospect." There were numbers of sign-ups. We still have that original sign-up sheet as part of the Hoofer archives. Then there was a meeting and seven people including Dr. Bradley and his son Charles and myself and two or three others decided it was time to try an outing club.
So, in a modest way we went ahead and formed what is still known as the "Wisconsin Hoofers." The name Hoofers deriving from a kind of an example of the Dartmouth Outing Club where to be a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club you have to first serve as a "heel." They called them "Heelers." This rather promoted the idea that the people who graduated from heels ought to be called "Hoofers." Hoofers was appropriate enough because it signified that you go there under your own power, "on the hoof," so to speak, and it gave us the horseshoe as the emblem for a shoulder patch and stationary and all the rest--kind of a symbol of good luck--and you do these things on your own. We had an apprentice system, too, where those who wanted to become Hoofers had to first serve as "heels." We called them "Heels" and they had to give a certain number of hours to the club over a period of several months and careful record keeping showed how many hours they spent and what they did to qualify themselves as part of the senior group of Hoofers which ran the club and planned the programs, and so on.
Well, in the earliest years the rental of the ski equipment and teaching how to use it was one of the prime evidences of the Hoofer activities, but it wasn't only that. There were overnight camping trips. We had an arrangement with the State Parks System in which we had the use of the Kirkland Lodge--the old lodge at the south end of Devil's Lake--which in the wintertime was made available to us for overnight and people would gather up their gear and skis and go out on weekend outings into the near countryside or Devil's Lake. Anyhow, right along through those first years, the interest flowered. It came on strongly.
The ski jump was sitting there in disrepair and dangerous--it couldn't be used--and Dr. Bradley himself, an ardent fan of ski jumping as a sport, led a movement to replace the old wooden scaffold with a steel scaffold and I managed to get the Class of 1931 to put up $700 or $800 to buy it. Dr. Bradley added some money of his own and raised some money elsewhere and we managed, finally, to get the wherewithall to design and install a steel ski scaffold. There were very few ski jumping hills or slides in the State. What there were were up in Ishpeming in Michigan and one or two in northern Wisconsin. This prompted the Central U.S. Ski Association to hold its tournaments here including jumpers from the Wisconsin Hoofers.
So, annually we had a ski jumping tournament on Muir Knoll and it was the income--admissions from those tournaments--that gave us the wherewithall to finance much of the rest of the outing program that the Hoofers undertook--plus the rental of the skis out of the billiard room. But the winter weather in Madison brought with it all sorts of painful difficulties in arranging for a ski jumping tournament on the campus because almost inevitably when we picked the most weather proof date, the weather people would tell us "sorry, the snow would melt the week before." On at least one or two occasions we had to send up north for freight cars of snow. It was then piled up for highway trucks bringing it to Muir Knoll and dump it at the bottom of the hill. Then came the arduous process of carrying the snow up the hill and up this scaffold in bushel baskets. And for this we needed scores and scores of helpers to do it. This is where the Heels came in. It was one of the jobs they performed and so did the skiers themselves and so did anybody else that we could persuade to do the job.
So, despite the weather, somehow we usually got a ski tournament off the ground and jumping took place. We soon found that the students and others were glad to come and watch but they didn't want to pay so we arranged with the Athletic Department to bring down their canvas fence that they surrounded the football practice field with in the fall and we drilled holes in the ice and up and down the hill and arranged these canvas screens to try to route people through an entrance where they bought a ticket for fifty cents. This succeeded only in part but enough to pay the bills with a little left over.
So, ski jumping came to Madison/southern Wisconsin area because of the Hoofers as did an interest in cross country skiing. It is literally true that the Hoofers, particularly through the leadership of Dr. Bradley, that this came about decades before skiing was a popular sport such as it is now.
Although there is no longer a ski jump on Muir Knoll. When did that cease?
Well, that went on through the years until the late '40s or early '50s when the University decided to put a parking area on the bottom of the hill. The ski jumpers landed at the bottom of the ski hill at the lake shore and ran out over the ice on the lake but cars parked on the landing hill outrun meant the end of ski jumping and it was at that time that the Hoofers donated the ski scaffold to the city recreation department to be installed at Hoyt Park--it is still there--and it is the privilege of Hoofers, still, to practice on it and to use it.
I should add that part of the ski jumping history at Wisconsin included at least four Olympic ski jumper members of the U.S. Ski Team. So, it's a signal of how when you get into something and do it reasonably well, you get some real competence and skill among students that flowers, in this case, into Olympic jumpers. This is partly because Dr. Bradley himself encouraged the Bietila brothers, who were Finnish boys up in Ishpeming, Michigan to come to the University of Wisconsin. They had grown up with ski jumping as children and high school students. He brought them here, housed them, paid their way, so they could get a college education and both the Bietila brothers became members of the U.S. Olympic ski jumping team, and two others did.
One of our original Hoofer founders, Sally Owen Marshall, by name, was a student in 1931, a member of the Union governing board, as well as one of the seven founders of the Wisconsin Hoofers. She came the first woman to jump off the ski slide and this won a lot of press and interested people to come up and see what was this woman doing trying to commit suicide but she didn't and managed to come off pretty well.
Well, that sounds like a lot on skiing but that isn't the only thing that was going on in the '30s. We became aware that in Canada that there were toboggan slides and in our innocence we thought we would try a toboggan slide off of Observatory Hill running down where Elizabeth Waters Hall now is, down to the lakeshore and out onto the lake. We trenched out this slide. We got Oscar Mayer to ice it with their blocks of ice, filling it in with frozen snow. We built a little tool shed at the top with an attendant who charged ten cents a ride and provided the toboggans. This was a thrilling, if I must say hazardous ride, downhill and onto the lake.
Well, Observatory Drive must not have been there?
Observatory Drive was there and this was where the toboggan slide took off from. We were able to do it because we persuaded the Class of 1931 to put up the money for it as their senior class gift to the University. But as some things go and still do, somebody in their off moment decided to burn down the shed where the attendant did his work and had the tools and collected the money, and that ended the toboggan rides for the time being. And before we could reconstruct and try to get going again, the University decided to build Elizabeth Waters Hall which, of course, blocked out the possibility of continuing the toboggan slide all together. And as I must say as I look back on it, I am full of fright as to what might have happened if the toboggan came roaring down that slide and somebody walking along the lake path happened to be stepping over the slide at just that moment; or if the wooden bridge platform that covered the slide had not been lifted out and the toboggan had run into this wooden bridge crossing the chute. It never happened but we weren't all that fearful in those years of what might have actually happened.
Well, what I was about to say is that as skiing as a prime interest and major activity, it wasn't the only one in the 1930s. We all began to realize we had a lake as part of the campus as well as land. Here we sat in the unparalleled situation, a Union building right on the lake shore with no access by students to the lake in terms of canoes or sailing or ice boats except as they were willing to pay high prices for rentals at the Bernard boathouse that used to stand behind the gym and that was a modest operation at best.
So, we began to encourage sailing--buying first wooden hull boats which the Hoofers were able to pay for by charging sailing dues and which they kept in repair because the sailors and heels did the work.
Then we realized we had possibilities for general outing activities starting with camping trips not far from the campus, and we saw this mounting interest in whatever new kinds of outing activity the Hoofers undertook. So, when the theater was planned in the mid-thirties, one of the proposals was to create an outing center in the basement of the theater, with a ramp down from the terrace for the purpose of easing down the steps with gear and bikes and skis and toboggans--with washrooms adjacent-- for the benefit partly not only of the outers, but also the swimmers off the Union pier, as a sanitation measure. This actually turned out to be one of the main reasons why the federal government gave us a grant to build the theater wing because we were solving the hygiene problem along the lake shore with two small washrooms. And so we stressed this quite a lot when we made our application for the theater. Of course, this was a modest two room facility with lockers so you could change clothes and so forth.
In this outing quarters were to be the ski racks now moved from the billiard room, a work bench for repairing and waxing skis, a canteen or snack bar with a counter where students could get coffee coming in from a wintery trip and a lounge where they could sit around and talk over the day's adventures or assemble before a trip and gather together before a bus took them out to their next outing place.
In the discussion of the theater wing costs it looked like we were not going to have enough money and so there was a proposal to eliminate the outing clubs. But Dr. Bradley and I held out because we were resolved that this kind of activity and interest needed a home, and in the end this prevailed. It was constructed and is there now. In the far end of the basement under the theater lobby, which was excavated but not floored over, there was an empty open space which we converted into an archery range. We had had archery out on the athletic practice fields but the Athletic Department wasn't happy with this. They didn't encourage us to put up our archery butts, the straw backing for the target. By the way, that is where my name comes from, an old-English terminology. The archery butts in England is where the archers were sent forth to practice their bow and arrow work. They were called the butts and apparently that is where my name comes from. So, we had archery going indoors.
Then a mountaineers group developed and they found Devil's Lake an ideal practice place for rock climbing, getting ready for trips that took them to the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian mountains for high mountain climbing. The hunt club--there was a hunt club sponsored by the Physical Education Department for Women--fell on hard times and lack of interest because the men weren't included. Also, they ran out of stable space with the growth of Shorewood Hills. There was a stable in Shorewood Hills. So the hunt club joined the Hoofers and we had a Hoofer Riding Club. A Hoofer horse show became an annual event out at the Stock Pavilion that attracted horse riders/competitors from all over the middle west. It was a big thing and made some money. There were stables and fields that were brought into the picture. So riding became an on-going thing. The Sailing Club added new types of boats and now got up to around twenty, something like that.
The weekend trips multiplied. There were sign-up sheets down in the outing quarters for at least two and sometimes three or more trips. This was going on through the late '30s and the '40s and the trips began to go really quite far afield especially at Christmas holiday time and spring recess. There were trips to the Colorado Mountains, trips to the British Columbia mountains, canoe trips to Canada lakes-- The Quetico--and down the Tennessee River.
At that time, also, we took on the old WAA (that's the Women's Athletic Association) cottage out in Shorewood Hills which they had used as an outing cottage. It is on the lake shore just below Eagle Heights and we converted that into a rest stop for canoers and sailors and hikers and bikers. One of the favorite Hoofer occasions was an annual hike around Lake Mendota--see who could make the twenty-five to twenty-six miles in the fastest time. We installed a resident couple who lived there and were always there as host when groups showed up on their way hiking or just wanting a short weekend retreat for picnics and maybe softball, or for canoeists who wanted to make a stop before they came back to the Union. This went on into the late '40s; I guess it was around then. At this time, however, automobiles became very prevalent on the campus which was now after the war. There were no automobiles moving during the war and very few before the war but with the end of the war and the straightening up of the economic situation, student cars became fairly prevalent, at least by the '50s and so the student instinct was to go far afield to start their outing, their camping trip, or their canoe trip, or their mountain climbing, and so on. So, the WAA cottage--the "Blackhawk Lodge" as we called it because it was right near Blackhawk cave, with Blackhawk being the chief who was supposed to have hidden out there on his retreat across this port of the country in face of the military pursuing him. Blackhawk Lodge was just wasn't interesting enough. It wasn't enough of an adventure and we closed that out.
But we did some other things. We developed a downhill skiing area out near Cross Plains with a rope tow. Downhill skiing was just not beginning to mature as an interest among students and others. So, we found ourselves spreading in all kinds of directions with the corollary student interest. Each of these interest groups formed a sub-club of its own. It was the Outing Club, the Mountaineering Club, the Archery Club, the Riding Club, the Sailing Club, and so on, but they were all brought together in a federation under the banner of the Hoofer name. The head of each of these subgroups was on the Hoofer Central Council to determine policy and promote the cause of outdoor recreation generally. Well, caving got into the picture too.
All through this whole multiple development, teaching how to do it was central. The sailors produced very extensive manuals on sailing and a student had to pass a land test first to qualify to take out a sailboat. This was for safety reasons and to teach him how to be a good sailor so that he would want to come back. He would take satisfaction in what he was doing. The canoers developed manuals on the rivers of northern Wisconsin: where the rapids were, what seasons to avoid low water or too high water, and so on. There were all kinds of instructor recruiting programs going with the older sailors or older canoeists who had been through the mill signing up as instructors; and because of their time devoted teaching newcomers on how to do it, they were given sailing privileges without charge.
And, of course, in the process we had employed by now a full-time outing director. We started in the late '30s with a half-time director but it soon turned out that this was, indeed, a full-time job. He, in turn, was an experienced outer and instructor himself and worked with the student instructors.
As we went along the program flowered and kept on flowering. There were busloads to ski resorts on long weekends, between sessions, and Christmas time--a couple of hundred students at a time by bus to northern Wisconsin or to a northern Michigan ski resort. There were charter ski trips organized overseas to Switzerland, to France--by plane, of course. There were numerous charters by bus to Aspen, and to Vail and to the other Colorado ski resorts.
We gradually acquired more boats. Some of them were gifts. We organized intercollegiate regattas and again the Wisconsin sailors got good enough so that one or two of them became Olympic sailors. We still have a Hoofer graduate who is the champion single-handed sailor of the U.S. right now.
Who is that?
His name is Peter Barrett and is over at Milwaukee running a sail shop.
The whitewater canoeing came on strong. We started renting bikes. Our facilities started out just with the basement of the old president's house which is where the theater now stands but as I have mentioned, we got our sizeable outing quarters when the theater was built plus an archery range plus this auxiliary lodge; Blackhawk Lodge, out on Lake Mendota shore plus the downhill skiing at Cross Plains.
Then there came the time when there was a strong move on to develop what we called an "Outdoor Union" out at Halverson's Park which was privately owned adjacent to Governor Dodge Park out at Dodgeville and our governing board and the Hoofers were strong for this. It was about a 500 acre area with rock out crops for rock climbing; deep valleys; four or five ponds for fishing, swimming; the horse riding stable of Governor Dodge Park next door and it looked like the kind of a place where we could encourage weekend outings by student families or by student organizations who wanted weekend retreats for conference purposes, and so on, with a view to building cabins and a central dining hall and gathering place and at the same time, be a demonstration center for the camp and resort people of Wisconsin for institute symposiums and conferences in a resort setting led by university environmental studies group and an extension staff on how best to develop a public camp site or a resort--what to do and what not to do and so on.
It had, we thought, a lot of potential in these several directions. It was only forty miles away. You could get there in an hour --spectacular scenery, deep valleys, and right up against Governor Dodge Park which is something over 5,000 acres and being a State institution we had established that we could have certain mutual privileges and access to the Governor Dodge trails for skiing in the winter, and so on. The Memorial Union trustees had the money to take an option on it and to buy it. So, we got a price on this area--$135,000--and took it to Chancellor Fleming who thought it was a great idea and encouraged us; and we were in the middle of negotiations to take an option on this when we got the news from President Harrington that he didn't think it was a very good idea because if the legislature, which was then in session, heard that the land was being bought for University purposes forty miles from the campus at the time when the University was begging for money to build buildings on the campus, it would be fatal to the University's requests even though there was no State money involved. We were going to buy this through the gift money of the Memorial Union Trustees and make it as a gift to the University but we were turned down. About five weeks later Halverson's Park was sold to the Milwaukee Labor Union for $325,000.
Well, we began to look for more modest and alternate areas where we could do something of the same thing and for some reason, the report of our governing board meeting on this got printed in the Milwaukee Journal. I got a telephone call from Milwaukee saying "We saw that you are interested in an outing area for the University and we might have the kind of thing you might like." Well, I said "Where is it?" This was all over the phone. "Well, it's about so and so and so and so up in Iowa County." I said, "Does it happen to be off of County ZZ?" "Yeah." "Is it a place that used to be called Halverson's Park." "Yes." "Well, what is your asking price on it?" "$350,000." And we could have had it for $135,000 five or six weeks before. It was ultimately sold to the State Park Department for, I think it was, $285,000, or something like that, and is now part of Governor Dodge Park. So we lost it. I thought while I was mentioning all of our achievements and successes I might mention one that didn't succeed.
Well, at about the same time, however, we were doing something about expanding the outing quarters here at the Union. Again, with the sailing just zooming and canoeing, particularly kayak, whitewater excursions coming on strong and the crew house going out. (The crew house was part of the boathouse that Bernard ran as a boat rental agency back of the gym and the crew house occupied about half of that. The crew was relocated up near the dormitories and Bernard was growing old and was anxious to get out of the rental business and not doing much with it anyhow, and the University was developing the Alumni House and wanted to dispose of the boat house.) . . .
This would have been in the '60s, wouldn't it?
Yes, I think so. The boat house was falling apart anyhow in the early '60s. So, we thought, well maybe this is the time when maybe we should go into full force as a lakeshore boat center, and did. The area I called the archery range was also a place where we stored theater scenery. The scenery was moved out. Archery disappeared by this time and the dirt floor was floored over and compartments were made for each of our outing clubs with wire mesh caging to keep their gear and supplies under protection. A paint shop for repainting boats or fiberglassing boats was installed with a very important exhaust fan and filtering arrangement so that the paint and fiberglass fumes would dissipate and not be a hazard and, plus, a general work and repair center.
Then we extended the area on out toward the lakeshore under what you now see as a open plaza deck that almost reaches the lakeshore. This provides a whole new very large center for boat storage and canoe storage and sail drying and repair work and kayak building. Students built kayaks there right along. They get a kit for maybe $25 or $30 and we provide the space and the wherewithall for their own work in building a fiberglass kayak for themselves. At the beginning we rented bikes there. We had twenty bikes to rent. This would be unbelievable now but hardly any student had a bike, even in the early '60s. So we rented bikes to students who wanted to bike out to Picnic Point or around the lake, or wherever.
Well, now there are more than 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 bikes on the campus privately owned but this was a very valuable resource in the beginning to be able to rent a bike and go somewhere along the University pathways for an outing. In Union color sound film done in the early '50s, '54 I guess it is, one of the scenes is this group, about a dozen or fifteen people, taking off on bikes over Observatory Hill. It was unheard of before then. So, this boat center got built and is now the focus of all of our activity and is due, we hope, for some expansion down the lakeshore towards the Limnology building because the Hoofers now have something more than 80 boats of all kinds of sizes, some of them gifts, some of then they purchase through their dues. But they've had all sorts of troubles over the years with their temporary wooden docking and where the boats have been stored on shore because the wind and the waves when a storm has come up have wrecked the wooden docks and torn loose some of the boats and destroyed them and left very considerable damage. So this whole area between the outing center at the theater, the lake frontage and down to the Limnology building is scheduled for a permanent waterside boat storage area and a park like area with planting and trees and benches and seating.
Will there be any kind of a building?
No. This is all shoreline development and partly to preserve the shore which has gone to pieces with wave action--it began to erode. And this is a current project which also involves taking the second story off the old Lake Lab that hasn't been used for years but which hides the view from the Park Street turnaround out over the lake towards Picnic Point and turning that into an open deck as a kind of overlook for the public. And this is in the works now and with the Hoofers putting upwards of $55,000 into it. Two classes have made it their fifty year class gift for this purpose and the Legislature has added $75,000 and the Brittingham Fund has come up with some money.
The Union sponsorship of the Hoofers Club represented a good and long symbiotic relationship for most of the years since the founding of the Hoofers. It has gone on now for almost fifty years but there was one period of time when one of our young instructors in the faculty who was an ardent sailor himself and active in the Hoofer Sailing Club, in fact, considered himself a self-appointed sailing coach, thought it was arduous and unfair that the Union should be taking a use fee for the use of all this vast facility that was devoted to the Hoofers, and therefore proposed that the Hoofers move out, that they cut their ties with the Union and set up shop somewhere else on the lakeshore to be free of what he thought of as Union imposition on the Hoofers, because of these charges.
Well, he got a certain following among sailors, particularly undergraduates who didn't want to spend any more money than they needed to. So, there was a long back and forth between the Union governing board--Council--and this chap and his supporters on "why a use fee?" Well, the rationale for a use fee, of course, was that the Union had invested $300,000 to $400,000 in this facility, that we had provided staffing for it, all of the support services in terms of back-up financing when needed, use of the workshop, poster making, duplicating room for duplicating work, and so on and so on. But the main, expenses, of course, were the maintenance of this very large area and the staffing of it, and since the Hoofers were charging for the use of boats--a modest fee to be sure. You know the old Bernard Boathouse people used to charge five dollars an hour when five dollars was five dollars, which would be equivalent to about fifteen dollars an hour now, and the Hoofers for fifteen dollars gave a whole summer of sailing privileges. So, it wasn't exactly an expensive sport. But since we had built this area through gift money and other student fees and were maintaining it all with student fees, we felt that the students who got the specific use of the area and benefits as over against students who were not sailors, that a portion of their fee, (I think it was ten percent or fifteen percent of their income) ought to come back to the Union as a partial offset, a very modest offset, to what the Union was putting into it. And this was the basis of their annoyance and their aggravation and their reason for a long series of negotiations on what to do about it.
Well, for one thing, the sailors thought they owned the boats because their fees had paid for them but, in fact, all the Hoofer monies by University requirements are also the Union monies, so the boats were all on the University inventory as owned by the University and it's department, the Union. Well, there was a big argument of who owned the boats. The University administration, of course, made it clear that the boats were part of the official University inventory and couldn't be moved to another location. What's more, there wasn't any other location anybody could provide and it was, of course, just out of the question for even the most eager sailors to find the wherewithall to build new docks and new boat storage area, new shelters, and acquire new boats.
So once this chap, this particular chap disappeared from the scene because he later got married and was preoccupied with that and his research projects, the whole thing eased off but there were still questions at budget-making time about the rationale of this use fee. There has been a kind of a steady relationship in recent years and ever since.
The use fee still continues?
Yes. I can't tell you exactly what it is now. They've renegotiated it and it's some new formula that I have not been aware of since I left the directorship.
There were, of course, the usual difficulties one encounters with student organizations in caretaking of the premises. There were certain established closing times required by the timing for the entire Union building, and we had some of the independent Hoofer members who didn't want to leave at that time and resisted the closing hour rule, or they wanted to come early before the quarters were open. And we had established that the quarters were only open when the Hoofer outing director or Union staff member or his substitute was there, for obvious reasons of avoiding theft of all this equipment which could easily be stolen if not watched over. And there were problems of vandalism, of fires being built without the flue open and the room smoked up, or fires left going without a screen, with sparks which could have ignited nearby rugs or furnishings. And so we were on the track, as we were with all the other departments of the Union, of having any facilities under a supervisor's eye for safety reasons, for conduct reasons, and so on.
This was resisted by some members of the Hoofers and we had to iron out these complaints. I think, as I recall, one of the solutions was to authorize certain members of the Hoofer Council or club heads to be supervisors and be responsible for safe keeping and orderliness of the quarters when the outing director himself could not be there. But there were, at times, tensions over this and complaints, and complaints both ways. We would get night reports from our night engineer who made the rounds of doors left open, lights left on, the fire still burning or conduct cases and so on which led to these conferences.
But on the whole, this has been over the years minimal, and the Hoofers, in contrast to most student organizations, have been thoughtful and reliable and willing workers. And it is notable that in the days of the big protests and demonstrations on the campus in the late '60s and early '70s, when all the public attention was drawn to the extremists who were out demonstrating on the streets and damaging University property and confronting administrators, and so on, and who were sure the world needed them to be saved and arousing antagonism among alumni and the public and turning off the faculty--it seemed to be the dominant student mood at the time and this thing was always referred to but right along all this the Hoofers were back here in the outing quarters putting in hours and hours of volunteer time preparing their equipment, teaching the students the job, numbers expanding, more outings developing, the complete opposite of the radical extremism. In other words, here is the other side of the coin, the normal, probably majority, student body in operation as evidence by their will and willingness to do for themselves and to be contributors rather than obstructors. They never joined in these demonstrations or protests. They just waved them aside and went on about their business which well might have been organizing a ski trip to Vail, Colorado, for a couple hundred students which were completely led, organized, and financed by students without accidents, without problems.
So, it has been overall a very rewarding development in the Union's history in terms of what we are trying to do and that is mainly expand student interests wherever they may lead us. That kind of informal recreation and learning that the Union has tried to foster, and which we believed can and should also take place outside a building as well as inside--not just a physical place with a wall around it where things only happen inside. Rather, we try for a comprehensive plan for the recreational and cultural life of the student body.
This series of interviews is with Porter F. Butts, the noted, long-term director of the Wisconsin Union. It is being conducted by Donna Taylor Hartshorne in Mr. Butt’s office in the Union beginning on August 2, 1979.
I think I would like to start this morning, Mr. Butts, with some information from you about your early years—where you were born and grew up, how you came to the University, and maybe a little about your undergraduate days here.
All right. My birth place was Pana, Illinois—a small coal mining town near Springfield, Illinois. That was in 1903 and we stayed there only three or four years and so my early school education was all in Springfield, Illinois—primary school, high school, etc. And for whatever reason, possibly as much as anything due to the influence of my father who was a very busy and active person, I guess I became what you would say “a do-er” —a doer outside as well as inside the classroom. So in high school, I found myself as I went through the years of high school, active on the basketball team, president of the chemistry club, president of the high school debating society, president of senior class. and of assorted other minor organizations, active in musical shows of the high school and Friday morning assemblies (translated means partly singing in a school quartet and after school playing in the school orchestra and independent pickup dance/band and playing in school plays).
What instrument did you play?
Well, I started playing what was called a banjo ukelele and then I moved on to clarinet and saxophone and actually earned part of my way later on in college days playing in a dance orchestra during summer seasons back home.
Well this was all what was known then, and still is, as extracurricular activities but not, I guess, at the sacrifice of school work because I turned out to be valedictorian of my senior class and gave the valedictory speech at commencement time, and so on. But I was very school-oriented and activity-oriented. Anything that had to do with life in the high school was for me. In fact, when the first World War armistice was signed in 1918 and the whole town was celebrating this spectacular occasion and all the schools were closed for that purpose, I went to high school as usual and was very disoriented and disappointed that the school wasn’t opened. I didn’t know why. In short, I hadn’t kept tract of national events. I was locally involved in the ongoing daily activities at high school. I wandered back down town where everybody was and found this big celebration. This gives you a kind of a clue to my liking for participating in whatever the school had to offer, whether inside or outside the classroom.
Well then came the time, of course, of graduation and trying to decide on college and my brother had gone to the University of Illinois and was not enchanted with it. Left and did not, therefore, want to go back to Illinois so we took a family tour to the midwestern universities—the big ten universities: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Chicago, and Normal, Illinois. One hot summer day I actually enrolled in the University of Michigan thinking that was going to be it, and my brother with me. But on our way home we stopped at a friend’s house in Bloomington, Illinois. This was a friend of my father, and this friend had a son who was a Wisconsin student and the Badger yearbook was on the table. The son wasn’t there but there was the book. They asked if we had thought about Wisconsin. Well, we hadn’t at all but turning the pages of the Badger and seeing the lovely lakes and hills and scenic pleasures that Madison and the campus offered stimulated a very immediate and strong interest on the part of a couple of young chaps who had grown up in the hot corn fields of Illinois and had never been exposed to a waterland of any kind. So we thought if you can go to school where it is pleasant—and where there is a lake on the campus shore—why not go there at least for the first year after which we would go to Princeton because in those years you couldn’t enroll in Princeton without four years of Greek and Latin and I only had two years, but Princeton would admit you upon showing a good record in the first year of an accredited major university elsewhere.
Oh, they would.
The whole intent was to go to Wisconsin for one year and then, hopefully, transfer to Princeton.
Why, Princeton particularly?
Princeton because of some friends in Springfield who were Princeton graduates and had encouraged it. We respected them and Princeton was a kind of magical word in the higher education field then as it is now and liberal arts was its emphasis, of course, and we had no specialty in mind as a profession or vocation. So, I think it was the influence knowing particular friends who told us about Princeton.
Well then, on to Madison, Wisconsin which was a two day drive by automobile trying to seek out the proper turns in the road. No highways were marked then except by symbols on telephone poles—the Black Diamond Trail, Cannonball Trail, the Liberty Trail, and so on, and you had to watch carefully to see where each road turned and how it led on to Wisconsin. But we got here.
Did you have maps?
Of a kind—not very precise and not all that helpful but my father had been assistant postmaster back in Pana, Illinois and he knew where towns were in northern Illinois like the back of his hand and so he would say Rockford must be about thirty miles up there and to the left and so on.
Well we got to Madison and since we were socially-minded and had an uncle—I’m his namesake in fact (Porter Paddock was his name) who was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity—so he had written ahead to introduce us to the local chapter of his national fraternity and we just assumed that very likely the fraternity living situation was where we would end up. But we didn’t because we didn’t get invited and this was one of the first indications, perhaps for your archives’ benefits, of what student life was in the early 1920s in Wisconsin.
The Greeks, so called fraternity and sorority people, were the dominant social group/political group/active group on campus, though they numbered only 600 out of maybe seven or eight thousand students and the other some thousands of students were rather deprecatingly called barbarians or “Barbs” which was the custom that day. We now call them, or did in the years after, “independents.” But the fraternities and sororities had ample and rather posh buildings for chapters for living and dining and social life and independents or barbs did what they could to find rooming house accommodations and dining up and down the street in hamburger joints and there was one cafeteria down on State Street and Lawrence’s Restaurant on State Street which was a kind of general gathering place for everybody for breakfast and late evening snacks, and so on. But the so-called independents or barbs led a pretty thin kind of existence because at that time in the ’20s, and presumably before I came too, there were literally no general meeting places, no university provisions for housing. Dormitories hadn’t happened yet except for one women’s dormitory—Chadbourne Hall—and no university provisions for food service except a tea room over in Lathrop frequented mainly by the faculty and by girls. And so there was literally no way to find fellow students or to fraternize with them or to meet together in club groups or social groups except if someone was aggressive enough to find a classroom that was empty to meet in and this was an especially painful experience for anyone who had hoped to be associated to a fraternity or sorority. They were high prestige groups in those days and in the case of the girls, in particular, if they were not bid or pledged, there was deep sorrow, tears. Many girls left school soon because they felt rejected and were unable to establish a reasonable social life on their own.
How did you and your brother feel about it?
Well, we were quite disappointed. We were huddled in a little first floor room in a rooming house over on Dayton Street that had been converted into a bedroom and shared a bath with some of the other family members of that house. It was rather dreary. It really was, and we shortly found that our existence consisted of moving from our rooming house to class and back with a detour for breakfast somewhere and lunch and so on, wherever we could find it and the disappointment was quite real and since we both had been presidents of our senior class, my brother as well as myself, and highly socially motivated and active, this sudden isolation was a new experience and frightening, I must say. Well, it didn’t last long because one of the fraternities that didn’t seem to be attractive to us as members, one or two members of it nevertheless told another fraternity that we were on the loose and that fraternity that needed members rather badly to fill the partly empty house, came around and did ask us to join and we did and so this established us as part of what was really the mainstream of student life.
Which fraternity was this?
Alpha Tau Omega and in the end I became president of that too which is, I guess, and indication that almost anything I achieved or gotten exposed to I kept up with and continued in, and the fraternity was helpful not only to us but all of its members, as freshmen, as was the custom in those days. In fact, pushing them into university activity was supposed to reflect favorably on the fraternity if their members were out doing things and reaching some place of recognition on campus and all the fraternities throughout would spell this out to all of the prospective members that “we have members who are active on the football team and are leaders of publications, of the “Union Board", or whatever, you see. Well it was that self-interest partly on the part of the fraternity but it was also a rather gratuitous and helpful nudge for a stranger like myself. This campus was totally new and foreign. We had no other friends of other kinds. No contacts that represented a point of reference to ask questions even.
So one of the early things that fraternity apparently did in our case was it noticed we both sang and had been in variety shows in high school, and so on, and got us to try out for what was called Union Vodvil and I mention this because it does represent my very first original contact with something called a union. This was in the fall of my freshmen year in 1920. And for whatever reason we were in the tryouts and we were accepted as one of the acts. Union Vodvil was one of the Union Board’s many means of raising money to build the Union building. This wasn’t all that apparent to me at the time but it right off made me aware that there was such a thing as a Union and an active Union Board and we were adopted as one of the acts of the show and this was just the year following Fredric March’s spectacular success in Union Vodvil which we had heard about and we didn’t know that he was going to be all that famous at that time but we heard a great deal of Fredric March (Fredric Bickel as he was known) at the time and you know what happened to Fredric March from there on. As you know, fifty years after this building opened we dedicated our small theater to Fredric March partly because he got his first start in the theatrical world in the Union Vodvil and, indeed, was a member of the Union Board itself.
Well, the fraternity also, by the following fall had another idea. A fraternity brother was on the staff of the humor magazine called the Octopus and knowing that I was in part a journalist and was already working on the Daily Cardinal, he got me to be a kind of a promotion person, advertising person, for promoting the sale of the Octopus humor magazine and that fall there came along what seemed to be fairly characteristically the so-called Homecoming Parade with the theme often being the oncoming, hoped for Union building. And so I was given the job of designing a float for the Octopus with a Memorial Union theme to it and did do that. It was an old Ford which we dressed up and I still have a photograph of it. It was on the theme of a gift to the Union, support the Memorial Union campaign, and so on, and I got a telephone call from the parade management of the night after the parade saying this float had won first prize. And so I thought well of the Union at that point, too.
Well, these were my first two introductions to what was an ongoing student effort to get a Union building for this campus. There were annual fund-raising campaigns amongst students. One of the remarkable things in the background of this building and Union development was the outpouring of interest and funds by students to get this building to happen. And as you probably have seen in our literature of the 1920s, about one out of every two students pledged and paid—some did not pay in the end, but most did—fifty dollars or more for a life membership in the Memorial Union, and fifty dollars in the 1920s would be equivalent to around $250 in today’s dollars. So, when half the student body comes forth with that kind of interest and support, you can tell something was happening and there was great excitement over the prospects of having a union because everybody knew what I’ve told you: that life was pretty grim on this campus unless you lived in a fraternity or sorority and one of the advertised benefits of having a union would be that there would now be a general social meeting place for everybody—a place to eat, a place to find your friends and talk, and ultimately there would be a theater. So there was an air of excitement about it all on the part of students who came to realize it would never be built while they were still in school and, therefore, they could see they would not be the users of it but they wanted it to happen for their student successors and whatever benefit there might be when they came back as alumni.
So they still contributed the money even though they knew they would not benefit from it.
That’s right and in the end the students contributed more money to build this building then the alumni did, which is another interesting facet of our financial history.
Well, I was only peripherally related to the Union in the two ways that I mentioned in the beginning, because my other impulses for out-of-class activities ran to the Daily Cardinal and to the Haresfoot Club. In the case of the Daily Cardinal I moved up the ladder and after four years ultimately became the editor-in-chief, and concurrently with that this business of appearing in a Union Vodvil that attracted the attention of the Haresfoot show people. Are you familiar with Haresfoot?
Did you see the special feature article last week where a Capital Times gal came and interviewed me about that.
And as a result of the Union Vodvil’s appearance someone nudged me to try out for the Haresfoot show my second year—my sophomore year.” We weren’t eligible in our freshmen year—and I seemed to make it because I was one of the few who apparently could carry a tune at that time and was small enough to borrow a dress from Delta Gamma House and a pair of shoes that the girls loaned me and so on. So Haresfoot became a major interest for the succeeding years—sophomore, junior and senior years.
You stayed with it then?
Yes, each year, and became the president of the Haresfoot Club in my senior year and then continued on in the first graduate year by writing a book for the Haresfoot show called “Ivan Ho” and some of the lyrics of the Haresfoot serenade songs and so on and so on. Well, these two major activities, the Cardinal and the Haresfoot show, I guess on hindsight, did have some direct connection with the Union in the end and what happened at the Union because the Cardinal editor was obviously someone that the Memorial Union fund-raising group wanted to enlist for support of the student campaigns, and support of the union idea. So I was one of each succeeding editorial staff who was so enlisted and persuaded that it was an enormously good thing to have happen. So, therefore, many editorials written by me and my associates in support of the Union venture and anything related to the Union got front page play and a real public relations boost from the Cardinal and partly for self-interest reasons, too, because theDaily Cardinal had no offices worth mentioning. We operated out of a couple of rooms not much larger than the two rooms we are sitting in here. They were in the so-called “old union building,” a private residence, and the Daily Cardinal was in one or two of the bedrooms up on the second floor. So we knew as Daily Cardinal people that the Union was going to provide office space and access for reporting purposes to all the other student organizations that would be housed in the Union instead of having to search them out and try to find them by moving around the campus or by telephone and then in the case of Haresfoot shows, we had the very difficulty and distressing experience of trying to find a place to rehearse. The rehearsals started, say, in December with our show in April and we took any church basement or Women’s Club rooms or ballroom downtown whatever we could find for the dance chorus to rehearse, the orchestra to rehearse, and not to mention putting the show together for dress rehearsals which had to happen at the old Fuller Opera House, now the Parkway, after the last movie show was over two nights before we opened the show.
Oh, that late.
We could get on the stage at Parkway at about midnight for dress rehearsal. We would finish up the rehearsal at maybe four or five o’clock in the morning after the last movie. We got dressed and on-stage about midnight and on to four or five o’clock in the morning. Then we’d get the second night and we were out on the road for what amounted to about a ten day trip. So, the Haresfoot club as a whole was a strong supporter of the Union because they saw the possibility of an on-campus theater coming. The theater wing was shown as part of the Union physical plan as early as l920 or 1921.
Oh, it was.
So there was no theater worthy of the name at that time and never had been. The nearest thing to it was a flat-floored auditorium in Lathrop Hall. Are you familiar with Lathrop Hall?
It has a stage that lies between the women’s gym on the one hand and then a small flat floor auditorium-type place on the other side of the stage.
I also know that some performances were held in Bascom.
Well that was a bit later.
Much later. Starting not earlier than the late ’20s or 1930s but in the mid-’20s there was no Bascom theater either. That had been added as an addition to Bascom Hall that came later. So the Haresfoot Club as a whole was on record as ardently supporting the construction of this new union and I had had the three or four years of direct personal experience with the difficulties of trying to put a student show together and it was an all-student enterprise. We wrote the music. We wrote the book. We designed and built the scenery ourselves. We scoured the campus for girls’ dresses which came somewhere near fitting and a little later on we got a little more professional than that and began to design costumes and get them made by seamstresses, and so on. But except for the director to the show production, the whole thing was a student-created extravaganza, as they used to call it, with a pit orchestra being all students, and so on.
Well, I guess you can see it was not hard for me on becoming Union Director in 1928 to continue to put forward progressively the hope that my result in building a theater wing. The theater wing was not part of the original building. We didn’t have enough money to do it. As you probably know, the first units of the building were the central social and meeting unit and then the dining room wing as the second. So I guess it is fair to say that my own personal experience with Haresfoot was a factor in putting some steam behind the effort to keep going until we got the theater wing.
Well, I’ve talked I guess exclusively about out-of-class activity at college. There was, of course, also the in-class effort and I found myself to be an English major with a minor in dramatic literature. Again, the theater interest turning up and then upon undergraduate graduation in 1924, I continued with graduate work as well as I could. I had a full-time job. I continued with one or two courses each term including summers for some twelve years.
What was the full-time job?
Well, I guess I haven’t mentioned that, have I? Because I was editor of the Cardinal and had done, apparently, an acceptable job of promoting the Union’s fortunes while at the Cardinal, the executive secretary of the Union fund-raising committee asked me the week after I graduated to come into the Union organization as his assistant to do the publicity and promotion for the total Union fund-raising campaign. And so in 1924 beginning the week after graduation, I had a full-time job. It was rather masked by the title. The title was “Alumni Recorder.” This was a way to get the University to pay for an assistant without drawing upon gift funds to do it but to justify it because the University at that time in 1924 had no mailing list of its alumni. It had no record of who its alumni were other than their transcripts and registrar files and other than the membership lists of the Alumni Association which added up to maybe 2,000 names out of some 90,000 that attended the University. This was all discovered to be a vital problem because of the Union’s fund-raising campaign. The fundraisers went out to raise funds all over the United States and Wisconsin cities and there was no way to find out what Wisconsin alumni were in the given town to call together to talk to. And so the leaders of the union campaign, two or three of which were former alumni presidents, persuaded the University to make a major investment in the creation of an Alumni Record’s Office to find as many of our 90,000 former students as we could and get them on an active mailing list. Not just for the purposes of the Union fund-raising but for all University public relations purposes which were critical at that time. In the same year that I talked about, the legislature threatened to make a steep cut in the University budget. As I remember in those days it was a cut of half a million dollars out of a total five million dollar budget. Well that doesn’t sound like much when you’ve got a budget of almost one billion for the State system now but five million for the University at Madison in the middle ’20s was considerable, and indeed was in dollar value, in those days a big sum and the legislature thought so too and so they set forth to cut it by ten percent which would have been devastating to the University. And so the University—and this was mainly by way of the stimulus and leadership of George Haight. (Do you remember George Haight’s name?)
Yes, I do.
For many years he was considered Wisconsin’s “number one alumnus.” He was co-chairman of the Union’s fund-raising campaign and as one of the members of the committee later became chairman of the committee. But, at any rate, through his leadership alumni and faculty went aggressively throughout the State of Wisconsin to tell the University story and to get citizens to write their assemblyman and senators and ask that they oppose this cut. Well, they had to have lists of names to call together so this was another immediate use for this alumni records address file. And they had to have ammunition on the University’s services and benefits to the State to use in their appeals for help. In other words, be able to cite to farmer groups what the College of Agriculture was doing for the economy of Wisconsin agriculture and what Science Engineering were doing for industry in the State, and so on. So besides the direct publicity/promotion function for the Union campaign, I and my chief,—who was John Dollard, the executive secretary of the fund-raising committee,—went from department to department, much like you’re doing on oral history to find out from each department what their services to the State were. And as an outcome there was prepared a speaker’s manual setting forth in digest form what the benefits to the State were economically, socially, social welfare, citizen leadership and in science, medicine and engineering—so that these benefits could be conveyed to the citizenry and persuade them in turn to persuade their legislators not to cut out this half million dollars and happily this effort succeeded. The cut was not made.
Well, you asked what full-time job. This was the full-time job for the first two years and then John Dollard, who had asked me to come into help and whom I roomed with, was asked to become the assistant to the president at the University of Chicago. Max Mason, who was a physicist here on our faculty and was supposed to be the heir apparent to President Birge and become the University of Wisconsin president. But the Progressive Party Regents led by the La Folletts and Governor Blaine, Zona Gale, and others chose, instead, Glenn Frank. This is a story all by itself which I maybe will come to later if you want to talk about our relations with the Administration as to what happened at this crucial point in the University history which, I guess, is little known to your archivists.
But, anyhow, Mason not chosen was in the matter of days almost, was selected by the University of Chicago, an institution of higher education of some repute. And he took with him John Dollard in 1926 as his assistant, and at that point Dollard and the Memorial Union Building Committee asked me to take Dollard’s place as the executive secretary and campaign director. So beginning in 1926 I embarked on first the fund-raising job—and by the way, have continued as the fundraiser until this moment —in other words fifty years of it. And this involved also moving on the completion of the drawings for the Union building, the planning of it, and the rest of the fund-raising for it, and so on, and it was during this period of time with the so-called full time job that I was also taking graduate courses in art history. This was because I went to Dean Slichter, who was Dean of the Graduate school, to say I wanted to keep contact with what happened in the classroom and I thought I could do a better job of working with students and the faculty if I had a continuing notion of how things went in the classroom—the mood, the reactions, the objectives, so on—and maybe I could enhance my own learning some along the way although I had nothing in particular the mind, not a degree right then. And Slichter came out with the news that beginning next term Oskar Hagen was being brought from Gottengen, Germany to create a new Department of Art History, and that he was a good man, and the University had never had an art history department. And he would be glad to have graduate students but that their were no undergraduates ready to move into his seminars or graduate programs because their were no art history courses except maybe an isolated thing here and there in Greek and Roman history, and so on, (classical art and architecture for example). And I said I don’t know anything about art or art history and he said well “we can’t be choosers. I don’t have anybody else. Why don’t you try it and see what happens?” So I did and I was the first graduate student in art history, therefore, as it turned out. Before the semester was out their were three of us and we sat in a seminar with Hagen. And then, of course, as soon as he got going on his undergraduate courses—general basic courses in art history—I took one or two each term to develop as much background as I could.
Who were the other two graduate students?
Well, Clinch Calkins was one and John Dollard in the first year—this was before he left. This all happened in the fall of 1924 or 1925. I forget which—’24 I think and those were the three of us, and later on, people like Jim Watrous. He graduated in ’31 in art education and then he switched to art history after ’31 so that would have been six or seven years later and I never other students in graduate work in art history because there weren’t any students moving out of undergraduate majors in art history and the department wasn’t well enough known throughout the academic world for students to come here specifically for art history graduate work at that early time. Later, or course, it did happen.
Well, so by the time the Union planning was well under way in 1927 and the building opened in 1928, I had this set of exposures to art and art history and along the way I took a course in art education, too—etching and aquatint some under Professor Varnum to see if I could achieve anything and I found I couldn’t but the interest was there and so this had again, I can see on hindsight, an impact on what we did about the Union and the art field because up to that time there was no union in this country that had an art gallery. There was one in Canada—Hart House at the University of Toronto—that had what was called a sketch room and it was an exhibition hall or gallery and I was familiar with this and saw that it was at least possible that an art gallery could be in a union although no U.S. union had ever done it. And with the beginning apprehension of what art was about, especially art history, I helped to get the plans changed so that what was a kind of reception or assembly room was converted into an art gallery.
This is before the building was even started?
In the drawings stage. Well, mainly, in the equipment and furnishing stage because it meant a different treatment of the walls for hanging pictures and it was a modest change and actually not knowing any better, we had a piano in the room, too, to give students a chance to play classical music. See, I was beginning to get into the classical arts both visual and sound. But we had to give that up pretty shortly—give up the piano—because the students didn’t play classical music. They played chopsticks and assorted other disturbing sounds. Some were pretty good but we just learned that it was a distraction for people who were trying to concentrate on the art works to have this kind of music going in the background.
Yes, I would think so.
Well, up to this time the University had never had an art gallery, as far as I can determine of any kind. The Madison Art Association was given a kind of a toe-hold on a fourth or fifth floor in the State Historical Building for a Madison Art Association gallery. This was not University. There was a lot of University faculty personnel involved in the Association. In fact, I was secretary/treasurer for it for a number of years in the late ’20s and early ’30s. So, you know, having been introduced to art and art history, rather accidentally, I guess I wondered why hadn’t this University ever displayed art or encouraged art except as it did in its art education courses. I think we called then applied arts then, namely preparing teachers to teach art but no art exhibition potential even for them. So this notion was apparently accepted without any hassle and we had an art gallery and an art show the day the Union opened in 1928. And that continued every since with a steady program of art exhibitions, art lectures, competitive shows and on and on. Well I have to pause and let you tell me if this enough on college days to show my entry into the union field.
I would be interested in knowing something about the origins of the union ideaand the union idea here in Wisconsin?
This, of course, is now seventy-five years after the first major pronouncement in favor of a union was made at Wisconsin and, of course as was indicated by the previous discussion, I didn’t come until 1920 and so how accurately I can recall some of the circumstances, I suppose, is dubious but there is ample documentation of it in our own archives which can be used to verify anything I say or to amend it. But in my reading of the history of the Union prior to my own arrival in 1920, the first mention of a union for the University of Wisconsin occurred in President Van Hise’s inagural address in 1904. That’s why I say it all started seventy-five years ago this year and that address has been published in full and in it two or three pages are devoted to really a very eloquent appeal for a gathering place for students and faculty where they would learn informally from each other and students would learn from each other and exchange ideas. And, well I can’t quote his exact wording, but it was to the effect that nothing is more important to the student in his later life than the ability to get along with other people, and for this and for his best learning he needs continuing daily association with his fellow students and the faculty. This has been going on at the unions in Oxford and Cambridge since the early nineteenth century, and at those unions, especially Oxford and Cambridge, it extolled the cultivation of its national leadership in government, in politics, in professions because the course work and the laboratory can do just so much for the student but if we are going to make leaders of men—and note the use of the word “men”—and men of character as well as scholars, we should do as much as we can to emulate what Oxford and Cambridge have done for the sons of England,—and note the word “son” again. Of course, we all know now that the women at the turn of the century that women had not yet come on to the campus in numbers and higher education/college education was generally conceived as something primarily for men. It was a time in the nineteenth century when women were discouraged from coming to Wisconsin. You heard the story of President Chadbourne and his unwillingness to have women enrolled, and so on?
Yes, that’s right.
Well, this was a very venturesome and original idea to be coming in 1904 at the University of Wisconsin because at that time there were only two unions in existence in the United States - Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard—and they were men’s social clubs, primarily. Well Van Hise was quite familiar with British education and had apparently learned much about the Oxford/Cambridge unions and saw in them a model for what might happen to fill the void as he saw it outside the classroom at Wisconsin.
The void you seem to have been describing earlier?
Exactly. And this appeal didn’t exactly fall on deaf ears, as original and innovative and spectacular as it was for the time, because in 1907 the Men’s Union Board was founded. The members of that first board, and I have this from one of the members of that year who kept in touch with us and with me over the years. They were not all that aware of Van Hise’s desire but I think it somehow got through to them by osmosis.
The chap I am talking about was a member of Iron Cross, the senior honor society then, and he and the other members of the society kept in close touch with President Van Hise and University problems and University needs because the Iron Cross Society itself was founded and devoted to the idea of service to the University and professor Frank Sharp, philosophy department, was a kind of go between between President Van Hise and the Iron Cross society. There came the time when Van Hise recognized that the new YMCA building, which had recently been built on this site where the Union parking area is now—next to the Armory—was falling upon very hard times. It was very strongly religiously oriented and religious tracts were handed out to anyone who came into the building. It was also a dormitory, housing about 105 men, and it just was not appealing to the student populace because of an excess of religious fervor and so very few men rented the rooms which represented the major source of potential income. So it was about to go bankrupt. And what to do about it? And Van Hise, concurring with Professor Sharp, asked him to see if the Iron Cross student leadership had any suggestions on what might be done. Well, according to Stephenson’s story, and this is also in letters in our archives, he went to a Michigan-Wisconsin football games at Ann Arbor in 1906 and saw there a modest little building called a “union” building which had just been created and for the purpose of housing student offices and meetings and a social get-together place, again, for men. He thought to himself, “well, maybe this is an answer for the YMCA: to become a general men’s center instead of a religious headquarters.” So coming back and talking it out with the other Iron Cross men of his year, they devised the idea of leasing the main floor, which consisted of lounges and some meeting facilities and so on, as a union headquarters to be operated by the Men’s Union Board and with the Men’s Union paying rental for that space and with the Men’s Union working to develop a new student attitude toward the YMCA by enlisting the support of students. And I’m again referring to men, generally in living in the YMCA and there was a whole change of atmosphere and approach.
One question I have: before this the Union group had no headquarters?
No headquarters of any kind. There was no Union Board at this time. It was an Iron Cross society proposal that there be a Union Board like Michigan with a headquarters in the main floor of the YMCA. And so in 1907, and this, you see, is three years after Van Hise’s appeal for a Union which Stephenson said he somehow hadn’t heard about, but maybe the Board didn’t emphasize that because they want to feel they were giving voice, to that extent, to President Van Hise’s own idea but it came out naturally that if Michigan can do it, why can’t we?
So they formed the Men’s Union Board and Stephenson became vice-president of it and was the moving spirit (and there is his picture off in the corner of his room). He is literally the student founder of what we call the Union although it was in the beginning a men’s union following again the Oxford-Cambridge tradition which were exclusively for men, as you know, as was Harvard and Houston Hall of Pennsylvania. They were thinking particularly of a club-like center. They weren’t all that aware of Oxford and Cambridge and in their very great interest on debate and discussion. This had not got through to the Iron Cross boys, I believe, at that time. Well, they took over the YMCA main floor and they installed billiard tables, brought in daily newspapers and established a reading room, moved all the athletic trophies from the gym over and featured photos of Wisconsin football and other athletic teams and they setup a stand for the sale of candies and cigars and so on. Throughout, with that leadership and that kind of facilities there was a program of social evenings or “smokers,” —they were called Smokers for Freshmen—either in the YMCA main lounge or over in the adjacent old Red Gym, to get students acquainted with each other and so on.
This apparently all worked and they persuaded some well-known popular students to take rooms in the Y and other students said “if it was good enough for them, it’s alright for me too so I’ll live there too.” And the Y was indeed rehabilitated financially and saved and this went on from 1907, well I forget the exact date, but I think it’s something like 1912, ’13, ’14. When the YMCA, now on its feet and with a resurgence of moral values, thought it was evil to be selling cigars in the YMCA building and playing pool, and so they kicked the Union out. They wanted the lease terminated and it was terminated.
That’s gratitude for you.
And so at that point the Union headquarters moved next door into a private residence that sat here where the Union dining wing now is, and it housed the Daily Cardinal, and the Octopus humor magazine and Union Board offices and the Haresfoot club and the literary magazines and it had one or two small committee meeting rooms and one pool table. And when I came in 1920 this is what the Union building was. It was so labeled the Wisconsin Union. Well, the Union Board had not ceased its activity because of its cut-off of relations with the YMCA, and, in fact, they were expanding all through. They had, for example, an all-University exposition which is something like the present Engineering Exposition that lasted for a week and every department in the University was invited to setup exhibits and booths in the Red Gym and in the gym annex showing what they did and how they did it with moving parts in the case of departments that dealt with machinery or agriculture, and so on. And any other visible evidence of what a department was doing was displayed with a number of publications. This was all partly to get the legislature to come down and see what the University was doing. See, the Union then, as now, was on the track of trying to win support for their University which is a little strange in these days when we think of students mainly as protestors and as adversaries to the University administration and the faculty. Not so in the teens and ’20s. Students energetically went all out to support the University wherever they could because it was their University. They wanted it to succeed. They were proud of it. So the all-University exposition was a great thing. Thousands of visitors came and special invitations were sent to the legislature.
Then they invented or at least adopted what someone else maybe invented, and that was the “Grid Graph” as a way of reporting what was happening on out-of-town football games while the game was going on.
Would you explain what that is?
It was a translucent glass screen, maybe six or seven feet high and fifteen or eighteen feet long with a grid iron painted on it with all the ten yard stripes and behind it a chap with a flashlight would follow the progress of the ball according to telegraphic reports that were being received on a ticker in the back room. See, this was before the days of radio. Radio had not been invented yet. So these reports would come in that Wisconsin was on the opponents forty yard line and has to punt and the punt is received at the goal line. The punt would be shown by a flashing flashlight until it hit the goal line then a solid light would come back to say the eighteen yard line which was as far the opponent ran and they had another kind of flash for a pass and so on. So there had been maybe an audience for 2,000 people who paid twenty-five cents each to attend the Grid Graph in the gym and there would be an announcer who would announce the play as it came off the telegraph ticker while the guy with the flashlight showed the progress of the ball up and down the field and the cheerleaders were there and there would be a band playing at intermission—the whole works.
Well, this was all designed to raise money to add to the fund to build the Union and it was in this same era of the teens that they invented Union Vodvil, again to raise money for the Union building fund. And then they started a series of dances at Lathrop Hall—Lathrop parlors, you know, in the main floor of what is now I guess still a lounge setup but it was cleared every Friday and Saturday night for Union Board dances. Through the winter Lathrop Hall parlors were “the” place to go. When it came to late spring students would take one of the Lake Monona boats and go over to Esther Beach. Do you know where Esther Beach is?
No, I guess I don’t.
It was on the other side of Lake Monona. It was a kind of a dance hall/resort on the south shore of Lake Monona and everybody would wrap themselves up and get on this launch at 8:30 and get over at 9:00 or 9:15 and dance and start leaving by 11:30—had to get the girls back in before 12:15 or 12:30. Well this whole series of dance efforts were for the purpose of adding to the fund to build the Union which was going to have a ballroom in it. That had appeal. And then they brought in occasional traveling shows at the old Fuller Opera House. I’ve think I mentioned that in Union Vodvil. That was held at the old Fuller Opera House and also an occasional shows and concerts. We’re still talking about the teens.
Then the war came and things pretty much fell apart. Most of the men had to leave campus and go to war but when they came back there was a very interesting and critical expansion of their performing arts program in terms of the creation of the Union concert series in 1919. Charles Mills, the head of the Music School, had tried bringing in outside artists for concerts in Music Hall but never could get more than a handful of students over there. He had seen some of the results of the Union Board’s efforts in staging things on the campus and in the old Fuller Opera House and he said: “Wouldn’t the Union Board like to take over the concert program?” and they did. It was an immediate success because students were saying, “It’s rough going to advise attending a classical concert” so they promoted it like everything. And they would hold the concerts in the Gym and maybe get 1,500 or 2,000 people for a concert. This went on through the twenties and is still going on. As you know, the Union concert series is the oldest continually existing program that the Union has and is one of the best in the country at a college and, again, the proceeds went to the Union building fund. And having had this experience with organizing and presenting concerts, again, students were aware of the need for a concert hall, to wit: our theater which didn’t come in 1928 so when the first units of the building opened, the concerts were held in the Great Hall, the ballroom. But the switch was made right away to the Great Hall which was acoustically much better and in the case of a major symphony or a notable artist like Paderewski was held in the Stock Pavillion.
So there was this whole series of efforts on the parts of students by the Men’s Union Board prior to the 1920s to build the fund to create a new center. Concurrently with this, Van Hise was at work, too. He did follow-up. He did try to get the legislature to provide the funds to build a union and he did get an appropriation passed and then it was rescinded because somebody at the legislature prevailed and said that we should be using State funds only to create classrooms and laboratory facilities. This was about 1914 or 1915 that that fell apart although the legislature did give the site that this building sits on.
You’ve suggested that there was a turning point that came following the end of World War I. Do you want to discuss that?
Yes, it was indeed a turning point in the fund-raising and general development for the Union project and came about for several key reasons. One was, of course, that there was now a broadly-based interest in creating a war memorial at the University in memory of the men and women who had died in the war, former students of the University and, of course, all those others who had served in the war. So the natural question was what kind of a war memorial?
By 1919 President Van Hise had died so he was not a continuing leader, of course, of the Union project. But Dean Goodnight, who was now the Dean of Men, saw in the Union two possibilities that were of importance and one of them was that it could indeed be thought of as a war memorial project. The second motivation I think he had from all I learned later, because I wasn’t there in 1919, he was deeply concerned about morale of the student body after the war. He was himself a strict disciplinarian and one of high moral standards and was concerned about the whole nature of what student life would be like with the campus flooded with returning war veterans. And as the saying goes Dean Goodnight was interested in having attractions that kept students on the campus and away from what were called the “coarse attractions” of the city. This was in the days, of course, of alma mater—the alma mater concept of the University’s role—namely, as a protector of students, a foster mother who would see to it that students had both what they needed and that their behavior was somewhat supervised or even controlled. So an underlying motivation on the part of Dean Goodnight, as I understand it, was to get a campus-centered student life as opposed to a dispersal of students looking for entertainment and relaxation and funny business off the campus.
Fund-raising for the Memorial Union. Role of the Alumni Record’s Office and of Students
Well, there was, of course, a growing realization that the kinds of fund-raising that the Union Board itself could do, of the kind I’ve already mentioned: the Union Vodvil, and the dances, and the Grid Graph would never accomplish the volume of funds needed to construct a union of any substantial dimensions. So what happened, literally, was the joining of a felt need for a campus social and dining and recreation center with the now persuasive emotional appeal represented by a desire to create a suitable war memorial and these two elements in the picture were trying to create a new goal, namely a war memorial union and this was not untypical throughout the country. At the same time many other universities, particularly two in the middle west, as with Purdue, Indiana and numbers of others, were headed in the same direction, namely to create memorial unions with the thought that this was the most appropriate kind of memorial because it gave service to young people who attended the University in a kind of recognition of the service that their predecessors had given to the country during the war. In short, a living memorial.
Well, this was, as I say, in 1918/’19 and I believe it was Dean Goodnight more than anyone else who proposed that we now set forth to raise funds for a memorial union on a broad public gift basis. This was not easily accepted as a way of going ahead with the Union project because still at this time probably most Regents and administrators didn’t have all that keen an understanding of what a union might mean for the University. But the president of the Regents, Walter Kohler, Sr., who was head of the Kohler Plumbing Firm in Kohler, Wisconsin, got the message. I think it was because Kohler himself had established for his employees at the Kohler plant what he called the “American Club.” It was a very considerable physical building that provided for off-hour recreation for his employees—for dining, for games, for social get-togethers. So when the Union was proposed as a kind of club building for social and dining and service purposes, he, from his own experience at Kohler, I think understood what was intended what was meant by this and I got this impression myself when later on I came on the Union staff helping the fund-raising, visited and talked with Walter Kohler.
So Walter Kohler as president of the Regents carried great influence and it was he who was instrumental in forwarding the project in 1918/19 and doing it by creating a Memorial Union Building Committee, as it was called at that time—a group of prominent alumni, some faculty members, some students—to set forth on a general fund-raising campaign for a memorial union. This in itself was unprecedented in that the Union campaign fund-raising became the first general approach to the public seeking funds that the University had ever undertaken. It was hard going—very, very difficult. Dean Goodnight himself was asked to be half-time campaign director and he was released from his duties as Dean of Students and Director of the Summer Session half-time.
Had he been on the Union prior to this?
No, Dean Goodnight had been a professor in the German Department until, I think, around 1913 or 1914 and if you think back that the war was with Germany and that anyone with a German emphasis, even a teacher of German, was not all that favorably regarded and the teaching of German itself diminished and diminished rapidly. I believe, as I heard this story, with the teaching of German declining or maybe out entirely as far as I know, Dean Goodnight was recruited to be a Dean of Students and if my memory is correct, he was the first or one of the first Dean of Students at any university.
Dean Goodnight’s concern was with the nature of student life and the nature of student behavior, and his problems here with student discipline and the assertion of standards in student behavior, and so on. He wanted to see the Union come about as an answer to the problems of student life including provisions of physical facilities for non-fraternity, non-sorority students that would give the so-called “independents” or “barbs” a social outlet. How far he emphasized that I’m not so sure because this was before I came. But at any rate, it proved out, as you might guess, that half-time on a nationwide fund-raising campaign and with the distractions and requirements to other administrative jobs didn’t fit very well and so he had to give it up shortly, maybe after six months or thereabouts.
A successor was chosen to be campaign director in the person of Professor Edward Gardner, Ned Gardner, as he was familiarly known. Gardner was attracted to the project as he later told me because of his own experience with students in out of class informal association with himself and other faculty members. With O.J. Campbell, Gardner was in the English Department though his speciality was teaching in Commerce business letter-writing. Gardner helped to organize what was called the “Stranglers”—a group of English majors who came to his house once a week or fortnight, sat around the fireplace and read their poetry to each other or their essays. He was enormously impressed by what students could do on their own outside the classroom because of internal self-motivation and that the learning experience here was superb. So the idea of a center where students could follow their own inclinations in what they created, what they read, what they learned was of an enormous appeal to him and was one of the things that prompted him to accept the campaign directorship. The other thing that was influential was that as a teacher of freshmen English early on in the middle teens, having heard Van Hise’s inaugural address appealing for a union, every semester he assigned to his freshmen class an essay on a union and what was a union and what could it do, and so on. So he got this flood of themes back from students with their notions of what a union was all about and so five, six, or seven years later when he was asked to be campaign director, he suddenly realized this was the project he’d been assigning freshmen to write themes about for all these years. So he accepted the assignment and took leave from the University and went on the payroll of the Memorial Union Building Committee as campaign director.
Now the Memorial Union Building Committee, as Kohler as president of the Regents had appointed it, consisted of very prominent alumni, several former presidents of the Alumni Association, some top-name industrialists in the State, some well-known professional people and some key faculty people. It was a very strong and influential group of men.
Were there any students on this group?
There were two or three students, particularly the president and/or other members of the Men’s Union Board but the focus of the campaign in those earliest years was fund-raising among alumni because they thought that was where the money was. It didn’t really occur strongly to them that students, were known not to be of the top economic group in our society, mainly working their way through college. It didn’t apparently occur to them that their was much potential in going to students other than letting student organizations do what they could do to add to funds like proceeds from Union Board events, like the profits from junior proms, and like senior class gifts as the class left the campus.
What they had been doing up to then in other words?
Very much the same pattern. This was now in the very early ’20s. So Gardner set forth to raise funds from alumni and this meant travel across the country to any city where their was supposed to be a nucleus of responses from alumni. The problem was the one I mentioned in an earlier chapter of this interview: Who were the alumni? How did you find them? There were no address lists. There were only indications that so and so, an alumnus did live in Denver, in Oshkosh, and so on, and that there were probably others so Gardner would go to a city and look up one, two or three alumni who’s names had been given to him and asked them who else lives here who went to the University of Wisconsin and two or three days would be spent looking through the telephone directory and conferring with friends of the key people he first made contact with to assemble a group of alumni at a luncheon, or a dinner, so that Gardner could tell the story of what was proposed as a memorial union at the campus.
Well, this was all greeted with somewhat cool reception because alumni had never been asked to give anything personally to the University before. The typical response was: “Why should I?” The University is supported by taxes, is it not, and I pay my taxes? Why don’t they just get this building out of the State legislature through tax money including mine? So he had to fight this indifference throughout his tenure as campaign director.
Well, it was a good question. Why didn’t the University provide funds for this memorial union?
As I mentioned in the description of Van Hise’s efforts, he did go to the legislature. He did get approval of, I think it was $200,000 or $300,000 to build a union in about 1913 or 1914, thereabouts, and the bill was passed but it was quickly rescinded because other legislators coming in the next session of the legislature felt that State tax money should only be used for instructional buildings.
And we didn’t try again?
Van Hise tried and at first succeeded and the support was withdrawn by the legislature. So this led as Walter Kohler, Sr., saw it, only one other avenue and that was to go for private contributions. Walter Kohler, Sr., by the way, later became governor of the State, as you probably know.
Well, Gardner and the committee focused the campaign a good deal on the benefits to the person who made a contribution instead of to counter this notion that tax money ought to do this. Why should I? Well why should I? The answer was: if you gave $100 you would become a life member of the Memorial Union Building Association and this would entitle you to a discount on a hotel guest room when you revisited the campus. It was be an open-sesame to all sorts of other advantages and privileges. The Union would be your home away from home when you come back for football games and reunions and so on. So the early brochures composed by Gardner and developed by him, and he was quite an eloquent and emotional writer, emphasized becoming a life member of the Memorial Union.
There were slogans that went with it. The cover of the main campaign brochure read “Build a Home for Wisconsin Spirit,” for example. It was an appeal also to loyalty and spirit which was a common thread in the ’20s. Student spirit at the football games—cheering sections, our University, run the ball down the field boys—this was all an important part of the mood of the time but there was no focus or home for it so Gardner’s theme was build a home for this spirit that it may flourish and develop into something even greater.
Well, one of the now well-known defects in this whole fund-raising campaign was the emphasis on life membership at $100 because it kind of set a level of giving that was unfortunate. Many men who could have given $500 or $5,000 or more assumed they had discharged their obligation when they did what the campaign called for and that was become a life member at $100. So there were no more large gifts forthcoming and any fundraiser of recent decades knows that public fund-raising depends first of all and most of all upon initial very large gifts. There were a few, mainly by the Kohler family itself. The Kohlers, not only Walter Kohler himself, bu his wife, his brother, his sisters, all were persuaded to give substantial sums like $5,000, for example, which was very big money in the ’20s.
But on the other hand, despite the weakness this represented in raising dollars, it represented a great strength for the future in terms of a broadly-based alumni interest in the Union and support for it because it involved not just hundreds, but ultimately thousands of alumni in a personal identification with the Union. As a member they belonged to it. They hadn’t just given a gift and gone away. It wasn’t like giving a gift to the library and you never knew what became of it—no feedback or personal identification with it. In this case, the alumnus received a life membership card. He received a gold lapel button with a “W” on it which in those days many wore and wore proudly because it signified in their social group that I’m an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin. Remember, these were the days when people wore their Phi Beta Kappa keys and fraternity keys, their vest watch chains, and so on.
Well, this was not that all unusual and, in fact, it had a good deal of appeal. Even in my regime of the ’20s and onto the ’30s people would write in and say I lost my membership button, can I get another one? and so on. So it had its merits for a broadly-based alumni interest in what this Union was and how it was functioning and how it might succeed and is still true that whenever I attend a class reunion—anybody’s class reunion or any of alumni gathering—and in introduced to somebody who says “You are Porter Butts?” “I’ve got a life membership card in the Union with your name on it and I want to show it to you.” They’d haul it out and sure enough, there is this dog-eared twenty, thirty, forty year old card. They often ask “Can I get a replacement? It is wearing out.” During World War II we would get very telling letters. I remember one in particular from a Navy man, Wisconsin alumnus, saying our ship sank off Anzio Beach in Italy and I got to shore but my Union life membership card was ruined and I can’t use it. Could you possibly send another one because as I go through the war and meet up with Wisconsin people I want to prove that I’m an alumnus at the University of Wisconsin and I want to come back to Wisconsin as soon as this war is over and have a beer on the Union terrace.”
So there was an emotional involvement through the whole life membership approach that was salutary and has continued to be a great source of strength to this Union and which does not characterize any other union anywhere because while some others raise funds, as Michigan did through life memberships following the war, they let it drop after the fund-raising campaign was over. In our case we offer a life membership to every student leaving the University at a reduced student rate.
You still do?
We still do and about one out of every eight or ten students just upon receiving a letter saying that he is eligible for a life membership at the student rate—and this is a continuing tie to the University and a place to come back to the Union where he spent his leisure hours of all kinds—and just this one letter produces life memberships which are now $35 per student. This is a very substantial source of income for us but it also does some other things in terms of who may use the building, who gets the benefits of this building which is quite a different story and I think we better save for another phase of the interview because it has been an important factor in how we operate and how the Regents had decided upon Union building usage.
Well, during this campaign, headed now by Ned Gardner from about 1921 to ’23, I think it was, there was not much help from anybody except the Memorial Union Building Committee, itself. The University administration had changed. President Birge was now president. He was a scientist, as you know. Whether this ever got through to him as a priority item, really is a little hard to say. He’s quoted as saying in this campaign brochure “The Memorial Union is at once the University’s greatest challenge and greatest opportunity.” But words like this are written by Gardner and sent to him to see if he would okay them for usage. In other words, Birge, and I think it is clear to say, most of his successors were with us on ceremonial occasions and willing to sign endorsements and so on but there was no thrust or push by the University administrations as represented by the president or other leading University administrators to see that this project succeeded. Now was there any help from the Alumni Association? It was a weak association. As I think I mentioned earlier, they had maybe 2,500 members altogether although we had in the early ’20s more than 90,000 students who had attended the University. The secretary at that time was a, I guess you would have to say, rather self-centered and weak. He was only interested in something that did something for the Alumni Association and he looked at this fund-raising by the Union as a kind of competitor enterprise when he was trying to get members for the Alumni Association.
Who was that?
Robert Crawford was his name.
So this accounted for any absence of any lists of alumni in any town that Gardner could talk with. It counted for great dismay on the part of the Memorial Union Building Committee and the former presidents of the Alumni Association that there were no such lists which in turn led to the creation of the Alumni Records Office which is where I came in to the picture to organize it and so on. All this despite the fact that it was publicly announced that the Alumni offices, would be headquartered in the Union and that many of the services of the building, like guest rooms and meeting rooms and so on, were designed especially for alumni but it ended up, as Gardner frequently told me, with no real help and, often, obstruction from the Alumni administration secretary.
There was, however, a continuing effort personally by Walter Kohler. He became the vice-chairman of the Memorial Union Building Committee himself. Fred Clausen of Horicon, a former president of the Alumni Association, was made chairman. To show his support and continuing interest Kohler accepted the vice-chairmanship and I believe that it may have been due to him as much as anyone that the Union became the recipient of part of the J. Stephens Tripp estate. This was in the Tripp will that the whole estate would be given to the University of Wisconsin and it was very substantial for that time—something like a half-million dollars and I think it must have been Kohler who saw to it that $200,000 of his estate was allocated to the Memorial Union fund and this accounts for the naming of the Tripp Commons dining hall in the Union. Another $200,000 was allocated to dormitories, to the construction of men’s dormitories and accounts for the naming of Tripp Hall.
Well, this was a wearing, fatiguing, health-shattering job for Gardner and he finally had to give it up. Shortly before he gave it up he called back an assistant, John Dollard—class of ’22, graduate in commerce who Gardner had had as a student and thought well of him. He was indeed a very bright young man. He was out on the road in the State selling correspondence courses and when Gardner approached him to assist in the campaign and Dollard came in about late 1923. Then Gardner went back to teaching and was in poor health for some time.
Dollard took a new approach to the campaign in terms of particularly bringing the campaign back to the campus with a focus on what students could do and what the faculty could do to achieve this building and through fund-raising. He set forth to meet with the student leaders of the time, with the members of the Iron Cross Society, which was the senior men’s honor society with the women on Mortar Board, the top senior women who were all named to this group because of their places of leadership on the campus and of course with the Men’s Union Board itself and any and all students, class presidents, and so forth. He’d have constant sessions frequently in his own apartment tell the renewing story of what the Union was about, what it might be. See, with the intervention of the war and the taking of the campaign out to the nation-wide cities, some of the momentum and knowledge by students of what the Union offered probably had got lost along the way although not entirely. For example, Fredric March, who was president of the class of 1920, organized the first class campaign on behalf of the Union and shortly after the war the class campaign did continue. Dollard put it on a different basis and that was not just senior class campaign, not just special events, but personal givings and managed to organize house-to-house campaigns in which students rang each others’ doorbells to solicit what?—life memberships in the Union at a student rate of $50. Every fraternity and sorority was asked to pledge a 100 percent of their members. There were great visible demonstrations during these campaigns such as every time another thousand dollars was raised, a cannon would be fired on the lower campus announcing this, a huge thermometer chart, also illustrated progress.
The canon would go off when another $1,000 was added. The library didn’t like this very much because they thought the canon roaring every few minutes would disturb the studying in the study halls and the carrels but it wasn’t all that serious or difficult. Anyhow, there was a great resurgence of interest by students in personal leadership of the campaign and due, I think to Dollard’s inspiration and leadership. However, he also worked closely with key faculty members and particularly Professor Max Mason. He enlisted his interest, and Max Mason was the key advisor to President Birge at that time. And you may remember that Mason was a very notable person because he invented the submarine detector which had much to do with the defeat of the German submarine force and many described the submarine detector was why the United States won the war, at least against the submarine. And so, he was a person of very great influence and prestige in the administration and among the faculty, too.
Mason in turn enlisted Dr. Harold Bradley in an interest in this project. This would be in about 1924 or ’25. Dr. Bradley, having seven sons himself, was interested in young people and had as much as any faculty member a way with students, his own advisees and students generally. And through Mason and Bradley, Dollard managed to get appointed a faculty “Committee on Students’ Social Needs” and he himself became secretary of it. Dr. Bradley became chairman. This committee went to work on two fronts: namely, what did students need by way of the union—well, I should put it another way: What did students need other than classroom instruction? And the answer was a social and service center/recreation center readily identified as the Union. And they needed dormitory housing—there being yet no dormitories on the campus and this again was part of Van Hise’s inaugural appeal that there be resident halls as there were at Oxford and Cambridge. The Union wasn’t the only thing he appealed for. He appealed strongly for residence halls, too. So they proceeded to investigate what others were doing about union development and residence halls development and Dollard made the trips to inspect what unions were and there weren’t very many—mainly Michigan that had just got open, a very substantial building, and Hart House in Toronto—and made extensive inquiries about residence halls and so on and wrote the report that urged the immediate construction of the Memorial Union and of residence halls. Dr. Bradley and Mason with their influence with the administration, saw to it that these two projects became high priority items of the administration.
Well, this was about the time that President Birge was to retire—1925. And this leads us to the incident that I started to mention the other day. The heir apparent to Birge was Max Mason. The faculty almost unanimously believed he would be the next president. They wanted him to be. He was very popular among students and the students saw in Mason a supporter for their prime enterprises like the Union, like the residence halls and so on. So the president of the class of 1925, John Bergstresser by name, who was also from Springfield, Illinois—I brought him here the year following that I came as a freshmen and was a roommate of mine. Actually, he succeeded me in the Alumni Records Office when I moved over to the Union. But as a student he was elected president of the class of 1925 and he, with the leadership of the Iron Cross Society and Mortar Board, got a petition urging the appointment of Max Mason as president of the University succeeding President Birge signed by some 4,500 students out of an enrollment, I think of that time, of not more than 8,000—a very substantial outpouring of student endorsement for their hoped-for new president. And Bergstresser was the one who was to carry this petition to the Regents who were searching and screening to find a successor for Birge and his meetings with the Regents were postponed “until next time” and so on and so on. Finally, the appointment came through and Bergstresser sat in the waiting room outside the Regent meeting room with the petition in hand—evidence of student approval for and support for Max Mason—ready to go in and make the pitch. And the secretary of the Regents came out to see him and said “Well you can come in now but I, perhaps, should tell you that the Regents have just appointed Glenn Frank as president of the University.” So he never had a chance to make his case on behalf of students. Whether if he made it would have changed anything, one can’t know, of course, but illustrates, of course, a major turning point in the whole University history when the Regents appointed Frank, and largely, I think, through Zona Gale’s influence who knew Glenn Frank as the editor of the Century magazine and thought well of his progressive notion of education. He received the bid and he came on as president.
Well, this was a vast disappointment to students. They felt let down over this and, of course, Mason obviously was disappointed because this was his alma mater and where he achieved his professional reputation but he had other bids in hand already and was shortly elected president by the University of Chicago. In going there, as I mentioned the other day, he asked Dollard to go with him as assistant to the president which opened the door for me to come in on the fund-raising for the Union. This might have happened anyhow. If Mason had become president of Wisconsin, he may have very well had commanded Dollard to take an administrative position on the Hill in another role. But in any event, this turn of events resulted in my appearance as Dollard’s successor as secretary of the Memorial Union Building Committee and fundraiser.
Well, the University administration, never-the-less, whether Birge or Frank or whoever, paid attention to this faculty committee report and did put a high priority on the construction of both dormitories and the Union. And we were by this time about reaching the point where the funds were sufficient to build at least the first two units of the building—not the theater wing—and the decision was made to get this much done in any event. There was a good deal of strain and concern about the way the campaign had gone since 1919 and it was now 1925 and nobody could see the money, what they had given their money for, and it was a great deterrent for further fund-raising because people began to feel that as though they were never going to have it. So Dollard, before he left for Chicago—this was in 1925 again—persuaded the University to let a contract for excavation. They did clear the site and dug the hole to receive the building and there was a tremendous sign on the site saying “Lets dig.” In the Daily Cardinal banner headline was “Lets Dig” and a big spade with Bucky Badger covering two-thirds of the front page and this was all to get additional monies in and to show that progress was going to be made and if enough money came in we’d go ahead and build the building. It was this great student effort of 1925, the general campus-wide campaign and again in 1926, and so on, which resulted in what I told you about—an outpouring of student giving.
Well, the time came when the building plans were put out to bid and bids came in some $90,000 over the funds available. At this time in the State’s history there was no such thing as funding a building through borrowing. The State constitution read then, as it did for years after, that the State may contract no debt except during civil war or civil disturbance and not to exceed $50,000 for even that. So borrowing was not possible on the part of the University or the part of the State. So what to do? The Regents looked at these bids $90,000 short, were not to unhappy about it because the low bidder was a non-union contractor from Duluth and under State law they would have had to award the contract to the low bidder. They had no choice. A second low bidder was a union contractor from Janesville and he was $15,000 over the low bidder. The Regents, and this is the same Regent group that elected Frank as president, because of its Progressive leanings - it was a Progressive Party Board of Regents under the aegis and appointment of Governor Blaine, a La Follett follower of the Progressive Party, which was very strong in the State at that time and virtually all the Regents were Progressive Party appointees—and they did not want to see a contract go to a non-union contractor. So they were not unhappy about this outcome and notified Dollard and the Union Building Committee that the project could not go ahead unless the full cash required, namely another $90,000, was in hand by the deadline which was so moved to ten days later.
Well, during that week there came a visit from the Janesville contractor that was the second low bidder but $15,000 over the low bidder, to Dollard by him. Dollard called me into the office and we sat there together while this chap, this contractor said, “I’ve always been interested in this Union project and I’d like to make a contribution of about $15,000.” And the implication, of course, was that if we could just set about to persuade the Regents to take the second low bid, we wouldn’t lose any money because he would have made this gift. Dollard looked at him and said, “Well, I’m interested in what you say and where I come from this sounds like a bribe and we’d be glad to report this to the Board of Regents—that we’ve been offered a bribe of $15,000 to help you get this contract.” The contractor was considerably flustered and up and walked out of the office. That was the first instance; the second was that George Haight—bless his heart—was co-chairman of the fund-raising committee, swung into action and persuaded Louis Hanks, the president of the First National Bank, now-called the First Wisconsin Bank, to loan the Memorial Union Building Committee $90,000 if guaranteed by nine alumni at $10,000 each on a personal signature basis. And Hanks agreed to this. Haight got on the telephone, mainly to other members of the Memorial Union Building Committee, and got eight to sign this note—this personal guarantee of payment. Then he had to leave for New York on a law case. He was a Chicago man with the ninth man still missing. On the train coming back from New York, the day before the Regents meeting that was to settle this—he’d been looking for Carl Johnson, the president of Gisholt Manufacturing Company—and Carl Johnson was also a member of the Memorial Union Building Committee. Johnson was out of the city and they did not know how to reach him. Coming back on the train in the same parlor car sitting across from him was Carl Johnson. So Haight made his appeal to Johnson. Johnson readily agreed and the next morning they had at the bank the signatures of nine men and a $90,000 note and a check for $90,000 from the First National Bank which was delivered to Dollard on a Thursday. The next morning Dollard walked into the Regents meeting with the Regents expecting to tell him that “sorry, the project is off,” Dollard said, “Well gentlemen, we now have the $90,000.” And produced the check and the Regents were not happy about this. It’s one of those political things that characterizes State and University business but the contract was let and the contractor came on the job.
The Planning, Financing, and Construction of the New Building — Problems and Successes
And this was let to the low bidder not the man from Janesville?
It had to be let under the law to the low bidder. This did not end our troubles with the labor unions. It was the beginning of very serious troubles. If you read some of the Union literature you would know what they were like. They picketed the building site although a non-union contractor was willing and able and glad to hire Madison laborers. He insisted only on having his own supervisors and superintendents for each trade but he would take anyone else from the Madison labor market. That didn’t satisfy the local Madison labor unions. They meant to strike the job and pull everybody off. So there was this picket line thrown around the building. The contractor couldn’t get anyone on to the job to do the work. Well, he was under contract now to build the building, and by a certain time. So to meet his obligation he imported laborers from elsewhere after making all of his offers to Madison laborers and since they couldn’t get through the picket line, he built a shanty - a wooden dormitory out here on the lake shore behind the building and housed them here on the site in order to have them available to go to work the next morning. They were housed and fed here by the lake shore.
Well, the time came one night when I was in the Union annex, which was President Birge’s old home—the president’s old home where the theater is now (that was our temporary fund-raising headquarters while this site was being developed with a new building), I was sitting working around eleven o’clock at night which wasn’t unusual because this was a high pressure thing with a lot of things to do and evening work was part of it, I heard this rumble and commotion outside and looked out the window and here was something like 150 or 200 men with clubs marching down Park Street towards the Lake and aiming for this shack where the contractor’s workmen were housed. So I could tell there was trouble and I called the police, frantically, to tell them what was up. They couldn’t have been less interested. They knew all about it. They were unionized themselves and friends of the labor union people who were marching on the site and apparently aware of what was happening but not interested in interfering despite the frantic pleas I was making that there would be trouble, and there was.
They destroyed the shanty. They broke a few bones. They threw these men in the lake. They threw bottles of ink all over the masonry that had gone up by this time and it was a real fiasco.
Well, this made the headlines for quite a few days and the attorney general, who was the lawyer for the University, was able to point out to the mayor of Madison that when police did not respond to a legitimate call for protection that he, the mayor, was personally responsible for any damage done in the absence of police protection. So right away we got police protection and the picket line disappeared. That’s a long, involved story but it indicates part of the problems the Union had in getting born.
Well, as you can see, we are in the year 1926 when I had now become secretary of the Building Committee, fund-raising the group and it was no longer just fund-raising because the building was going up. By the way, the reason the cornerstone reads 1925 is because that’s when that hole was dug in the ground and it was, indeed, the start of construction but as you know, the building itself wasn’t completed. It didn’t open until 1928. Well, in the period of 1926 to 1928 we had all the other corollaries of getting the building furnished and equipped and deciding what kind of organization would operate the Union and what kind of programs would be undertaken within it, what the student role would be, what the current administration connection with Union would be, and all the rest.
Before you go on with that, I have a question. I was wondering who drew up the building plans.
The building plans were first done under commission by the Memorial Union Building Committee by Eschweiler and Eschweiler of Milwaukee and for some strange lack of communication that I don’t understand because this was when I was not yet here, it was overlooked that the State law required that the State architect do all the plans for State building of whatever kind. I think the Memorial Union Building Committee felt this was not a State building. It was a gift building and that they were presenting a completed building to the University, drawn, built, and presented but the interpretation at the Capitol was not so—that the blueprint plans themselves must be the work of the State architect as with all other State buildings. This was back in the days when there weren’t all that many State buildings being designed. So a small drafting staff and an architect at the Capitol could do it. Well, the State architect was Arthur Peabody. After quite a hassle and dispute and paying off Eschweiler and Eschweiler for their fee for their work, the job got turned over to the State architect and it went through all sorts of modifications and changes before the final approved plan was put out for bid.
But the story of what facilities were included and why and how the building physical plan was evolved is really another story. It is a harrowing story in some respects and a continuing story of both development and disappointment which, if your interested, we can go into it on another occasion, because we are still at the point where we are discussing getting ready to open the building and what was required to do that.
I mentioned the necessity of providing furniture and equipment. The building contract for the structure had been let and it used all the monies available. There was no money for equipment or furnishings. This included the light fixtures, elevators, as well as room furniture: desks, and tables and chairs in the dining units, and so on. And so the next question was where do we get $400,000 for that purpose which was the estimate of what it would require, and we had just about used up our potential in fund-raising among students and alumni.
So it was at this point that Theodore Kronshage, who was now president of the Regents, and George Haight, and, I think, Phil La Follett, an attorney in town—he was not yet a political figure but he was a former Union Board member, by the way, in about 1919 or 1918—got their legal heads together and devised an approach which involved the creation of the Wisconsin University Building Corporation which would rent the building structure from the University for a dollar a year with the agreement to completely furnish and equip it and then would lease it back to the University at annual rental sufficient to cover the mortgage payments on the $400,000. It was what was called a “lease-back” arrangement. All of these documents were shaped up and the building corporation was formed. It included University officers primarily, and the building corporation was given a lease on the building. It borrowed the $400,000 and used that to buy equipment and furnishings and completed the building. It charged the University the sum required to amortize the $400,000 mortgage in 15 years. Well, this was a salvation for the Union. I t was also the salvation for the men’s residence halls which also had to find money to get built. They did not have either State appropriation or any general fund-raising. They had $200,000 from the Tripp estate and that was all. So both these institutions happened by way of the creation of the Wisconsin University Building Corporation.
The corporation then had a similar arrangement with the dormitories?
Yes. It did the financing of both. But since the loan of $400,000 to the building corporation was made from the State teachers’ pension funds, the State teachers retirement officers instituted a friendly suit to determine whether this was legal or not—whether this was indeed a State debt which was prohibited by the constitution or whether it was legitimate. So we went through a long period of court review which ended up with a Supreme Court decision that it was legal—did not constitute a State debt—and this satisfied the State Teachers Retirement Board. It was a crucial key decision because it led onto this method of financing for all sorts of University buildings and through borrowing by the Wisconsin University Building Corporation, and, indeed, the State itself adopted this method for financing new State buildings. Prior to this time, any State building that was built had to have a specific legislative appropriation in tax dollars before a contract could be let, and this meant that an unwilling legislature, unwilling to raise taxes for this kind of purpose, would not approve new State buildings so that there was a great drouth of State building for any purpose all through the ’20s and the ’30s and until this device of the Building Corporation became legitimized and workable. This continued as the prime method of State construction financing until the Constitution was amended in just very recent years permitting direct State debt with the State behind its borrowing. So this was something we’ve always considered that the Union enterprise contributed to State welfare. Otherwise, it might never have happened.
Now as to how to get ready and how to operate and for whom, and we are now talking about the period of 1927 when the equipment and furniture financing plan was resolved. Up to this time, the concept of a union was primarily that of a men’s club building with provisions for some dining, lounges, newspapers, game tables like billiards, meeting rooms and this derived from the earliest unions—those of Britain starting with Oxford and Cambridge in about 1815 and 1820. They were indeed patterned after the the British gentlemen’s club. Every British person of part belonged to some club. You’re familiar with the British cultural traditions?
The British club was quite an institution so the Oxford and Cambridge unions were patterned after these but with their special emphasis on debate and discussion which I won’t go into now because that is a whole different story but had an important bearing on what the Oxford and Cambridge unions were like. They had very large debate halls, for example, and as I mentioned in connection with Van Hise’s appeal for a union for the University of Wisconsin. Through debate and discussion and student leadership they became known as the “cradle of the British parliament” and trained students deliberately for leadership of the British commonwealth.
Well, different from Oxford and Cambridge were the early unions in the United States and Canada in that they did not deal much with debate and discussion except at Hart House, the Canadian union. Rather, they were oriented more toward the men’s club concept for social/dining/recreation purposes but also including, as with Michigan, Purdue and Indiana and several others, very substantial hotel units to accommodate returning alumni, but primarily throughout for men. The Michigan Union as we knew it then and up until a time not too long ago, there was a uniformed attendant at the front door to refer women to the side door at the Michigan Union and they were eligible to use only certain facilities of the Michigan Union.
Well, the Michigan Union was the prime example of what a union was and in this early exploration in the early 1920s, much of what we cranked into the building plans here—I say, “we” but don’t include myself, it was my predecessors borrowing from the Michigan Union. They put in Tripp Commons, a men’s boarding hall, such as they had in Michigan and a Tap Room—we called it a Rathskeller and game rooms (pocket billiards and so on), and hotel rooms, food services, general meeting rooms, and so on. The facilities for women were, in the blue prints, fairly limited. They consisted of a women’s parlor on the second floor off the Great Hall, which was a ballroom where women were expected because of the dancing, and in the cafeteria, women were expected but not in the Rathskeller, not in the game rooms, not in the library, all right in the meeting rooms and so on. This was typified partly by the fact that there was just really one women’s washroom in the building—in this parlor near the ballroom. So, we were born as a men’s club, too, but we rapidly changed this and changed it before the building opened and for two or three reasons. Do you want me to go into those?
Yes, I’d be very interested.
For one thing, the women students did better in fund-raising for the union then the men did. They personally gave money in greater numbers in proportion to their numbers. They were the more active, eager workers. This was one reason for the change. Another reason for the change was the pressure from the women, themselves. In the beginning it didn’t sound too bad to have a men’s club emphasis because the women already had a women’s club in Lathrop Hall and had had it for years: Lathrop parlors, social meeting rooms and tea rooms, offices for women’s self-government association, staff members to help—the works. This was thought of as the women’s union but not called a union. It was called Lathrop Hall although it was, indeed, a women’s club center.
Well, the dean of women, Louise Nardin, was also housed in Lathrop Hall and she wanted it there and she wanted the girls there under her supervisory eye and for reasons of rapport with the student leadership and easy access back in forth for communication and for, I suppose, the purposes of better being able to assert the dean’s influence in what women did and how they did it. So, she didn’t want the women to be included too much in the Union and in the earlier days the women recognized they had a club center of their own and that the men ought to have one, too, like theirs but once they saw the building going up and with the changes of student personnel, and so on, they decided that they would rather be over here where the men were. As far as the men were concerned, I think they preferred to have the women over here too but not in all parts of the building. The Rathskeller and the games room were still considered sacrosanct for men. So when the building opened what happened was that the dining area was opened generally to women, all the meeting rooms, all the student offices which were: Badger, Cardinal, the drama clubs, and so on, that women fully participated in—Great Hall was developed as a general women’s lounge except for weekends when occasional dances occurred—carpets on the floor, lounging furniture, tea service every afternoon and women’s magazines available and a hostess on the job, and so on. This in addition to Lathrop Hall which was still going on, because the dean wanted it to go on, but we paid the bill at Lathrop Hall from here on, too—the Union did. We paid for the staff hostess and the secretary over there and for the periodicals and for the social programs at Lathrop.
Why was that?
Well, because all women as well as men now paid a Union fee—a fee that belonged to the Union as part of their registration fee, part of their incidental fee when they enrolled. This was ten dollars a year, five dollars a semester and women paid it as well as men. So we were sure that we had to, and wanted to, to provide equal services for women as well as men. So as long as they maintained Lathrop club rooms we underwrote those financially, both staff and supplies and all the rest as well as creating Great Hall as a women’s floor. That’s where the women’s parlors were.
I see. You looked on Lathrop Hall then as a kind of extension of the Union.
Yes. It was a kind of satellite Union but for women only. Then the ground floor of this building, the Rathskeller and game rooms, were exclusively for men and the middle floor, the main lounge and the gallery, were for both—a kind of a middle sex room where they could come together—and, of course, they came together at dances and meetings and other sorts of affairs. So this was a first major departure from the men’s club concept. Also, following Van Hise’s appeal for informal student-faculty relationships—that much of what students learned, they learned from faculty outside the classroom—we wanted to involve faculty to the maximum, as indeed the Oxford/Cambridge Unions had. They extended membership in Oxford/Cambridge unions to the faculty as well as to the students and because of our history in fund-raising of extending life memberships to faculty and alumni (alumni were considered one of our prime constituencies), and taken all together, we saw the Union as a center for all who were associated with the University: students, faculty, alumni and even interested Madisonians who wanted to become Union members by paying a membership fee.
So in drafting the constitution that governed the operation of the Union, it was declared from the beginning that the Union was a membership organization for students, faculty, alumni and staff, plus patron members who were interested enough to become contributors by way of membership. This, in turn, led to the nature of the governing board that was described in the constitution, namely, a policy board called the Union Council which included representatives of these three constituent member groups (students, faculty, and alumni), and with a student majority (nine out of fifteen), and with a student as chairman. This to emphasize and make dominant from the beginning the concept of the Union as a self-governing enterprise that recognized prime participation of students in governance and, in turn, as this all, of course, had a bearing upon our historical objective and the Union historical objective of encouraging the development of student leadership of their own affairs. So, from the beginning, the constitution described a kind of institution. This was not to be just another administrative department of the university but a self-governing organism in which joint decisions of students, faculty, and alumni were to determine policy in operations subject only to the final review of the Regents.
Who drew up this constitution?
It was initiated primarily by the student president of the Men’s Union Board and myself. Together we made the preliminary draft based upon student objectives and what I knew of successful union practice, and submitted this draft to a general committee called the “University Committee on the Union” which was a planning committee headed by Dr. Harold Bradley.
This was a general faculty committee?
It was a general faculty, administrative staff, alumni, and student joint committee of some forty members, as I remember. In turn, they adopted this draft. It went through, of course, various modifications but it went from there to the faculty. The faculty approved it. It went to the Regents and the Regents approved it. This became our charter of operation and the purpose of the Union is set forth in one simple sentence, namely, “The Union is created to provide a common life and a cultivated social program for its members.” Again, you see the emphasis on membership which has been one of our strengths and one of our protections over the years —that we are a membership organization.
The self-governing feature of the constitution has also been one of the very difficult and complex objectives to work out within the type of controls that the State of Wisconsin has over all University operations. To set-up within a State-controlled situation an enterprise for wide latitude for self-governance has been something to manage, to bring about over the years. Sometimes, we’ve had set backs on it and sometimes we’ve had successes but that’s another story too.
Why do you say that being a membership organization was a protection?
Well, that perhaps leads on to one of the kinds of things that started to happen once the building got opened. First let me say that the constitution was devised and approved. The financing of the furniture and equipment was achieved and the management staff was achieved for the opening in 1928 and I should say a word about the management staff.
I was asked to become the director of the Union by both the Memorial Union Building Committee and by this committee headed by Dr. Bradley which planned for the Union—their’s was a recommendation to the University administration. I think it is fair to say that everybody was a little nervous about this. Here was a young fellow, 25 years old, with no management or business experience to speak of now placed in charge as director of a very considerable plant and program and financial operation. And the University hedged this to my relief and concurrence by drawing in the department of dormitories and commons in the person of Don Halverson, who was the director of the dormitories and commons, to be the business operator. Halverson was the business manager of the Union at the beginning. I was the director. Halverson had run the Lathrop Hall food service. He was, of course, head of the newly built residence halls and the dining operation there, a very successful administrator. And so I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about the price of potatoes, the price to charge for a given meal, and how to train the janitors, and so on and so on. My time was free to largely work with students and to develop the social-cultural program of the Union but Halverson in his generosity and wisdom made it clear that he wanted to take policy direction for his business operations from me and the Union Council, or Union governing board. This is the way it worked, and succeeded. Well, that was the staffing approach.
Now, back to your question of why was the membership emphasis important in protecting the Union. Once the building opened in 1928, it showed up with considerable success in a lot of directions: in services to the University, to students, in interesting things to do, and was very prominent in the press of whatever we did. With this successful note in front of everybody, a lot of other parties wanted to get into the act. They weren’t so eager to be in the act when we had problems in trying to raise money but once a growing concern gets going and is useful and influential, others begin to want to get on the band wagon.
One of the first things that happened was that the Alumni Association figured it was very risky to leave the operation of this now successful big enterprise in the hands of a governing board that had a majority of students on it with a student president and a young fellow, 25 years old, as director. So they made a pitch to the University administration to transfer the governance of the Union to an all-alumni board of governors, or mostly alumni. At this point, two things happened. The Memorial Union Building Committee, another influential group of alumni including a number of past alumni presidents—people who had come forward and raised the money and who agreed with the student primacy in the building—persuaded the Alumni Association to drop this idea. Part of their argument was, “Look, this is not an alumni enterprise. All students are members.” This is when the membership implication comes in. Not all alumni are members, by any means, only those who chose to become life members are members. Also, many faculty are members, not all since it was voluntary with faculty as with alumni. So, it just isn’t right to have a policy governing board that is dominated by alumni when the membership of the organization is much more than alumni.
Well, then came lawsuits from the merchants on State Street and the hotels downtown against the Union under the fair trade practices act because they felt that being a tax-free institution and serving meals and providing hotel rooms, and so on, went far beyond the legitimate role of University teaching, was unfair to them as food service people and hotels who did have to pay taxes. And so they initiated a court suit to prevent us from serving foods and accepting hotel reservations and so on. But, we were able to show that we did this only for our members, that the services were not open to the public, and we could cite our whole membership policy, the fact that we made line checks at the cafeteria and elsewhere to determine whether the person entering—in the case of a student, if he had a fee card which was his membership card, or if it was an alumnus or faculty member, whether they had a union membership card, and so on.
And so, we were, in a very large measure, protected by our membership approach against the charges that we were serving the public and doing so unfairly to the enterprises that had to pay taxes. They didn’t believe us. They felt we didn’t take this membership thing seriously but, actually we did, and in the end the suit was thrown out.
On the other hand, we had the reverse of this. We had the taxpayer who thought the building was paid for by his taxes and other taxes, which it wasn’t. It was paid for, as you’ve seen, by gifts.
In the case of a taxpayer—a chap who was really something of a trouble maker in the building—he instituted a suit against me, personally, and against the Union organization for asking him to leave the building and not admitting him in the future. This suit happened to be taken to court on the same day I was called to court to defend the Union against the commercial restaurants and hotel people who were charging that we did admit the public freely.
Well, as I mentioned, the restaurant suit was thrown out and the taxpayer suit was not pursued after the attorney general’s office, which represented all departments of the University, made the point that we were indeed limited by our own policies and by the University policies to serving those who were members of the Union and not members of the public generally. All of this didn’t entirely satisfy the restaurant and hotel people because they found a legislator, actually a former student of the University, who prepared on their behalf a resolution in the legislature creating a legislative investigative committee to investigate the whole operation of the Union and whether or not we were unfairly competing, and along the way making charges that we were running it inefficiently and expensively. And that the whole operation really ought to be turned over to students to run, that a paid staff, full-time, was really not all that necessary. This investigating committee went to work and had a series of hearings and we were asked, of course, by the University administration, President Glenn Frank, to present the documentation of who we were and how we came to be, what we were doing, and what our financial operations were like, and the results of them, and quoting the various Regent authorizations to do what we were doing, and so on. In the end, that legislative committee turned in a report in effect exonerating the Union of any malpractice or bad behavior, and I think one of the things that influenced the legislative committee was the prestige and influence of the Memorial Union Building Committee members. They were widely known throughout the State and who had voluntarily set forth to raise the funds to build this building, to do these certain kinds of things including offering a food service to students. The legislators on that committee in their perception of the situation in effect said that “if this is the kind of institution that was given to the University and to the State by reputable leaders in the civic life of the State, it must be alright” and they didn’t want to discourage gift efforts of this kind by denying functions and purposes that the founders had in mind.
So, after a long ordeal and much distraction from our daily requirements of doing our job, we were in effect cleared by the legislative committee and in turn their report to the legislator says “fight the legislature.” So, that at least for the time ended that kind of interference with the Union operation. But I was mentioning earlier that because the Union was now up and going and apparently a thriving institution and was of success and influential in all sorts of University affairs, others up and down the line wanted to get into the act to including sharing in the glory, lets say, or sharing in the control and direction that the Union would take.
So, over the years, and I’m talking now about a span of years from the early 1930s up to the present time, we have had off and on desires by the Dean of Students Office to have more to say about the Union and, in fact at one point, wanted the administration to place the Union under the administrative direction of the Dean of Students Office. And then the business manager of the University, who had reason to be concerned about our financial outcome, he wanted to have more say about the policy.
Could you tell me which dean of students and which business manager these were?
Well, I think if my memory serves me, as long as Dean Goodnight was Dean of Men and who had himself raised the funds for the Union, knew what it was for and felt, as he often said to me personally, “I’m so happy there is a Union and a Union governing board and a student leadership of it because that relieves me of a lot of problems and burdens that would ordinarily have landed on my desk.” So through Dean Goodnight’s era, which was a long era, there was not this kind of interference or desire to take over, although as I mentioned earlier, being the strict moralist and disciplinarian, he often wanted to assert his standards in what the Union did. Illustrative of this fact was that during the war, for example, when we were serving thousands of service men in training on campus and whose day of leave was on Sunday only, our governing board and our student leaders arranged social affairs for service men, including mixer dances, on Sunday. This was contrary to the actual existing University regulations which Dean Goodnight was the administrator of, which said quite plainly, “no social events, no social dances certainly on Sunday.” So, he let it be known that we couldn’t do this. That it was against his policy and against the written social regulations, which by the way, he wrote. There was not a so-called “general student life and interest committee” at that time which represented the faculty generally and embraced student representatives, and so on. There were two or three men and women, the Dean of Men, the Dean of Women, and as I remember, the head of Journalism, and the head of the Speech Department/Drama Department. They were the ones, but Dean Goodnight really called the shots and they did whatever he thought was necessary to do.
So what did the Union do?
Well, the Union governing board set up as I described as being the policy making board for the Union responsible to the President of the University, not to the Dean of Students, to the President and through him to the Regents, appealed to the President, who was President Dykstra at that time, against this rule. We had a joint conference in President Dykstra’s office and when after he heard the details of the story he looked up and said: “Well, I guess the war is being fought on Sunday as well as every other day and that’s when the men fighting the war can come to see you, I think you better go ahead and serve them just as they are serving the country on Sunday.” So, the Union appeal won out.
It was then some years after Dean Goodnight ended service that their came into the picture other deans and ultimately, the reorganization of the whole dean of men and dean of women’s offices under the so-called Dean of Student Affairs, a generalized dean. This was in the era of rapid University growth—we’re talking about the post-war period, of course—and the President, then E. B. Fred, plagued by all sorts of new and difficult problems thought as someone had recommended to him, and I don’t know who it was, that it might be better to have us report through what was then called the Vice-President of Student Affairs, Ken Little.
Well, this was set-up on paper as the route through which the staff reported but Ken Little was understanding and said, “Go ahead and do what you were always doing which has been fine.” And so there was a considerable period of benign neglect on the part of the administration as far as any initiative by the Vice-President of Student Affairs was concerned. It was only later when the Harrington regime came in and Martha Peterson was made Dean of Student Affairs, or Vice-President of Student Affairs, I just don’t recall the title, for the entire University system, that the problem arose again. She, through the agency of Vice-President Clodius, set forth to have the Union made responsible quite clearly to the Dean of Student Affairs on the Madison campus, and so on, and we were so notified without much prior consultation.
Well, at this point the Union trustees, the same Memorial Union Building Committee group that raised the funds for the building and which cherished the whole idea of dominant student policy making and governance of the Union through a representative board of students, faculty and alumni, questioned this and questioned it very strongly in meetings with Clodius and later, with Harrington.—at first citing among other things that the constitution or charter of the Union, which was approved by students, by the total faculty, by the Regents, which spelled out that the Union was responsible to the Board of Regents through the President of the University or chancellor as he was then called. The response from Clodius was, “Well, that’s a piece of paper—we can change that.”
Well, this didn’t sit well at all with the founders of the Union who had invested their time and money and effort in creating a kind of Union that would be a self-governing institution and trained students for civic leadership. So, there were further consultations and delays and in the end, this was not really put into effect, this kind of change. There was a kind of a compromise that said that the Dean of Student Affairs would be welcome as a non-voting member on the Union Council, the governing board, for liaison and communication and coordination purposes, as would be also the business manager of the University because he had a vital interest in this too as he was not about to let the financial destiny of the Union rest in the hands of what the Dean of Student Affairs had to say about it because he was responsible ultimately for the financial well-being of the Union. So we invited the business manager of the University to sit on the governing board, too.
Which business manager was this?
Well, at this time it was Neil Cafferty and I was talking about the 1960s as I recall it now, and Cafferty never came. He wasn’t so minded though the Dean did occasionally come, not often. But the Dean of Student Affairs also had a director of student activities on his staff and there was a complex of problems arising as to the demarking line between what he had to do in terms of counseling and supervision of student activities and what the Union, which was probably the main coordinator of student activity, had to do. So there were times at which the student activity advisor thought that he ought to have something to say about whether the Union was properly engaged in this function or whether it should be turned over to student government or one of the other groups that he was advising. So there was a good deal of back and forth to straighten out these staff organizational and supervisory questions along the way.
Well, what we’re citing here are the continuing desires by other parties to have a piece of the action and we’ve mentioned the Dean of Students and the Business Manager. There was also a student government, the newly formed Wisconsin Student Association, which felt that they ought to have more to say about it. Actually, the Union constitution provided that their four officers sit on the Union Council, the Union governing board. This was from the very beginning.
Could they vote?
Oh, yes. They were voting members and this was the principle involved that of the nine students, a majority on the Union Council, the governing board, five would be students that came up through the merit system who had worked for a year or two years or more on Union committees and were deeply involved firsthand in what the Union was doing because they were leaders of the enterprises and of the programs and, therefor, could bring to bear direct personal knowledge of what the Union’s objectives, problems and ways of accomplishing something were when they considered policies. But to make way for the voice of the people to be registered and not just those who come up the ladder through the Union service program, the four officers of student government were also included as voting members who were elected by students each spring or fall. So we thought we had a blend of “the voice of the people” represented by student government people and experienced first-hand knowledge of what the problems were, represented by the five students who had chaired committees or had been very active in actual Union operations. And all this student energy and enterprise and set of goals was reviewed with and, in some cases, tempered by the presence of two faculty members appointed by the President of the University, two alumni (one appointed by the President and one by the Alumni Association) and the director of the Union and the business manager of the Union sat on the same Union council as ex-officio. They were in the minority. So, a student majority could settle an issue. It was rare, however, when ever there was a split vote that it was split between students and non-students. It was split in many other ways—some faculty or one alumnus voting with a student, some students voting with the opposition or with the staff if it was a staff recommendation, and so on.
So, this was the original pattern of Union governance and which still exists, by the way. There have been some name changes and minor adjustments due to the change of University merger, and so on, to get the right titles, naming Chancellor instead of President, and so on. But, in principle, it was the same kind of organization and interestingly, when the merger legislation came, merging the University of Madison with all of the other state higher educational institutions, there was this provision, you may recall, in this new merger law, that fees paid by students for non-classroom instruction, namely for athletic purposes, publications, health services, and Union, that students should have a primary voice in how these fee funds were to be expended.
Well, the Union right away qualified because forty or more years before the merger legislation we set up the Union policy board this way as the primary voice of students with a student chairman of the board. This position was adopted by the Regents and the University administration in their response to the legislature and anyone else who wanted to know if the Union conformed to the intended merger legislation.
Well, besides the groups mentioned that wanted to get into the act, their were the various University departments that had an interest in the Union—the Speech Department, the Music School and Art Department, and so on—where they could see we were engaged in somewhat like activities. In art for example, we were presenting art exhibitions—art education as it was called then, and applied arts earlier—was interested in that. In case of the Music School, we were bringing outside artists for concerts and they were interested in that. And Journalism had continued to assign many student reporters to the Union to report on the going ons of the Union. Home Ec. saw in the Union kitchens, a laboratory for helping to expose their students to bulk food service operations and menu making, and so on.
These relationships all worked out really very well. They were on the whole very harmonious. The other departments were glad to have these laboratories or field work opportunities available to their students.
Could you tell me how you arranged that? What kind of operations were set up so these departments could work with the Union?
Well, we would simply consult with each other as with Home Economics, for example, as it was called then, to consult on when and on and how often they would like their students in food preparation in an institutional management to come to the Union for a laboratory exercise, observation and explanation by the Union staff. In effect, we taking over a series of laboratory sessions for them. In the case of Art Education, it was not hard to come by. I had been a student of professor Varnum’s, who was chairman of the Art Education department at that time. One of my courses related to my art history graduate major was a practicum in etching and graphic arts generally, and so on. They had no gallery or museum outlet. We did, and we were glad to arrange for exhibitions by their faculty members or exhibitions by their graduate students who were doing art works as part of their requirements for a master degree, for example a master of fine arts. Then we had organized early on, early in 1930, a general student art competitive exhibition which was open, of course, to all students but particularly art education students who found an outlet for letting the public see what they were doing. By this time, years after the Union opened, we gained quite a bit of experience in art museum administration. Their was no course in art museum administration at that time. Art education was glad to establish one but they had no one on their staff ready and willing to take it on. So, the Union staff, our art director and myself, became the co-lecturers of a new course in art administration using the Union gallery, again, as a laboratory, and so on.
In the case of Drama and Speech, the Union theater housed their whole theater production organization: stage shops, costume shop, rehearsal rooms, all the equipment, lighting and production and, of course, the auditorium for the theater itself for their audiences. They were supremely happy to get out of Bascom Hall second floor lecture room with tablet arms that rattled when people sat down, a general fire hazard, a stage that was tiny, no side stages, no storage spaces, no rehearsal rooms. So the Speech Department—Andrew Weaver, the chairman of the department at that time in the ’30s—was the most enthusiastic and helpful person in urging and helping us obtain the new theater plan, the theater wing of the Union.
When the Union theater was finished and opened, the whole drama operation, including staff, moved into the Union theater. The technical director, Fred Buerki, and the drama director, Russell Lane, went on split appointments—part of their appointment in Speech and part of their appointment at the Union. So we were dividing salaries.
The Union was paying part of their salaries?
Yes, and properly so, because besides their Wisconsin Players or Speech Department drama productions they were also serving the other groups that came into the Union theater such as the Haresfoot Club, Humorology (the variety show), the French Department plays, the conferences and conventions, the University ceremonial occasions like baccalaureate and honors convocation and, of course, the traveling performing arts groups which the Union had already been heavily involved with: concert artists, traveling stage shows, ballets, symphony, and so on. They were the Union managing staff for all these non-Speech Department functions that occurred in the theater. So, we found a formula for how much of their time went to Speech Department teaching and play production and how much represented service to the Union.
Well, this was also easy to come by because you heard me say, we tended to understand each other. I had grown up in the theater. I was a member of the National Collegiate Players (the honorary drama group), and in the case of art education, I was an art history graduate student and knew what art was about. So there was no problem of personal rapport but this also extended into the rest of my staff. The art director of the Union, the first one, was Sally Owen Marshall, who was a graduate in art education and the next one, Anne Kendall Foote, a graduate in art education and well respected and known by the faculty of art education. So, we didn’t have those kind of interdepartmental squabbles or problems, at least not until it became time to build a Communication Arts building, but that’s another story which I will save for another time when we discuss physical facilities and expansion, and so on.
Well, I guess I have said enough about the growing interest of parties throughout the University, downtown, at the Capitol, including the auditors in this new phenomenon called a Union that suddenly burst upon the scene. So, I think now it might be worth turning back to what we were trying to do. What was it all for, if that is satisfactory to you. Is it?
Yes, I think that is a very good idea.
As you perhaps detected in your readings about the Union, we came upon this whole enterprise pretty innocent of what a union was about except as we heard of in Van Hise’s inaugural address, except as we knew what the Men’s Union Board was up to in its kinds of functions and activities, and except as we learned more about unions in John Dollard’s investigation of unions while helping advise the Faculty Committee on Student Social Needs as to what these needs were.
He had studied some of the earliest unions, had he not?
This was part of his role as secretary of that committee—to visit, particularly the Michigan Union and Hart House at Toronto which were the largest, most prominent unions and newest in the early ’20s. So, being not sure as to what this was all about, we felt that it was important to find out all we could about Unions. I with others on my staff, reached out for anything that might bear upon the union functions and purpose. There was not much to be learned from the National Association of College Unions. It was not well organized. It had a modest, ineffectual newsletter that mainly talked about the buildings being planned, and so forth. Nowhere was there much said about overall purpose or identification of the union in the scheme of things at a university. We could see that it had a great deal to do with off-hour recreation and the facilities themselves denoted this—ballroom, the game rooms, browsing rooms, the music listening room, and so on and so on.
So, we gathered together all we could of, hopefully, useful information and, of course, watched what we did ourselves and what students wanted and how they responded. I’m talking now about the period when I first came in as a full-time staff member in 1926 on fund-raising and in 1928 as director.
I have a question. How did you find out what students wanted?
Well, this was not so hard to come by because basic to the whole scheme of the Union organization was the creation of student committees to do the programming in the building—a committee in each area of student interest such as social, that included dancing; music because we had already been engaged in presenting concerts; and art because we now had a gallery and opportunity to taken on an art program; discussion and debate because this was, we found, an historic purpose of unions. There were debating societies and Hart House was very strong in discussion and debate, and there were our own student debating societies but by the time they had expired—there was hardly any evidence of them in the mainstream of student life anymore and they were mainly concerned with judges giving points on whether their rebuttal was adequate and whether they had an effective voice and had won an effective audience response, and so on—a kind of a technological thing rather rather than battling out current issues of importance to students. So, a so-called “Forum Committee” was part of the Union program. We had a “Commons Committee.” The whole dining enterprise was called Commons (cafeteria: Tripp Commons, what was first called a Tea Room and then the Georgian Grill, private dining rooms). We had a student committee to explore what the potentials of these rooms were, often through surveys of customers—what they liked and didn’t like about a given service or room and advice on what we had better do about complaints as they came in. So, we had altogether two or three hundred student committee members who were telling us week-by-week what they wanted to do and what their fellow students were telling them.
Then, besides the feedback from our student committee members, we had suggestion boxes around the building inviting people to slip pieces of paper in and we had a pad of suggestion forms next to the box, telling us what they would like to see happen or what their problems were or their complaints were and I made a point of seeing every one of these and either I answered these or I got an appropriate staff member to write up the answer, and we would post the complaint or suggestion and underneath, the Union’s response as to what the answer was or what the next move was going to be, and so on. So this was one of many typical things we tried to do to remain sensitive to the wishes of our constituency.
Do you still do this?
Well, it hadn’t happened this way or this much in recent years. We still have a committee system but we don’t have the suggestion boxes although I am sure that the staff tries to learn wherever it can what our customers and clientele want and there are occasional surveys made, often by a class in social statistics, for examples—not done by the Union but as a class training exercise, but useful information to the Union on student attitudes to the Union: what they use, and how often, and what their feelings about it were. There have been several of these in recent years, I suspect, as well as all through the earlier years.
Well, to show you where we were after our first two years, I resurrected/pulled out the pamphlet we got out at the end of the year 1929/30 entitled the “Four Objectives of the Union” and I thought I might just refer to these briefly, these four objectives as indicating where we were at the end of 1930, two years after the building opened and why these particular objectives seemed to be in order.
The first one, “The Union exists to make the large University a more human place.” Well, this derived partly from President Glenn Frank’s statement as we got ready to open the Union—this rather bell-ringing phrase: “The Union is a living room which converts the University from a house of learning into a home of learning.” This had been an often quoted statement by Frank and then, of course, it goes back to the original Van Hise inaugural in which he said, “Nothing that the professor or laboratory can do for the student can take the place of daily close companionship with hundreds of his fellows."
You see, Van Hise was recognizing even at the turn of this century, and this got more and more severe as the years passed, that the older humanizing, personalizing elements of University life were disappearing— the boarding house, the chapel, the personal relations with faculty—all of which were feasible and possible with a small enrollment but which time dissolved, and all of these tended to drop out of the picture. So, one of the purposes of the Union was now to restore the personality and the humanness of the University. We actually had some deliberate actions in this direction such as: the Union never closed except for one or two days a year throughout the year even when the University was in recess because we felt that with the students who were stuck on the campus, who were lonely, it was more important than ever to have this kind of facility open as a headquarters for dining, for finding each other, for social purposes, for recreation, and so on. So, we made a fetish, you might say, of extending what we had to offer to students however and whenever we could. There came the bank holiday in 1929—the banks closed. Maybe you remember the great bank holiday. Students couldn’t cash a check. We, with Dean Goodnight by the way, set up an office in my office to issue script to students during the bank holiday who didn’t have any money, any cash, so they could buy meals and keep themselves going until they got the money from home or the banks reopened.
We’d come to the Christmas holidays, for example, and we’d have on Christmas eve a party for the stay-at-homes. For ten or twelve years I never was able to spend a Christmas eve at my own home. I, with other members of our staff, were always here at the Union through Christmas eve feeling that this was important for the student who had no home here, only a rooming house. So, it was a whole evening of music, dancing, games, refreshments, talk and with the Union staff playing host and hostess to this group and this group usually meant a lot of foreign students who were ill at ease on where to go and what to do during the two week Christmas break. The same with the graduate students who lived far away or had to stay to finish a thesis, or whatever. The same thing would happen on New Year’s Eve, for example. During the war, come New Year’s Eve, there was a couple of thousand trainees on the campus. How do they celebrate New Year’s Eve on a campus far from a home with nobody else around but them, and so on. So we set forth and booked Duke Ellington’s band for an evening show in the theater on New Year’s Eve and everybody had a ball. So, indeed, there was some carrying out of this objective of making the University a more humane place.
Well, this was one objective. The second objective was: “To provide facilities where students and teachers may naturally come together.” You would recognize this problem knowing what it takes for a faculty man to invite students to his home far away from the campus. They can’t find him and it is a difficult thing to arrange on the part of all parties. So, all sorts of efforts were made here at the Union to facilitate the coming together of students and faculty on an out-of-class informal basis: coffee hours—often the hostesses behind the table were faculty wives. We had a coffee hour every Friday afternoon in the main lounge and we took departments in rotation and all the students in a given department, like history, were invited to come on that day because the history faculty would be there. They would have a chance to meet informally. Then we had what was called “Dinner with Professor X” where students could sign up, twenty or twenty-five maximum, on a Sunday night for Sunday supper, say in the Beefeaters Room, with a given professor whose name was known to them through the announcement. If they wanted to meet with and know more about, say Professor Ray Agard, they’d sign up and come to dinner.
Did you find the faculty receptive to this idea?
Very, very. They were particularly receptive when we offered the chance to have one of their class meetings once or twice a semester in the Union Popover Room with coffee on the house served by the Union. This had to be a small class with not more than, say, thirty or thirty-five, but when the faculty man or woman saw that would like to vary the pace, he or she would like to get to know their students better and saw the importance of students seeing teacher in a different light, they would call up the Union and arrange for this room, say at ten o’clock on a Thursday morning and all the class members would come in and they’d run through the class as usual but there was coffee on the table for everyone. There was a fine response to this by the faculty who saw the importance of a humanitarian relationship.
Well, this objective was summed up by another phrase in this pamphlet in terms of “A place where personal relations may naturally find expression” and the “Union provides a comprehensive and well considered program for the social life of the University.” Well, this was back in 1930 but you’ll find this phrase runs through our literature and is now the lead statement of the International Association of College Union’s stated objective for the Union: “A union exists to provide a comprehensive and well considered program for the community life of the University.” It says “social” life here because we weren’t yet aware of the community center concept. I’ll come to that in a moment.
This partly grew out of a report of the faculty committee on the curriculum which said that: “It’s apparent from the purpose of history of American higher education that the curriculum is but one of the problems essentially involved. For a complete adjustment to change conditions there would be necessary a reexamination of, and a program, for the social life of the college.” So, you see, this came partly out of our desperate attempts to find out through reading what we could do that was useful and important. So, “a comprehensive, well considered program for the social life of the University” was objective number two.
Number three was: “The Union stands as the University’s recognition of the importance of the leisure hour.” We were in the era when the forty hour week was just coming in instead of forty-eight or fifty-four hours. There was vast unemployment—people completely at leisure. There was growing evidence in the press and in thoughtful and treatises of the importance, socially, in our American society of how people were going to employ this newly found leisure time. Would it be idle, wasted time or become destructive? Would it add anything to the self-development of the people involved? Translated into University terms, this is something that we thought we’d better find out about. Do students have any leisure time and what do they do with it?
So, we undertook a comprehensive study called “Student Use of Leisure Time at the University of Wisconsin.” It is a thick, black-bound book, 300 some pages, that was made possible partly by student help, financed by the federal government—what was then called WPA—a kind of work-study program for students. There were personal interviews with some 700 or 800 students randomly selected accordingly to a statistically valid plan to find out what they did each day, each week, and so on. Well, that’s a long story but the upshot of it was that it was plain that students were spending more time at ease in leisure pursuits then they were in classes and study put together. Something like six or seven hours a day went into leisure pursuits and this did not include personal things like dining or brushing your teeth or shopping. It had to do with what they were doing when they aren’t working, not eating, and so on. The study went on to identify what did students do with this six or seven hours a day and the alarming evidence was that most of it went into incidental, unproductive pursuits like card playing, listening to the radio, or what we used to call “bull sessions”—very little positive, active recreational use of that time in terms of sports, cultural interest, very little; religious activities, very little; club and group activities, very little; and so on and so on.
Well, knowing the hopes of the University which is to create a whole student and one who is making use of his new found education to improve his lot in life and a birth of interest to become a better citizen, and so on, but finding we found, nevertheless, that nobody was doing anything about it. When the classroom bell rings, the faculty member goes home to attend his garden and students go on the town. We’re talking here about a philosophy of how does a man or woman spend leisure time. We now know how significant the answer is to society and to the individual. Until very recently the solution of what to do with all those extra hours rested with commercial amusements or strong personal interest which hopefully, but not necessarily, the educational process has inspired. Now the students themselves with the University’s approval and help, proposed to create through the medium of an organization and club house with the Union for a name, first the physical facilities for enjoying leisure time and second, a social and cultural program which allowed for making leisure as satisfying and productive as possible. The hope is that here in the Union every student may be shown old and new ways of making the best use of his non-working hours. For instance, the student should find in the Union in the concerts, art exhibitions, library, and discussion groups, the opportunities to manifest and take pleasure in and make a matter of habit, the cultural interests that the University so painstakingly sets out to cultivate in the classroom but hadn’t done anything about what we found to be the actuality. So, could the Union do something?
Well, the fourth objective is set out as: “The Union is a genuine student cooperative enterprise aiming to give students experience in governing and managing their own affairs and the opportunity of reducing their living costs.” See, we’re in a depression and the economic impact of the Union, we thought, could be very important because the Union dining rooms serving students and faculty in effect did set a standard of meal cost for the whole University area. State Street restaurant people and other groups came looking at, our meal prices and to set their own in order to be competitive. They didn’t like it as we discussed in the reference to the complaints and the court suits but we felt this was our role to play—to be of economic benefit to students in particular.
So, in the early ’30s, starting at about the time this “Objectives Pamphlet” was written, we were serving cafeteria noon specials at twenty-four cents and showing the possibilities through using specials for breakfast, lunch, and dinner adding up to not more than seventy-three cents a day, and deliberately so. We were not making any money. In fact, we were losing money on it but we wanted to keep students in school. This, again, was part of the early year’s number one purpose of helping to make the University a more human place. So, wherever we could, we kept prices for doing things at a low minimum. Most of our programs and services were free and free in the sense that there were no “use” charges. The reasoning was the student has paid, couldn’t avoid paying, ten dollars a year, five dollars a semester, to be a member of the Union and that’s how we survived financially. It was our main source of income. For this five dollars a semester he is entitled to get something that he recognizes as a benefit of membership and not just paper towels in the restroom or soap. As one clear cut example, there had never been any charges to use telephones in the Union. We persuaded the telephone company that this is a private club serving its members and we offer them toll free phone service if we wished to. The telephone company didn’t particularly liked it but they accepted it. So, we’ve got something, still, like fifteen or twenty telephones in this building and it doesn’t cost a dime, doesn’t cost a penny, to use it unless you make a long distance call and for that we have coin phones that are operator-controlled.
Well, this happened day one and it is still happening in 1979 that any amenities or services that we can offer to help students economically and add up to conveniences that he recognizes as a benefit of his membership and participation in the Union, we will do. At least, this has been my own personal philosophy about it and shared by the governing board as long as I was director.
Now, in the process of doing this and becoming a cooperative enterprise—in effect, the largest student co-op that ever happened around the University—there was a lot of talk about the co-op eating places and the co-op grocery stores and the co-op pharmacies, and so on, which are non-profit and therefore cheaper, and so we had great difficulty having students see this. But it is actually the case that whether technically described in legal terms as a co-op or not, that it is in effect what we are because all of the monies that come in from whatever sources are used to hold down the cost of services and provide free programs. And if there is anything leftover at the end of the year, it goes back to students in terms of approved facilities or additional services, and so on.
Now, the engineering of all of this gives us the opportunity to cultivate in students the motivation to want to lead, and to enlist them in a leadership experience that stands them well as they go through the University and out into their own community. They have, by this time, had the experience of voluntary leadership that makes them better citizens.
Now, you are talking about the members of the various committees?
Particularly them. That’s right. There are limitations on how far one can go in the cultivation and training of students as leaders but at times we’ve had up to 700 students on committees. This is a pretty full enterprise to get any kind of a message through, and training through, to that many students but we try at it. The main success is with the chairman and subchairman that we have the most frequent dealings with, and we have all sorts of leadership training sessions and orientation and almost daily consultations with staff members on how to make a success at what you’re doing and where at times you are falling down and what you can do about that.
This, again, goes to a basic purpose of almost every university in these United States. If you read their catalogs, one of the basic purposes of the college is to produce effective citizens or to train students in citizenship participation in the common welfare. But you only have to reach for a shelf of university college catalogs to find that this refrain occurs over and over and over again. You would only have to go to those campuses and find out that nobody is doing anything about it whatever, except as they hope something is coming out of the formal classroom teaching which, of course, never talks about citizenship, never talks about volunteer leadership, never talks about your obligation to society. They talk, rather, about chemical formulas and mathematics and the importance of Ibsen in Norwegian literature. So, it is a little shaky to assume that from this classroom experience the student is going to become automatically a citizen leader. He may on his own motion find his way around and do it and he may be a more intelligent guy because he’s had a university education, but he doesn’t get any or much help along the way at the cutting edge of how can I personally make a contribution to my community or to society as a whole whether politically or in terms of volunteer service with welfare agencies, organizing a civil music association because he knows how to do it—he did it at the Wisconsin Union—or to accept a position on a board of directors of an art museum and know what he is talking about because he did it at the art gallery at the Union. The rewarding thing about the Union experience for me throughout the years has been that in case after case after case here, indeed, is the follow through. That it does work. We have legislators, three members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, representatives in Congress, heads of institutes concerned with research on how to solve the economic problems of this country, board members of civic organizations by the hundreds and it just is there is this connection. It is that they write back and tell us that it was their Union experience that prompted them to do this and that they had found that they are more successful at it than some other people because of lessons learned at the Union.
We have a master thesis done by Anne Minihan when she was on our staff called “The College Union and Preparation for Citizenship.” She did this through the School of Education and it went out over the School of Education letterhead. It had no apparent connection with the Union and had a whole series of questions of what did you do in college, what are you doing now in civic affairs and what had the most influence on you in doing what you are now doing in civic or professional or political affairs. This was a fairly solid research project because she set up a control group of people who had had no Union experience at all and were selected by criteria from high schools of about the same size, same major in college, same size of home community—which the control group was matched with former Union committee chairmen. The Union chairmen far exceeded the control group in participation in community affairs and in politics and in welfare work and in professional organizations—they far exceeded and a very high percent of them identified that the beginning of their interest was in their service on a Union committee. The control group couldn’t identify anything they were active in college. Many of them, of course, were rather active in civic affairs and political affairs—not nearly as many as the Union group— but they couldn’t identify a particular experience on the campus that motivated them in this direction.
So, these early four objectives set forth in this pamphlet, I suppose, you’d call them the ground work we started from in building our future but they did amplify and grow through the succeeding years.
Will you discuss some of these changes?
Well, yes. One of them, in effect, I earlier mentioned and that is that a Union wasn’t just for men students. It’s for men and women students and the Union isn’t just for students. It is also for faculty. The Union is also for alumni, former students. In other words, it’s a University union, not a student union. One of the greatest aggravations to come my way is this constant reference to our Union and to other Unions as a “student union.” They are not student unions. None of them are student unions. They are all-campus unions and this was true even from the beginning. It was never the Oxford student union. It was the Oxford Union and they urgently sought former students to become and stay members of the Oxford Union and the faculty and the teachers and the dons were all part of the Union population. It was the Cambridge Union and in this country it was the Michigan Union. It was the Wisconsin Union. We changed from the Wisconsin Men’s Union right away as soon as this building opened and formed a new a organization. It was the Wisconsin Union, not a student union.
Where does the idea of student union come from, then?
I think it comes from where the press and article writers see the word union and they know it has something to do with students—and they are the dominant clientele, there’s no doubting that—and they need to say what kind of union and they never quite catch on that it is possible to be an all college union. So, they fall back on the word student, student union in this case perpetuated and perpetuated and in a very unhappy way. I mean, it is not just a matter of disagreement with nomenclature. It hurts. It hurts terribly because on many campuses the faculty see it titled “Student Union” and sometimes it is carved in the stone in the front of the building. They just assume that this is not for us. We would be intruders if we went there. So, they tend to stay away and this is a great disservice to students not to have the informal association with faculty.
Do you feel that this happens here?
It hasn’t happened as much as other places but we’re getting, with our rapid turnover of faculty this last decade, we’re getting an increasing problem of making this clear to faculty that it is not a student union because some of our own university publications, despite our best efforts, still say student union although we correct it whenever and wherever that ugly term shows its head. I say it’s a misnomer because almost every union without exception has meeting rooms for faculty in it and some of them have housed the faculty club. They almost all welcome alumni. They urge alumni to come. They’re full of alumni on athletic weekends, class reunions. The alumni office very often is in the union. And they serve, through their meeting rooms and dining rooms, they serve conference groups and institutes and seminars that are coming to the campus. So, it’s just a terrible misidentification of what the Union is all about and among other things, it leads this impulse on the part of the Dean of Students to say, “Well if it is a student union it belongs to me because I’m in charge of student affairs.” What he forgets, and what we’ve succeeded in establishing on the Wisconsin campus is that it isn’t the Dean of Student Affairs who should be saying what adult conferences like the Bankers Institute or a research international convention should inhabit this building and shouldn’t be saying what the faculty privileges are, at this building should be or whether the alumni can use it or not and under what circumstances. This is for a board of directors to say, which includes alumni and faculty and the president’s appointees. So, it hurts in the respect that it gives the wrong idea to the administration as to where the union belongs in the hierarchy of university departmental organization. You know, here at Wisconsin we do the food service for the Wisconsin Center which is concerned almost wholly with adult conferences. We do it for Lowell Hall. We do it for the conference center out on the lakeshore. We do it for the University Club. And we have to care about them. We have to make it a success. There is always the possibility of a changing Dean of Students set up. He wants to concentrate on his clientele, identified as students, period.
So, we object heartily to this phrase “student union” and in turn, it has something to do with our basic objectives, that is, an all-campus union. It arises partly out of our local experience and partly out of the dedication address at the dedication opening of this building when J. Burgon Bickersteth, the head of Hart House, the union of the University of Toronto, made an eloquent statement to the effect that if this union will become a unifying force in the total life of the University” and “Nothing is more important than bringing the student and his teacher together.” So, this phrase “unifying force” implies the unification of several components of the university community, namely, students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests of the University including parents of students. Again, you’ll find in the International Association of Unions statement of the role of the union that the Union, in the best sense, is a unifying force in the life of the university and is for the use of not just students, but also faculty, alumni, university guests.
What other concepts have changed?
We’re saying now, we see the Union as for all but I began myself to wonder, what is this like elsewhere in the American society? Is it something unique to a college campus. And knowing that we were involved in recreational activity, I subscribed to all the recreational magazines, and so not too much later it became clear what we were, indeed—namely a community center like community centers of cities and villages starting with the modest ones of the old town meeting hall and on through the elaborate ones like at Westchester County in New York which includes any and all kinds of activities people engage in during non-working hours: crafts, social occasions, club meetings, performing arts, pageantry—the whole bit of what do people do when they are not working. They need a focus or a facility for much of this and the buildings that provide for it elsewhere are called community centers. So, we began to think of the Union not just as a building on a campus, particularly not just for students, but as a community center for all the members of the University community. Anything we can do, stating it in these terms that interest people of the University during their non-working time is of interest also at the Union and we will do whatever we can about it in this objective of providing for a comprehensive, well-considered community life for the University.
Now, there are all kinds of interests that express themselves in leisure time. Some are mediocre and not too productive and others are very rewarding, educational, a help in self-development. And being at a University it seemed to us that since the University’s reason for existence is to enhance student’s capabilities and broaden their horizons and to help them see how they can develop best as persons, that we should take whatever leadership we can in inserting in the Union the more productive, useful, rewarding kinds of recreation and leisure uses—something quite different from and over and beyond just sitting indifferently listening to the radio or watching the television or twiddling your thumbs half asleep, or whatever, even over-exaggerated card playing. Hence, we arrived with an emphasis on the arts, on cultural activities for one thing: the performing arts, music, theater, ballet, films (but good films, not the porno stuff, not the cheap stuff); on art, visual arts (hence, the art exhibition program strongly funded and promoted); on doing things yourself, making things yourself (a craftshop strongly funded) made inexpensive or free to students to do what they did in their own home attic or basement workshop but don’t have any at the University, so we provide tools, with the materials at hand at cost; and discussion and interchange of ideas, by a panel discussion, for example.
And we built and opened the theater wing of the Union in 1939 which was the opening date. Prior to the theater opening, however, we were already at work on the so-called leisure interests of cultural impact. In 1931 a graduating student in art education came in to say she had written her thesis on what a craftshop in a union might be like and said here’s the thesis and asking if I would I read it and if I thought well of it, would I appoint her as the director of a new Union craftshop?
You didn’t have one up to them?
We had none. Upon reading it and relating this to our growing interest in encouraging useful student hobbies and do-it-yourself activities, learn more than you knew before kind of efforts. We did ask her to organize and develop the Union craftshop. Then a student came in about 1933 or ’34. He was the head of our gallery committee and his proposal was that we organize a state-wide competitive exhibition in the arts: paintings, sculpture, and graphics, watercolors, and so on. Well, there was a state-wide competitive show at Milwaukee sponsored by the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptures Society but that didn’t prevent us from trying because we now had a growing art exhibition program. We saw it as a means of relating the Union and the University as a whole to the on-going art life of the State and of giving an opportunity to our own students and faculty to enter a competitive, juried show.
This resulted in the creation and the establishment of the Wisconsin Salon of Art in 1934, I think it was. It was a rousing success but in the process we found out that nobody had a list of who were the Wisconsin artists residing in the State and so much of our effort went into developing such a list. This was part of my own research in doing my graduate thesis on art in Wisconsin. It was one of the things that prompted an interest in doing the thesis in this area. I, being as you know, an art history major. So, by the time 1936 came along, the celebration of the Wisconsin State Territorial Centennial, we had the research in hand; we had the publication of my book, Art in Wisconsin in hand. I was asked to be chairman of the Centennial Art Commission and to present a program on the arts to add to the celebration of the centennial; and this was an exhibition based on our researches and our experiences with the Wisconsin Salon as a major month or two month long exhibition of the arts.
Where was the exhibition?
It was held in our Union gallery, expanded into the main lounge where we erected all sorts of temporary display panels.
So, we were on our way in emphasizing cultural uses of leisure. We established a music listening room with classical records only—not the jazz of that period. We established what was called a “Living Issues Library” in our browsing room consisting of top books of the year selective by top faculty members as being the most significant books of a given year, and publicized these. We had book talks by faculty people in the browsing room. This went on and on, including of course, the continuing concert series which was held mostly in the Great Hall under difficulties because there were folding chairs, there was noise interference from the lobby below and the telephone would ring on the stage in the middle of an aria. The room, which was not air conditioned, would be pretty warm and uncomfortable in the late spring, and so on. Lets see, I had another thought on this if I can catch it for a moment. We initiated a creative writing contest, and in the music listening room we would provide miniature scores so that students could follow the actual score while listening to a record. At some points, a faculty member from the Music School would come in and review the composition and the composer before the record was played. We had in our Tripp Commons a Sunday evening dinner hour with a string trio playing classical and semi-classical music. We had an orchestra of the Viennese waltz-variety playing in the Rathskeller, and so on.
Well, what I hesitated over before which comes back to me now is that one of the outcomes of these strong thrusts in getting learning values in out-of-class time and as serving as laboratory and field work resources for many of the University departments, came approval by the Regents in 1935 of a proposal to designate the Union as the University’s “Division of Social Education” as a kind of counterpart to the Division of Physical Education which had always been in existence presenting a program in team sports, intramural activities, coaches to coach students in how to do it, and including observing safety requirements, of course. The Union itself never entered this phase of recreation, the organized team sports phase, although we did early on in about 1930 enter the informal outdoor sports phase in terms of establishing the Hoofers as an outing group that concentrated at first on skiing and later embraced canoeing and mountaineering and sailing and horse riding and caving and anything students wished to do outdoors on a personal basis. We did indeed have a ski team and we asked the Physical Education Department if they didn’t want to take over the team sport of the ski team and provide a coach and steer it like they did their other team sports. They just weren’t interested. They couldn’t see it. They were too much involved in football and basketball and baseball and standard on-going team sports, and skiing wasn’t all that popular or prominent in those days anyhow.
So, in all of these outcomes of new learning experiences for students that vastly emphasized their learning inside the classroom, and were in many ways more memorable and more persuasive to students because they did it because they wanted to do it and learned along the way something they hadn’t known before or increased a skill that they had started with but now it got better. In view of all of this, the University Regents on recommendation, first by our faculty members on the Union governing board supported by the President, designated the Union as this Division of Social Education. With this came faculty status for those members of our staff who were engaged in coaching students, teaching them informally, conducting leadership seminars, supervising field work, and in some cases actually doing credit teaching themselves. And this was a landmark in our own development and, indeed, in the development in unions anywhere. We are still, I think, the only union that is categorized as an educational division of the University. Now we don’t emblazon that on our posters or in our literature in a promotional way because we still want students to feel that this is not a classroom but it is a place to do what you’re inspired to do because it’s worthy in itself, because the student has his own natural interest in it or is nudged into it by a friend and not because it is a course and not because there is going to be some credit attached to it. Indeed, all of what we did was non-credit so far as the Union was concerned. In case of the field work or laboratory experience, it was the other department that awarded the credit or the certification, not the Union.
They did give credits to their students for their learning that they officially did through the laboratory-type studies?
Well, you see many laboratory courses require a certain number of hours of field work as with social work, for example, and as with practice teaching in education, and so on. So, they must do this somewhere and the Union was one of the preferred places that many students chose to do it. We would certify that they did their field work and did it satisfactorily and we reviewed their reports and kept track of their experience and their success or non-success. But it was the other department that awarded the credits. So, we are not a credit giving department.
Well, as a Division of Social Education created in the mid-’30s, we were then more and more accepted by other academic departments and so in an era when there was a growing interest in providing a course work and training for students in recreation which no University department had undertaken, it fell to the Union and to the Social Work Department and the School of Education to join together to work up and propose a major in Community Leadership in Recreation, it was titled. This was an interdepartmental, intercollege approach to the preparation of students both at the baccalaureate and the master degree level for future professional work in the community recreation field. This was ultimately adopted but not in the pattern that we had proposed. We had recommended an intercollege and interdepartmental major which would cross college lines and take advantage of what was offered in the School of Education, what was offered in the School of Social Work, what was offered in the School of Music which had strong recreational implications, what was offered in Speech which had drama, and so on. But the Dean of School of Education wouldn’t buy this. He wanted it under the School of Education or he wouldn’t go along. This was John Guy Fowlkes. So, we had to settle for this major being lodged in the School of Education with some loss in breadth of experience and interest on the part of the other departments. But, the course work was established and a full-time faculty man brought in to head the course work and I for the Union and others for Social Work served on an advisory committee and helped develop this program over the years that followed.
So, this is a kind of stopping point in saying how the Union functioned and how a set of purposes and objectives changed and amplified as the first decade or two passed. We can pause here until we come to the next area of interest.
I believe we left off last time with a discussion of the Regent action designating the Union as the University’s Division of Social Education. There’s one element, an important factor, that leads to that decision besides the several reasons I previously mentioned. And that is that at that time in the 1930s, the State civil service system was very rigid, very strong, and anyone entering the State service was expected to qualify either through civil service tests for civil service positions or be appointed by the Regents or the deans of colleges as a faculty member to teach classes. Well, the Union came along, as we’ve said, as a new kind of organism in 1928 and with an educational view as a prime function and objective but without the teaching of credit courses. So, the civil service authorities at the Capitol largely through Mr. Garey, who was the director of Civil Service at that time, insisted that since this was not a staff concerned with credit course teaching, it must therefore automatically be civil service.
Well, this was a real difficulty for the Union because the Union was a unique kind of enterprise. There was no precedent in the State or very few in other states as far as this is concerned. Therefore, otherwise no candidates coming up the route of civil service who had any kind of background or training to do the informal educational leadership and the informal counseling and teaching which the Union had set forth to do. So, there was quite a puzzle and quite a problem with State Civil Service on how to appoint Union staff including myself as director, with Garey at Civil Service insisting that these were civil service jobs and so on.
Well, this simply didn’t fit the situation. So, one of the solutions, in fact, the solution to this very complex and difficult problem was to have the Union as an institution designated as an educational division and requiring qualified faculty to be appointed staff members. So, the Regent action in effect made it possible to recruit staff members who were educationally oriented, not administratively oriented only, and not the usual kind of candidates who would usually come through a civil service examination for which there were no criteria then because it was an unknown, new kind of institution. This succeeded once the Regents said the Union is an educational division of the University. This took it out from Civil Service as far as the appointment of staff members who worked in the educational and cultural and social program of the Union was concerned. It was one of the strengths of the Union from then on in the sense that we were enabled to recruit staff members not just from within the State which Civil Service required as a prerequisite (you had to be a State resident to start with), but from anywhere in the United States—and people with doctorate degrees, people with master degrees, people with demonstrated competency to lead an educational enterprise and to work successfully in an informal teaching situation.
So, the chief staff members of the Union gained faculty status at this time with discretion as to who was appointed and at what salary, which was also important, became the option of the University administration and the Regents, rather than the routine of examinations for administrative people through the State Civil Service. From then on, this vastly improved our ability to attract good staff members because they had in prospect the possibility of getting on tenure track and promotions to assistant professor, associate professor. And in the end on to full professor which I became along with two or three others on the Union staff.
Who was responsible for recruiting the members of the Union staff?
Well, as director of the Union, my primary function was to assemble a staff to do the job, both for administrative staff and educational staff (as we characterized it—which translated into mainly those people who met with, advised with, worked out leadership training programs for the students on our numerous planning and program committees of which there were altogether 300 to 400 hundred students involved.) At the same time, it made the Union acceptable to other academic departments as a coordinate body qualified to supervise the field work of students in Education, Sociology, Journalism, Home Economics, etc., etc. It raised, I think, the prestige of the Union very greatly in the eyes of the faculty. We now became peers and not second class citizens devoid of any credentials to be at a university working with students in a teaching situation.
I should, perhaps, clarify this partly by saying that at that time there was no intermediate group called the “academic staff” as there is now. You may well be aware that presently there is the legal faculty (the teaching faculty) and Civil Service (administrative, clerical and custodial staff) and then in between, there is this large number of so-called “academic staff” members involved in the academic/educational pursuits of the University but not teaching credit courses but neither are they clerical or custodial or purely administrative workers. The academic staff option did not exist in the ’30s. It was either one or the other—either full faculty appointments for teaching credit courses or State Civil Service.
Therefore, we, over the years, owe a great deal in terms of the quality of staff we’ve been able to recruit and the performance of the Union in cultural fields and educational fields to the fact that we could attract people who were interested in faculty status. The typical feeling being, on the part of a good competent, degree holding, often a graduate degree holding, person being that if they’re going to be at a university, they want to be part of the faculty, not part of the clerical staff or routine administrative staff. So, I add this footnote as both a reason for the Regent action and as a bench-point in the development of the Union in terms of ability to attract a staff that could lead the Union into a position of genuine teaching and educational leadership at Wisconsin.
Well now, turning to some of the kinds of things the Union did as part of its general purpose of developing a broad recreational and cultural program, we might take a look at what one or two of these salient developments have been.
The last time, I believe you touched on the Hoofers as one group . . .
Yes, the Hoofers is another name for our Outing Club which was organized in 1931 and was, indeed, an expression of the goal of the Union of exposing students to new kinds of interests, new horizons, new learnings that would be useful to them for a lifetime, as they are today, which many educators recognized. So the Union’s efforts have been to make these out of class hours as productive and as full of learning that is useful from now on and for a lifetime. We have never been enamored of the phrase that is so typically used throughout the college world called “student activities.” You hear “student activities” as a standard pattern throughout the collegiate world as though somehow the kind of thing only students at a college do—in terms of belonging to committees, or operating a newspaper, or student government, or serving on Union programming bodies, and so on. Well, this tends, we’ve thought, to make both students and the public assume that once you’re no longer a student, it all disappears. “Your student activity days are now over.” We resist, and have resisted, this notion because we have seen the kind of things students do in their free time as the counterpart of what any citizen aims to do or has attempted to do or is encouraged to do throughout his lifetime as the right thing for a member of a community to help with, and as the kind of thing that means something in his own self development. So we have seen what is called “student activities” as simply a preliminary to what could be a useful, productive lifetime interest that would stand him well as an individual wherever he goes and whatever he does.
Well, to make this real and worthwhile you can see that you need to expose students to interests they may not have come to the campus with. There is an old Chinese proverb that goes “whom you don’t meet you don’t marry.” And so it is with the students on the college campus. If they’ve never participated in a venture of organizing a social event, or a concert, or going outdoors to see what skiing is all about, or what does canoeing mean to me, he may never come by that kind of interest. So we have tried to arrange the maximum number of exposures for students to new horizons and in the process to help them learn how to do it and do it well because, as you know, one likes to do what he can do well; and if the game is billiards, for example, is a complete mystery to him and he bobbles the first few shots and gives up because he doesn’t know how to play, it’s a lost cause. And so is it with so many outdoor ventures like, say, skiing.
Well, to the forefront then comes the example of Wisconsin Hoofers, the Union outing club, as a unique and maybe salient example of how this all works in practice and worth spending a few comments on because at Wisconsin the outing club, the Hoofers, is probably now—oh, I’m sure it is now—the largest and most varied outing club on any college campus in America—some 5500 students are participants in the course of a year and pay dues to the Hoofers club in order to participate. They are that eager and that interested.
The other thing that I think I can rightfully say is that the Hoofers are noted for, are responsible for, is the establishment of skiing interest in Wisconsin. This wouldn’t seem possible now with skiing universal in Wisconsin and throughout the country but in the 1920s when the Union came along, there was no such thing as skiing activity except for a few hardy Norwegians and Finns who brought their ski jumping interests and skills with them to the State and practiced on ski jumps in northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan and, indeed, the Norwegian students had built a wooden ski scaffold on Muir Knoll just a stone’s throw from the Union. But this was in the early 1920s and when most interested Norwegian students left the campus, the wooden scaffold fell into disrepair and the jumping activity was not very visible at the time when the Union opened.
In all of Madison you couldn’t buy a pair of skis except for these pine boards with leather toe straps put forth mainly for children to slide down hills with and tumble. There was no such thing as a ski with a binding, for example, or boots to fit the bindings or with poles either for downhill or for cross country skiing. So, one of the first and earliest achievements of Hoofers was to find a source of supply for proper ski equipment via the Dartmouth Outing Club which was flourishing already in New Hampshire at that time and which was acquiring its ski equipment from Switzerland. Through the Dartmouth club we were able to come by some twenty sets of hickory skis with leather thong bindings—it was the only thing available at that time—and boots to fit and poles, and so on. We racked these up, of all places, in the billiard room, for rental. They were checked out in at the billiard desk by students who wanted to give skiing a try and, of course—in accord with the theme that I have just expressed—with instruction in how to do it. How to use skis was a pioneer program for the Union.
Well, going back a bit on how Hoofers came into existence in the first place: I think it’s right to say that as this was due as much as anything to the interest and leadership of Dr. Harold Bradley who was chairman of the Physiological Chemistry Department, member of the Union Council, and had been as the chairman of the Planning Committee for the Union deeply involved in what the Union could do recreationally for the students, and was himself a pioneer skier. He had seven boys who he was training in learning how to ski. But among other things, he, being a close associate of mine and some other folks associated with the Union, led us on a canoe trip in the Quetico forest in Canada one summer—a month-long trip throughout the wilderness by canoe—and in these long evenings we talked together about what a great experience this was out of doors and how satisfying it was to us; but why, we thought, couldn’t this be extended to more people than just us? Why isn’t this the kind of thing students on the campus ought to have the chance to do?
There followed several other kinds of trips including winter ski trips among close friends of ours and Bradley’s, and this notion persisted: “if this is as fun and rewarding as it was—we were very excited about it—why not make it possible for students generally?” This led to a notice posted on the Union bulletin board in 1931, “Please sign here if you’re interested in participating in an outing club with skiing, camping, and canoeing as a prospect.” There were numbers of sign-ups. We still have that original sign-up sheet as part of the Hoofer archives. Then there was a meeting and seven people including Dr. Bradley and his son Charles and myself and two or three others decided it was time to try an outing club.
So, in a modest way we went ahead and formed what is still known as the “Wisconsin Hoofers.” The name Hoofers deriving from a kind of an example of the Dartmouth Outing Club where to be a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club you have to first serve as a “heel.” They called them “Heelers.” This rather promoted the idea that the people who graduated from heels ought to be called “Hoofers.” Hoofers was appropriate enough because it signified that you go there under your own power, “on the hoof,” so to speak, and it gave us the horseshoe as the emblem for a shoulder patch and stationary and all the rest—kind of a symbol of good luck—and you do these things on your own. We had an apprentice system, too, where those who wanted to become Hoofers had to first serve as “heels.” We called them “Heels” and they had to give a certain number of hours to the club over a period of several months and careful record keeping showed how many hours they spent and what they did to qualify themselves as part of the senior group of Hoofers which ran the club and planned the programs, and so on.
Well, in the earliest years the rental of the ski equipment and teaching how to use it was one of the prime evidences of the Hoofer activities, but it wasn’t only that. There were overnight camping trips. We had an arrangement with the State Parks System in which we had the use of the Kirkland Lodge—the old lodge at the south end of Devil’s Lake—which in the wintertime was made available to us for overnight and people would gather up their gear and skis and go out on weekend outings into the near countryside or Devil’s Lake. Anyhow, right along through those first years, the interest flowered. It came on strongly.
The ski jump was sitting there in disrepair and dangerous—it couldn’t be used—and Dr. Bradley himself, an ardent fan of ski jumping as a sport, led a movement to replace the old wooden scaffold with a steel scaffold and I managed to get the Class of 1931 to put up $700 or $800 to buy it. Dr. Bradley added some money of his own and raised some money elsewhere and we managed, finally, to get the wherewithall to design and install a steel ski scaffold. There were very few ski jumping hills or slides in the State. What there were were up in Ishpeming in Michigan and one or two in northern Wisconsin. This prompted the Central U.S. Ski Association to hold its tournaments here including jumpers from the Wisconsin Hoofers.
So, annually we had a ski jumping tournament on Muir Knoll and it was the income—admissions from those tournaments—that gave us the wherewithall to finance much of the rest of the outing program that the Hoofers undertook—plus the rental of the skis out of the billiard room. But the winter weather in Madison brought with it all sorts of painful difficulties in arranging for a ski jumping tournament on the campus because almost inevitably when we picked the most weather proof date, the weather people would tell us “sorry, the snow would melt the week before.” On at least one or two occasions we had to send up north for freight cars of snow. It was then piled up for highway trucks bringing it to Muir Knoll and dump it at the bottom of the hill. Then came the arduous process of carrying the snow up the hill and up this scaffold in bushel baskets. And for this we needed scores and scores of helpers to do it. This is where the Heels came in. It was one of the jobs they performed and so did the skiers themselves and so did anybody else that we could persuade to do the job.
So, despite the weather, somehow we usually got a ski tournament off the ground and jumping took place. We soon found that the students and others were glad to come and watch but they didn’t want to pay so we arranged with the Athletic Department to bring down their canvas fence that they surrounded the football practice field with in the fall and we drilled holes in the ice and up and down the hill and arranged these canvas screens to try to route people through an entrance where they bought a ticket for fifty cents. This succeeded only in part but enough to pay the bills with a little left over.
So, ski jumping came to Madison/southern Wisconsin area because of the Hoofers as did an interest in cross country skiing. It is literally true that the Hoofers, particularly through the leadership of Dr. Bradley, that this came about decades before skiing was a popular sport such as it is now.
Although there is no longer a ski jump on Muir Knoll. When did that cease?
Well, that went on through the years until the late ’40s or early ’50s when the University decided to put a parking area on the bottom of the hill. The ski jumpers landed at the bottom of the ski hill at the lake shore and ran out over the ice on the lake but cars parked on the landing hill outrun meant the end of ski jumping and it was at that time that the Hoofers donated the ski scaffold to the city recreation department to be installed at Hoyt Park—it is still there—and it is the privilege of Hoofers, still, to practice on it and to use it.
I should add that part of the ski jumping history at Wisconsin included at least four Olympic ski jumper members of the U.S. Ski Team. So, it’s a signal of how when you get into something and do it reasonably well, you get some real competence and skill among students that flowers, in this case, into Olympic jumpers. This is partly because Dr. Bradley himself encouraged the Bietila brothers, who were Finnish boys up in Ishpeming, Michigan to come to the University of Wisconsin. They had grown up with ski jumping as children and high school students. He brought them here, housed them, paid their way, so they could get a college education and both the Bietila brothers became members of the U.S. Olympic ski jumping team, and two others did.
One of our original Hoofer founders, Sally Owen Marshall, by name, was a student in 1931, a member of the Union governing board, as well as one of the seven founders of the Wisconsin Hoofers. She came the first woman to jump off the ski slide and this won a lot of press and interested people to come up and see what was this woman doing trying to commit suicide but she didn’t and managed to come off pretty well.
Well, that sounds like a lot on skiing but that isn’t the only thing that was going on in the ’30s. We became aware that in Canada that there were toboggan slides and in our innocence we thought we would try a toboggan slide off of Observatory Hill running down where Elizabeth Waters Hall now is, down to the lakeshore and out onto the lake. We trenched out this slide. We got Oscar Mayer to ice it with their blocks of ice, filling it in with frozen snow. We built a little tool shed at the top with an attendant who charged ten cents a ride and provided the toboggans. This was a thrilling, if I must say hazardous ride, downhill and onto the lake.
Well, Observatory Drive must not have been there?
Observatory Drive was there and this was where the toboggan slide took off from. We were able to do it because we persuaded the Class of 1931 to put up the money for it as their senior class gift to the University. But as some things go and still do, somebody in their off moment decided to burn down the shed where the attendant did his work and had the tools and collected the money, and that ended the toboggan rides for the time being. And before we could reconstruct and try to get going again, the University decided to build Elizabeth Waters Hall which, of course, blocked out the possibility of continuing the toboggan slide all together. And as I must say as I look back on it, I am full of fright as to what might have happened if the toboggan came roaring down that slide and somebody walking along the lake path happened to be stepping over the slide at just that moment; or if the wooden bridge platform that covered the slide had not been lifted out and the toboggan had run into this wooden bridge crossing the chute. It never happened but we weren’t all that fearful in those years of what might have actually happened.
Well, what I was about to say is that as skiing as a prime interest and major activity, it wasn’t the only one in the 1930s. We all began to realize we had a lake as part of the campus as well as land. Here we sat in the unparalleled situation, a Union building right on the lake shore with no access by students to the lake in terms of canoes or sailing or ice boats except as they were willing to pay high prices for rentals at the Bernard boathouse that used to stand behind the gym and that was a modest operation at best.
So, we began to encourage sailing—buying first wooden hull boats which the Hoofers were able to pay for by charging sailing dues and which they kept in repair because the sailors and heels did the work.
Then we realized we had possibilities for general outing activities starting with camping trips not far from the campus, and we saw this mounting interest in whatever new kinds of outing activity the Hoofers undertook. So, when the theater was planned in the mid-thirties, one of the proposals was to create an outing center in the basement of the theater, with a ramp down from the terrace for the purpose of easing down the steps with gear and bikes and skis and toboggans—with washrooms adjacent— for the benefit partly not only of the outers, but also the swimmers off the Union pier, as a sanitation measure. This actually turned out to be one of the main reasons why the federal government gave us a grant to build the theater wing because we were solving the hygiene problem along the lake shore with two small washrooms. And so we stressed this quite a lot when we made our application for the theater. Of course, this was a modest two room facility with lockers so you could change clothes and so forth.
In this outing quarters were to be the ski racks now moved from the billiard room, a work bench for repairing and waxing skis, a canteen or snack bar with a counter where students could get coffee coming in from a wintery trip and a lounge where they could sit around and talk over the day’s adventures or assemble before a trip and gather together before a bus took them out to their next outing place.
In the discussion of the theater wing costs it looked like we were not going to have enough money and so there was a proposal to eliminate the outing clubs. But Dr. Bradley and I held out because we were resolved that this kind of activity and interest needed a home, and in the end this prevailed. It was constructed and is there now. In the far end of the basement under the theater lobby, which was excavated but not floored over, there was an empty open space which we converted into an archery range. We had had archery out on the athletic practice fields but the Athletic Department wasn’t happy with this. They didn’t encourage us to put up our archery butts, the straw backing for the target. By the way, that is where my name comes from, an old-English terminology. The archery butts in England is where the archers were sent forth to practice their bow and arrow work. They were called the butts and apparently that is where my name comes from. So, we had archery going indoors.
Then a mountaineers group developed and they found Devil’s Lake an ideal practice place for rock climbing, getting ready for trips that took them to the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian mountains for high mountain climbing. The hunt club—there was a hunt club sponsored by the Physical Education Department for Women—fell on hard times and lack of interest because the men weren’t included. Also, they ran out of stable space with the growth of Shorewood Hills. There was a stable in Shorewood Hills. So the hunt club joined the Hoofers and we had a Hoofer Riding Club. A Hoofer horse show became an annual event out at the Stock Pavilion that attracted horse riders/competitors from all over the middle west. It was a big thing and made some money. There were stables and fields that were brought into the picture. So riding became an on-going thing. The Sailing Club added new types of boats and now got up to around twenty, something like that.
The weekend trips multiplied. There were sign-up sheets down in the outing quarters for at least two and sometimes three or more trips. This was going on through the late ’30s and the ’40s and the trips began to go really quite far afield especially at Christmas holiday time and spring recess. There were trips to the Colorado Mountains, trips to the British Columbia mountains, canoe trips to Canada lakes— The Quetico—and down the Tennessee River.
At that time, also, we took on the old WAA (that’s the Women’s Athletic Association) cottage out in Shorewood Hills which they had used as an outing cottage. It is on the lake shore just below Eagle Heights and we converted that into a rest stop for canoers and sailors and hikers and bikers. One of the favorite Hoofer occasions was an annual hike around Lake Mendota—see who could make the twenty-five to twenty-six miles in the fastest time. We installed a resident couple who lived there and were always there as host when groups showed up on their way hiking or just wanting a short weekend retreat for picnics and maybe softball, or for canoeists who wanted to make a stop before they came back to the Union. This went on into the late ’40s; I guess it was around then. At this time, however, automobiles became very prevalent on the campus which was now after the war. There were no automobiles moving during the war and very few before the war but with the end of the war and the straightening up of the economic situation, student cars became fairly prevalent, at least by the ’50s and so the student instinct was to go far afield to start their outing, their camping trip, or their canoe trip, or their mountain climbing, and so on. So, the WAA cottage—the “Blackhawk Lodge” as we called it because it was right near Blackhawk cave, with Blackhawk being the chief who was supposed to have hidden out there on his retreat across this port of the country in face of the military pursuing him. Blackhawk Lodge was just wasn’t interesting enough. It wasn’t enough of an adventure and we closed that out.
But we did some other things. We developed a downhill skiing area out near Cross Plains with a rope tow. Downhill skiing was just not beginning to mature as an interest among students and others. So, we found ourselves spreading in all kinds of directions with the corollary student interest. Each of these interest groups formed a sub-club of its own. It was the Outing Club, the Mountaineering Club, the Archery Club, the Riding Club, the Sailing Club, and so on, but they were all brought together in a federation under the banner of the Hoofer name. The head of each of these subgroups was on the Hoofer Central Council to determine policy and promote the cause of outdoor recreation generally. Well, caving got into the picture too.
All through this whole multiple development, teaching how to do it was central. The sailors produced very extensive manuals on sailing and a student had to pass a land test first to qualify to take out a sailboat. This was for safety reasons and to teach him how to be a good sailor so that he would want to come back. He would take satisfaction in what he was doing. The canoers developed manuals on the rivers of northern Wisconsin: where the rapids were, what seasons to avoid low water or too high water, and so on. There were all kinds of instructor recruiting programs going with the older sailors or older canoeists who had been through the mill signing up as instructors; and because of their time devoted teaching newcomers on how to do it, they were given sailing privileges without charge.
And, of course, in the process we had employed by now a full-time outing director. We started in the late ’30s with a half-time director but it soon turned out that this was, indeed, a full-time job. He, in turn, was an experienced outer and instructor himself and worked with the student instructors.
As we went along the program flowered and kept on flowering. There were busloads to ski resorts on long weekends, between sessions, and Christmas time—a couple of hundred students at a time by bus to northern Wisconsin or to a northern Michigan ski resort. There were charter ski trips organized overseas to Switzerland, to France—by plane, of course. There were numerous charters by bus to Aspen, and to Vail and to the other Colorado ski resorts.
We gradually acquired more boats. Some of them were gifts. We organized intercollegiate regattas and again the Wisconsin sailors got good enough so that one or two of them became Olympic sailors. We still have a Hoofer graduate who is the champion single-handed sailor of the U.S. right now.
Who is that?
His name is Peter Barrett and is over at Milwaukee running a sail shop.
The whitewater canoeing came on strong. We started renting bikes. Our facilities started out just with the basement of the old president’s house which is where the theater now stands but as I have mentioned, we got our sizeable outing quarters when the theater was built plus an archery range plus this auxiliary lodge; Blackhawk Lodge, out on Lake Mendota shore plus the downhill skiing at Cross Plains.
Then there came the time when there was a strong move on to develop what we called an “Outdoor Union” out at Halverson’s Park which was privately owned adjacent to Governor Dodge Park out at Dodgeville and our governing board and the Hoofers were strong for this. It was about a 500 acre area with rock out crops for rock climbing; deep valleys; four or five ponds for fishing, swimming; the horse riding stable of Governor Dodge Park next door and it looked like the kind of a place where we could encourage weekend outings by student families or by student organizations who wanted weekend retreats for conference purposes, and so on, with a view to building cabins and a central dining hall and gathering place and at the same time, be a demonstration center for the camp and resort people of Wisconsin for institute symposiums and conferences in a resort setting led by university environmental studies group and an extension staff on how best to develop a public camp site or a resort—what to do and what not to do and so on.
It had, we thought, a lot of potential in these several directions. It was only forty miles away. You could get there in an hour —spectacular scenery, deep valleys, and right up against Governor Dodge Park which is something over 5,000 acres and being a State institution we had established that we could have certain mutual privileges and access to the Governor Dodge trails for skiing in the winter, and so on. The Memorial Union trustees had the money to take an option on it and to buy it. So, we got a price on this area—$135,000—and took it to Chancellor Fleming who thought it was a great idea and encouraged us; and we were in the middle of negotiations to take an option on this when we got the news from President Harrington that he didn’t think it was a very good idea because if the legislature, which was then in session, heard that the land was being bought for University purposes forty miles from the campus at the time when the University was begging for money to build buildings on the campus, it would be fatal to the University’s requests even though there was no State money involved. We were going to buy this through the gift money of the Memorial Union Trustees and make it as a gift to the University but we were turned down. About five weeks later Halverson’s Park was sold to the Milwaukee Labor Union for $325,000.
Well, we began to look for more modest and alternate areas where we could do something of the same thing and for some reason, the report of our governing board meeting on this got printed in theMilwaukee Journal. I got a telephone call from Milwaukee saying “We saw that you are interested in an outing area for the University and we might have the kind of thing you might like.” Well, I said “Where is it?” This was all over the phone. “Well, it’s about so and so and so and so up in Iowa County.” I said, “Does it happen to be off of County ZZ?” “Yeah.” “Is it a place that used to be called Halverson’s Park.” “Yes.” “Well, what is your asking price on it?” “$350,000.” And we could have had it for $135,000 five or six weeks before. It was ultimately sold to the State Park Department for, I think it was, $285,000, or something like that, and is now part of Governor Dodge Park. So we lost it. I thought while I was mentioning all of our achievements and successes I might mention one that didn’t succeed.
Well, at about the same time, however, we were doing something about expanding the outing quarters here at the Union. Again, with the sailing just zooming and canoeing, particularly kayak, whitewater excursions coming on strong and the crew house going out. (The crew house was part of the boathouse that Bernard ran as a boat rental agency back of the gym and the crew house occupied about half of that. The crew was relocated up near the dormitories and Bernard was growing old and was anxious to get out of the rental business and not doing much with it anyhow, and the University was developing the Alumni House and wanted to dispose of the boat house.) . . .
This would have been in the ’60s, wouldn’t it?
Yes, I think so. The boat house was falling apart anyhow in the early ’60s. So, we thought, well maybe this is the time when maybe we should go into full force as a lakeshore boat center, and did. The area I called the archery range was also a place where we stored theater scenery. The scenery was moved out. Archery disappeared by this time and the dirt floor was floored over and compartments were made for each of our outing clubs with wire mesh caging to keep their gear and supplies under protection. A paint shop for repainting boats or fiberglassing boats was installed with a very important exhaust fan and filtering arrangement so that the paint and fiberglass fumes would dissipate and not be a hazard and, plus, a general work and repair center.
Then we extended the area on out toward the lakeshore under what you now see as a open plaza deck that almost reaches the lakeshore. This provides a whole new very large center for boat storage and canoe storage and sail drying and repair work and kayak building. Students built kayaks there right along. They get a kit for maybe $25 or $30 and we provide the space and the wherewithall for their own work in building a fiberglass kayak for themselves. At the beginning we rented bikes there. We had twenty bikes to rent. This would be unbelievable now but hardly any student had a bike, even in the early ’60s. So we rented bikes to students who wanted to bike out to Picnic Point or around the lake, or wherever.
Well, now there are more than 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 bikes on the campus privately owned but this was a very valuable resource in the beginning to be able to rent a bike and go somewhere along the University pathways for an outing. In Union color sound film done in the early ’50s, ’54 I guess it is, one of the scenes is this group, about a dozen or fifteen people, taking off on bikes over Observatory Hill. It was unheard of before then. So, this boat center got built and is now the focus of all of our activity and is due, we hope, for some expansion down the lakeshore towards the Limnology building because the Hoofers now have something more than 80 boats of all kinds of sizes, some of them gifts, some of then they purchase through their dues. But they’ve had all sorts of troubles over the years with their temporary wooden docking and where the boats have been stored on shore because the wind and the waves when a storm has come up have wrecked the wooden docks and torn loose some of the boats and destroyed them and left very considerable damage. So this whole area between the outing center at the theater, the lake frontage and down to the Limnology building is scheduled for a permanent waterside boat storage area and a park like area with planting and trees and benches and seating.
Will there be any kind of a building?
No. This is all shoreline development and partly to preserve the shore which has gone to pieces with wave action—it began to erode. And this is a current project which also involves taking the second story off the old Lake Lab that hasn’t been used for years but which hides the view from the Park Street turnaround out over the lake towards Picnic Point and turning that into an open deck as a kind of overlook for the public. And this is in the works now and with the Hoofers putting upwards of $55,000 into it. Two classes have made it their fifty year class gift for this purpose and the Legislature has added $75,000 and the Brittingham Fund has come up with some money.
The Union sponsorship of the Hoofers Club represented a good and long symbiotic relationship for most of the years since the founding of the Hoofers. It has gone on now for almost fifty years but there was one period of time when one of our young instructors in the faculty who was an ardent sailor himself and active in the Hoofer Sailing Club, in fact, considered himself a self-appointed sailing coach, thought it was arduous and unfair that the Union should be taking a use fee for the use of all this vast facility that was devoted to the Hoofers, and therefore proposed that the Hoofers move out, that they cut their ties with the Union and set up shop somewhere else on the lakeshore to be free of what he thought of as Union imposition on the Hoofers, because of these charges.
Well, he got a certain following among sailors, particularly undergraduates who didn’t want to spend any more money than they needed to. So, there was a long back and forth between the Union governing board—Council—and this chap and his supporters on “why a use fee?” Well, the rationale for a use fee, of course, was that the Union had invested $300,000 to $400,000 in this facility, that we had provided staffing for it, all of the support services in terms of back-up financing when needed, use of the workshop, poster making, duplicating room for duplicating work, and so on and so on. But the main, expenses, of course, were the maintenance of this very large area and the staffing of it, and since the Hoofers were charging for the use of boats—a modest fee to be sure. You know the old Bernard Boathouse people used to charge five dollars an hour when five dollars was five dollars, which would be equivalent to about fifteen dollars an hour now, and the Hoofers for fifteen dollars gave a whole summer of sailing privileges. So, it wasn’t exactly an expensive sport. But since we had built this area through gift money and other student fees and were maintaining it all with student fees, we felt that the students who got the specific use of the area and benefits as over against students who were not sailors, that a portion of their fee, (I think it was ten percent or fifteen percent of their income) ought to come back to the Union as a partial offset, a very modest offset, to what the Union was putting into it. And this was the basis of their annoyance and their aggravation and their reason for a long series of negotiations on what to do about it.
Well, for one thing, the sailors thought they owned the boats because their fees had paid for them but, in fact, all the Hoofer monies by University requirements are also the Union monies, so the boats were all on the University inventory as owned by the University and it’s department, the Union. Well, there was a big argument of who owned the boats. The University administration, of course, made it clear that the boats were part of the official University inventory and couldn’t be moved to another location. What’s more, there wasn’t any other location anybody could provide and it was, of course, just out of the question for even the most eager sailors to find the wherewithall to build new docks and new boat storage area, new shelters, and acquire new boats.
So once this chap, this particular chap disappeared from the scene because he later got married and was preoccupied with that and his research projects, the whole thing eased off but there were still questions at budget-making time about the rationale of this use fee. There has been a kind of a steady relationship in recent years and ever since.
The use fee still continues?
Yes. I can’t tell you exactly what it is now. They’ve renegotiated it and it’s some new formula that I have not been aware of since I left the directorship.
There were, of course, the usual difficulties one encounters with student organizations in caretaking of the premises. There were certain established closing times required by the timing for the entire Union building, and we had some of the independent Hoofer members who didn’t want to leave at that time and resisted the closing hour rule, or they wanted to come early before the quarters were open. And we had established that the quarters were only open when the Hoofer outing director or Union staff member or his substitute was there, for obvious reasons of avoiding theft of all this equipment which could easily be stolen if not watched over. And there were problems of vandalism, of fires being built without the flue open and the room smoked up, or fires left going without a screen, with sparks which could have ignited nearby rugs or furnishings. And so we were on the track, as we were with all the other departments of the Union, of having any facilities under a supervisor’s eye for safety reasons, for conduct reasons, and so on.
This was resisted by some members of the Hoofers and we had to iron out these complaints. I think, as I recall, one of the solutions was to authorize certain members of the Hoofer Council or club heads to be supervisors and be responsible for safe keeping and orderliness of the quarters when the outing director himself could not be there. But there were, at times, tensions over this and complaints, and complaints both ways. We would get night reports from our night engineer who made the rounds of doors left open, lights left on, the fire still burning or conduct cases and so on which led to these conferences.
But on the whole, this has been over the years minimal, and the Hoofers, in contrast to most student organizations, have been thoughtful and reliable and willing workers. And it is notable that in the days of the big protests and demonstrations on the campus in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when all the public attention was drawn to the extremists who were out demonstrating on the streets and damaging University property and confronting administrators, and so on, and who were sure the world needed them to be saved and arousing antagonism among alumni and the public and turning off the faculty—it seemed to be the dominant student mood at the time and this thing was always referred to but right along all this the Hoofers were back here in the outing quarters putting in hours and hours of volunteer time preparing their equipment, teaching the students the job, numbers expanding, more outings developing, the complete opposite of the radical extremism. In other words, here is the other side of the coin, the normal, probably majority, student body in operation as evidence by their will and willingness to do for themselves and to be contributors rather than obstructors. They never joined in these demonstrations or protests. They just waved them aside and went on about their business which well might have been organizing a ski trip to Vail, Colorado, for a couple hundred students which were completely led, organized, and financed by students without accidents, without problems. So, it has been overall a very rewarding development in the Union’s history in terms of what we are trying to do and that is mainly expand student interests wherever they may lead us. That kind of informal recreation and learning that the Union has tried to foster , and which we believed can and should also take place outside a building as well as inside—not just a physical place with a wall around it where things only happen inside. Rather, we try for a comprehensive plan for the recreational and cultural life of the student body.
I think I would like to go back to something that you mentioned or touched on earlier which is a discussion of how the building plans for the Union evolved?
Well, beginning at the beginning, I think I mentioned that the Memorial Union Building Association trustees which set forth to raise the money for the Union in 1919 assumed they were giving a building to the University. It was the first time any fund-raising group has set forth to make a gift of a large building structure to the University and while I wasn’t there at this time which was the early ’20s, I believed this assumption of the Trustees of the Memorial Union Building Association was that they were the one’s to see the plans develop and, therefore, proceeded to appoint an architect to assist, of course, in getting sketches of what was planned so they could be used in the fund-raising promotion.
They selected Eschweiler and Eschweiler, architects in Milwaukee, to do the job and Eschweiler functioned for a time. I say for a time because it was discovered not too much later that the state law required that all state buildings, including those at the University, whether a gift or a non-gift, were to be designed and executed by the state Bureau of Engineering and the state architect. So, with this new, rather startling, information in hand, the planning of the physical plant had to start over again. Eschweiler, of course, wasn’t happy about this at all and demanded payment for their services and even, probably, some penalties for being led on to design the building and found that they were not to be the ones. But that was resolved out of court and without major controversies by paying off Eschweiler and starting anew with the state architect.
The state architect at that time was Arthur Peabody, an English gentleman of the old school, the classical school, and advancing in years, and I believed he thought of this commission as a way to show what he could do. In fact, he thought of this as his great work architecturally and began the planning process calling in for advice Paul Cret, a French architect who had joined him in earlier years in developing a comprehensive lower campus plan. This concept had broadly been sanctified by the University Regents as a way to go in lower campus planning, at least. It involved the architectural motif of the northern Italian Renaissance design and I heard later when I came on the scene this was because the angle of sunlight in northern Italy was just about the same as it is in Madison, Wisconsin. Why this was important or crucial, I don’t really know but it was one of the rationales of going toward Italian Renaissance.
Peabody with the assistance of his main designer, Frank Moulton by name, I’m sure must have paged through all of the classic Renaissance architectural books searching for motifs that would produce an exterior design that was pleasing to them and appropriate, as they now thought with Paul Cret’s endorsement, to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The plan development went through at least twelve or fifteen kinds of schemes, as I heard the story some two or three years after this process had got under way.
One of the early plans was almost an exact replica of the Pan American building at Washington D as far as the exterior appearance was concerned and, unfortunately, it was much too small, much too inadequate for the purposes intended. So, the Pan American building design was put aside and there was another work which produced, in the end, the essential form and design that you see in the first original main two units of the Union. Well, this design, as is evident still, was of a monumental character. I think it was a combination of the State architect, like many architects, wanting to build a kind of a monument to himself. And partly because this building was to be a war memorial building and so the dignity and monumental memory aspect of the Union as a war memorial played an important part in how they designed and built it. What resulted, as you can still see, was a very vast, broad, so-called main entrance on Langdon Street mounting dozens and dozens of steps to get to the main entrance doors. At the ground level where people actually tend to enter into a building there was a single door at the dining wing. It was apparent that in the early stages this wasn’t going to be enough to get people in or out of the building unless they were forced to climb this set of broad steps at the main entrance, which meant climbing up of about a story and a half to get to the main entrance doors to the main lobby. So, the Union Planning Committee had now taken over the job of working with the architect in planning the building from the Union Trustees. It was chaired by Dr. Harold Bradley, who had chaired the committee that recommended the immediate construction of the Union, and it went to work and looked at the plan to see what appeared to work well and what didn’t. I was at that time the secretary of the Trustees and the only visible person working on plans to get the building open. As we reviewed these plans, it was apparent that we needed some other and better way to get into the building than mounting this enormous flight of steps so we did persuade the architect to carve out an entrance at ground level which led people into the Rathskeller. This was alright for the men because the Rathskeller floor was to be, in those years by policy, a men-only facility. It didn’t do much for the women.
Then, as we looked at our situation, we could see that here we sat on the lakeshore of Lake Mendota with broad lawns between the building and the lakeshore an unparalled and spectacular location for any building, particularly for a social and cultural center built to make a pleasant experience for thousands of students, faculty and alumni users. We could see that in effect, this building plan turned its back to the lake. There was, literally, no way to get out from inside the building to the lakeshore on the lake side of the building. One had to go back out of the building on Langdon Street and walk around the building to get to the lakeshore lawns and terraces. So, that raised questions even in my layman’s eye and we were able to persuade the architect to carve a throughway from the main floor through what was to be a kitchen area for the Rathskeller to doors to get out onto the lakeshore.
Then, looking at the outside of the building from the building plans, we came to the Great Hall level, which was three stories up, and here was a massive stone ballustrade across the windows of the Great Hall which made us wonder, well, why can’t we do this so people in the Great Hall can look out the windows and at least see the lake and the beautiful horizon out towards Picnic Point and across the lake. So, with some sweat and tears, the State architect’s office and Mr. Peabody, finally agreed to remove the ballustrade, but what he didn’t tell us was that the windowsill of the Great Hall windows was about four feet above the floor on the inside. So that even with the ballustrade removed, one sitting down couldn’t see out because his eye level was below the windowsill. One had to stand up and go to the window—and the windowsil was about shoulder high—and peak out the window to see what was out there, namely, beautiful Lake Mendota.
So, this simply illustrates our own innocence of what blueprints showed. We were looking at the picture of the window from the outside and not at the elevations of the floor and the windows from the inside which the blueprints, sure enough, showed but it wasn’t called to our attention. There was no help involved in removing the ballustrade. So this was a kind of a clue to us to be skeptical and careful as the building planning and construction proceeded.
Well, the building had already started to go up. Steel was going up. The foundation was dug when I came on the scene and I was a young fellow without any experience in building at all. But, I guess by some strange impulse, I marched through these rooms to be and the blueprints to see what was forecast for us and among other things, noticed even in my own naive way, there were no electric outlets in any of the meeting rooms,, so one couldn’t plug in the floor lamps or a vacuum cleaner or anything else.
Many changes were made while the building was still going up by way of change of orders to the contractors; there were innumerable things. We had not operated a union and did not know how things were supposed to work and apparently there had been all though this planning process with the State Architect no one knowledgeable of building problems and architectural requirements to tell the architect how these rooms were to function. There were no surveys of needs of what really do we need in this building. The only thing I believe the committee prior to my arrival was able to tell the architect was that the Michigan Union had a “Tap Room,” so-called, and so we ought to have a Tap Room. The Michigan’s Union had a men’s dining hall commons as they had at Hart House in Canada. Hart House and Michigan were the two most prominent visible unions in this early era that anyone could go to see. There were very few other Unions anywhere and my predecessor, John Dollard, visited both of these places and came back with what they were doing and what they had and this was fed on to the architect.
So, we were to have a tap room and a common’s for men’s dining on a boarding house basis. This was for the students who were not housed and bedded in fraternities and sororities—fraternities. I started to say sororities but the women were not expected to use very much of the building at that time because it was, as I think I mentioned earlier, to be a men’s social center much like Lathrop Hall had already for some years had a women’s club and a set of club rooms. And there was no one to suggest to the architect as to how large these rooms should be, how they should be related to each other for efficient use in cost saving operation, and on and on. And so he was working pretty much in the dark with only minimal guidelines from the University and the Union Trustees. So, his instinct for a Renaissance monumental building prevailed and this meant symmetry. This meant a central unit with two wings exactly alike, same facades matching each other in size and form and appearance, and so on. This produced in the end a really considerable, and even tragic, defect in the building plan—the attempt to establish symmetry, the attempt to follow the Renaissance exterior appearance and without any accurate knowledge of how the building was to work on the inside. It produced enormous additional costs that I think nowadays would be considered just out of this world. For example, because it was a memorial building and a monument and Mr. Peabody wanted to show what he could do and have the very best, the whole main floor lobby and lounge were developed in Italian marble, silver sienna marble imported from Italy at an enormous expense and the marble alone in those two areas cost more than one-tenth of the whole building. In fact, as we learned in those days, the cost of the marble was something over $90,000 and the total cost of the building was a little over $900,000. Well, you convert $90,000 into today’s dollar value of 1979 and it represents on the order of $400,000 going into marble.
When the bids came in for the building, very considerably over the monies available, one of the first suggestions made was “let’s eliminate the marble.” But nobody really wanted to do what they thought might be a second class job here. The architect had recommended it and, indeed, it was a memorial building and we should not skimp. So extra money had to be found and raised. The marble stayed. I must say, those early years gave students the impression this was a kind of mausoleum. This cold white silver with some buff colored graining in it was to them a formal and cold atmosphere.
Well, when we finally got the building bid and constructed and opened, then our troubles really began because in operations we found out all of the things that went wrong or had been overlooked which simply represented bad planning.
Can you give me some examples?
Yes, I can but I want to preface that by saying everybody, almost any building construction enterprise faces this defect and difficulty of these kinds. So in a sense, maybe we weren’t all that unusual but in the end it’s worth citing some of the difficulties and what we did about them because this led to some dramatic changes in procedure in the future by our own Union staff and planning committees in what we would do with the further development of the building and, indeed, at one point, it led to a change in State policy on who would design buildings. In the long run, it led to a very significant case of Wisconsin influence on the whole Union movement in the United States, which I will come to later, on how this and why this came about.
Well, as to the difficulties, starting with some of the most obvious and minor ones, there would be sinks noted in the kitchens showing cold water faucets but no hot water faucets. Other sinks would show both faucets but no drain. This all had to be corrected after the building was up. There was hardly a vestige of a delivery dock. You see, the Union sat here on the lakeshore with the winter winds blowing against the building and trucks arrived by the dozens every day to deliver foods and supplies, and so on, and there was a completely exposed outdoor lift that they were to set their things onto and let the lift carry them down to the basement. This was in the bitter cold windy weather. The wind blew the waste paper all over the lower campus. There was no place to stash away garbage cans except on the outside sidewalks, a very unsightly mess, very difficult to handle. There was literally no storage space provided in the building and this is essential as we early on found out. If you are going to do a catering job, you have to have a place to put away extra chairs, tables and get them out when they are needed for banquets and so on. The whole meeting-dining room floor did not have an inch of storage space for this purpose. There was no general storage space in the basement where furniture out of service could be stashed away until it went out for repairs or where the enormous quantity of food supplies and china ware and paper goods could be stored, and none of the material that was used seasonally like tables and chairs on the terrace in the summer which had to be brought in during the winter, but with no place to put these.
One of the fatal errors by the architect was that the basement under the central main unit of the building, which was the largest unit by far, was not excavated and it could have been very cheaply by steam shovel at the time the excavating was done. But he thought he was saving us money but once more, he didn’t put the footings for the structural columns down far enough so we could later excavate and get head room. Actually, what happened was we simply had to have some place to put things that weren’t currently being used. So in the days of the depression when the Work’s Progress Administration came along footing the bill for a make-work project, a large crew of men were sent into this unexcavated area where there was about two or three feet clearance below the steam pipes crawling on their stomaches to hand shovel dirt into bushel baskets and have the dirt carried out basket by basket over about a 7,000 square foot area to get clearance useable for a storage space. We did this but we couldn’t go down below the footings of the structural support so what we have is a basement storage without head room. You have to stoop to get under steam pipes and plumbing lines or you crack your head on the way.
But you have more than three feet, though?
Yes. In some cases we got down to about six feet, six and a half feet but in other places about five feet. So, if you visit that area now, you will find that it is just stacked with all kinds of supplies and equipment and upholstory repair shop and a paint shop, and a carpenter’s shop and our archives for the seventy-five years the Union has been collecting correspondence and the reports and data which I am currently working on. This was in the end, the salvation from a very serious blunder on the part of the designers.
Did you finish off the floor? It doesn’t have a dirt floor, does it?
Oh, yes. It’s got a cement floor. Well, besides this kind of thing for the Great Hall, which seats about 500 at a banquet, there was one men’s toilet room the size of a closet with one fixture each and when 400 or 500 men at intermission time want to go back, imagine the congestion. And as far as the women were concerned, there was only one women’s restroom in the entire building. It was on the Great Hall floor, three flights up. Although, the women, very much like the men also expected to use the meeting rooms on the second floor. There was only a small men’s room with one fixture on that floor. So, we had to proceed to make such corrections of these oversights as we could.
In the first year, it cost us over $40,000 to make these miscellaneous changes which permitted the building to work at all. And that was just the first year with all the years still to come. Again, $40,000 converted into today’s 1979 dollars represents on the order of $200,000.
Well, by this time I was director of the Union and was simply astonished and dismayed that the professionals in the engineering and architectural world didn’t foresee these problems and didn’t do anything in time about them. There are all sorts of other boo-boos that are hard to imagine now. This floor we are sitting on, which is now largely an office floor, originally was a guest room floor—sixteen hotel rooms—but there was a connecting bath for each two rooms which meant that if you forgot to lock your door on your side of the bathroom, the party in the other room could come right on through your room or if you were in the bathroom and locked off the door on his side for some privacy for yourself and forgot to unlock it, the chap or couple in the other guest room couldn’t get into the bathroom. So, there were emergency calls to get somebody with the key to come and open it up.
Well, this simply meant that the whole purpose of the hospitality guest room unit for visiting alumni and University visitors was a fiasco. No one would come more than once, you see. Besides all this, there was a so-called “Team Room” on this same floor, a fairly large open square room with double deck beds in it designed to house the visiting athletic teams that came to compete in Wisconsin basketball, football, baseball, track, etc., etc. But nobody apparently took the trouble to ask the Athletic Department if they would use such a room and it became apparent as of day one that no, they weren’t at all interested in using it because the last thing they wanted to do was to have an athletic team in the middle of the confusion and noise and distractions of the campus, not to mention trying to sleep in double deck beds and get ready for tomorrow’s game. So, this was another fiasco and shortly the “Team Room” went out of business.
Well, then you came to the Great Hall which was supposed to serve banquets, as I say, for 400 or 450, and so on. There was no service kitchen. It was simply a smallish closet-sized room with a coffee urn in it and cabinets for dishes and glassware and so on. So, all the food had to be dished in the corridor outside the Great Hall and the trays of dirty dishes returned and scraped with loud noises confronting the speakers. You know, it was just incredible that you plan a banquet hall and have no place to serve it from except for a coffee urn and a sink.
Well, I mention all this because it was so expensive for us and made operations so difficult that in the future I, among others, simply resolved that we weren’t going to go through this kind of expensive, difficult, frustrating, situation again and I’ll come to that again when I talk about the planning of the theater. But before I do that I do want to mention some of the good things, unexpected assets, of the planning of this original building. Not that anybody deliberately did it, but they turned out to be enormous assets and I’m referring particularly now to the Rathskeller.
In this whole approach of symmetrical development, the ground floor of the central unit that housed the Rathskeller had to be of the same size as the main lounge above and of the Great Hall or ballroom above that. So, where Michigan had a Tap Room of modest size as a between-meal snack center and quick lunch and so on, we found ourselves with a very expansive room which was first called a “Tap Room,” by the way, but later was renamed and developed as a “Rathskeller.” Then, adjacent to the main lounge on the second floor was a room which was simply called a “Reception Room.” It was a kind of a French salon type of a room. It had a brocade wall covering, curtains and crystal chandeliers and so on. We tried to imagine how many receptions we would have in the course of a year. It didn’t seem to be a very promising, active part of University life. So, I, being an art history graduate still taking art history courses, and in as much as there was no art gallery on the campus owned by the University—there was some space at the top of the State Historical Library which had been rented to the Madison Art Association but that was six floors up and nobody ever got there and it was the Madison Art Association’s place, not the University—I in effect said, “Why don’t we have an art gallery and convert this room into one?” And we did by changing the materials of the wall to soft pine so that we could nail in and hang pictures and change wall coverings so it would be suitable as a background for hanging paintings and prints. So, by the time the Union actually opened in the fall of ’28, we suddenly had an art gallery. It was the first art gallery in any union in the United States or had even been thought of up to that time. There was a small exhibition room in Hart House and we may have partly got the idea from Hart House that this was the useful thing to do; but it was more centrally the facts, I think, that we saw no other good use for this room and because of my own interest as an art history student.
So, we had at least two unexpected assets out of the fiasco of planning the original building.
Then, as the building neared completion, around late 1926 and ’27, it had to be furnished and equipped and decorated. This was not in the original contract and Mr. Peabody acknowledged that their office had no experience with furnishings and was not equipped to do this and it was alright to seek a specialist in furnishings and equipment. So, we went on an investigatory tour to find out who was good at this kind of thing and ended up by selecting Leon Pescheret, by name, who had recently done the furnishings for the Drake Hotel in Chicago. He was a Frenchman who was raised, however, in London and had gone into interior design/decoration. And came on and was a great help in designing, particularly special designs, of all kinds of furniture for the building, such as the old rustic, sand blasted tables in the Rathskeller to carry out the atmosphere.
By the way, as he who walked into the “Tap Room” and saw the low arches and spandrels said “Why this looks to me like a Rathskeller.” And I said to him, “What is a Rathskeller?,” not having ever heard the word before. But coming as he had from central Europe, he could fill us in on what a Rathskeller was, namely, the cellar of the city hall in German villages and cities. This struck a favorable response from all of us because we thought of this kind of building as the civic center or city hall of the University and this room indeed, was the cellar. And here we were near Milwaukee and the product that made Milwaukee famous, and the long-standing German tradition of Gemutlichkeit at Milwaukee—Gemutlichkeit, you know, means the friendly association, cheer, and companionship—and this is what we wanted to encourage among students.
And this led on to deciding that the rooms of the Union, as far as possible, would try to be furnished and decorated to reflect Wisconsin’s unique heritage.
So, we had the Rathskeller named to carry out the Wisconsin German heritage and tradition. There was an adjacent room that was simply labeled on the plans as Card Room and this brought to mind the rugged card players of the northwoods and the Paul Bunyan tradition in Wisconsin. So we called this the “Paul Bunyan Room” or Paul Bunyan “Bunkhouse.” It was also to have food service and so we imported Wisconsin flagstone for the flooring and oak ceiling timbers to finish off that room. And later on in the mid ’30s we had Jim Watrous, who was still a graduate student, do the Paul Bunyan murals in that room. This, by the way, was the first commission of murals by the University in its history.
Then, for the English tradition in Wisconsin, we named one of the meeting rooms the Beefeater’s Room, signifying the beefeaters tradition at the Tower of London, and it lent itself to certain gold and crimson decor. The Roundtable room was across the corridor, the “Roundtable” name serving as a good symbol of roundtable discussions. The Georgian grill was already blessed with a certain Georgian decor by the architect.
The development of the rooms of the Union reflects the Wisconsin traditions and heritage because we determined that we weren’t going to have rooms called room A or room B or room 102, and so on. Rather, we wanted to give them certain character. We did want to perpetuate for students coming over the years by the thousands some impression of what Wisconsin has been and is. So, in the case of another meeting room near the two that I’ve just mentioned, we named that room the “Old Madison Room” to relate ourselves to the city of Madison but, more particularly, to show what the city and the campus looked like in the nineteenth century. So, using old lithographs and water colors, scenes down State Street towards the capitol and scenes of Bascom Hall and up the Ag campus and Camp Randall and Lake Mendota were reproduced around the entire room. This became the “Old Madison Room.”
"Tripp Commons” is in itself an English Tudor room designed by Mr. Peabody—oak panelling, high ceiling, and so on, which again recalls the essential English background of the State but was named “Tripp Commons” because J. Stephens Tripp, a farmer of Wisconsin, had left in his will a very considerable sum of money to the University and the Regents used it to help the Union fund-raising by allocating $200,000 of his estate to the Union on the condition that the commons be named for Mr. Tripp. It is the only room, by the way, in the building that has been named after a person. Because there were so many contributors, some of substantial sums, and so many who had so much to do with the creation and establishment of the Union that we felt there just wasn’t a reasonable chance to be equitable and fair about it. At least this was true until just this past year when we did rename the Play Circle in the theater after Fredric March. This was done because Fredric March as president of his class of 1920 conducted the first student campaign for the Union building, because he was a member of the Student Union Board, because he got his start in his long film and stage career by acting in Union Vodvil which the Union sponsored in the teens and up through the early ’20s, and because he too was a very substantial donor of funds in the mid 1930s to the theater for equipping the Play Circle. So, this explains why we don’t have a lot of named rooms in the building but, rather, had concentrated on the Wisconsin heritage.
Now an important heritage of Wisconsin was from the Indians, and so the cafeteria was developed with Indian decorating motifs. The light fixtures were all inverted parchment tee-pees with the light glowing from behind, and while Peabody had used the plaster ceiling panels with brick moldings, which had of course no relation to our heritage or instinct for preserving Wisconsin traditions, all ceiling panels were decorated with Indian symbols.
Back to Tripp Commons, perhaps I should mention that the ceiling was done in an overall oak vine ornamentation which wove together the coats of arms, or crests, of the universities with which Wisconsin has had the closest relationships: Williams college, which gave us two presidents of the University; Oxford and Cambridge where debating unions were first established; and University of Toronto where Hart House led the way in many of our concepts of a union, and then the Big Ten universities. All these shields or crests were done in gold leaf and the colors of the universities in question.
Well, so much for the way that the decor and furnishings of the original Union was worked out. In the end this won fairly considerable favor from the using public because the rooms were interesting to be in and to look at and tell the stories about them. Well, this was the way we got what we had originally in the late ’20s and the early 1930s.
It soon came about, though, that we recognize our fundamental deficiency which was the lack of a theater or auditorium. One had been anticipated in the original Peabody building plan. There was to have been a theater wing matching in size and shape and appearance the dining wing but there wasn’t enough money to build it. So, this was still missing in the 1930’s and we made do as well as we could in the Great Hall, the ballroom, for our concerts. The Union had started a concert series for visiting artists in 1919 using the Armory, the Stock Pavilion, and so on, and they were anything but satisfactory. So, now we made use of the Great Hall and I must say that wasn’t too satisfactory either. It was better because it was furnished and clean and new and had some auxiliary facilities like check rooms, and washrooms and places to stand around, and so, but it was a matter of folding chairs which aren’t all that comfortable and there were no intervening doors between the floor below and the Great Hall so the noise of the jute box would come up from the Rathskeller, and on one notable occasion the phone rang on the stage of the Great Hall in the middle of the baritone’s aria. He had to stop and go over and answer the phone. There was no air conditioning, so it was hot sometimes and cold on others. And the capacity was not there. It seated at most about 850.
So, we then turned our attention, which was in the middle ’30s, to the possibilities of completing the building with the “third wing,” as we used to call it, the theater wing. We were encouraged in doing it by the fact that federal grants were available, again, part of the Roosevelt economic reconstruction and make-employment program during the depression. But we wanted to be sure what really should be in that wing. Was it, indeed, a theater or wasn’t it? We had our own problems with the Great Hall but how much did it mean to the University community. So in this case we conducted a very comprehensive survey of needs. We went to students. We went to faculty. We went to alumni with a list of possible facilities that might be in the third wing asking them not just what they thought was desirable, but what would they use and how frequently would they use it.
The results were quite clear that way out ahead of everything else was a theater. I think about ninety percent of all responses showed the theater as the number one desire. Second to that, by the way, was bowling lanes. Bowling was coming on strong at about that time. Then there were assorted other needs including a craft shop. We had the beginnings of a craft shop down in the basement, in this unexcavated basement which we got the dirt out of sufficiently enough to get head room for a poster shop and craft shop. At the same time we canvassed all the public events and attendances at the University for the past two or three years, whether a concert or lecture or symposium or the University general gatherings such as honors convocation at commencement time and visiting institutes and, of course, what the Dance Department needed, what the Theater Department needed, what Music needed, and so on and so on on with their scale of attendances and with a projection as to what size hall would best serve their purposes if we could build it.
Out of all these data put together we came up now with a building program to guide the architect in terms of sizes, kinds of facilities, relationships of the facilities to each other, and so on. But the great problem in view of our experience with the original building was how can we get a building plan and design that works. We were resolved in view of our bitter experience with the original building that we just must have architectural help that would produce for us a theater that could work and would work. A theater, in contrast to most other kinds of buildings, is one of the most complex and sensitive, and is full of the requirements of almost any kind of building enterprise—the whole business of sight lines and acoustics suitability and free and easy movements of large crowds coming and going, adequate stage, adequate scenery storage, adequate dressing room and costume facilities, scene building facilities, and so on.
We were just sure we couldn’t get this out of the State Architect’s office. So this resulted in quite a few delicate negotiations in which at one point Mr. Peabody agreed that he had never designed a theater and that it was a specialized kind of building that he needed help on, and that we could look for someone to be in his office under his supervision since the law still was that his office had to design all the state buildings. So, who would this be?
Well, having been also a student in dramatic literature—that was my minor as an undergraduate—I remembered the book by Lee Simonson called The Stage is Set. Lee Simonson was the scene designer for the Theater Guild newly organized a few years before in New York with famous actors like the Lunts and others as part of the Guild producing company with Simonson the technician, the theater-knowledgeable person. So I wrote to Lee Simonson and asked if he would be interested in visiting with us and telling us if the space we had left between the original building and Park Street would be adequate for a multi-purpose theater because we were on the trail of a multi-purpose facility, not just a student drama producing theater but one which would accommodate touring theater groups from Broadway and elsewhere which had special staging requirements like stage size, scenery, lighting, and all the rest, which I knew Simonson would be completely familiar with. That was his profession. This theater would also be suitable for concerts which call for quite different requirements in terms of acoustics suitable for large audiences as well as small audiences because we knew we had from our survey needs for a theater of about 1,200 and we had need for still another kind of facility for experimental theater work for students who couldn’t yet be good enough to project into a large theater auditorium.
All these puzzles were on our mind and we needed help and Simonson was called in to tell us what he thought about the feasibility of doing a theater on the space available and the kind of theater we had in mind. He came, spent two or three days, and was a aghast at the Italian Renaissance architecture he saw already present in the existing structure. I remember one acid comment he made after touring the building. Sitting together in a guest room on this floor he said, “Well, you might as well expect to get any architecture out of the State office as to call down three floors through a speaking tube to a maid who has been three days dead and ask her to send up a cup of tea."
Well, you can see that this general kind of attitude didn’t ingratiate him at all with the State Architect’s Office although I am sure they never heard this particular comment, but I think the general attitude may have come through. After he had assessed the situation and concluded that yes, we could do what we were talking about doing, the question was “Who can design this theater for us?” Who was it that knows how to do what you say needs to be done and is what we want?
He pondered that for a time and went back to New York and later wrote us that he thought we might well consider a young man by the name of Michael Hare who was a project designer and a junior partner of Corbett and MacMurray, a very well established large architectural firm in New York which had done—I forget whether it was Radio Hall or RCA building—and the Criminal Courts building and all sorts of important New York office and public buildings and a couple of theaters. He said here you have a young man who would be in tune with the young people who were going to use this theater. He was familiar with modern architectural trends and is backed up by a stable and a very competent solid architectural firm.
Well, so we had a visitation from Michael Hare and conveyed his credentials to the State Architect’s Office, and they agreed to take him on as project designer within the State office set-up. Then he went to work on the basis of the facility program that we gave him. He turned up with a design which was quite modern for its era, quite contemporary, which astonished the State Architect’s Office and met with immediate concern and opposition. Hare’s approach was to harmonize with the existing building by way of use of the same materials—bedford stone and Madison buff-colored sandstone—but not to repeat the symmetrical Renaissance architectural motif because you just couldn’t do a theater that would work in that symmetrical over ornate kind of form with, among other things, a ninety foot high stage house which is a requirement for any working theater as part of it instead of a flat Renaissance roof that allowed for no stage house and he recognized we had a lake at our back door which really, in many ways, should be the front door so Hare turned the theater around. The original concept of the State office had been that you would enter the theater from Langdon Street and into the auditorium and the lakeside was where it would put the stage house—a solid, blank wall ninety feet high against the lake so that there was no, again, no outlook of any kind towards our spectacular lake view.
So, he turned the theater around and put the stage house in the middle of the building where it would be semi-concealed by the mass of the existing building and the mass of the auditorium and a small theater on either side. Then he, which was an accepted design motif in that day, let the outside express the inside structure. Well the inside structure called for an acoustical curve of the ceiling which would support sound from the stage by an elliptical, complicated formula that would reinforce sound to the back row of the balcony. Rather than square that off and have a lot of empty space above the lower part of the ellipse, he let the roof curve follow the inside ceiling curve and this was partly what upset the local State office and, I must say, the superintendent of our physical plant and our University business manager. We had a small theater in the picture now, too, because we had important needs for a small theater for about 275 people for experimental drama work and for films and for poetry readings, and so on and so on. The big theater was to handle around 1,300 total seats. He projected this small theater into the Langdon Street lawn where the bicycle racks now are and at the basement level he backed it up to the main theater’s stage and it’s work shops and dressing rooms and so on, so that the central stage house with all of its working facilities served in both directions at the basement level. It served the main theater towards the lake and the small theater towards Langdon Street.
Well, this was another shocker to the devoted classical architectural people because it was different from the fascade of the dining wing and then the controversy over this went on for numbers of weeks and finally came to the Regents with solid opposition from the State Bureau of Engineering, the State Architect and director of Physical Plant, the business manager but with support from our Union Planning Committee, again headed by Dr. Harold Bradley. I attended that meeting and the arguments went back and forth. Dr. Bradley, I remember, made the point with the Regents when he said, “Well, you know over the years fashions do change. I’m not so sure I like the new hats women are wearing this year but I remember that I didn’t like last year’s hats at first either, so I think I’m going to probably get to like the hats that are coming out this year. So we shouldn’t be too concerned about that and, after all, we are doing this mainly for young people who are looking for innovation and change in fashion and who have no particular solid wedding with Italian Renaissance architecture."
The Bureau of Engineering and the State Architect found themselves apparently designing through Michael Hare’s efforts, a building that they couldn’t support so they called back Paul Cret, the French architect, who had worked with Peabody in developing the lower campus plan to advise them as to the suitability of this design for the theater and hoping and expecting that it’s for the birds and they shouldn’t have it. Well, Paul Cret came out at considerable expense, something like $200 a day was big in those years, to case the situation. We also had Lee Simonson come back and, of course, Michael Hare was here. This was a two day go-around in which Cret, of all things, first said “Why are you building a theater at all? The theater doesn’t belong at a university.” He was used to Paris, you see, and a theater was a symbol of iniquity and it had nothing to do with students or universities. So this starting recommendation was: don’t build anything. Well, that didn’t go over very well.
But then here was Lee Simonson, bless his heart, who spoke French fluently and Cret spoke only French. He had an interpreter with him. So Simonson took Cret aside and in French they went at it as to why a theater at a university and the significance of it, and why this kind of design and the importance of these auxiliary facilities with a stage were necessary if it was going to work, and the the fact that touring broadway professional companies would come in and they wouldn’t come if it wasn’t a working theater. So after this, Cret made some rather mild recommendations. One of them hurt badly. He went along with the State Office in insisting the alignment of the new wing fascade match the Langdon Street dining wing, which meant pulling the Play Circle or the small theater unit back in some numbers of feet—twenty or thirty feet, something like that—and in the process we lost the capacity which we wanted of 275, which would be scaled down in size to 168 seats, which were not economically viable and everything was wrong about it. But to get the theater wing at all we had to accept that, and what the Regents voted that day was that the Langdon Street fascade would have to match the Langdon Street facsade of the dining wing.
They Regents didn’t seem to care very much what happened behind that and so it was approved. One of the reasons it was approved and one of the reasons the State Office was in a bind on it and could not delay the project was that by this time we had a grant from the Public Works Administration of $266,000 to build this theater. We had surplus from operation and borrowing possibility that made up the difference but in the end the whole theater cost almost a million dollars. But this meeting, I think, was in November and this grant expired in January unless we could show that construction was started because the whole objective in Washington was to get people to work and help relieve the unemployment situation. So if we were going to have the grant which meant we were going to have the theater, it had to be approved in November. The Regents were conscious of this and this helped to swing the vote favorably towards going ahead.
Then the question arose, how can the State Office possibly turn out working drawings of these plans, which were just preliminary design drawings, in less than three months? It usually takes six to nine months at least to do this. They through up their hands and said we can’t do it. Ah; that’s just fine with us because filling the gap now was the main firm of Corbett and MacMurray which probably had seventy or eighty draftsmen and was used to doing work on a large scale and in a hurry. So this is where the State policy of having no one but the State Architect design a State office building and execute the drawings of a State building got shaken—a breakthrough. Corbett and MacMurray were assigned the job of finishing up these drawings and the State Office was simply to supervise the shop drawings of Corbett and MacMurray and Hare, and were also to send out to work with the State’s superintendent of construction, a chief draftsman and architect throughout the whole construction period and to review and check drawings and give guidance to the contractor, and so on.
So this was a salient turn of events for both the State and for us and for me, personally because having won most of this battle—not all of it, but most of it—I felt a very strong responsibility for seeing that we didn’t suffer the kinds of consequences that we did with the State Office. So Corbett and MacMurray, installed here in the building a working office, and I with their representative went through almost daily every part of the construction work as it proceeded. Me with my brown notebook, he with his knowledge of what was going on and interpretation to me of what the blue prints said and what they didn’t say, and what the contractor was expected to do and why it was this way and not some other way, and what the symbols on the blueprints meant, and what you did about checking drawings, and always making a second copy for yourself for record purposes to make sure the contractor observes what you showed him on the drawings you gave him. So this was a major course in blueprint reading and building planning and building supervision for me because I had no prior experience with this at all, except a bitter experience of finding so many things going wrong and all this great disillusionment with the professional architects and engineers finding that they just didn’t know a lot of answers themselves, did not anticipate problems, did not know what to do, unless somebody told them.
So out of this whole experience came a whole new turn of events for unions throughout the country, not just in Wisconsin. Before I go into that, though, I do want to say that the theater building did get opened in 1939—a gala opening with the Lunts performing in the Taming of the Shrew and with all the New York people related to this project—Simonson, Hare, Hare’s family and representatives of all the design offices, the acoustic engineer and all the rest of them—here for a ceremonial banquet and formal dress opening performance.
Thereafter followed recognition after recognition of the worth of this design and of this theater. In the next year it was included in the San Francisco World’s Fair exposition as one of the twenty-five most distinguished contemporary buildings in America, for example. The people who performed in the theater from Mitropoulis, the conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony, to every concert artist who came here, and from the Lunts, high applause for what they found back stage and their ability to project into the hall and the sound quality that was accomplished through careful acoustic engineering. And so it was a smashing success in the end.
This was a 1939 opening. Well, then came the war. Right away in 1940 and ’41, among many others, Hare was called into service, to the Marine Corp; and was overseas in the Pacific for the duration. And when he came back, of course, he had lost his connection with Corbett and MacMurray and so set-up an architectural office of his own with a man by the name of Livingston Elder who had also worked on our Union theater plan. And he was looking for work and offered, in the light of his experience with us, to travel through the countryside at his own expense to consult with union directors on what worked well with their union buildings and what did not work well and was commissioned by the Association of College Unions, and I was a member of the executive committee of that association—commissioned by them to make this study and report. He came up with his findings, which repeated over and over and over again the same kinds of defaults and difficulties and incredible miscalculations on other campuses that we had experienced on our own.
So this report was circulated and the Association appointed him as an architectural consultant to the Association to advise on building planning and literature we put out. He wrote numbers of articles about it and was available to other universities that were planning unions and wanted experienced help and knowledgeable expertise in what to avoid and what to do and what not to do, and so on. Hare got a number of calls but what he apparently soon found out was that it wasn’t himself who was wanted; it was me because so many universities had their own architects or their own state architect and so were committed, they felt, strongly to appoint a local architect for strategic political reasons. Hare did get several commissions. He did a number of unions—Valparaiso, University of Arizona, Davidson College, and so on—but he kept coming back saying it isn’t myself they want apparently, it is somebody who can tell them how to conduct a needs survey, what to do, what not to do operationally, and someone who can review their architects’ blueprints and point out difficulties or appropriate changes, and so on.
Sure enough from them on—this was right after the war, beginning in the late ’40s—I began getting calls asking whether I could come and spend a weekend, or whatever it took, to confer with their planning committee or their architectural group about what is a union, what should it have in it, how do you find out what to have in it, what sizes should these facilities be, who will use them, how will they use them, and so on and so forth, so the architect has some solid guidance on what to do. As consultant, I had to be sure that they, too, knew the difficulties with architects not hitting the target and how to read into the blueprints the significance of what they were saying. They wanted the drawings reviewed, too. Well, to make a long story short, over the years—some twenty-five years since then—I have been called in as a consultant by some 110 colleges and universities to advise on union planning in a major way. Obviously, as you can probably guess, much of what we learned at Wisconsin was cranked into that advice, so the Wisconsin influence on the union movement in the United States has been amplified in a very large way by the direct impact of the planning of the kinds of facilities arriving at new kinds of goals for a union that they never had imagined or thought of until I came because they just didn’t have any way of knowing, you see.
This plus the fact that most of the writing and publishing about unions has been done here at the Wisconsin Union has meant that, I think it’s fair to say, the Wisconsin Union has had the largest influence on the whole development of unions in the United States of any single union. Not only in the United States, but also I have done this consulting in Puerto Rico, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and, to a limited degree, by correspondence to Pakistan, and so on.
You’ve gone to these places?
Yes, except Pakistan. The University of Chicago had the contract for advising the two universities in Pakistan and they called on me to advise them on what to tell Pakistan. Yes, the other places I have been on the ground.
You, yourself, have done a large amount of writing?
Yes, that’s true. We have an annotated bibliography of all that has ever been written about unions put out by our Association of College Unions. At one time one of our staff members totted the titles by Wisconsin staff members, and I think one out of eleven or twelve was done in Wisconsin, and most of those were done by me. As you see, I was originally a journalist, too. I was the editor of the Daily Cardinal and writing comes handily and I think I’ve mentioned early on, there was no one who was articulating what a union was or what it could be or what concept could be developed at the time of the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s, so out of our own sometimes bleak experience and sometimes successful experience, we were able to put together writings/publications about all of this.
To continue the previous description of the special characteristics of the theater: The “Chair Circle” behind the mezzanine of the first floor was designed so that the glass panels could be rolled up into place to produce a separate sound-proof viewing room. This allowed for an opportunity for a group of students or a visiting group of any club or drama or music interest group who wanted to study a performance, whether drama or music, while it was going on under the tutelage and direction of a drama or music director who could sit with them and explain while the performance was going on why the lighting was the way it was, where the actors were muffing their job, what they should have done that they didn’t do, what the importance of the setting for this scene was, how the whole performance could have been improved, or where it was showing a very real excellent result, and so on. Well, this was urged upon us by the University Drama Department. They felt this was educationally sound. It would open up a new horizon in terms of how drama could be taught and would afford the opportunity for numerous groups to do active, indepth study while the performance was happening rather than having a postmortem later on and with everybody trying to remember what was that mistake they made, or what do you mean by that lighting device that added to heightening the result of the action, and so on. Lee Simonson, our theater consultant, felt this would make history in the course of drama teaching and theater physical planning.
Well, this all sounded fine and on the basis of these endorsements Michael Hare, the theater project designer, planned that way. So there was at the rear of the main theater what we named the “Chair Circle” and the roll-up, sound proofed glass was provided. Well, the outcome was that with changing drama department personnel, they just couldn’t get around to doing this. It was too much of an extra on their time, they thought, and with the Wisconsin Players zooming in popularity and ticket sales, they wanted those seats available for regular ticket buyers anyhow. So over the years these so-called viewing rooms or study rooms have not really been used very much. I guess the one use that added up to some satisfaction was that parents could bring their small children there for a performance and when the children got restless and noisy during a performance and disturbed the nearby theater goers, we rolled up the glass and especially invited parents to bring their children and they could function as children, and parents will do without disturbing anybody nearby.
Well, so much for the main theater.
In the case of the Play Circle, it involved this same viewing room element but including, also, film viewing. Frank Buerki, who was the technical director of the theater and had long been associated with the movie theaters downtown even before he was appointed at the University and very knowledgeable about film history and film technical development, was called on to meet with groups in these viewing rooms to discuss a film while it was going on—to point out where there were major technical innovations or use of the camera that hadn’t been done before, or who the actors and actresses were and what else they had performed in even though they weren’t too well known at that time this film was showing; they were now famous and he could point out that there in the background supporting role is Clark Gable and so on.
Well, this worked fairly well for a while but the other use in the Play Circle was the use of the viewing rooms in what was called in theater parlance, the “crying room,” which means members of the cast of a play when they weren’t on stage come up a narrow back stair into the viewing room or “crying room” and cry on each other’s shoulders on how badly the performance was going or to see what the effect on the audience was of the lighting changes or the actor’s dramatic handling of the scene and, again this could be a very useful and productive experience in what dramatic effects are achieved and how, by seeing them as the audience sees them.
Well, this worked for a time, too, but through inertia and lack, I think, our own staff leadership, this faded out, too.
The other use of those so-called viewing rooms was as radio studios. We had a whole set of radio control rooms and auxiliary studios on this mezzanine floor for the use of WHA. WHA, which was nearby in the old heating plant building, had never had an audience studio. They could not carry on the air—and this was the radio era, not T.V. yet. They had no opportunity to pickup live an audience performance and so this whole set of radio rooms—control and studio—was planned also for their use and for a period of time, they were well used by WHA. Chamber music, lectures, live broadcasts, a student variety show on every Saturday afternoon with Don Voegeli leading the back-up band and with Bill Harley, who is now famous on National Public Radio, and Harold McCarty and the rest of the staff acting as emcees and introducers of the student variety shows. And here was an audience out in front of 160 some people applauding and the whole atmosphere of a live performance came on over the air. Adjacent to the control room was a window wall looking into a meeting room which we called the Rosewood Room which had a fireplace in it and there were numbers of so-called fireside talks in the Rosewood Room. This was the era of the President Roosevelt fireside talks and so we had fireside talks and we had faculty round tables with the fire crackling and the people who were in the program sitting comfortably in lounge chairs so the whole mood and atmosphere of a living room situation came through on the radio. This was well used and quite successful for a time. Then WHA turned more and more to a state-wide school programs with a supplemental kind of programming and less and less—in fact, nothing at all—in terms of a variety show. WHA remodeled and expanded their own studios well enough to handle the round table kind of broadcasts and, of course, ultimately they got their own very elaborate radio and television facility. So the need for the rooms and the studios and the live performance at the Union faded out. They still come over with a mobile unit and drop their microphone into the Play Circle stage or the main theater stage and cover live performances. They didn’t have any of the mobile units back in the ’40s or early ’50s when this was going on.
So here at least were two, what we thought at the time, were electrifying important innovations in theater design and were highly touted and advertised as such in the early years which in the end did not work out very well.
Well, with this somewhat negative note and, as you see, we have both our negatives and our positives along the way, I’ll turn to the next major building or remodeling development that the Union carried through, and that was a general renovation of our main public rooms in the late ’40s. We were now twenty years old or more as a building, the furniture was wearing out and we had learned a lot about what was inadequate and what was causing difficulty for users of the building. So, since we had built up reserves for replacement of furniture and maintenance and repair of structural facilities, A.W. Peterson, the University business manager, agreed that it was time to do a modernization and replacement job. Actually, in those years we were required by the University to set aside reserves for furniture replacement on the basis of a twelve year life and we were already twenty years old and so we had the funds to do this and Peterson agreed, especially with the University centennial coming up in ’48, and the State centennial also, that this would be a desirable thing to do.
Well, we had a good experience with Michael Hare in the design and furnishing of the theater wing because he had designed and planned and assisted throughout in furnishing the theater rooms as well as doing the architecture. He was called back as interior designer and his staff with him to plan this renovation. I’ll give you a few examples to illustrate what happened and, again a reflection of the inadequacies of the original architectural planning and our own experience. The lounge furniture, for example, was all fabric covered and we had learned by now that students who lean back on a sofa or fabric covered lounge chair left grease spots all over the fabric on the back of the chair and the arms of the sofas; and the lounge chairs, which were covered by fabric, had worn thread bare with constant elbow rubbing, and so on. It was difficult, if not impossible, to get the original fabric to replace the worn parts so the entire piece of furniture had to be recovered. This was expensive. So the whole set of lounge furniture was replaced by furniture that had wood arms and the backs did not go up high enough to catch the hair grease. And Hare produced in some other cases, special designs that answered these problems —a major refurnishing job with color coordination and carpet to match.
Then we were plagued by all sorts of lighting difficulties. The main lounge had very heavy bronze and strap iron chandelier fixtures with candle bulbs for a lighting source and you couldn’t read by this light when sitting below. So over the years we had had to add a forest of floor lamps and this didn’t add a great deal to the appearance of the room. It was a very high ceiling, also; it was full story and a half, or more. So the ceiling was dropped and turned into an acoustic ceiling for quieting the room and ceiling down-lights and fluorescent fixtures were installed in this drop ceiling to give an overall illumination that provided the candle power that was called for reading purposes at eye level. In the Great Hall, again, a story and a half high, it had a sky light in it with flood lights above. Well, the flood light—this was glazed glass and open to the roof sky lights—was a leaded glass dome and picturesque in some respects but it meant the sun light came in all day long and any conference or seminar or lecture that called for a darkened room for films or slides, couldn’t function because the room couldn’t be darkened. So, again, the ceiling was dropped so that it wasn’t such an austere, monumental room on the interior, for one thing. In other words, the sky light dome was closed off and downlighting was added in this dropped ceiling to give the possibility of lighting sufficient for banquet purposes so that you could see your food or read or see your notes. It could be dimmed for parties on dance nights—mood lighting—and a whole new sound system was added and a place carved out in the upper ceiling for spotlights to illuminate the stage where the speaker’s table was and the speakers were, so that you could see them. Again, this room with the sky light and some dome lighting had some very expensive bronze chandeliers with candle-shaped low glow lamps which didn’t give much light. Well, we left those in at the side for decorative purposes but we added the downlighting throughout and this made a different kind of Great Hall atmosphere, and a useful one.
At the same time, all these rooms were repainted into colors that were more pleasing and which were plain and simple colors aiming to hide very ornate and not-too good Renaissance moldings—egg-and-dart and so on—which were a distraction and were simply, as Frank Lloyd Wright called it, “This is bad Renaissance."
Then there was the case of the gallery. It had never had been intended as a gallery as I think I mentioned earlier. It was a kind of a reception room with crystal chandeliers and this meant no adequate lighting for art works on the wall and the room was pierced by three or four windows which meant that in the daytime, day light streamed in and interfered with lighting of art works. You entered the room and were greeted with a glare of window light which meant you couldn’t see the picture on the wall because you were stopped by the daylight hitting your eyes before you could see the picture and, of course, it took away quite substantially from wall space to hang pictures against. So Hare, the designer, blocked off the windows and installed gallery type lighting so that flexible, movable flood lights and spotlights on channels could be moved to highlight a sculpture or a given painting. Crystal fixtures were removed.
So it was this kind of modernization that went on and, concurrently, we were carving out new rooms in voids, empty spaces above offices, and some other rooms in the central section. As I mentioned, the lounge floor went up two floor stories. But except for the lounge and the gallery itself, all the surrounding offices went up only one story and there was nothing but empty space above, but you could get to it and we did. We carved out a meeting room and a whole set of accounting offices out of this wasted empty space that was there but unused.
Is this the reason why the floor is not level.
That’s right. The central section with the rooms dictated by the design of the lounge, went up two floors and next to the dining wing, where were normal single story floors; and to adjust to the differing levels and heights, the hallways didn’t run through—they couldn’t run through the commons wing to the main wing because they would run right into the voids and open spaces or blocked spaces of the central unit. The hallways, themselves, on the level below didn’t match in level so there are these steps between the main unit and the dining unit.
So in the late ’40s and in time for the centennial celebration, we had this rather complete refurbishing and redo and modernization of particularly the central section of the Union.
Post-War Needs for Expansion
Well, we are now in the post-war era in the late ’40s and enrollment zoomed. The return of the veterans, the universal desire to get back to college on the part of young people who had been facing the threat of draft and uncertain of what to do, and the economic times were improving, brought on thousands of new students which the University was not prepared for in many, many ways. Classrooms were inadequate. Quonsit huts were built on the lower campus to take on some of the load and, certainly, the Union wasn’t prepared particularly in terms of dining. There were very few dining establishments on State Street or near the campus. The Union was the main institution that was accountable for serving meals and in this sudden rush of new students, outside our cafeteria they would form lines two and three abreast back as far as the theater ticket office entrance—along the way down the corridor past the Rathskeller and out to Park Street—waiting in line sometimes half an hour or forty minutes to get up to the service counters. We had a single service counter in the cafeteria originally and at this time. So it was apparent that if we were going to meet the elementary need to eat on the part of students, we had to do something about our dining facilities. One of the emergency arrangements was to move in a mess hall from Badger Village Powder Works and put it out on University Avenue at Breeze Terrace as a second cafeteria to handle the food service out on the westerly end of campus. This helped somewhat but looking into the future with enrollment projections being what they were, we knew we had to do something about not only our cafeteria capacity but also about the kitchen capacity to handle the increased preparation of meals. So the plan was to do this on a cost plus basis which was somewhat unique in State construction.
There had not been much construction all during the war and hardly any in the ’30s except for the theater. There hadn’t been a great deal of experience with this but it was known that contractors were very loathe to give you a fixed price—a bid—on a remodeling job when they didn’t know what was behind the walls and what they would run in to. There had been some experience with renovation and expansion of that kind which was known in terms of finding that plumbing lines and sewer lines and electric lines were not where they were shown on the blueprint.
Some of the lines weren’t only obsolete but were broken or hazardous and a new expense, therefore was, involved that had not been anticipated, and in some cases the wall structure wasn’t where it was supposed to be. So with everybody’s endorsement and approval, the state agreed to do this renovation on a cost plus basis, meaning the cost of labor and materials plus around ten percent for overhead and profit. And the Findorf company got the go ahead to do it.
Well, you can maybe already guess what happened. They did indeed find that behind the walls there were all kinds of troubles that needed to be corrected and utilities replaced and many elements ran much more expensively than the contractor or we had thought. So what started out as maybe around a half-million dollar project to double the size of the cafeteria, to put in two serving counters, double the size of the kitchen, and to provide for adequate cold storage and food storage for one thing so that we could buy in quantity and take advantage of quantity purchases rather than get a new truck load of everything everyday in the end ran well over a million dollars, and this was painful. Painful to us and painful to the state, of course. Actually, it resulted in the state deciding it wasn’t going to be doing anymore cost-plus contracts. Well, again, the Union served, unwelcomely from our standpoint, as a turning point in State procedure. We had to scramble to find the extra funds to make up this difference and it was a very rough experience for us financially.
We also had other kinds of complications with that project that on hindsight are amusing but were very real at the time. The plan was to have the extension of the dining wing towards the lake, which is the only direction in which you could go, match in general appearance, the theater wing which called for, one thing, window walls so that people could see the lake. Before, in the old cafeteria, the lake side wall was pierced by a window here and there with a heavy squares of mullions in the window so that you only got a peek at Lake Mendota and not much of that unless you were sitting right next to a window. So the window pattern of the theater was to be repeated and the canopy or overhang of the theater was also to be repeated in order to have a reasonable conformity of appearance between the two wings. Well, at this moment, the University Foundation had acquired the old YMCA building which was next to us—only about fifteen feet away—and the Y had moved out to the other side of campus and had built a new building. The Foundation had dismantled the Y building intending it to be an open area, an open mall. The architects designed this canopy as a kind of sun shade and the functional purpose of it as in a residence or any other building, was to shut out the glare and the heat of a direct high sun. Well, to match the theater overhang, it ran eighteen inches over the line between the Union property and the Foundation YMCA property and there was one chap in the foundation who thought that was illegal, a violation of property rights, and he was not about to have any part of it. The Foundation would not agree to this encroachment, as it was called, although the encroachment was like sixteen feet up in the air and eighteen inches over the line and nobody would have ever detected this difference, and it didn’t interfere in anyway with an open plaza or mall out there. But, this chap in the Foundation was on their board and was resolute that this could not happen, so the whole project was help up for weeks and weeks while negotiations went back and forth between the Union, the University, and the Foundation with meetings in Milwaukee, with meetings here with the Union Trustees who finally persuaded the Foundation that this was not all that serious—and after all, students had to be fed—and it was not possible to pull back this canopy eighteen inches without destroying the desired design. We finally were able to go ahead with it.
Well, I must say, that in other ways the architects showed up with what seemed to be typical inadequacies. As I mentioned, the new cafeteria area was to be surrounded by window walls like the theater window walls so that people could see out. The theater window walls have a flush, even, plane surface on the outside and supporting mullions or ribs are on the inside at the theater. These window sections for the cafeteria were to be the same. Well, they were designed to be the same but the architect in approving the shop drawings approved them backwards so that the flush smooth wall of glass is on the inside and the ribs are on the outside.
Well, it’s one of those discouraging and frustrating kinds of things that can happen and, apparently, do happen in architectural work. We, by this time, had lost confidence in, not only this architect, but most architects except for Hare and Corbett and MacMurray who did, indeed, produce what we had asked for. Well, the result was that Doug Osterheld, who was the business manager and food director of the Union at that time and who is now in central University administration,—he, particularly, and I together really designed the cafeteria-kitchen addition and all the equipment for it and the selection of all the lighting fixtures and how the counters were to work and what the finished materials for the floor and ceiling and the rest were to be. So it turned out to be that the architect was simply following instructions on us on what to plan and how to do it, except that when it came time to approve the shop drawings, he bobbled it in several respects. Well, so much for the cafeteria-kitchen expansion. We did get our bills paid. It did open. We did have two service lines which did handle the increased load and we opened the cafeteria to the terrace so that in good weather people could move from inside the cafeteria with their trays to outside on the terrace and this has been enormously popular and well used on pleasant days. And we provided for so-called tray veyor and subveyor systems so that people from the terrace could deposit their trays in a wall opening. The tray veyor, an automatically moving belt, carried them back and down to the dish washing room. And we now had a kitchen that was prepared to handle up to 15,000 meals per day. The increasing capacity was not just for the purpose of serving meals in this building, although we had some 9,000 or 10,000 meals a day going here but also to prepare the food for the Breeze Terrace Cafeteria—the temporary mess hall building that I spoke of—and be prepared to handle the food service at the now newly proposed Wisconsin Center building and the University Club and ultimately, of course, we were asked to handle the food service at Lowell Hall. In fact, it was part of the University policy that all food service except for residence hall dining rooms, was to be the responsibility of the Union. So we were getting ready for this kind of future load when we did this renovation.
May I ask how the students got fed while you were doing the renovation?
Well, that was easy. We were put upon, of course, to find ways of serving. What actually happened was that we routed the cafeteria patrons to Tripp Commons on the floor above, to what was then called the Georgian Grill and the whole private dining room floor where the old Madison Room, the Round Table, and Beefeaters Room are, was converted to cafeteria service. So we did the best we could with the other dining rooms. And, of course, the Rathskeller was not touched by this renovation, so it had a heavy load. We didn’t serve people as well but it had to be if we were going to improve on the situation permanently and in the end it worked out but under certain handicaps.
The Lower Campus Master Plan That Didn’t Happen
Well now, I think I will go on to this matter of the planning of the Center building. We’re into the period of the late ’50s or early ’60s when the move was on to create a conference center for institutes or courses, etc., which were growing by leaps and bounds. The Union building itself had been the shelter and host for such conferences. We would have 600 or 700 conference meetings a year in our meetings rooms, the Great Hall, Theater, and so on. But this, in a way, displaced many student and faculty meetings and was not all that adequate for the growing number of short courses and institutes and conferences that the University departments wanted to bring to the campus, including extension and commerce and all the rest.
So active planning started for a building to be an adult conference center and there were weeks and months devoted to where it should be. There was at one time a plan to put it on Observatory Hill and at another time, at the base of Picnic Point and on and on. Well, the controlling factor in the end was that it had to have an intermittent food service and here was the Union with a kitchen now prepared to provide the food service and here, also, was the Union with thirty or more years of handling arrangements for conferences and this, particularly the food service requirement and the economic viability of conducting a food service for a conference center, controlled and led to the siting of the conference center at the corner of Lake and Langdon Streets. The University had to acquire some property to do this. It owned part of it but it had to get some more. I guess one can see, and everybody did see, finally, that with a conference of possibly 300 people at the center on one day and nobody the next three days and maybe twenty or forty the next day, you simply could not afford to maintain a full dining service ready at the drop of a hat to serve anywhere from twenty to 300 or 400, whatever it was. So, hence, the center was located close to the Union on the other side of this mall or plaza which the Foundation had acquired by purchasing the YMCA property.
Well, we were called upon to assist in the planning of that. We would review drawings. We made numerous recommendations, especially as related to food service and meeting rooms, and were centrally involved at one point and the whole outlook was, including word from President Fred that he expected the Union to operate the building starting with the food service but going on to reservations and servicing for all the conferences. And this was welcomed on our part because it meant an expansion of food volume which would, overall, improve the dining results and it meant that when conferences did not occupy all the meeting rooms at the new meeting center, they would be available for student and faculty meetings. By this time we were the central reservations office for the University for all non-academic purposes. We had been reserving classrooms for evening and weekend student meetings and faculty gatherings, and so on. This was a logical part of that whole approach and we seriously needed more meeting rooms in this building. This was one of the desperate needs of the Union at that time with increasing enrollment and numbers of student organizations, and faculty demands. We had been routing innumerable gatherings to nearby classroom buildings because our meeting rooms were full. So, this was a welcome development.
But then something happened and I take it, though it was never fully spelled out, that what happened was that Dean Elwell, of the Commerce School, had remembered an incident back in President Dykstra’s time when the Bankers’ School, which Elwell had invented and was very popular and very good in terms of public relations especially for the Commerce School, was asked to pay a rental for the use of the Union Theater. This was not our request. In the economic pinch for the University during and shortly after the war years, President Dykstra notified the Union that we had to charge rental for the Theater—that there was to be no University subsidy or financial underwriting to cover the costs and there were costs, of course, including costs of janitorial service, management services, all the utilities, door keepers, and all the rest. We had a standard rental for admission events but this wasn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of the events that did not charge an admission, like the Banker’s Conference and any others, that had been without charge but now Dykstra ordered us to make the charges. But Elwell held it against the Union and he was very influential among the business men who headed the U.W. Foundation which was raising the money to build the Center and, as I got the story indirectly, he made it clear to the Foundation Board that the Union should have nothing to do with the management of what was now to be called the Wisconsin Center Building, or it would be over his dead body, or so to speak. Well, we tried to explain to Elwell and point out that charging was not our doing, that we did not want to charge rental for the theater, but that this was on instruction from President Dykstra. I guess Elwell used this in his quarrel with President Dykstra. He had quarrels of other kinds with him and in the end, apparently, he was one of the persons who influenced the Board of Regents to let President Dykstra go. Whether President Dykstra resigned voluntarily or whether he got the word it would be desirable, I can’t say I know but I am inclined to believe that Dean Elwell had something to do with it. He certainly had something to do with the Union being excluded from the management of the Center building other than the food service because the building had now already been designed without a kitchen in reliance upon the Union kitchen to prepare the food to serve over there. So we did still became involved in terms of providing food service and this has continued to this day.
Well, along the way, while we had a pretty firm agreement at the beginning with the now new and different Center management on the use of Center rooms for students when the Center didn’t need them for conferences as a reciprocity measure because the Center relied on the Union for its large hauls to handle conferences, like the theater—it still had no such facility for the Banker’s Conference which was held in the theater—and many conferences required the Great Hall for banquets or exhibits that took a lot of space, and so on. But at some point this broke down and we did not actually, after a few years, get much use of the Center meeting rooms for students.
So we still had this need to provide more meeting rooms and we couldn’t do it in the parameter of our existing building. Concurrently, there was a new need with the growing conference traffic to provide housing facilities—hotel, guest room facilities—for the conference people. Also concurrently, there was a strong desire on the part of at least one faculty group to create a better faculty club than the old University Club building on State Street. So all these elements were put together and it was foreseen that there could be a high-rise building on the old red gym site which could incorporate all three of these facilities—the guest rooms, more meeting rooms both for the Center and for the Union, and the faculty club on the top floor—and underground parking. The Foundation again, via the same chap who objected to our cafeteria canopy overhanging the property line of the Y—he was now resolved that parking had to be cleared from the area between the Union and the old red gym, and the Foundation was insisting on this with the University administration. Part of this plan with this high rise new structure on the gym site was to move the parking between the Union and the gym underground and also to establish an underground passage for trucking food from the Union kitchen to the basement of the Center building rather than surface trucking over Langdon Street and into the Center by a round-about, and more difficult fashion.
Well, there were now three or four parties involved. The Foundation was involved. They had anticipated this gym site as a place for an auditorium wing for their conference use. The Alumni House, by this time, had got built or was to be built at the end of Lake Street on the lakeshore but adjacent to the Center. And, of course, the Union. And then the Parking Authority. So there was a call for a coordinated, more general lower campus plan in the early ’60s, and an architectural group from Michigan—Daverman and Company, which had designed the new dormitories over on Johnson Street—was called in to develop this plan. We all shared in the cost of that design work. There was ultimately a meeting of all parties concerned. It was called by the Lower Campus Planning Committee and it was chaired by President Harrington. There was general agreement by all the parties as to what was to be done. There were numbers of defects and defaults in the Daverman original plan which we, since we were fairly experienced in reading blueprints and experienced with architectural difficulties, had a large part in reviewing and correcting, and so on, but in the main, the essentials of this plan that I just mentioned—the high rise with guest rooms and meeting rooms and faculty club and underground parking and underground passage not only for the purpose of expanding Union facilities but also so that the conference people at the Center could move under shelter from the Center to the Union for a banquet or theater usage or for food service if a group was too large for the Center food service without having to get on their raincoats or winter coats and walk outside and down the street and recheck their coats in the Union. And, of course, move the other way including student and faculty groups moving from the Union to this new high rise building where their meeting rooms or faculty club were to be. Well, as I say, there was general agreement reached in principle on this. Everybody seemed to subscribe to it with President Harrington, the chairman of the committee, not objecting to it, in effect, helping to carry the ball on it. And then suddenly to our surprise—to everybody’s surprise—one day it was announced that President Harrington had gotten the University to purchase Lowell Hall as the guest house and this demolished the whole idea of building a guest house on the gym site, a physical structure that the Union was prepared to finance. We had the necessary cash and borrowing capacity to build that structure, and all the signs of income from a conference guest house as well as from visiting parents and alumni. At other Unions, particularly in the big ten as at Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and several other places, showed that this could very easily amortize the debt involved with something to spare. But now came the surprise purchase of Lowell Hall to be converted to a guest house and more meeting rooms and so on. Well, this you may have already learned from your other interviews, would raise a lot of eyebrows at the Capitol as to how this purchase came about without State approval.
I didn’t know they didn’t approve it.
It was all done and in someways raised very critical questioning at the State Capitol, and there was an audit of the whole thing and the University, in effect, was reprimanded for the method by which it was done, and that they paid too much for it, and so on. I don’t pretend to know all the background and detail of that but I do know that it ended the project for adding facilities for the Union, for the Center, for the faculty club, and for underground parking.
Well, our next major effort was to build a facility on the west and the south side of the campus because this was where the campus was expanding. The housing on the lower campus area had been rapidly cleared to make way for new buildings—all that Sterling Court area where the Elvehjem Art Center and the Humanities building are now and the A.W. Peterson business building, and so on—so that students in rooming houses and apartments were moving farther away and, particularly, out to the west and the south at that time - later to Mifflin Street. The Breeze Terrace cafeteria had shown that there was a very substantial clientele for food service, already, in that area so the Union embarked on a plan to create a satellite or branch union on the southwest side of the campus to serve the growing student population out there, to serve the classroom population of the Agriculture School and Engineering School and the occupants of other new classroom buildings that were going up along University Avenue and Johnson Street, etc. I forget just what the timing element was but somewhere along the way, the Breeze Terrace cafeteria burned down.
That was in the ’60s some time.
It was in the ’60s but I think our planning for Union South had already started and this simply speeded it up. We made temporary dining provisions in one of the medical buildings across University Avenue—a kind of a snack bar set-up after the Breeze Terrace building burned.
I was appointed chairman of the planning committee by the President and we set to work to plan this building, and one of the questions was, of course, where should it be? We favored as close to University Avenue as possible and on University land and there were some options for doing this. One site was near the heating plant and another actual consideration at that time was to take over the whole dining and kitchen area of University Hospital because it was thought then that it would move out soon. Actually, it never turned out to be soon but this was one of the other indicated options. There was considerable discussion and argument over the site and the site that was finally selected on Randall Avenue, south of Johnson Street, was one that never won the Union enthusiasm. In fact, we kept urging alternate locations closer to University Avenue so that students from Ag College and all the buildings along University Avenue wouldn’t have to cross that Johnson Street arterial or if they were occupying buildings like the Ag School buildings north of University Avenue, so that they wouldn’t have to cross both University Avenue arterial and Johnson Avenue arterial to get to the Union on Randall, south of Johnson. We, knew from experience of other Union planning that these arterials with stop lights interposed real, or least psychological obstacles to people coming over for short breaks between classes, for example. The general motivation we had was to provide those kinds of facilities for the southwest campus that were obviously needed and which, though they existed in the Memorial Union building on Langdon Street, were simply too far away to get after class for lunch and back to the next class, or to get there between classes or for drop-in purposes after classes before getting the bus or bike to go home. So the concentration was on short term recreation such as games, billiards, and bowling and on dining—that was a major consideration—and on meeting rooms for the convenience of both the student organizations and faculty in the Ag and Engineering Colleges but not do duplicate the major facilities that existed at the Memorial Union like ballroom or auditorium or craftshop or art gallery, and so on, with most of these facilities, being of the kind that students would come to wherever they are if they were craft minded or if they wanted to see a theater performance or a movie or whatever and to keep the cost within our reasonable potential.
So we set forth to plan such a Union but not excluding the possibilities of expansion once we learned what the traffic would be and what the needs would be. Well, this was proceeding with the usual numerous committee meetings to plan, discussions and going through all sorts of modifications and changes, consultation with the departments at the end of the campus, consultation with student organizations, tests of student needs and traffic counts along the sidewalks, and so on. We were about to get ready to draw up plans when one day a letter came from the President’s office saying that he was appointing a member of an Engineering department as chairman of the committee. Well, this was somewhat of a disappointment to me. I had been the chairman for a year or more and it was standard University practice to have the chairman of a planning committee be from the department that was going to operate the building and not to mention the fact that I had spent the last twenty-five, or more, years engaged in Union planning in almost every state of the union except three or four, as I may have mentioned, working with some 110 colleges and universities and their architects and their planning committees, and so on. I didn’t really fully understand this except as they gave the explanation that since this was to be be near the Engineering College, they thought an engineering faculty member might well be the chairman and they wanted me to continue to serve on the committee, which I did. But, it was soon apparent that there were grandiose ideas as to what this building now should be. Engineering college people, I suppose, and others wanting to do it up brown and have some of everything. This was a deep concern to us at the Union because one of the basic purposes of a union, dating back to the original unions created in the early part of the nineteenth century in Oxford and Cambridge, was to cut across departmental and college lines and serve as a unifying force in a large university, to make it possible for students of all disciplines to rub shoulders with each other, and not to isolate one school or department or college from another. That, as I guess I’ve said in our interview, the general agreement that students learn much from each other. It’s important for the art student to know how an engineering student behaves and thinks and what his aspirations are and what he is like or she is like and to meet up with all the kinds of diverse students and their backgrounds that a large university affords—and which is the prize possession of the small college where everybody comes to know each other and benefits from the inter-personal relationships.
So we were deeply concerned and worried about whether a larger union and a more complete facility on that side of campus would defeat this goal and be a divisive influence by making it unnecessary for an engineering or ag student to attend a meeting at the Union or to use the craftshop at the Union or to come to a performance or a film at the Union which meant that in doing so he would encounter students from other colleges and with other interests and the whole meaning of the word union—the reason it is called union—is to provide a unified student body, and I guess as I’ve said, be a unifying force among diverse student groups. Otherwise, their is no reason to call it a “union.” It ought to be called a community center or something else or neighborhood center or social center.
Well, this was a worrisome development and then as the architectural planning proceeded it was apparent to me that basic union planning principles that had been adopted now nationwide and which I was devoted to and was fostering as a professional planner, were being ignored and departed from in ways that looked to me would be very expensive in operations—because this was one of our Association’s main goals in setting the principles of planning. I wrote the definitive manual on union planning and how to save on operating costs and how to save in initial expense by arranging facilities for economical construction costs and is which all very central and important in my view. Since these departures were so numerous and so fundamental, I resigned from the committee. I could not go along with this kind of an approach. I did not want to be associated with what I thought would be a grave error in planning and in the development of student services and of student life on this campus.
Well, then came the pay off, which was that the University settled on this Randall Avenue site which it did not own. There was a whole set of expensive apartment buildings on it which was going to cost some $800,000 to acquire. We had surplus from Union operations built up over these prosperous years of heavy dining, that I think I mentioned, and heavy enrollment with each student paying the per capita Union fee; and we had long term development plans presented to the University prior to all of this Union South planning that I referred to in which we showed that the first priority for our surplus was to develop as far as we could, this building—the Memorial Union on Langdon Street—by enclosing deep recesses and alcoves and building over open decks, and so on, to gain meeting rooms which we had been deprived from getting when the high-rise on the gym site fell through. We had earmarked our first monies, our first resources, for that purpose and then we earmarked as the second phase for using our cash and our borrowing ability to the development of a moderate sized Union South.
Well, a telephone call came one day from the assistant chancellor saying we’re taking $500,000 of your surplus to buy the land on Randall Street for the Union South, period. The State provided the land for this building on Langdon Street. The State should have provided the land for any union supplementary facility and it was not really asked to do it. No case was made. I think the legislature would have done it or, at least, the University would have been more serious about allocating property that the University already owned for union purposes. So we lost the monies—the cash surplus that we had projected to be used for expanding the facilities of Union on Langdon Street.
Then, the second part of the discouraging outcome was that while we were prepared to allow for future expansion as needs developed, if they developed on the southwest side of the campus, the then new planning committee with the support of the Planning Office decided to put a third floor on Union South. It was to have been a two-floor building with provisions in the structure so that a third floor could be added later when we determined what was needed. But they decided to add the third floor right now for some fifteen or sixteen guest rooms which to me was a serious mistake because it served only thirty people, at most, on any given day if they were rented at all and not students at that, but visitors also a craftshop, which we already had at this Union in sizeable proportion. Well, this cost an extra half million dollars to do this. So what set out to be under my chairmanship about a $2,200,000 project grew to be a $4,500,000 project. The Union trustees supported me in urging of the Plan Commission not to add this third floor, not to go this deeply into debt. But as I said we had an expansionist central administration then and though I appeared at the planning commission meeting and made the point that this was getting far beyond our ability to pay off, the answer was, “What are you worrying about, Porter? We’ll see to it that you get an increase in the student fee that will take care of this additional expense. Any other department head would be delighted to have more of a building then he thought was necessary at the time.” I said, “Well, that’s all well and good but our experience has been that, when it down to cases, the support for the additional operating requirements isn’t there. And the answer was: “Well, this is up to you, Porter, to make this come out all right.” And we had been through this kind of experience. I said, I don’t want my successors—and, of course, I was nearing the point of retirement then— to be faced with that problem. But on assurances on Mr. Atwell, the assistant chancellor who also chaired the Planning Commission at that time, that the administration would see to it that the student Union fee was increased adequately to cover this additional debt service, they approved the third floor, and then they went out to borrow and to ask for bids.
At that time, the State borrowing came in at the peak of interest rates. It doesn’t sound big now, but it was then at 7.5% where all of our previous borrowing had been on the order of 4.5 or 5%. Now we faced 7.5% and no authorization to pay off any of the debt in advance. If you had a good year, you couldn’t reduce your debt by an advance payment, and that debt was about double what we originally said we felt we could really afford. Well, I don’t want to belabor this point too much except to say that almost every one of my predictions came true. The debt service on this expanded facility was such that the Union ran serious operating deficits for several years. All the people in the administration who were going to see to it that the fee was increased to cover what was needed, had disappeared from the campus and couldn’t be held and their successors couldn’t be held to carry through the commitment. In fact, the opposite happened. The administration shortly froze the student fees at all campuses—that is the Union fees. The Union was faced with serious curtailment of services, cutting back staff and programs, and still running heavy deficits. It was a very bleak outcome. Also it’s one of the large disappointments in my own career as a union professional, and I must say, that even the elements of planning which I had rooted for and which were not adopted have turned out to be omissions that they are now trying to make up for. For example, I knew the the snack bar seating would not be large enough and that the cafeteria seating should be placed adjacent to it so that the two could supplement each other depending on when the peak need came for what kind of service. Well, they didn’t do this. They put the cafeteria on the second floor and the snack bar on the first floor which I argued unsuccessfully against. But now this year they are expanding the snack bar seating at considerable expense because it isn’t large enough to take care of the load. So it is a kind of a wry satisfaction to find out that in many ways one was right in the early days.
What has happened to the third floor?
Well, for example, the craftshop has been abandoned. It had proved too expensive to operate. You have to have an attendant supervision. You can’t turn people loose in a craftshop with machine tools and art materials and so on. Then, if they walk off and they are not there tomorrow, or they get into hazardous use of tools, or the place is left in a mess, you have real problems. So as I understand it, it turned out to be ill-used or too expensive to maintain and supervise, so it has gone out of business, where over here, we’ve got the craftshop with all the wherewithal and supervision and not all that difficult to get here to one evening or late afternoon or a Saturday to make use of it.
The hotel rooms, I don’t know how well used they are. Since that time, and even while we were planning, hotels were coming in close to the campus—the Howard Johnson Hotel over on University Avenue and I think the Regent apartment building and other hotels cropping up all over the city and you know sixteen rooms are not enough to handle a conference, anyhow. They are probably well used on football weekends because they are right near the stadium.
Well, in the end the Union recovered financially somewhat because the freeze was lifted partly through the efforts of the Union trustees and we, again, have gotten right side up financially. But through all this painful process the expansion and remodeling and updating of this building on Langdon Street had to be deferred because all of our resources went into Union South which was supposed to come after the updating and renovation and expansion of this building. Well, I guess for one thing, I was resolved we weren’t going to miss doing what was planned to be done in making this building work as well as it could and updating it, especially since we were approaching our fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the building. So despite all the disappointments for me personally created by Union South, I came back and stayed on and raised something over a million dollars to do the job we meant to do ten or fifteen years ago and had the money to do at that time, but which was taken out of our hands arbitrarily. We got it done. I did this on a volunteer basis, partly to get done what should have been done in the first place only it was now done at about three times the cost that it would have been if we would have done it int he ’60s. This has included providing the funds for enlarging the dining room lobby and adding washrooms, adding a new second gallery ,adding a large reception room adjacent to Great Hall, expanding the Beefeaters Room, making fire exits from Great Hall to the outside including a stairway from the Tripp Lounge open decks down to the terrace so the people from the terrace people could get up on those decks and the people on the decks could get down to the terrace, and funding general improvement of the lakeshore for the sailboats and park-like development between the Union and the Limnology building down below Muir Knoll.
Have you done this or is this still to come?
This particular lakeshore project is still to come and, again, I must say we have trouble with the engineers and the architects. The engineers estimated up into late summer that this would cost about $215,000, and the low bid came in ten days ago at $340,000. So we’re having to start over again to see what we can do within the funds available. These are funds that were raised largely from class gifts by me and also the University persuaded the legislature to kick in $75,000 on it. But the total sum available doesn’t reach what the cost estimate has turned out to be.
Expansion of Facilities — Set-back for Theater but Gain in Parking
Well, this was all going on this last ten years—and I’ve been here now ten years since by retirement. Also at the beginning just about the time I was retiring, we were to see an expansion of theater facilities across from the theater, across Park Street, in the Communications Art building. Actually, it is where the Helen White Library is now, and that is another story.
The drama faculty—Professor Haberman was chairman of the Speech department which included drama—he and his group and we all agreed that across Park Street from the Union Theater was the place to house the Communication Arts because with an underground passage under Park Street they could move freely back and forth to the Union stage shops, costume shops, prop storage and, of course, have the use of the main theater, the big theater. There was enough agreement on this so that we removed the bowling area from the theater basement, converted it into an elaborate costume shop and storage plus prop storage to get ready for this development and spent about $90,000 doing it. Then the Planning Office in its wisdom, or lack there of, decided the Communications Art Building ought to be over on Johnson Street and the Helen White Library should be across Park Street. It was to include not only the small teaching theater which was to seat 300 or 400 people and which was to have been built in the Communications Art Building across from the Union—everybody knew we needed a teaching theater as well as a large performance theater and that was all right—but it also included a large performance theater of around 800 to 1,000 in place of the Union Theater. So the Drama Department pulled out. It was for the Drama Department that the Union theater was built in large measure. They promoted it, helped us get it and their uses of it accounted for over 50% of all the uses of the Union Theater up until the time they pulled out to go into the new Communications Arts Building. But when the bids came in on that building there wasn’t nearly enough money so, right away, the large performance theater was scratched. So they ended up with only the small teaching theater and no large theater and have had to now make due with a theater for not over 400—a thrust theater—for experimental and teaching purposes and all of their audience performances are held in that theater except for one or two a year where they join with the Music Department to produce a musical show or opera at which time they do move back to the Union Theater. But the result of all this is that we have all these elaborate back stage facilities—scene building shop, costume shop, costume storage, prop storage, the dressing rooms, the works—that are lying idle because the concert artists coming from outside don’t need these, you see. Only occasionally will a traveling theater show find the stage shop useful in storing its props that are needed on stage.
So, the purposes for which the Union Theater had been built have been at least half dissipated. It simply stands idle day after day after day. It is expensive to maintain, to staff to operate and the Union bas had to turn to a much larger schedule of concert artists and visiting performances which has been pretty successful so far but next year the Madison Civic Center opens with a larger capacity than our Union Theater and will be a severe competitor, some of us think, for the same artist attractions that we have been getting. So this was a real boo-boo on the part of campus planners so far as the Union goes, and whether the Drama Department realizes it or not, it is for them, too, in terms that they lost their large theater and all that went with it and what they could have had here at the Union. So the University as a whole did this in the most expensive possible way—expensive in building the new Communication Art Building and the cost of operating it plus this very great additional expense of operating the Union Theater without the offsetting income that used to come from the Drama Department in terms of its admission performances and rehearsal rentals. So it’s again one of those things that occasions regret.
Well, the Helen White Library is there now and it produces a certain amount of student traffic for the Union which is helpful and this was always to have been the case of the Communication Arts Building. Also, it was to have underground parking to support uses of the building—both the theater and the dining rooms and all the rest. Parking was from the beginning one of our most serious problems once the use of automobiles became prevalent. Our use of the Union was limited by how much parking there was within reasonable walking distance. So our chance to appeal to the faculty and alumni and to students who live far away and who motor in by motorcycle or car, was severely limited by how many parking spaces there are near enough to be useful at the Union.
Well, one of the first things the Planning Office did, and apparently with the University administrative support, was to eliminate the parking under Helen White Library in order to keep the cost down.
Isn’t there some parking down there?
It’s there because of the efforts of yours truly and the Union Trustees. It was wiped out by the University administration and the State Building Commission but Don Anderson, publisher of the State Journal and who was an officer of the Union Trustees at the time, heard the grim story from me and from his own experience of trying to get to a theater performance went to Governor Knowles who was a close friend of his and also chairman of the State Building Commission, and this was significant. Anderson, in his influential way, personally persuaded Governor Knowles to put the parking back in and it was to have been two levels of public parking for visitors to the Union and the library. Well then, the Parking Authority got into the act and made one of the levels permit parking for faculty which took it out of public use during the day time. It is available and open for theater parking and evening dining parking at night time and weekends, which is still a great asset but for conference use at the Union or at the Center building, it is not available. This, again, raises all sorts of complaints and reluctance on the part of conference people to use either the Union or the Center because parking is so limited. So arrangements have had to be made by the Center or by us when a conference comes: for a VIP group the parking authority comes down and bags the meters at Helen White or the area between the Union and the gym—most of them. Often this means the public is thrown out entirely.
So this ends our review—sometimes bright, sometimes a little dreary—of the involvement of the Union in getting buildings built and remodeling done. While there is much more to it, it would hours and hours to spell out in detail. This is probably enough to indicate the kind of problems we have had and what many of the other departments of the University also have but aren’t quite as vocal about it.
What happened about that information booth that was out by the bus stop?
Well, you’re going back to one of the kinds of things that indicates the University bureaucracy at work and the problems that departments have in getting anything of a visible construction nature accomplished. We had a class give us $3,400 to build an information kiosk at the corner of Langdon and Park Streets. When that corner was developed by the Planning Office, the curb was cut back so that there would be an easier turn into Park Street from Langdon and the bicycle racks installed, and so on. There was a knock-out circle left to receive a future informational kiosk. It was provided with underground electrical lines and telephone line and water line, and so on. I persuaded the class president by taking him down and showing him this circle knockout area which is right at the strategic corner where all the pedestrians and cars pass going up to Park Street from Langdon or coming from Park Street to get up the hill road or into Helen White parking. I showed him that spot and indicated that we once had a information attendant who worked out there at the request of one of the Regents to answer visitor questions, provide change for the bus, hand out maps, and all the rest, but it was kind of an eye sore which we were cancelling with this new kiosk in prospect which would have in it a telephone connected with an inside information desk which had all the dope on the day schedules and where buildings were and who to see about what, and there would be glassed bulletin boards for campus maps, the bus schedule, the day’s events, and posters for the on-coming theater events; a mailbox; and a drinking fountain—all lighted at night so people could spot it and use it at night. It could have been a handsome decorated unit like so many street kiosks are in Denmark and Germany, in fact, all through Europe, and indeed there are some on the Lake Street mall that have just been finished. The class president thought it was a fine idea and it would be a day-by-day, hour-by-hour exposure of his class.
What class was it?
The class of 1934 and this was Delmar Karlen, the President. So he authorized the use of their monies for this purpose. He was very happy about it. We then turned it over to the Planning Office to produce a design. Well, you know, this is a circular or rectangular kiosk with openings in it and bulletin boards, at most, seven or eight feet in diameter. Well, then starts the saga of the kiosk. First of all, somebody in the Planning Office thinks this isn’t the right location after all and had already put it back against the building wall and we said, “Yes, but you planned it at this location. You are the people who put this circular knockout in the concrete walk.” Yes, but we’ve had second thoughts about that.” “We can’t have a successful information booth if people can’t see it or know that it’s there because it is back behind all the people standing and waiting for the bus and people marching along Langdon Street aren’t going to detour 100 feet to go over to the theater entrance to see what the day’s events are and where they are, and so on. So, this argument starts. This goes on for months. Then, let’s get a design produced and the design comes in looking like a gravestone—a slab of concrete standing up with a couple of wings to it and few of the facilities that were part of the essence of the program like a place for the mailbox and a place for the drinking fountain, and so on. So this won’t do. Well, we’ll try another one and I sketch out the kind of thing I had recently seen in Denmark and, in fact, brought back some photographs of a fairly good-looking kiosk of this kind. I also had one from Kalamazoo on there new mall which was more circular in form and had all the essential requirements accounted for. So they built two little scale models to put on their desk and look at and we were to test these out and get reactions to the grave-stone pylon and this circular affair. So we had to go through the process of getting reactions for weeks, and almost without exception people wanted the circular kiosk, not the concrete slab because of its height. I said, “What good is height? People can’t read way up there. it’s six feet above their eye level. They can’t see what the posters say.” Well, on and on—this kind of thing. Then, in the middle of all of this comes a new campus signing committee has been appointed by the President because there is some trouble over at the Elvehjem about a banner they hung out over the front door to say that this is the Elvehjem Art Center and this has to be changed, so now anybody who wants to put up anything outside on the ground has to be cleared through this new Sign Committee. So they don’t meet very often. People are out of town, and so on. So weeks pass by without the Committee meeting and when they do meet they don’t like either model. They had to start over again and do something else. So they recruit some guy to try again and he doesn’t get the message very clearly as to what it is for or what it is to contain. He comes up with a design that doesn’t work either. So it is turned back to him to do over again and more weeks go by and “Where is the alternate design?”—we keep asking. Finally, we find out that he has had a nervous breakdown and can’t be on the job until some weeks or more later.
Well, this goes on and on and on so, it becomes three and a half years later from the time that I persuaded the president of the class to give us the $3,400 until we have a design that is reasonably acceptable but with the question of where to put it not resolved. But at least, they were going to put it out for bids and see how much it costs and the bid comes in at $26,500 for a simple kiosk eight or nine feet high, at the most, and with two or three glassed in bulletin boards but all kinds of fancy doo-dads which this designer put on it which required custom-made metal fabrication . Still, no kiosk and now not nearly enough money to try for it. So the project was abandoned and there is no kiosk in process, but it took three and a half years to find this out.
Well, I think it would have been a nice idea. I’m sorry it fell through.
We thought it would have been a helpful thing for the public to see where to go on the campus via maps, and when the bus is coming, and to be able to use the telephone to reach somebody, or to mail a letter—in addition reducing that clutter that is out there now of posters and mailbox, etc., in assorted in different places. But that’s the part of University work that adds up to considerable frustration and makes you wonder what’s the use of the energy and effort to try to raise money to get something done?
Yes, that’s a good point.
This is not really connected with the Union in any way but I have learned that your younger brother was in the first class of the Experimental College here at the University. I am wondering, if in your recollection, you have any thing to say how he felt about it.
I do have some recollections on that. I guess it was I who encouraged my brother, Freeman, to come on as a freshmen and enter the Experimental College because it was an exciting-sounding educational venture, and he, himself, was interested in a new experience educationally. And I knew of Meiklejohn and some of his staff members and they were top grade educators, of course. So he did enter the first class in the Experimental College and, overall, I think, found it very, very rewarding. He never had any strong regrets about it. Well, there were difficulties with the Experimental College, I guess perhaps you have discovered already, and I was exposed to them directly because I was a member of the faculty Residence Halls committee which had the mission of developing the halls of residence out on the lakeshore—Tripp and Adams Hall—and we were given the word that the Experimental College was to move in to one of these dormitory units. This was very unsettling to us and to Dr. Bradley, the chairman of the Residence Halls committee.
Why was it unsettling?
Because we thought a strong innovative educational program already were underway through the existing Adams and Tripp men’s dormitories—the first men’s dormitories that ever existed on the campus—and they were conceived from the beginning as a kind of residential college following the well-known pattern of the English universities where students lived together with dons or, as we call them, “Fellows,” for mutual interchange of ideas and for joint effort by the teacher and by the student found in developing productive, educational experiences outside the classroom and that could come from intimate, personal contact between students and teachers. That happens when you lived together.
So in receiving the commandment from the University administration—President Glenn Frank who brought Meiklejohn and the Experimental College here—that the Experimental College was to occupy one of these units, we were faced with a two-part experiment in education going on at the same time and, as it turned out, often in conflict with each other because the patterns of activity and behavior and discipline and goals to be sought that had been carefully nurtured by the dormitory Faculty Committee, were quite different from open end, permissive, totally free kind of activity that characterized the Experimental College.
Well, the result, as you’ve probably already determined, was a constant conflict between the students in the Experimental College, on the one hand, in that dormitory unit and the aspirations and objectives of the students in the adjacent unit right next door to the point where there were back and forth insults and some hazing going on and the students in the residence halls unit—our unit as distinguished from the Experimental College unit—simply did not get along well with the population in the Experimental College. This is partly because of the very permissive, non-disciplinary attitude of the Experimental College staff led by Meiklejohn himself. He just didn’t care about this kind of outside the classroom activity or behavior. It was irrelevant so far as he was concerned—partly occasioned by, as I think I started to say, by the fact that many of the students enrolled in the Experimental College had come from the east—New Jersey, New York, etc.—and they were quite a different breed of students than had appeared on the Wisconsin campus ever before, in terms of dress, in terms of attitude, and in terms of behavior. They were a fairly dominant group in the Experimental College, separate from the more typical midwestern student that my brother represented—he came from Illinois—and numbers of other students who did come from Wisconsin. So there were some internal conflicts within the Experimental College, itself. But the visible public image of the Experimental College was of the bizarre behavior and dress of the Experimental College students who came from the East attracted as they were by Meiklejohn’s liberal reputation and, indeed, by the understood implications that they were to be quite free and easy in what they did and how they did it both in the classroom and outside the classroom.
Did your brother understand that before he came?
No. I think the concept of studying for the first year a total civilization—in this case, the Greek civilization—in all of its aspects as an integrated educational experience followed in the second year by an examination of the American democracy and society and its manifestations politically, socially, historically, and so on, was a very intriguing prospect. This is what attracted him. He had no interest in behavioristic permissiveness.
Well, the activity in the Experimental College surfaced in a very public way in terms of in the dining room throwing butter at the ceiling, tossing rolls at each other, disregarding any of the dining rules by capturing seconds in their meal servings, and shouting, and setting-up an uproar, and so on, which took place within the dormitory walls. And then outside the dormitories they were the first, at Wisconsin, of the visible bizarre dressed groups—all sorts of strange costumes including capes and riding boots and shirts unbuttoned to the navel, with students appearing in this garb at formal concerts, and so on.
Well, this turned off the Madison public in a large way and other students including the students in the other dormitory unit who didn’t go for this for one thing, or if they did, they didn’t like the difference in the application of discipline. Then the faculty, led by Dean Sellery and other traditionalists were not at all impressed by Meiklejohn’s approach to what constituted a proper education. So they got in the act and registered their protests and lack of support. There were times when Dr. Bradley as chairman of our Resident Halls committee had to make direct appeals to President Frank in person and by letter to say whether or not, as far as the out-of-class behavior was concerned—not the educational program— whether the residence halls standards of behavior and discipline, and so on, controlled or whether the Experimental College’s lack of standards and lack of guidance and lack of direction because here were these two experiments going on virtually under the same roof and in conflict with each other. So this produced a problem for President Frank, all right and it was never really very satisfactorily resolved.
Well, back to the experiences of by brother. He had, I think, a rich experience. He appeared in one of the Greek plays that the Experimental College presented as a lead character.
Do you recall the play?
What was the name of it? It had to do with a mother image. Maybe I’ll think of that later. I’ve lost track of it at the moment—A famous Greek play.
Well, he got interested in educational philosophy as first represented by the Meiklejohn approach and went on after his first two years into the history and philosophy of education as a major at this University and continued on to his doctorate and became a professor of the philosophy and history of education at Teacher’s College at Columbia and ultimately became the holder of the Russell Chair, which is the most prestigious distinguished chair in the history of the philosophy of education at Columbia or anywhere else, and is still active and recognized as one of the principle authorities in this country on history and philosophy of education and has produced numerous books and papers in support of this which in part accounts for his reputation in the field. He has not lost interest in the Experimental College venture. He has often referred to this in his writings as one of the significant elements in how to go about education. He has returned for all of the periodic reunions of the Experimental College alumni and in the last two of these was the keynote speaker. And he’s now on special faculty appointment at San Jose University in California and meets regularly with other Experimental College alumni in the California area every couple of months or so, not just to talk about nostalgic early days but to raise funds for scholarships in Meiklejohn’s name. So perhaps this signifies the answer to your question as to whether he thought it was a worthwhile experience. He knows what its faults were and often cited them. His principle regret about the Experimental College, as was the regret of a number of other people; that behavioristic elements of the students in those earliest years led to the defeat of the continuation of the educational experiment. The educational experiment, in his view, was valid and quite worthwhile but was defeated and ultimately the Experimental College was thrown out not on the basis of educational inadequacy but on the basis of non-classroom behavior and attitudes of the young students, particularly, from the east coast. Does this somehow get at any answer you haven’t already received?
Well, it is a little bit different slant on the situation. I’m very glad to have it.
There is another detail—again, this is another detail . The archives are slightly involved in it. I’m wondering what you can tell me about the portrait of President Birge that used to be in the Union building and the Christian neighbor Abramsen who struggled so hard to restore it. Do you know anything about that situation?
Well, I know that it was transferred to the Union in the early years when we were planning and decorating the main lounge of the building with portraits representing the four major elements of the University community. The Birge portrait represented the University administration. A portrait of Thomas Brittingham was there representing the Regents or policy makers of the University. Charles Lindberg’s portrait was there representing the students of the University and, I believe, it was Dean Slichter representing the faculty. Later we received the portrait of George Haight representing alumni and we had the portraits for some years.
Were these all hung in the same room?
They were all hung the same room—except Haight’s—in what is now called the Main Lounge but which in the early years was called the “Council Room,” which had a true meaning—one of counseling together among the faculty administration and students and alumni, and also, the Union governing board was called the Union Council with a different spelling—Council. So it was a kind of a denotation of the fact that this was the governing board’s precinct or, rather, recognition of the fact that we had a self-governing board called the “Union Council."
Well, Abramsen, I think as I recall, did this portrait on speculation what his arrangements at the time were. What the outcome of it was, I don’t recall.—whether it was ever paid or not. At least, he was unhappy about both the way the University had not handled the transaction to his satisfaction because the portrait, itself, needed restoration and repairs after a number of years and he offered to do it but, as I recall, the University administration didn’t at that point have the resources to retain him for that purpose. It was not a Union-owned portrait. It was loaned to us by the administration.
When was it taken down?
Well, I can’t be sure of the date but there was a gathering together of most of all the portraits of the University presidents at one point to place them up in the president’s office up in Bascom Hall and I believe it went back at that time. But what the date was, I don’t any longer recall. It must have been in the ’50s or thereabouts.
You don’t recall how it came to be damaged?
No, I don’t, but Abramsen appeared in my office once or twice rather upset over the way his portrait had been treated or the fact that he wasn’t reimbursed for it or wasn’t commissioned to restore it. Ultimately, I think he was commissioned, was he not?
I’m not sure.
I think so. I think finally he was asked to do the job and somebody found the money for him to do it. But, I’m a little vague on this as to this detail. I haven’t revived him in my memory.
I knew that at one time it did hang in the Union. I was curious as to what happened next.
By the same token, the Brittingham portrait was recalled and moved to the Brittingham house when it became the president’s residence. It seemed more appropriate there. Oh, I know what the other portrait was. For the alumnus it wasn’t George Haight. It was Kemper Knapp. That was recalled and put at the Knapp Graduate Center up near Wisconsin Avenue. Well, anyhow, that comes back to mind now. We still have the Lindberg portrait.
That’s the only one of the four left?
And its not in that room. It’s now in the library or browsing room, as we call it.
All right. Thank you. That takes care of that.
Does that take care of that detail, incomplete as it is?
Appointment of Henry Herman as Associate Director
Yes. Now the other detail I was interested in, perhaps you know more about. I know that before you retired or about the time you retired, that Henry Herman was the associate director of the Union and I’m wondering why he was not made director and someone else was?
I can’t say I’m privy to the reasons for that. Herman was brought here by me when Ted Crabb resigned to go over to be the director of the Milwaukee Union and Crabb was the assistant director at that time; we needed a replacement. We had faced in the mid ’60s the beginning of a considerable turnover in staff members, apparently because of of the youth of the new recruits—newness in union operations and programming this was leaving me as director high and dry for want of helpers to carry on total Union educational and programming operations. Our older, experienced folks we had trained were being recruited by other unions as directors. I guess we produced more union directors across the country from our own staff than any other union, and this is all right from a prestige point of view but it leaves you short-handed.
So I was interested in having come on the staff an older, experienced person who was likely to stay—who wanted to make the Wisconsin Union his career and wasn’t using it as a stepping stone for a career somewhere else, either at this University or elsewhere as numbers of our staff members have done. We’ve got former Union staff members all up and down through the Wisconsin administrative staff and faculty right now, and have had a couple of decades past; but many of them have gone to other universities to head other unions. So nearing retirement—’68 it was to be—in the period of ’65 thereabouts, I was trying to have ready upon my retirement people on the job who were adequate, good, superior, let’s say, in educational/social programming of the Union for whoever might become my successor. And Herman as a student here had demonstrated a very surprising, excellent ability in working with other students and in reaching out to the rooming house district to organize living units with a concern for intramural purposes, social purposes, governmental purposes, and so on, by walking up and down the streets from one rooming house to another and talking to students in those houses and stimulating them to create something of the kind of organized social and athletic life that the dormitories and the fraternities/sororities offered. And he was amazingly successful at it. Actually, he went from here to head what was called the “Encampment for Citizenship” at a New England rustic retreat sponsored by Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt, among others, and was a strong personal friend of Mrs. Roosevelt’s and had after that had become the director of the Ethical Culture School in New York which has as its main interest in life the encouragement of ethical behavior and strong volunteer leadership. He was appearing at that time on a weekly Sunday morning radio program—at a New York radio station—with this general theme of citizenship and volunteer contributions to the welfare of our society.
It was he, by the way, who stimulated the students who went to, where was it, Tennessee or Kentucky to protest racism.
During the ’50s, you mean?
Do you remember those four students who were shot and buried near a river? It was a famous early case of persecution of students who were volunteering to do what they could do on behalf of the human rights of the blacks. They were his students and close friends and he had played a principle part in motivating them to take a responsibility for trying to be of assistance to the blacks who were being harassed and persecuted. He, himself, engaged in many conferences in the south with black leaders and with white leaders trying to resolve this tension and conflict between the white and black racists. He was much in demand for panel discussion with people like John Kenneth Galbreth for example. In other words, he was a person of very considerable stature but quite enamored of the University of Wisconsin where he had gotten his undergraduate experience, and he had married a young woman from Fond du Lac and her family was involved here in the U.W. Foundation. She, by the way, is now one of the chief faculty members of the Library School over in Helen White.
Well, there came the time approaching—well, not approaching yet . . . it was only a year or two, a year and a half or so, after he arrived here—that he suffered a rather substantial heart attack. He had been out at the dormitories leading a group discussion, and this was one of the kind of things we always used to do and he was expected to do, namely, to participate actively in student/staff discussions and to relate what the Union does with what the dormitories were doing, and so on. We always thought of the Union and the dormitories as a unity to deal with the total out-of-class life of students. We used the symbolism of the Union as the hub of the wheel and the residence hall units as the spokes, together making a viable wheel that would operate and, there were a lot of exchanges changes back and forth.
Well, it was a late and long session, and on his way home he suffered a heart attack and he was never quite the same after this. He had a real health problem and I believe—I was not part of the selection process, as an outgoing person hardly ever is in recruiting his successor—that as I gathered from what I have heard that his uncertain health situation was a considerable factor in the minds of the search and screen committee and the University administration in not selecting him as director of the Union. And this was a kind of a tragic circumstance because the trauma of not being selected, I can only believe, had something to do with the return of the heart condition and a severe attack that led to his death not too many months after that. Does that answer your question?
Yes. I knew he had died not too long after, and I was wondering what expectations he might have come here with.
He was given no assurances of becoming director. He did come, of course, for an interview with Chancellor Fleming—a long series of interviews with Fleming and his associates, the whole Union staff. Fleming was quite impressed with him and gave me the go-ahead to invite him to come. But there could be no assurances or promises that he would be a successor, and he knew this. But, no doubt, he had some aspirations and hopes that it might turn this way. But his health condition he couldn’t help. Nobody else could.
Are there any more miscellaneous items?
This isn’t “miscellaneous.” This is a major tragedy in his life and, perhaps, in the Union’s, too. That is, if he had stayed well and had been able to do here, at Wisconsin, do here what he had done at the School for Ethical Culture at New York and at the Encampment for Citizenship, it might have been quite a different story.
Well, I’m sort of running out of questions, now. You could pick something you want to talk about.
Well, we may be reaching the end of what needs to be said in this kind of a taped interview—seventy-five years of history at the Union and fifty-five years of which I participated in personally is hard to encompass in even a fairly long series of historical reminiscences. So I thought what we might do is a kind of summation of the successes of the Union and the difficulties over the years—at least the ones that come readily to mind. In short, a kind of a balance sheet of pluses and minuses that I can recall without intensive research. Is that satisfactory?
That’s fine. Perhaps you will include some of your thoughts on the future of the Union.
Well, I’ll see about that. Just to cite the difficulty that you and I are up against, I’ve written a book of over 150 pages on the development of the Union idea alone and it’s there for anybody to look at if they care to. It’s called the College Union Idea and it relates particularly to the development at Wisconsin, drawn from research and writings that I’ve done over the years at Wisconsin and at the Wisconsin Union. So we’re not about to repeat 150 pages on just one aspect of the Union’s history here. So if it’s satisfactory, I’ll try to run through some notes I’ve made on what we might call the “pluses,” the successes in the course of our history.
The more obvious success, perhaps the most obvious, of course, is the achievement of the Union building itself because this did not only place this institution physically here but the circumstances under which it came are of some real significance. It came by way of gifts—gift funds that were raised for the original building and at a time when borrowing was simply not possible and appropriated state funds were not possible. Since the early and mid ’20s, which is the time I’m talking about and particularly following World War II, this no longer was the case for other unions. Borrowing became quite possible because the financial viability of a union supported by the Regents authority to levy any fee that was required to pay the debt became almost a universal method of obtaining Union, helped out by the federal housing program which made loans for unions at a remarkable 3 to 3.5% interest over a period of forty years. And that federal program accounted for 600 or more unions being constructed that might never have got there otherwise. And appropriated funds became more and more available especially for community colleges but also for many state institutions.—this outright appropriation to build a union being possible because the Union’s value was now known and recognized.
But in Wisconsin’s case, it was by way of hard won gifts of $5 to $500 and this was accomplished in an era of great financial adversity. Everybody knows about the crash of 1929. What’s also overlooked was that there was a deep depression in 1921/22 where thousands of thousands of businesses went bankrupt. This was not as dramatic a thing as the bank closing and the failure of the stock market but it was a real depression. This was when we were trying to raise gift money, and it was accomplished at a time when there was no previous tradition of giving to the University of any kind except maybe an isolated or single gift by an alumnus or friend to memorialize a friend or himself. The Union, as I think I perhaps mentioned, was the first effort to raise funds on a broad public subscription basis. Also, it was at the time when the idea of a union was very little understood by anyone. We were one of the first dozen or two unions created in the United States and hardly anyone knew what they were or what they were for. So it was hard to make a case and, I must say, I’m not sure even at Wisconsin, other than for students who felt deprived of the elementary ways of living a life outside the campus. Hardly anyone else realized what they were giving money for, except as they realized it was important and desirable to give money to a “memorial” building. So in a sense, the creation of the Union as the University’s war memorial following the First World War, offset some of the difficulties of lack of understanding of what else their money was going for.
Well, I would assume that the alumni must have understood the advantages of having a union.
Oh, no! The typical reaction of the alumni as we entered upon this campaign—in the state and out of the state—was, “why that’s a tax supported institution. The taxes should take care of this. Why are you asking me?” They had never been asked to give anything to the University before. Their image of the University was a university amply supported by taxes. “So why come to me?” This was a very real problem and in the end, the alumni support was not all that great—that is, in the early part of the campaign. It was much greater in proportion among the students themselves on the campus, and this is why, I think I have mentioned in one of our first interviews, that the campaign was brought back to the campus instead of out in Colorado or Chicago or New York where it was having real frustrations partly because we didn’t know who the alumni were in those areas.
Well, this was not without its blessings—the fact that we had to do the job by way of gifts and because we continued to do it this way. In the end and up do date we’ve received more than 50,000 contributions to the Union building fund ,and this is unequalled at any other university in the case of a union building. The nearest thing to it is at Michigan which got started about the same time we did and on about the same basis of selling life memberships to raise funds. Well, they got altogether some 20,000 contributions and as of this year, ours is past the 50,000 mark. This says something about the present broad base of interest and support that the Union still enjoys. There are that many donors who have a personal stake in this building and they have what they never had before—before the 1920s—they have a personal relationship to the University in terms of the Union life membership card that identifies them as a participating member and supporting member of the University community. This goes for most, the only personal relationship and involvement they have with the University. There are others, of course, who are members of the Alumni Association. So, they too, have this kind of personal involvement. And now, of course, with the increasing effort of the University Foundation, there are more and more people who are giving to all sorts of things. But there is no project of any kind, as far as I know, that has elicited as many as 50,000 contributions over a period of years. That’s a strong plus that traces to the origins of this institution in the ’20s.
Then, the theater followed in the late ’30s and that’s another plus because, again, the theater was built with gift and borrowed funds and maintained with Union earnings. Again, no tax money. And this is in contrast to almost any theater that I know about at any university where the state or other tax funds built the theater or comes as a single gift from a wealthy old friend and is completely maintained and supported in its cost of operation by the ongoing university or college budget. Ours is completely supported by Union earnings which come from membership fees from students and others, and building operations.
I have said something about how the theater came off and reminded as I look through my notes of some of the things said about the theater. As it opened in ’39, the Architectural Record said, “It’s probably the most complete community center theater to date.” Sinclair Lewis who came here for a lecture said, “No intimate theater is more beautiful. It is splendidly planned and certainly has the most beautiful site in the world” which might have been an overstatement but at least encouraging for us. Lee Simonson who was our theater consultant and one of the best known theater set/scene designers and author said, “This theater is epoch-making from the point of view of creative use of leisure. It makes not only the Wisconsin Union, but the University a leader in the field."
Even more important, in a way, than the achievement of this physical plant—the original building and theater wing, and so on—is that this Union, I think it’s fair to say, has been a major influence in changing the concept of what a union is in the United States and elsewhere. It changed it from a men’s club, which was the original British concept and the original concept in this country at Harvard, at Michigan, at Pennsylvania, at Ohio, and even in early years, at Wisconsin, to one of a general community center for all the members of the University family—women as well as men, faculty as well as students, alumni, visitors, parents, conference groups, guests of the University. It changed the concept from what it typically was before the Wisconsin Union got going, namely, a common meeting and dining place and social center to a social-cultural center and a general recreation center. This was a new note in what a union was about—what it was for. That changed, I think, the concept, at least we hope it has, of the union as a “student activity” to preparation for good citizenship and leadership in community affairs for all times, not just a peripheral thing that students do in their spare time after classes because they want to be a “big man on the campus,” which is the way the phrase used to go.
So because of this, the Wisconsin Union became a model for others and partly by way of writing, and research here and articulating the concept and purpose which very few were doing—nobody else seemed to try to conceptualize what their union was for. They just enumerated the activities that went on within the walls and said it was a common meeting ground for all. This was about the gist of it and, of course, here the physical evidence of what was happening in this building—visited by hundreds of people interested in Unions over the years—demonstrating what it was we were writing about and saying. This Wisconsin purpose and, really, new concept were ultimately, unanimously adopted by the Association of College Unions as “The Role of the Union.” We wrote it. It appears still in all Association literature, booklets, publications, etc.
Well now, maybe, it could help if I was more specific in regards to the development of the Union as a cultural center starting with the theater. Wisconsin was the first to make the theater an integral part of the union physical plant and the union program. No other union had done this before. The nearest thing to it were the British unions that had large debate halls, but they weren’t theaters. They were for large audiences but for debate purposes. Well, our theater vastly broadened the creative activity for students and it expanded the Union program to include the performing arts, the film, the appearance of nationally-known speakers addressing large audiences on the important issues of the day. The Union, because of the theater and some other developments, shortly became, as one national magazine wrote, “The center of Madison’s rich cultural life.” For years, the Union dominated the art pages and columns and reviews in the Madison and campus press. Hardly a day went by without an announcement or story about a cultural happening at the Union. It is hard to realize this now, but much of what is now familiar in the cultural life of the University and of Madison, was initiated by the Union. I’ll give some examples so I am not accused of making statements that are too broad.
The concert series started by the Union in 1919 and for several decades was the only concert series of visiting artists that appeared in Madison. There were some occasional sporadic music performances with outside artists brought in by churches and local organizations but there were no established star artist series anywhere in the Madison area. This is still going. By, the way, it has now reached the point in quality and quantity in terms of concert, theater, ballets, dance presentation, and total program that was scarcely matched at any other university as of now. We presented a free concert almost every Sunday for years and years—altogether, more than 350 free concerts—to introduce students and other’s readily in the Theater or Great Hall before the theater was built, to the musical experience.
In recent years, many of the concert artists have been made available to the Madison community for performances in schools, hospitals, community centers, etc., to carry the musical message to others as a service by the Union to the Madison community—the Artists in the Schools program, it’s been called—plus artists-residents on the campus which is an innovative effort of some real stature, epitomized by the Nicolais Dance Group six weeks residency this last fall in which a whole new ballet composition was prepared in residence and performed to an audience in the theater and put on WHA T.V. just last week on a national broadcast basis. Well, this so far as concerts and musical firsts are concerned.
In other arts fields, the Union produced the first university art gallery of any kind in 1928. Whether there were any other art galleries in Madison at that time, I rather doubt. I, myself, was secretary/treasurer of the Madison Art Association through the late ’20s and early ’30s. The Madison Art Association did not have a gallery of its own. It had been kicked out of the top floor of the State Historical Society—I may have mentioned that before—and no one ever got up there anyhow. And whether there was anything else in Madison, I don’t recall. So the Union was in the forefront of exposing not only the University community, but also Madisonians, to the visual arts. It was early on in the mid-1930s that students and staff at the Union created the first Wisconsin Salon of Art which became the major all-state art competition and this continued on until the early ’70s. And I rather guess our Union received more state-wide attention in the press because of the Salon of Art and what it was doing to relate the University to the on-going art life of the state than anything else we did.
The Union was the first university organization to commission mural painting on the campus—the Paul Bunyan murals by Jim Watrous.
We organized the first recreational craft shop on this campus in 1930 and the first at any union. There are now many at other unions. The Union originated an all-student craft exhibition, an outdoor sculpture contest, an annual student art competitive exhibition—this, beginning in 1929—with the early endeavor being to provide stimulus and rewards for student creative art that was not existent before the Union got here.
The Union staged the first sidewalk art show. We’re all quite familiar with that massive Madison Art Association show on the Capitol concourse now, but the first effort of that kind was a Union effort over on the library mall and State Street. It just may be that some of these first modest efforts stimulated others to go and do likewise, and better and bigger.
We were the first of all unions to loan original paintings to students for their rooms. This was the first venture of this kind on this campus or on any others as far as we know. We have developed a permanent art collection of more than 700 works and far exceeding the art collections at any other union and pretty much matching in numbers of work—I can’t say quality because much of ours were acquired from purchases from the student art shows and from the Salon of Art but matching in volume and quantity the art collections of the Madison Art Center and up until recent times, of even the Elvejhem Art Center.
We organized the State’s Territorial Centennial Art Exhibition in 1936 when, as I may have mentioned, with authorship by me of the first history of art in Wisconsin which is still an active seller, by the way, after more than forty years which is surprising to me.
We inaugurated the first creative writing contest and saw to the publication of the only campus literary magazine. For years, it was the only one.
In the case of films, up until the Union film series got under way in the ’30s, at no other place in Madison could you see an art film or a foreign language film or a documentary. These came with the Union. We had a weekly programming of documentary art, foreign, films, and art cinema came on much later possibly because someone else saw the growing popularity of this kind of thing at the Union. We had sold-out houses for two and three and four performances. The Travel Adventure films, one of our prize present programs—we sell out two houses for every travel adventure film we show with a photographer present and giving commentary on it. Then Movie Time in the Play Circle—the better, more worthy films both past and present. We used to have to start Thursday afternoon and run continuously afternoon and evening through Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to accommodate the interest in what we called “Movie Time."
Then we produced, in 1954, the first film anywhere illustrating in color and sound the Union purpose and the Union program. And it was a winner of the Screen Producers Guild award out in California, and is still circulating now after more than twenty years—not as much, obviously, because it is obsolete in many respects, but we still occasionally get requests for it.
Where does it circulate to? Other unions?
To other unions. It was purchased by the U.S. Embassy in Germany to show what student life in the United States was like. It has gone to a number of alumni clubs as they hold their annual meetings —more so in the past. One institution, La Salle College in Pennsylvania, bought a copy of it, $400 or $500 it cost, and for years showed it at their freshmen orientation program to introduce the freshmen class to what they could expect of their union, but citing the Wisconsin Union as an example of what they could do and might experience at the La Salle Union if they wanted to get going at it. I’ve used it oversees in Taiwan and Hong Kong and the Philippines, Japan, and Puerto Rico when called upon to visit universities in those countries to talk about the purposes of a union and what it does in terms of typical daily or weekly activity. And one of the Japanese universities has purchased a copy. And other unions still use it at their regional conferences when they’re considering union problems and objectives as a kind of a warm-up enterprise.
Well then, switching from real success, I think it is fair to say, in establishing the Union as a cultural center and to other elements I mentioned of the changing concept of the union initiated by Wisconsin—preparation for citizenship and training for leadership in community life.
What one needs to recall is that the founders of the United States, government and society, when they insisted upon universal education, the basic goal they had in view and the reason for universal education—free at the primary and secondary school level and then on to the superstructure of college education—was to develop an informed citizenry that could make American democracy and American society work. This is historically the case, and, by the way, is validated by my brother, Freeman, in all of his current writings about the history and philosophy of education. And he is currently urgently recommending a return to this fundamental purpose of education in the United States in terms of what he calls “civic learning” or responsible citizenship.
Well, so this goes back to basics: this whole thing we talk about when we talk about the Union involvement in the preparation for citizenship and leadership. Almost every college and university still says in its catalogs that one of their purposes is to develop good citizenship. You only have to read the catalogs to see this. But the truth is that very few colleges and universities have done or are doing anything very specific about it. They just don’t. It’s wordage in the catalog period. So the Union, early on, starting in the ’30s, began to feel that the Union could and should do something, because here it was the center of the campus community life involved in all the kinds of things good citizens could do in their own communities back home but could also be getting their feet wet while they were students and learning better how to perform when they graduate and do go back home. So we set forth to do anything and everything we could to reinforce a basic purpose in education in the United States and a basic purpose, certainly, of any liberal arts college and university. And it also happens to be the original purpose of the first unions in Oxford and Cambridge in the early nineteenth century, expressly stated in terms of “You, the students of these universities are responsible for the welfare of your country” and it has taken the form of debate and discussion at the Oxford and Cambridge unions of national political and social and economic issues in which students turn out, still by the hundreds, and are themselves the debaters teamed up with, say, Winston Churchill or whoever is the cabinet minister concerned with that problem. This is still going on. It was just two years ago when I visited the Cambridge Union and they had just finished a debate on whether England should adopt the Concord airplane, and Prince Charles was teamed with students on the side of don’t do it. There were other students teamed with proponents of the Concord on the other side. It was a nationally televised program. Well, after each debate, the “House,” as they call it, the House votes on the resolution: aye, nay, or no opinion and the results of these debates are considered a straw in the wind of what Britain ought to do or will do about a given problem. One of the famous Oxford debates was when they had a resolution that “We will no longer fight for Queen and country in any war oversees” which won an overwhelming aye vote and it shocked the British nation, of course. Well, the point is that out of these Oxford and Cambridge unions, the student leadership in the debate and in the conduct of union affairs, such a high proportionate become members of the British parliament or members of the embassies oversees, or top community leaders in politics or social development that these two unions are familiarly still called the “cradle of the British parliament.” So this is not foreign to the Union idea and it certainly is not foreign to the purposes of the founding fathers of this country or of any college or university. And so we’ve sought any and all means we could to make at least some small contribution in this direction.
This has taken the form of our giving, from the beginning, primacy to students in the government of the Union, in policy making and in organizing and presenting the social, cultural, and recreational programs—a student majority on the governing board, chairman of the governing board is a student, 400 to 500 students on planning committees. We’ve emphasized in our staffing, or used to, the ability to teach and train committee volunteers and on sufficient numbers of staff members to do it—at one point, some thirteen working with, as I say, 400 or 500 or 600 students. We got some early recognition for this in terms as I have earlier mentioned with the designation of the Union as the University’s Division of Social Education. Well, that’s a phrase that could have numbers of kinds of meanings and it still does, but the essential meaning to us is that social education is bringing one’s personal talents to bear as a social force. With it came faculty status for the staff members who are involved with this teaching and counseling enterprise.
We’ve had substantial research on the outcome of it. Anne Minahan, who is now chairman of the Social Work Department of the University, for her graduate thesis did a study titled, and I may have mentioned this in an earlier interview, “The College Union and Preparation for Citizenship” which was conducted through the School of Education, not by the Union, itself, which showed that students who had gone through the Union experiences as chairmen far exceeded the control group of non-Union participants in their involvement in community affairs, volunteer services, and officerships, in political activity , in positions in legislatures, city councils, congress, etc. This is still going on. Joel Skornica, our present mayor, was as Union president. This is where he got his start and, I hope, his motivation. Barbara Crabb who has just been made a federal district judge—a salient development especially for these times—for a young woman—was chairman of the Union Forum Committee; and Bill Steiger, who died last year, was one of the most promising of the younger members of the House of Representatives at Washington, was a member of the Union governing board. All these people were closely associated with us, and a constant stream of letters came back from them to us on the importance, they feel, of their experience in the Union on what they’ve decided to do after they’ve left the University and as an aid and a stimulus to their present vocational or volunteer work. So we take some satisfaction that some things have happened that we’ve hoped would happen.
Now it isn’t only with the former Union chairmen and committee members that we try to make a gain on this. We have over the years tried to stimulate any and all students to be concerned with community well-being, first here on the campus and then later, to participate and contribute as volunteers in their own communities and some of these efforts may be worth mentioning to illustrate the point. For example, a regular voter registration and information service provided by the Union, including free notary service, so that it makes it easy for students to participate in the basic citizen role of voting and electing at the polling places. Again, we administered for years the recruiting program for Peace Corps volunteers and many of our own former chairmen have gone into the Peace Corps as a result of this exposure. On still another front, an ecology and information center and a very comprehensive energy alternative display on the lower campus which you may have noticed this last spring and the spring before, attracted thousands—and on the same day that the Mifflin Street crowd was out having a beer bash down on Mifflin Street with rock and roll music, so there are some good things that happened even in the face of the so-called “pop culture” that is with us also. This was an enormous volunteer effort by students who were concerned about the energy crisis wanting to help in any way they could to educate students and anyone who would listen to what they personally could do about it.
Then, of course, there is this extensive program of volunteer student service for the Madison community. We have more than 1500 to some 2000 students volunteering a specific number of hours a week to Madison welfare agencies: hospitals, centers for the elderly, child welfare centers, tutoring, and so on. The number of hours is tremendous and we’ve calculated—I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not—that if the hours by our student volunteers that have gone into Madison welfare agencies were figured at the going minimum federal hourly rate, it would add up to over a half million dollars of service contributed to the welfare agencies.
Well, maybe there is a lot more that could be said about the whole citizenship effort but we’ll leave it there and turn briefly to another plus: outdoor recreation. I’ve dealt with this somewhat at length earlier so I won’t do more than quickly summarize.
This represents one of the most striking, long continuing successes of the Union. It started in 1931. It was the first union outing club on this campus or anywhere else. It expands the role of the Union to include recreation outdoors as well as indoors and involves almost all forms of informal outdoor recreation and that includes, as you may remember, the teaching of sailing, canoeing, skiing, mountaineering, horse riding, archery, scuba diving, and so on. We sponsor intercollegiate skiing, sailing, horse riding and this has produced, I guess I mentioned, numbers of members of the Olympic teams. What it does particularly at Madison is to make maximum utilization of the lake as part of the campus recreational facilities instead of just the land and our short supply of gymnasium facilities. This is often overlooked when studies are made of the recreational facilities available to students, studies used to promote the building of indoor facilities. And this is all right—we hope they’ll come—but somehow it’s all overlooked that 5,500 students are regularly participating in lake and woods and outdoor-oriented activities.
Well, as an end result, we have the largest and most varied outdoor recreation program—outing club—of any college: some 5,000 students, as I’ve mentioned, who pay additional dues in order to participate in this range of activities. Well then, you talk about some of these things as being firsts.
There are still other kinds of firsts that I’ll just mention quickly.
In the early ’30s we were already running bus excursions to picturesque Wisconsin areas for summer students and I conducted a group of 250 students to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The logistics for that were something. Well, these are preliminary efforts compared to now when we run plane charter trips all over the world—Switzerland, Caribbean, Hong Kong, Pacific islands, a dozen a year and especially during recesses when students can participate as well as alumni and faculty.
We had the first careers concert ever held on the campus to help students in choosing which career field they might want to head for. This was in the 1930s.
The first lecture discussion series on courtship and marriage filled the theater. It wasn’t for credit and was done by our sociology and medical faculty. Then, it led on to credit course work in marriage and the family and sexuality, and so on. So it was a stimulus to prepare for and institute some credit course work.
We had the first college night club when night clubs in prohibition days were the “thing” as at urban centers. Well, we adopted one.
Where was it?
It was in Tripp Commons. We called it the “770 Club” because that was our street address then and then we surrounded it with all the usual gimmicks and mystery of a night club. We had floor show entertainment—student acts entertaining people sitting at tables with, now, beer to drink because we were able to include beer. This is another first at Wisconsin. It was the first state institution to manage to get approval for serving beer on the campus. It was unheard of then.
Well, it was very weak beer?
Well, don’t say that. Here, so many students never knew that the best beers in Germany, which is the home of the best beers, are all around 3%. Ours was 3.2%. This business of 4.5 or 4.3% beer, something like that which American breweries produced, is not typical of the European beer-drinking countries. Theirs is a social custom and not a get-drunk custom. I’ve been there and I know. So it is not weak beer. It is regular, standard beer, but you are quite right. Most had the impression that it is weak beer and they had a big move on to get “regular” beer and they got it. Not regular beer, they got irregular beer with a stronger percentage. In any case, we were for moderation in drinking. We were happy with 3.2. We were not about to encourage going out and having a beer bust and getting drunk - the kind of spectacles that are now created on State Street or down on Mifflin Street where beer drinking is a goal in itself with toga parties, and so on, where one of the main objectives is to see if you can get drunk, and with that comes rowdyism and vandalism, insults, and obscenities, and all the rest. Well, who wants that at an educational institution? At least, the Union didn’t; and we tried to stay on the side of moderation. And my concern on that particular thing is that students are over doing it by insisting on irregular beer and too much of it, and there’s going to be a reaction. We are seeing it in the legislature this year in terms of tight restrictions on who can drink and the necessity of I.D. cards and all the rest because there have been serious problems with it. Well, at least the night club and having beer available was another first.
We were the originator in 1932 of intercollegiate game tournaments—billiards, bowling, bridge, table tennis. It’s still going on nationwide and this involves thousands of students on a couple of hundred campuses. It all started here in our billiard room because we thought of billiards and bowling as life-long opportunities for pleasant recreation and involving skills which are useful to students regardless of age as differentiated from team sports or even the more active sports like tennis or soccer where at a given age you can’t either organize a team or you wear out physically.
Then we made this effort in connection with the discussion of Henry Herman: the organization of rooming houses for intramural sports and social purposes and government purposes to take place in the 1930s.
We developed beginning in 1928 a comprehensive social program for all our graduate students who were usually neglected by a union and we’ve got, as you know, a very heavy population of graduate students with many of them hungry for some kind of social outlet, that is, if they’re not already married which many of them are. Even the married students are sometimes interested in this. The same is true for foreign students, who are ill at ease and at sea and unoriented to this campus. So we financed social and cultural programs and recreation programs for both these two large segments of our student population. This included the sponsorship and financing of the International Club.
Then, for married students and younger faculty members, family nights with their children—games for children, social programs for married students. We’ve been busy in the last few years operating a day care center for children of students and faculty employees. This began in 1972.
Economic benefits for students
So these are other signs of innovations that I think of as pluses. But along the way we shouldn’t overlook the economic benefits to students that have come because we have a union. We estimate that over the years and on up to date, between seventy to eighty million meals have been served at the Unions—this one and Union South. Some years there was a small profit. Some years there was a loss. But in the end, the Union was a low-cost kind of dining cooperative of immeasurable economic value and, also, social value to its student, alumni and faculty members. By way of comparison, back in the depression days, we were selling lunches at twenty-four cents for a complete lunch, and the total for the breakfast, lunch and dinner specials, as I remember, was seventy-three cents. That was the total cost and deliberately held down in order to help students stay in school. It was run on a loss basis. We knew it would be a loss but we thought it was worthwhile in view of who we were and what we organized to be and do.
Then, we’ve given employment to thousands and thousands of students over the years. That has also helped them to stay in school. Currently over 1,000 students are employed part-time in the two Unions. This is all in addition to the countless free music, film, social, pop concert, and other recreational events which are funded by the Union from its earnings and from the student fee.
Well, I think maybe you’ll see that, in other words, whatever turns out to be interesting and important to students and faculty outside the classroom and in their leisure time also becomes interesting and important at the Union. We try to respond to it and in the end produce what we frequently describe as a well-considered, comprehensive plan for the community life of the University. All told, now, there are some 240 kinds of programs and services at the Union that simply didn’t exist on this campus before. They have, I think, substantially changed the pattern and nature of campus life and interests for the better, we hope. Well, thus ends my list of plusses, but we’ve still got the minuses to deal with—obstacles, difficulties, our own inadequacies.
One prevailing difficulty has been that of self-government—the training of students in governance and in leadership and in policy-making, one of the elementary, basic purposes of the Union. We had to somehow combine it with the Wisconsin system of tight state and University controls. It is the tightest, I might say, of any state that I am acquainted with. We have always thought of the Union as kind of a laboratory of citizenship in which students learn by doing. But what we were faced with throughout was the kind of the situation which, say, the Chemistry Department would be faced with in teaching students in the chemistry laboratory if someone from outside, from downtown, or a chemistry professor came in to do, himself, interesting experiment, the strategic and important experiment and said, “You as students can watch while I do it” which isn’t the best learning process. In effect, that is the kind of problem we have encountered in carrying out the Union mission of self-government.
How exactly does this work?
To give an illustration: in the earlier years our relationship with student employees was one in which the Union Council, our governing board, and the staff met with student employee leaders, worked out wage agreements, took care of complaints, staged a number of social gatherings together in which we saw ourselves and, I think, the employees saw themselves as part of a partnership in making this enterprise function well. And the morale among student employees was good. The relationship was good, but later when it came time to negotiate with employees on their welfare and wages, and so on, we’ve found that the state intervened and it was a state representative along with the University administrative representative who did the bargaining with student employees—not the Union Council, the governing board, in its role as the principle party in governance of the Union. Representatives of the Union staff sat in on these negotiations, but the decisions were made by State and University offices, essentially. The outcome of it has been that these have been long prolonged negotiations and have been accompanied by strikes and picketing. The student employees have formed an employee labor union and a kind of adversary attitude between student employees and the Union administration has developed. One of the amazing results of all this is that there is now a printed contract, not between the Union Council, the governing board, but between the State and the student employee union outlining all the ins and outs of procedures and agreements and who does what and how to handle complaints and what the University will do, and what the student employees will do, and so on—running scores of printed pages—so that we’ve got a whole new kind of relationship with our student employees in which the Union Council as governing board is simply largely left out of the picture and has only the role of waiting for a settlement to be arrived at so that we can get on with our business.
Then, you have situations like the Union Council recommending to the University that there be a remodeling program that includes another art gallery, because we’re very short on art gallery space in our developing art exhibition program. Well, this is referred to the Department of Administration at the State and their representatives come down and look the situation over and turn in a report saying, “You don’t need another art gallery. You still have some corridor wall space left you can hang pictures on if that’s what you want to do”—completely ignoring, of course, the purpose of an art gallery and the necessities for security and protecting the exhibit and arranging it in fashion so that the student, faculty, and public can see an exhibition as a whole in one place with gallery talks elaborating on the significance of the exhibition and the artists, and so on. Under the State representative’s theory, the pictures from such exhibition would be scattered helter skelter over an entire building and several floors and, by the way, would be uninsurable because the insurance company will not insure art works that are not in a protected, closed, controlled situation. Well, the State department representative was overruled on this in the end but it took a long time and it represents, again, the removal of the decision making by the Union governing board to parties outside the Union.
Then, I guess I’ve referred to it already, maybe sufficiently to the fact that Union Council and staff wanted an information booth or kiosk out at the corner of Langdon and Park Street to make known to the passing public what was going on in the Union and to provide services like telephones, mailboxes, maps, etc., but the Planning Office intervenes and finds all kinds of ways and reasons why this little modest facility can’t be built except at the wrong location and at enormously increased expense. In general, the state and the University through legitimate, in their view, state and legal controls says what the Union can spend money for and this is very hard to adjust to when student governors and students playing leadership roles and wanting to do certain things run up against a stone wall when a request reaches a University or state office and the answer comes back, “You can’t do this.” So they have to find all kinds of peripheral and outside sources of funding to do what they need to do. An example of this is that all printing by a State or University department is supposed to be handled through the State printer. But here is the Union that is presenting programs in the theater, lets say, in which they receive the copy for the program from the performing artist maybe ten days or two weeks before the performance and to get it to the State printer and to get it back in printed form would end up being something like six weeks or two months after the performance has taken place. So we’ve had to constantly find ways and means outside the University and State system to get done what this kind of an institution called the Union led by student-faculty governors needs and wants to do.
How have you solved the printing problem?
We’ve had to setup a special outside student treasury or fund which collects admission fees from performances and films and dances, and so on, and earn enough monies through these admission events to have a student account balance against which printing can be charged and done within a week’s time. In the case, say, of the publications for the golden anniversary celebration of the Union this past year, the Memorial Union Trustees, which is the fund-raising group that I’ve described as having raised funds for constructing the building, had to set aside some $15,000 of their gift money to pay for publications to tell the University, public and all interested parties what the Union is doing and what it is and how it is celebrating its anniversary.
So this has been a very difficult problem—to operate a self-governing institution with an educational mission, by definition, within very tight governing control by the University and State.
Adverse effect of University expansion on Union purpose of “providing for a common life”
Another obstacle, of course, throughout and more, particularly, in recent years, has been to carry out one of the basic purposes in the Union charter approved by the students, faculty, and Regents, namely, “To provide a common life for the members of the University community.” In other terms, it has been expressed as the unification of a campus population—the original purpose of unions when they were first created in England back in the early nineteenth century and written into our own charter as a basic purpose. But to do this in the face of the vast expansion of enrollment and expansion of the geographic boundaries, particularly after World War II, has presented a very severe problem and obstacle. Now, maybe we on the staff and in the Union governing board were simply not smart enough to know how to accomplish this. Maybe someone else could have done it. But we have not succeeded well in this respect. The creation of the Union South as a kind of self-sufficient complete Union facility in itself hasn’t helped any to provide a life in common for all students of the campus, not to mention students and faculty together. Our early literature is full of the merits of an engineer or an ag student rubbing elbows with a liberal arts student or art student or history student, etc., with Wisconsin students with people from other states, and so on—a broadening and learning process in itself which President Van Hise articulated in his own inagural address when he plugged for a union.
Well, we’ve made our attempts to unify the campus and have a line of communication out to all parts of the campus through the creation of what we called the “House Representative System,” namely, having a representative of the Union appointed in each organized living unit: dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and rooming houses where the Union, itself, initiated the move to organize any rooming house that had more than five or six students living there and to have it appoint a Union house representative. We would call them together periodically, what we call the “Union Assembly", to discuss common problems, to get their opinion, advice, sometimes their votes on what the Union should be doing and, of course, to help perform an interchange of students with each others so that the Greeks on Langdon Street didn’t exist separate from the rest of the campus and never come in social contact with the dormitory students or with the rooming house students, and so on. We even had annual or semi-annual Sunday evening buffet suppers where all the house representatives were brought together first for a buffet supper then a following discussion of campus problems and Union opportunities. But this was very difficult to maintain, particularly as the exodus to apartments took place, which you’re well aware of began not too long after the War. First of all, there were many hundreds of returning veterans who were married and some with children and had to live in apartments. The thrust for freedom and permissiveness in the ’60s characterized so many students and led them to vacate the dormitories and the Greek houses and seek apartment living off the campus, and sometimes quite far from the campus. It was partly a wish to have greater personal freedom and partly an economic reason because in that decade, three, four, five students would team together and rent an apartment and divide total apartment rental and divide it three, four or five ways and come out economically a good deal better than if they signed up in the dormitories or a fraternity or sorority. So this radically changed the ability of the Union to develop and succeed with its so-called house representative system. We couldn’t find these people. They were spread all over the far-west side of the campus and mid-town and even the east side of Madison. There were attempts, actually, to make visitations to those apartments we could identify to try to learn the apartment dwellers’ interests and aspirations and make known the possible usefulness of the Union. But this was really very tough going and hard to come by.
This fundamental purpose enunciated in our charter provided for a common life of the members of the University community, and if we will ever come back to it and succeed with it is, of course, a real question.
Emergencies which prevented attainment of goals of “Division of Social Education"
Then, another set back and a lost opportunity I might better characterize it as, was the lack of time to develop the potentials of the Union as the University’s Division of Social Education. I’ve referred to the Regent action designating the Union as the Division of Social Education earlier in our interviews, with the purpose of the Union serving as an ongoing laboratory in which students from other departments on campus could learn by doing in actual experience in developing a program or service at the Union and our own goal of enlisting as many students as possible in a concern for the social welfare—community well-being. The reasons, and there were many, that that potential wasn’t and hasn’t been adequately realized is that it came on—this effort at social education—at a time when there were enormous emergencies and pressures on the Union created first by the depression, itself, in the ’30s, then followed quickly by World Ward II; and a diversion of staff ability to deal with anything but the war-time crises. In fact, we lost most of our staff during the war—that is, the male members of the staff—to war service. There were only a few of us left. I personally helped to clear tables of dishes just to keep the dining rooms going in the absence of not only full-time help, but student part-time help which had been men, of course, who were now off to the wars. Then after the war the enrollment boomed which diverted us from our educational mission and on toward all sorts of emergency measures to meet new needs of our student population which was suddenly twice what it had been prior to the war and ultimately became something like three to four times as much as it had been during the war. So staff efforts and our governing board’s efforts went largely into trying to expand physical facilities, make temporary arrangements for feeding in the meeting rooms and all the rest of it. There was a time after the war, for example, when lines reached back from the cafeteria door past the Rathskeller and all the way out to Park Street—three and four abreast. There were simply not enough physical facilities and services to accommodate this sudden rapid expansion in numbers of students.
This in turn was followed by the Vietnam war and the unrest with students which diverted the staff from its hoped for development of a solid and successful program of academic work and student leadership training in the context of our role as a Division of Social Education and increasingly at this time, too, came the overwhelming increase in paperwork for the University, stimulated mainly by State office requirements. The State bureaucracy, itself, interfered in what we did or could do and our educational missions suffered for lack of staff time and governing board time to do a good job working at the educational mission.
Lack of understanding and support for Union purposes on part of the U.W. administration
Then, I guess, I’d have to say another difficulty has lasted over the years. There has been a lack of understanding and active support on the part of the University administration, itself, for the stated educational role of the Union. At first there was, as I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier interview, a rather benign neglect in which, in this context, we made a lot of progress, but made it on our own. The University president functioned well on ceremonial occasions. He would sign a public statement of support for the Union fund-raising campaign, and so on, but there wasn’t this active, personal involvement which told us at the Union that we were on the right track and we were doing what’s expected of us. In matter of fact, throughout some forty years that I was director of the Union, there was only one president who ever asked how things were going. He gave a cheering word that we were doing what we ought to be doing and the only reason he hadn’t said so before was that he was paying attention to problem situations and we weren’t a problem and he appreciated that.
Which president was that?
Conrad Elvejhem. And, you see, that came rather late in the picture. It wasn’t that the others may not have been sympathetic but you didn’t feel a strong supporting hand and even at budget making time, there was no particular effort by the University administration to reward our best people in terms of salaries and promotions. We had to argue and fight for that. Every University department faces this in a sense, but it was particularly critical for the Union because in contrast to other University departments, there was no Union profession in these earlier decades. So there was no pool of trained people who had gone through a professional curriculum and come off with a degree that ensured their reasonable degree of competence that you could rely upon in making an appointment. So we had to train our own people. We’d take, usually, bright young men and women who had been chairmen of Union committees as students and looked promising and invite them to come upon the staff in a kind of residency or training position at what amounted to a teaching assistant salary, and in-service training salary, and then at budget-making time we’d be confronted with a formula you could increase salaries only by 3% or, say, 5%, or whatever it usually was. It was usually on the low side. For these new appointments who we had brought in at very minimal salaries because they were inexperienced and because we were devoting a lot of time in training them, when they got good and merited a strong promotion and increase in their salaries we were frustrated by this formula of only a certain percentage increase, you see, and since the formula was applied to a very low salary, it meant the increase was a very low increase. This prevailed all through the earlier decades of the Union’s history and right up into the ’60s.
Beginning in the ’60s and the ’70s—and I’m still dealing with the relationship with the University administration—there was a neglect of and disregard for the self-governing objective of the Union exemplified by overt attempts at structural reorganization of the Union—transferring the Union’s line of reporting for the staff from the Union Council to the president of the University to one of direct responsibility of the staff to a dean of students or, as it became later, a vice-chancellor of student affairs.
What was the argument for this change?
Well, this was hard for us to figure out. It was presented as being a more orderly kind of organizational relationship and that the president in the growing University didn’t have time to hear the Union problems and act on them, which he had never done anyhow. So that was not really a new consideration in our view. On the positive side, it was presented as “how the Union would have a spokesman on its behalf close to the administration.” Well, what it did, of course, was to skip the authority of the Union Council as the governing board and lodged the ultimate policy making and decision making, presumably, in the hands of a dean of students or vice-chancellor of student affairs. And it ran completely counter to the charter that the Regents and the faculty had set-up for the Union which specified that the Union staff and Council ought to be responsible to the Board of Regents through the president of the University with no intermediary. So, it was, in effect, a departure from and a contradiction to the charter which the administration, the faculty and the Regents had approved for the Union.
In practice, how did this work out?
In practice, the Union Council and the Memorial Union Trustees objected very strongly to this disregard for the self-governing concept of the Union and to an arbitrary change in our constitution and our charter without, again, going through student, faculty, and Regents. So it slowed down the actual move but nominally there were to be reports made just the same to the dean of students or the vice-chancellor of student affairs and we did this. They never did anything about it. There never was a spokesman on behalf of the Union and come budget time I found myself appearing alone in front of the budget decision makers, namely, still the president and the business manager. The dean of students was never there. So it did not work in terms of the positive note that the administration sounded, namely, that we would have greater support and a spokesman on behalf of the Union. That never happened. To avoid having to make an authoritative charter change, one of the vice-chancellors, who I think I mentioned in an earlier interview when I was describing how everybody wanted to get in the act at the Union, he said, “Well, that’s just a piece of paper, that charter. We can change that,” ignoring the fact that the charter specified that it could be amended only by vote of students, faculty, and Regents and, even, the faculty and alumni members of the Union. So to avoid that arduous process and to mediate the situation, the Union Council, as I remember, changed not the charter but the bylaws to say that the dean of students and the University business manager were invited to be non-voting members of the Union governing board so that if policies were going to be decided, they would be decided around the same table with the business manager and the dean of students sitting in on it and saying there say at that point. I mention the business manager because there was here at Wisconsin, as there had been at many universities both in the United States and abroad, a real contest between the business office and the dean of students as to who is in charge of the union. The business office being concerned with the Union’s financial solvency and success and the dean of students, presumably being concerned with its services and student counseling, and so on. Well, as it turned out, the business manager never came to any of these meetings; the dean of students did.
Which deans of students are you talking about?
Now it’s Paul Ginsberg. Back in the ’60s, I think it must have been Joseph Kaufman. He came once in a while. Whether Kaufman had a successor, I don’t remember at the moment.
Well, then again, in our relationship with the University administration in the early ’70s, not directed specifically at the Union, as such, but rather at all
activities supported by the student incidental fee—the fee for non-instructional purposes, it included health services and intramurals and the Union, and so on—there was, by the central administration for all State campuses and approved by the Regents, a freeze on the dollar amount of the fee coming to each of these activities including the Union. So this amounted to a denial of adequate financial support and it was serious. This prevailed for some three years or more. It was serious in that it led to the progressive conversion, because of the financial problems created, of the Union from a cultural social programming and leadership training center to a service center with emphasis on economies, on revenue producing, and so on. This took effect in terms of severe cutbacks in Union staff and services, and the numbers of days the Union was closed in a given year increased greatly. We use to not close any days except two or three around Christmas or New Year’s and sometimes not even then. Now we are closed under these financial stringencies, I don’t recall the exact number of days. Whenever the University recess occurred, there was either partial closing or complete closing to save money by cutting back in our programs and services. Then, I have to say, the ultimate contradiction, the ultimate irony was that the Union in the mid ’70s put in pinball machines—numerous pinball machines—which had no merit recreationally whatever. There only virtue was that they collected a lot of dimes and quarters and a lot of them. Here is the Union dedicated to teaching students the best uses of leisure time and, hopefully, giving them recreational skills that will last and do them well for a lifetime and we employ staff to help them arrange all kinds of valid and useful recreational programs. And now comes the pinball machine which would be like the English department in a literature course putting out a sheet of recommended readings list of comic books and dollar novels. But, you see, it is antithetical to the whole business of a department at an institution of higher learning proposing to help students to learn how to enrich there lives and especially to come by the personal skills and development through exposure to all sorts of worthy recreational activity. Here we devote a considerable space to these gong-ringing pin ball machines where students play alone and with no interaction with anyone socially. There’s no skill involved. There are just lights flashing and bells ringing and the student moves out minus a number of quarters he could have used usefully on a good number of other things. So this is a special irony and annoyance in my own view; in fact, a kind of an obscenity that I hope will be erased. But it was promoted and seemed to be necessary at the time because of the University’s own action in limiting the financial resources of the Union.
Are you suggesting then that the pinball machines produced a significant amount of revenue?
Oh, yes. Yes, they did, indeed. And this is why they’ve been maintained and are rather hard now to get rid of. They produce about $50,000 to $60,000 a year, and the justification of it has been made not only here, but at other unions that have followed the same course in their financial difficulty, by saying it gives the money we need to do other good things, you see. That is a serious compromise of the principles for which an institution of higher learning, one would think, should stand for. And the Union is part of that institution of learning, hoping to guide students toward a productive and satisfying use of their free time which in itself has educational implications in their own personal development.
Also in the ’60s there came from the University administration the removal of faculty status for the counseling and teaching of the Union. This was in the interest of a purism approach of some scholars who considered that research and credit teaching are the only things that justify faculty status a disregard for and neglect for the potential educational values of what a faculty staff can do outside the classroom and was doing, in our case, with other faculty departments in providing for and supervising the field work and laboratory experiences of students who were taking credit courses. Well, one result of this soon appeared and that was the rapid turnover of our staff because anyone with faculty credentials as he moves into a university community, wants to be a member of the faculty, not something else. So we could no longer recruit qualified people with doctors and masters degrees to do a teaching and counseling job in our field and keep them because they couldn’t get on tenure track. The outcome of this was that the Union lost the experience and the continuity and interest in teaching that it had for the decades prior to the ’60s. We had people of faculty rank who were with us for twenty or twenty-five years prior to this time. Now, it is hard to keep up with the turnover.
Well, switching to another problem situation, the merger legislation which has affected the Union in terms of provision in the merger law that there be student supervision of and control of the fees collected for non-instructional purposes; and the Wisconsin Student Association, the general governing board on this campus, assumes that they are that party. Well, the Union Council and the Union Trustees have reminded the Regents and the administration that the Union governing board with a majority of students on it and with a student as chairman qualifies under the merger law and the Regents have agreed with this position. But WSA, the Wisconsin Student Association, has not so agreed, and so if its point of view prevails, there is superimposed over the Union Council another student organization that may review and possibly considerably affect what funds are allocated to the Union and what they are used for.
Another element in the merger legislation is that all State higher education institutions are to be treated, in effect, uniformly, similarly. This effects the Union in this respect: at every other campus in Wisconsin, so far as I know, the theater, for example, has been built with State funds and is operated and maintained by State tax funds. In the case of the Wisconsin campus, the theater was built by Union funds and is maintained and operated by Union earnings and Union student fees. And any theater operation can not succeed as a self-sustaining operation from what you can get through the sail of tickets that don’t come anywhere near covering the costs of operation, maintenance, debt service and staffing, and all the rest. So in these years of financial stringency for the Union, we sought a subsidy from the University for the operation of the theater and we were not successful because under merger it was interpreted that this Union on the Wisconsin campus had to be treated like every other Union on other campuses and since there was no subsidy for a theater at a Union on any other campus because no other Union included a theater, there couldn’t be a subsidy for the Madison campus Union which did include a theater. So this is another aspect in which the merger legislation has been a disservice to this Union.
The continuing difficulties in accomplishing physical plant remodeling or expansion
Then turning to another subject of a problem and difficulty, and I’ve referred to this earlier so I want to quickly summarize it here because it is a large minus in our balance sheet: the constant difficulty and delays and increased expense in accomplishing any building or remodeling project due to the University and State bureaucracy, the rules of multiple approvals that are required, all of this being unparalled at any other university that I know of—and I’ve worked with universities in all but three of the United States, with their building and planning committees, their architects, etc., and never encountered anything to equal the hurdles that one surmounts and the delays and expenses that one must account for.
Why do we have this problem?
Well, it’s because, basically, the University is at the other end of State Street from the Capitol and historically the Capitol with the University under the shadow of the capitol dome, has insisted on a very tight regulatory and fiscal control over the University. We aren’t, by any means, the only ones that suffer from this. Every time the University makes a budget or makes a request for anything it encounters the same difficulty. The State legislature and the State administration are very jealous of their prerogatives and whether all of the funds come from tax money doesn’t make any difference. All of our funds, of course, for the Union come not from tax money, but from gifts, our own earnings and from a student fee that was self-imposed by students in order to accomplish the Union back in the beginning, But this makes no difference. By statute, these are all categorized as State funds once they’re received and subject to all the controls of the assorted State departments. And then the University has a good many rules and regulations of its own which add, particularly, multiple approvals. You go through numbers of layers and boards and offices before you can get a final approval even to submit something to the legislature. I’ve mentioned before the examples of this. In the case of the information kiosk, three and a half years delay in trying to accomplish it and we still have to accomplish it. This is as much as anything due to the University’s own series of waiting it out and restudying, other committees called on to look into it, etc. In the case of the lakeshore improvement project for which we have raised funds from two classes and from our own group, the Wisconsin Hoofer Sailing Club—this was to improve the lakeshore and provide protective sailing dockage for sailboats, etc—and the Department of Natural Resources originally approved this throughout, and then some chap in the department thought that this revision of the shoreline might disturb some fish along the shoreline down there and so registered an objection and the DNR reversed their approval and disapproved it and we had to go back to the beginning and start all over again.
What’s the status of it now?
Then, the DNR and Bureau of Administration asserted all sorts of special requirements including while building the new protected shoreline, you had to set-up a filtering screen to make sure none of the soil escaped into the water during this process and the contractor was prohibited from storing any of his excavation material on the site. He had to haul it as soon as it was excavated away from the site, and he was not given space to store his material he was going to rebuild with, and so on. So the result was not helped any by the way the engineers designed the project; the bids ran 77% over the budget. And so this meant the project has come to a stalemate and has to be redesigned and rebid. Whether or not there will be money sufficient, we’ll find out in due course.
But the whole thing adds up to a situation, as we read it, in which the University departments and the State offices interpose hurdles to overcome whenever a building or remodeling project comes up, rather than taking the attitude of “How can we help you get what you need to have?” There is quite a difference, you see. It’s leading to the point where it is just probably inadvisable to try to do any major construction or remodeling work and be able to justify the benefit in view of the cost and the delay that’s required in the process.
Going on from there, there have been some general planning decisions from the University Planning Office and the administration which constitute a minus in the Union development, because they’ve defeated the desirable development of the Union and added very large extra expense, not only for the Union, but for the University. And I believe I have mentioned some of these: the fact that the Wisconsin Center building was planned as a separately operated unit with separate operating costs and separation from the services that already existed at the Union, and the Communication Arts Building with the change of location from across the street to the Union to down on Johnson Street which led to the withdrawal of the Wisconsin Players from the Union theater and they represented one-half of the use of the Union theater up until that point. As I’ve think I’ve mentioned, at the same time, the Drama Department didn’t get another large theater in their Communication Arts Building because of lack of funds. Then, it was the University administration more than the Union staff or Union Trustees that insisted on what we think of, or at least I think of, as the overdevelopment of Union South which in turn created some of the financial crises for the Union. It diverted Union resources away from the expansion and improvement of the main Union, and this, in turn, required a new, intensive effort to raise gift funds for this purpose.
Campus changes in the ’60s and ’70s — effect on the realization of Union purposes and financial health. Some off-setting pluses
Then there were assorted other general developments that we’ve tried to remind the University of as we’ve come along and I’ve found some of those reminders in our files of the 1960s and some of them were inevitable and maybe some of them were not. One of them, perhaps inevitable, was the progressive removal of rooming houses and apartments within the area of convenient walking distance from the Union. These students in this area in these rooming houses and the apartments constituted one of the main clienteles for the Union dining rooms and Union use, generally. This was deliberate on the part of the University administration—the broadening of the eligibility to live in apartments where students can prepare their own meals and entertain socially. They formerly relied on the Union for this but now with apartments of their own, they were apartment-oriented and the changes, the liberalizations, had to with first allowing undergraduate men to live in apartments which had not been true earlier; then allowing women to live in apartments. This was a University action. Then the University, perhaps desirably, constructed socially self-sufficient residence halls and so did private dormitory builders and owners. This was a response to the sudden increase in enrollment after the war but was done in the southeastern sector of the campus formerly inhabitated by the hundreds and hundreds of students who regularly used the Union. Now they not only had sleeping rooms and dining rooms but they had ample meeting rooms and social and recreational facilities which seemed to make it not so important to find the Union for the same purposes.
Then, as I’ve mentioned, in the case of the Wisconsin Center, there was the removal of many conferences and University meetings to the Center. They were supposed not to be there except as they were related to the University Extension Division and adult education but these preliminary restrictions were soon overlooked and almost anybody could reserve a room at the Center for whatever purpose and who formerly had reserved the rooms at the Union.
Then, the alumni offices moved out and with them went a good number of alumni functions to the Alumni House in conjunction with the Wisconsin Center. So we lost through this move the interaction between present students and former students which we felt was an important part of the Union mission. It is true that the Union without the additions we hoped for couldn’t accommodate the expanding alumni administrative offices but we could accommodate the social uses fo alumni returning and the service needs, the dining needs, and so on. But, particularly in the ’60s, alumni were so turned off by the student behavior in the protest years that the Alumni Association staff made a point of seeing to it that they did not use the Union because they didn’t want alumni to get exposed to the bizarre dress and behavior of students. So we suffered through an era in which the Alumni Association tried to avoid alumni using the Union. I’ll come back to that a little later when I mention the protest years.
What is the situation now?
Well, it’s been helped by a general change of attitude toward the University and the Union and students by reason of the change in the behavior and in the dress of students. But whenever the facilities at the Alumni House and Wisconsin Center and Lowell Hall, which has been converted into a University facility for conference groups, whenever they can be accommodated in one or more of those three places, that’s the first choice and alumni gatherings come to the Union, I think I’m fair in saying, only when our capacity as in the Great Hall or the theater are needed and can not be supplied by a facility elsewhere. This is natural when one has his own building and adjacent facilities as in the Wisconsin Center building, it seems more convenient to operate there. This is one of the reasons we were urgently trying to get this underground pedestrian passage between the Center, the Alumni House, and the Union so that people could flow readily back and forth between the two buildings.
Then, there were the oncoming plans for the new city music theater center, now called the Civic Center, considerably larger than the Union theater with much better parking. It was a general development that the University didn’t have anything to do with, but was one of those situations which have affected or, in the future can affect, adversely the Union. There also was the shift of art exhibition emphasis to the Elvejhem Art Center once it got built.
Then, one considerable deterring factor to the use of the Union, was the elimination over the years of several parking lots in the vicinity of the Union and the reduction of the parking capacity below Muir Knoll with strong moves by others to remove the parking between the Union and gym which hasn’t happened yet but it’s a potential still.
Well now, there were some offsetting pluses to these kinds of developments. The cross campus bus service with a bus terminal at the Union, for example, helped to denote the Union as a traffic center and a place to be—a place to come to. I might add, however, that in the beginning the bus service was intended only to transport students during class hours across the campus and it was the Union that urged that this be extended into the evenings and into weekends, and got approval for doing this experiment by offering to subsidize any loss. The Union funds would pay for any loss in the bus service running in the evening and weekend because we were anxious to make it easy for the people in the dormitories and Eagle Heights to get to the library at night back and forth and during the weekends, and to get to the Union back and forth. It succeeded admirably. There was never any loss. It was an enormous success and is still an enormous success. It’s busy all the time. I don’t know when or if it would have happened if the Union—and this was our student president of the Union governing board who made a careful study of this—and made the proposal and won approval. Then, the demolition of the old University boat house behind the gym made it possible for us to develop this very extensive boat rental and boat repair center at the Union. The city did get around to building a large parking ramp on Lake Street. One thing that helped our interrelationships with the dormitories was that during the course of their construction when they had no dining room to serve the students housed in the sleeping rooms, the Union instituted a contract dining service in Tripp Commons for the dormitory students so that they got an impact from the Union and we were very well rewarded in terms of financial revenue. Then came in the late ’60s and early ’70s the construction of the Humanities building at State and Park Street which produced a large campus classroom population near the Union which was a benefit to the Union.
Then, going onto other kinds of disadvantages or difficulties, together with the School of Education and the School of Social Work, the Union developed a proposal for a major in “Community and Recreation Leadership.” But it failed to realize its promise as an interdepartmental major. This was because the dean of the School of Education insisted that the major be lodged within the School of Education. He didn’t want to have anything to do with an interdepartmental major for administrative reasons. He felt it was much simpler in making budgets, and whatever, to have a single school as a responsible party. Well, the result of that was that it defeated the interdepartment major proposal because only education students could enroll in it or would be interested in enrolling in it, and only a few of them did. We were not all that charmed with the prospect of students who were in education being the only ones who could provide community leadership and recreation because leadership in cultural developments and the arts—music, art itself, theater, etc.—were considered of the essence if one was to have a well rounded community recreation program and you weren’t going to get this from education majors.
Then, again a minus, in terms of the rapid expansion of enrollment and the faculty in the post-war period and on through the ’60s. The University just was simply not prepared for that kind of an influx of people. It couldn’t absorb them physically very well at all and it couldn’t maintain its past traditions and customs and goals. It was overwhelmed. In the process, being unaccustomed as it was to the rapid turnover of the faculty, we had great difficulty in asserting the Union purpose—what the Union was all about—among the changing new faculty, and not gaining any real understanding partly because many faculty came from campuses without Unions or with Unions that had different purposes like operating a bookstore and a snack bar and that was it.
We had more and more troubles, therefore, making the University, as our earlier literature hoped for, a more human place and particularly in terms of informal faculty-student association. The orderly procedures and standards and goals in student life and student faculty partnership in governance, which were a strong element prior to this time, was now greatly weakened or then disappeared entirely. The University simply couldn’t cope with the numbers and gave up, including giving up any semblance of a role as alma mater. The Student Life and Interest Committee, of which Dick Hartshorne was a member along with me, was abolished, for example. The Residence Halls Student Faculty Policy Committee, was abolished. The Wisconsin Student Association without any staff help or staff advising from the University, developed strong adversary attitudes toward the administration and toward the faculty. There was little or no communication with students. There was the Cardinal, to be sure, but the Cardinal was, in effect, an underground newspaper devoted to polemics operating above ground and in these last ten years one would look in vain in the Cardinal for any news of what the University was doing or what students were doing unless it was an item critical of the University or unless it was students that were taking on a strike or a protest. So the University as an institution, and what it stood for and what it was trying to do with and for students, was virtually invisible to the total student population. And the Union was, too. There was no chance to get an article of any kind in the Daily Cardinal about the Union, even though, lets say, it was staging an open house in which 8-10,000 students would be involved, or even if there were an accidental drowning in the lake off the Union shore—or whatever it was. If there was any reference to the Union in story, it didn’t appear. And the only things that you could detect that this was a paper at a university called the University of Wisconsin would be a few sports stories about the outcome of the team efforts (and often critical of the team or the coaches), and hardly anything else related to campus life or campus developments unless it was a cause that the Daily Cardinal also supported.
As an outcome, the University has had to develop all kinds of other means of communicating with students. Some of them were moderately successfully; some of them not. The Datelines, is an example. The Union has had to develop its own newspaper, in effect, and so has everyone else. There is just no chance to make yourself known to the student population through the student press as it now exists. I say this with some feeling because I am a former editor of the Daily Cardinal whose slogan that was carried on the masthead then was “Complete Campus Coverage.” There is virtually no campus coverage in the Cardinal present day or in the past few years.
Then, there was the element in the late ’60s and early ’70s in which anyone could do anything. There were no longer any standards or rules of procedure or who’s in charge of what. So student organizations began competing with each other. There were numerous film societies; the student government trying to stage concerts and as an outcome of all of this; everybody got hurt financially and the Union was hurt very much because its film program had supported many other kinds of student services. Now the attendance has dwindled to a loss situation.
Impact on the Union of the student protests in the ’60s
Well, that brings us to one of the very noticeable difficulties that faced the Union during the late ’60s and early ’70s—the Vietnam protest years where the Union image suffered really badly. The Union, indeed, was the headquarters of the extremists, the scene of rallies and picketing and drug use—all highly visible. This kind of thing was going on all across the country and, in fact, was going on elsewhere on this campus but the Union was the focal center that everyone could see and recognize and hear about. And the Madison police in their wisdom, because they had a thing about the Union anyhow, played up every item of drug arrest or drug abuse in the Union. It was going on all through the city but they were glad to make the Union the target of their news releases.
Why did they do this? Why did they pick on the Union?
Because the chief of police and his staff — in earlier years when I was director, I had visitations from them in which they were laying down the law to me, “Why don’t you kick these people out of the Union.?” And I said, “If you give me some evidence of infraction of the law, this is what we’ll do. I can’t just on suspicion go down and remove a student from this building. He’s a member of this organization and has a right and privilege to be here unless he is violating a University rule or city ordinance, and I can’t remove him and the University police can’t remove him without evidence or else we are subject to a lawsuit."
I think the police thought we were too permissive in looking the other way. Well, we weren’t at all. We were doing our very best to corral anyone who was off the beam on any infraction of University or city rules and often the people apprehended by the town police were not students at all over which the University police really had no jurisdiction except to take them out of the Union. But the University police were reluctant to do this unless we could file a valid complaint, or then their police officer was subject to a charge of false arrest. So they were not asked to come over on our call and do anything about it.
In the case of the protestors and the rallies, and so on, this was ruled a general University trouble that nobody knew how to handle—hundreds of students with sticks and bricks and rocks attacking the police. As an outcome of all this—and it was not so much the drug thing, it was the unbelievable dress and behavior and often insulting behavior to older people by the so-called radicals who just wanted a to say their piece against the war by objecting to everything and everybody. This turned off the faculty and alumni to the point where they just refused to come to the Union anymore, and including many students. The use of the building declined. Fund-raising was very difficult. There was, at times, some physical damage. Programs were picketed which deterred use and destroyed the mood of a concert or lecture that the picketers objected to. And, I must say, there was no strong Union student leadership forthcoming as a counter force as there had been in the earlier year at the beginning of the protests against army recruiting and chemical company recruiting, and so on. We had some strong student leaders who were effective counter-protestors, protesting the protestors and making it known and rallying student opinion against them. But not now, and I think it was partly in the days of violence that students who might have been potential leaders were scared. They were a good deal younger then the leaders of the protest groups. Many of the extremist protest leaders were in their late ’20s or early ’30s. Some of them had been imported specifically to lead the protest movements. They were experts in knowing how to do it; how to call upon the television press to be there at the time a photogenic protest or rally was being held. And these younger undergraduates without this kind of experience and maturity, I think, just felt they couldn’t cope with these older, experienced, rebellious leaders and so they subsided and disappeared into an apathetic mass.
Then, the staff, itself, was diverted to handle these emergencies that came on almost daily. There would be an uproar in the Rathskeller or in the corridors with one group battling another or picketing or some physical violence, and so on. Now, in all of this I have to say, Wisconsin was not unique. This was happening all over the country and, actually, all over the world and had been going on outside the United States at least a decade before it occurred here. I don’t know whether or not you’re interested in the kinds of things that happened overseas in terms of student rebellion and protest. I could give you a few examples.
Give me a few.
For example, at several campuses in Japan where I was visiting in 1964, there were brand new, very attractive union buildings that had stood empty for up to a year—not a student entering—because of a boycott protesting a rule that the dean of students should be responsible for administration. It was a boycott engineered by the extreme leftist group that was in control of student government at these campuses. When I was at the Tokyo University, students were being called out of classes in a general strike against the government’s policy in Korea. In Korea four universities were shut down completely for two weeks while 5,000 rock throwing students battled the police. They were protesting the government concessions to Japan. Scores of students and police were seriously injured. When students at the University of Rangoon, Burma, demonstrated at the union building and waved antigovernment banners, the government decided the union was the center of subversive activities. It send in its troops, fired on students, killing a number of them, and the next morning the military blewup the Union building. At Caracas, Venezuela, the campus, as it is in most Latin American countries, was off limits to the police, so both students and non-students were using the dormitories as a staging area for arming red guerillas.
Well, in my book, State of the Union Around the World, I describe in some detail all sorts of manifestations of this kind of student unrest and the techniques of student protest and violence that had been going on for years before it ever happened at Berkeley or at Wisconsin. But it was interesting to see that the modus operandi at Berkeley and at Wisconsin was almost chapter and verse the same as what I observed in Japan and in Southeast Asia and which had happened before it happened at Berkeley. When I came back to Wisconsin from my oversees trip and told Chancellor Fleming how students on one campus had locked in the president of the university and wouldn’t let him leave even to go to the bathroom until he acceded to their demands, he couldn’t believe it but, a year later he was locked in by student protestors at Wisconsin.
This all happened abroad and I think here, most everybody agrees, because of the active and violent leadership of a minority of extremists on the campus. Abroad it was estimated at not over 3 or 4%—sometimes less than that—of any given student body. That’s about the same as was in this country. The majority is quite another thing. Abroad the problem was that they didn’t participate in anything. There was a very wide-spread apathy with most students content to go to classes and go home. Here, by the way, all this very active and constructive work by the Wisconsin Hoofers in their outing program was going on just the same as usual and attracting more students then ever. Just the same, because of the impressions given the public by this minority at Wisconsin, it took us four or five years to overcome this bad image and we still have some hangovers from it.
Summing up our minuses, in general, beginning in the mid-’60s, the staff was so preoccupied with emergencies, protests, employee strikes, new rules and requirements of the state and University, enormous paperwork, financial difficulties, merger problems, changed attitudes of a changing university administration, physical plant expansion and repairs of the whole building, rapid staff turnover—so preoccupied that they really couldn’t give adequate attention to the main line Union purposes of recruiting and developing a strong student leadership, not only for the Union, but in campus affairs generally; couldn’t succeed in preserving the preeminence of the Union as a cultural center, embracing wide student participation in creative endeavors; couldn’t accomplish the promotion of discussion and debate of all sides of the key issues of an on-going political or social problem. Or give attention to the amenities, despite the costs, that could make the large university, as we hoped it would be, a more human place—a place open during recesses, fireplaces with wood burning in the fireplaces, a checkroom open to people to be able to put their burdens and briefcases and winter coats, a program for special groups with special problems such as foreign students and graduate students, with attention to faculty/student social relationships, and so on.
So our minuses may sound numerous, and they are, but on the whole, I guess I’d say, the pluses out-number and out-weigh and, all told, our balance sheet shows a net worth of the Union to the University and a net worth in satisfaction to those of us who have lived through this era. I hope, at least, this is the case.
What do you see as the future of the Union?
That, of course, is hard for anyone to predict, including for me. Because so much depends on how the University administration, the Union Council, and the staff perceive the mission of the Union from here on and what they do about it. I guess I would say the over-riding general issue is: “Will the Union become, primarily, a kind of service station or an educational force?” This is a problem, again, not unique to Wisconsin. It confronts most unions. The trend, I must say, is toward becoming a service station, unwelcomed as that is to some of us who believe deeply in the educational potential and importance of the Union.
Now to be more specific, the business office thinks of the Union as an “auxiliary enterprise,” as they call it, along with the bookstore, sometimes along with the campus laundry, that they run say should be self-supporting, managed efficiently, and that’s it. Now the Association of College Unions opposes this concept of the Union, opposes the term “auxiliary enterprise” and has so set forth this opposition in a position paper which has been provided to the business officers associations, without effect, I must say, because they still use this nomenclature. It is completely misleading, completely false. It has no relationship whatever to the basic purposes of the Union with no indication of what it is auxiliary to. Of course, in the view of many of us, it isn’t auxiliary at all. It is essential. It is as essential as the university hospitals are which they don’t call auxiliary and which have a very large income-producing operation but also a teaching function and carry for the health and welfare of students and others, as we have a teaching function and caring for the social welfare of students. So this battle goes on.
Then, the State comes and audits the financial effectiveness and our accountability financially. But no one audits for educational accountability or looks at the educational results and, I must say, no one seems to care very much. At least if there are people who care, they haven’t articulated it very much.
Then, in times of financial stress, progressively there appears decreasing funding for cultural and recreational programs. Often, new charges—so-called “user fees”—are made for cultural and recreational programs and services that formerly were not charged for in order to encourage students to make a maximum use of them; or recreational facilities are abandoned and converted to income-producing enterprises.
What are you thinking of in that respect?
Well, I think of the situation at Milwaukee where, I may have mentioned, that the business manager of the university walked around the building with the director and said, “Well, this art gallery doesn’t produce any income. You’re not charging admission. If you can’t charge admission, why don’t you convert it to something worthwhile that produces some income?”
In our own case, our browsing room, our library, has been abandoned as a library. It has become a study room. The room that was a checkroom on the ground floor off of the Rathskeller where students could leave their books and coats and briefcases under protection and not clutter up the tables—you were relieved of that burden—was converted to a pinball machine room. At the main entrance to the dining wing of the Union where we had an information center and checkroom, as a service, and as an appropriate entry atmosphere for a cultural center, now has a delicatessen with crowds of students buying ice cream and coke, and so on, and spilling the ice cream on the floor. It is highly profitable. It makes money but its right at the front door of a union that purports to be a cultural-social center. Again, this all relates to not just my personal preference or idiosyncrasies but to a basic purpose of the Union. Besides for providing for a common life of the members of the University community, the other purpose is also to provide a cultivated social program. Now, how pinball machines qualify as a cultivated, well-considered social recreational program is hard to see.
This whole problem of switching from cultural/social center emphasis to financial emphasis and service center emphasis, could be greatly intensified in the decade of the ’80s if the predicted enrollment decrease takes place because the Union depends, basically, on a per capita fee paid to the Union by each student and if the student enrollment drops from around 40,000 to around 35,000 or 33,000, this is an enormous decrease in funding for the Union which will put very severe pressures on economizing, again, and on finding ways and means of building an income.
Then, as I guess I’ve mentioned, there is as yet no realization by the administration and the faculty that they have in the Union and in the free time activities of the students another dimension in education and a vast potential in the time area and in the means through which the University can educate. As you are probably well aware of, the main emphasis runs to research and often to credit teaching leading to a vocation or professional job and not very much concern with the personal human development where, some of us think and many reputable educators think, we should be educating the person as well as the intellect. A given student is not just an intellect, he is also a person and he is learning at all hours of the day, not just in the classroom and most of his hours are spent outside the classroom—with a rich potential for enriching his development and his education.
Then, the Union governing board and staff members themselves, I think, have been hesitant to assert strongly the role of the Union as a training ground for citizenship and leadership and the primacy of student policy-making. And of providing the maximum opportunities for self-government and if they don’t speak up for it, I don’t know who else will.
Other factors lying ahead, perhaps beyond the control of the Union and the University which could have an important bearing on the Union’s future: there is a predicted decline in enrollment, as I’ve just mentioned; and the legal requirements of merger, which I’ve also mentioned, especially if they’re interpreted by the courts to subject the Union to budgetary review and control by another student organization, the Wisconsin Student Association. These court tests are now pending. At one southern university, the student government has in court now a suit against the university to deny any university supervision or control over the fees paid for by students for non-instructional purposes. Our student government here has threatened to institute such a suit to force the University to let student government, not the Union and not the administration, to be the sole determiner of how the non-instructional incidental fee is to be spent.
Then, the advent of the Madison Civic Center, which is now close by—coming along in February or March—could have, possibly, severe effects on the Union in terms of competition for theater and music attractions, maybe diminishing the role of the theater. It is something very close by and something unresolved as yet, as to what the future’s main role of the Union theater will be. We’ve already lost the student creative participation in the theater—one of the main reasons it was built—because of the creation of the Communications Art Center. We haven’t had any adequate substitute for that yet, and if the outside artist attractions have difficulty attracting an audience here over against a Civic Center that has a larger audience capacity and can pay a larger fee, then the question arises, “What do we usefully do and what is the best to do with the Union theater?"
Then there is, as you can see from my remarks, the continuing formidable obstacle of attaining the Union goal of a common life or of unifying the campus. This is still intensified by the adversary posture of extremist students toward the University, by the dispersal of facilities over a wide area, and now by the increasingly heterogeneous student population in age, interests, and so many part-time students. But the larger, I guess I’d put it, and more dispersed a campus is, the more important this role of the Union is. It’s going to be a tough problem because committees of teenagers, which is what we have now—the bulk of the membership of the Union committees—probably can’t plan effectively for students in their late ’20s up to their late ’40s and even beyond.
Despite these question marks for the future, there are some hopeful signs, too. The Union is building up cash reserves which can help meet financial emergencies. The Union image, as I’ve mentioned, is increasingly favorable, and there is a return to the Union of many alumni and faculty who gave up on us. The Union program is more and more reaching out to more special interest groups, like the minicourses which enroll some 8,000 or 10,000 students and faculty and alumni in the course of a year; special services and programs for cultural minorities for student and faculty families, including the day-care center and still, an addition to the Hoofer recreational areas in terms of new interest clubs forming like scuba diving.
Then, the Memorial Union Trustees, I believe, are going to renew their role of being, in effect, the trustee of an idea and this may have an effective influence on the University administration and the Union governing board’s attitudes. So while there are problems ahead, there are also hopes and expectations of success.