Those of you who have heard previous Class & Charter Day speeches will probably find these remarks to be somewhat different. Those of you who hear such speeches in the future will undoubtedly find that they will not mirror my type of remarks. If this is true, the fact may be attributed to the guidance, direction and persuasion of my wife.
When President Chandler asked me to deliver this talk, I immediately began to think of what to say. I had some really brilliant ideas which included treating the history of higher education in toto illuminating all its faults and predicting its future. In high spirits I shared my thoughts with my help-mate. I thought she looked a little dubious but she said nothing -- then. About two days later she called me. "WinTON, I want to talk to you." The accent on my name is important. When Pat says "Win" all is well. When she calls me Winton things are so-so. But when she says WinTON, small craft warnings are flying from Cape Hatteras to the tip of Maine. We sat down to talk and she said, "Now WinTON, I want to give a little advice about your speech. Don't try to be erudite." I call your attention to the precision of the phrasing. The sentence was not, "Don't be erudite;" it was, "Don't try to be erudite." She went on, "Don't be maudlin, don't be sentimental, don't be lengthy. Tell them about a few of the more or less amusing things that have happened to you and then sit down." Well I shall do my best to follow the advice -- almost.
My first connection with Hamilton was as a student. Let me say here and now I did not put a cow in the third floor of the Chapel as persistent and libelous rumor hath it. We couldn't get the cow to walk up the stairs.
One moment as an undergraduate at Hamilton was very influential in my life. It came in a class in freshman English Composition, taught by the late Paul Fancher. His greatest contribution was establishing and bringing to excellence our justly highly regarded choir. Mr. Francher was also something of an actor, and he was an inspirational teacher. The incident took place on a warm afternoon in May. For some reason, which escapes me, Mr. Fancher read Robert Burns' poem, "My Luv Is Like a Red, Red Rose." When he had finished he said dramatically, "Gentlemen, I would rather have written that poem than be elected president of the United States." I realized later that this was a somewhat fatuous remark as he could not have done the one and was not likely to have the other happen to him. At the moment, however, I was deeply impressed and the thought flashed through my mind that I would like to be a college teacher. The thought never left my mind, although it often became somewhat faint. It was that moment that is in some part responsible for my being here today.
Some of the lessons I learned as a Hamilton undergraduate came not from the classroom. Those I recall the best happened on the baseball diamond and involved our coach -- known by all as Toots McBride. One occurred on a chilly spring day when I found myself at bat with a man on first. Toots flashed the hit and run sign. As most of you know, when the hit and run is on, the runner on first breaks for second with the pitch. It is the responsibility of the batter to try to hit the ball at all costs, even to the point of throwing his bat at a poor pitch. This is done, or course, to protect the runner.
The pitch came right over the plate. But somehow I froze and never swung. The runner was thrown out by the proverbial city block. That upset me so much that for one of the few times in my majestic career I struck out. I sneaked to the far end of the bench away from the coach, put my parka over my head and thought if I can only get on the field maybe I won't get bawled out. Minutes passed and I was lulled into false security. From the other end of the bench, the coach bellowed, "Tolles, why didn't you swing at that pitch?"
I blurted out a blatant lie. "I didn't think the runner saw the signal." As I say, this just wasn't true, but when a little time passed and nothing more came of it, I thought smugly that I had gotten away with something and would hear no more. Not so.
From the coach came this crusher. "Tolles, Tolles, don't ever think unless you are equipped for it."
I believe in a semi-serious way, though to be interpreted in a somewhat different manner than was meant in this incident, that remark says a good deal about liberal arts education. One of its aims certainly is to teach us not to think seriously about a situation or problem unless we have equipped ourselves properly. Our training should teach us the necessity of gathering the facts, checking them, approaching the problem with calmness and rationality, not in a mood of emotional excitement, realizing that there are at least two sides of a question and we better listen to the other side carefully and not push it aside as feeble and irrelevant. Only as we do these and other things are we prepared to think properly. But I am getting a bit philosophical and I was told not to do that.
On another occasion on the baseball diamond, I was called out on strikes. (I did not always strike out; it just seems that way.) I came back to the bench complaining bitterly about that blind man behind the plate who had given me such a raw deal. Toots looked at me and said quietly this time, "Remember, Win, if the pitch is good enough to call, it's good enough to hit."
That remark has come back to me many times as I start to complain about bad breaks or to make excuses for mistakes of commission or omission. "If they are good enough to call, they are good enough to hit." It is not a bad thing to remember.
Well, I graduated and via high school teaching, some college teaching and the Navy, I found myself in Utica as the first dean of Utica College. Toward the end of the year President Rudd offered me the deanship at Hamilton and I accepted.
I shall never forget the warm and enthusiastic welcome given me by a former instructor of mine. I shall not identify this gentleman except to say that he is the senior member of the English Department and a fine and discerning teacher. He had taught me in freshman English and on one theme I had been naïve enough to group the now defunct American Magazine, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis and Edgar Guest together as interpreters of the American scene. My instructor wrote across my paper (a paper that I kept for years and years but could not find for this occasion), "Your literary taste is atrocious. We shall try to improve it, but I do not have much hope."
Well, this man came to call on Pat and myself soon after we arrived on the scene. We chatted about the college and old times. Indeed he had witnessed some of my courtship of my wife. He left with this heart-warming and encouraging remark, "I don't exactly know why we need a dean, but if we have to have one I suppose it might as well be you." As he left, I said to myself, "With friends like that who needs enemies."
By popular conception a dean is supposed to be an awesome, fearsome person by whom students are struck with something close to terror when called to his office or encounter him on the campus. I have never had much success in creating that image, but on one occasion I really just about made it.
It was a Sunday morning of Spring house party. I have always had some dread of Sunday morning because it comes so close to Saturday night. On this party the Sigs had had a dance on Saturday that was open to the entire college. On Sunday the DU's had a party that was closed. That they were not admitted to the party miffed some of the Sigs and they set about with a Machiavellian scheme of revenge. Getting on the phone they ordered delivered to the DU house 20 dozen roses, 16 taxi cabs to take a group to the airport, and two tons of gravel -- among other things.
Confusion reigned as these began to arrive. There was something of a scuffle and one taxi driver claimed he was assaulted and had the hood of his cab slammed on his hand. The state police arrived and stopped at my house before proceeding further. They described the suspected culprit. I recognized him and suggested that we go pick him up and return to my house where we would not attract attention and could talk quietly. This was agreed to and I drove over with my car and the police with theirs. I spotted the young man and said as severely as I could, "The state police and I want to talk to you at my house. Will you ride with me or with the police?" He looked at me and at the police to determine the less awesome party, turned back to me and said, "If you don't mind, I will ride with the police."
On another occasion I had much less luck in impressing a student by intensive bawling out. He was a frightful underachiever and I called him in "to lay him out in lavender," as the saying goes. Midway through my exhortation he looked at me with an impish grin and said, "Dean, you shouldn't get after me like this, you ought to be pleased with me." "Why in the world should I be pleased with you?" "Dean, look, I am the kind of student who makes the upper half of the class possible, and you really need and upper half of the class."
The charm and persuasiveness of a Hamilton student has often been demonstrated for me. One example, which may also be counted as a reduction of my attempted ferociousness, arose from an incident on a Saturday night when some five of our students visited Oneonta State. As I first heard it, they really got loose -- broke into a girls' dormitory, were rude to the house mother, smashed windows and heaven knows what else. According to the call I got from the Oneonta dean on Sunday morning (always Sunday morning) more destruction had been wrought than was done by Sherman's army on its march through Georgia. If Hamilton had any integrity at all, I would see that these young men got the works, I was told.
I rounded up the group, did all I could to be severe, nay ferocious, and informed them that on Monday they were coming before the Academic Council and they better expect the worst. In the meantime, I suggested that the least they could do was return to the scene of the crime and apologize. They did on Monday.
About noon of that day I had a call from the dean at Oneonta -- the same one that suggested boiling in oil would be none too good for these dastardly ruffians. Her remarks now went something as follows. I wish I had a tape of them.
"Your students have been here to talk with me. They are the nicest, sweetest young men I have seen in a long time. All-American boys if I ever saw any. I am sure they meant no harm. They just showed the kind of high spirits that made America great. If you have any decency, any sense of fair play, any proper judgment you will not be vindictive. We have forgiven them. I hope you will have the good sense to do likewise."
If ever the ground was cut out from under me, this was the time. When the students returned, I talked with them and asked what they had done to sway the dean. The leader, who is now a criminal lawyer with the reputation for getting accused men acquitted, (you can understand why, I think) said, "Well you see, Dean, that dean is very susceptible to naïve, underplayed, masculine charm."
In saying farewell, at this time I shall answer four questions that are often put to me. My good wife, who hears more of my speeches than anyone should have to hear, once asked me, "Win, why do you always say in your speeches that you are going to do some specific number of things -- three, four, five and the like." I thought a good deal about it and finally decided that it is a hang-over from the days of teaching. As you look at a class you often realize that they are not really paying much attention. So you say "There are four causes for the activity that I have just mentioned." Immediately the group snaps to some form of attention and every pencil comes out and the students write 1, 2, 3, 4 and listen to what they should write down. A little later as the minds begin to wander, the teacher can usually bring them back more or less on the path by saying that there were three results of this. Again the pencils write 1, 2, 3. Besides, stating the number gives your audience a chance to tell how nearly thorough you as a speaker are.
The first question put to me is often "Have you enjoyed your 25 years as a dean?" The answer is irrevocably, "Yes." Certainly there have been days when I wished that I was in the Antarctic; days when as I shaved in the morning and thought of what lay ahead, I have been able to steel myself only by saying to the face in the mirror, "This too shall pass." Frank Ristine, a former dean of the College himself, upon hearing me complain one day, said "But Win, remember, it is better than driving a truck." There have been times when I wished that I could have reminded him of that statement and said, "Oh, yeah?"
But ultimately, in the total picture, I have enjoyed the work and I cannot think of any other experience that could have given me greater satisfaction.
Here I would like to digress briefly to thank all those who have helped and worked with me. It is a varied group -- trustees, presidents, alumni, faculty, students, sheriffs, state police and missing persons bureaus. Obviously I cannot begin to name them all individually. I would like to pay tribute to the two associate deans with whom I have worked -- Sid Wertimer and Stretch DePuy. Let me say that they are great guys.
Sid was the first associate dean of this College, appointed in 1957. He served for eight years and then decided to return to teaching. (Please note that I did not say go back to teaching -- returning to teaching is by no means a backward step. Some would say it was a forward move.) Sid was hard working, sympathetic and cooperative. A sample of his cooperative spirit may be illustrated by a remark he made when we were setting up the divisions of labor. I guess I was fussing a little and seemed a little worried about how it would all come out. Sid said: "Look, don't worry. If the answer is 'yes' you give it; if the answer is 'no' I'll give it." You can't ask for more cooperation than that.
Stretch came in 1965 and will have served seven years come next July 1. He has been a tower of strength. Nobody really knows the many things he has done for this College and its students. One thing that eases for me the unhappiness of leaving Hamilton is the realization that if I stayed I would not have Stretch to talk and work with me. I thank him and I know I join with everyone else in this community in wishing him well in his new position.
A second question that I am often asked is what in your work as dean has given you the most satisfaction? There have been many things -- helping to improve the curriculum so that it more nearly approached the need of the present student in the present world; assisting in the recruitment of faculty and staff members; working to establish conditions as ideal as possible in promoting the learning process. Indeed it is a primary function of a dean to make arrangements in organizing the College that, with the help of faculty, the climate is one that encourages the primary purpose -- the infusion of knowledge in students.
Another source of satisfaction had been the contributions that a dean makes, in cooperation with faculty and other staff members, in bringing about improvements in student life in all its ramifications. A minor source of satisfaction for me has been the ability to help stop dormitory water fights without getting soaked with water myself. This is indeed no mean feat. Ask Mr. DePuy.
However, when all is said and done, my greatest satisfaction by far has been in working with the individual student and helping him with his problems for the present and the future. As many former students have written me, this has come out more times than I would ever have anticipated. It warms your heart to hear alumni, and present students, thank you for what you have done for them as persons. Problems ranging from not knowing how to study, to bigamy and bad debts, students and I have wrestled with together and while we have not always won, often there has been at least partial victory.
Let me, without meaning to be boastful, cite just one instance of the kind of thing that represents my greatest source of satisfaction. Not long ago, a former student went out of his way to visit and say goodbye to me as one retiring. He had been a troublesome student, academically and in other ways. He told me how grateful he was for what I had done for him which had helped him to be a successful banker. I had to confess that I did not remember the incident. He said that he had become discouraged and disorganized to the extent that he felt he should leave college. We discussed the situation. Finally, he said I led him over to a window in my office and pointed to a group of men raking grass outside. He remarked that I said as we looked at them, "Is that what you want to do for the rest of your life? You have abilities far beyond that. Why don't you leave that kind of work to those not so fortunate." The alumnus said, "At that moment I determined I was not going to quit and it was the best decision I ever made."
That this kind of activity is one that had given me the greatest satisfaction in my work is exactly as it should be. Whatever else that Hamilton tries to do, its primary objective essentially, I believe, should be to bring the individual student to the highest development of his potential. That is our basic raison d'etre.
A third question -- Has the Hamilton student changed over the years? This question has inspired much debate at times with colleagues here and at other institutions as the question related to them. My answer, with which many may not agree, is that the Hamilton student has not really changed.
The trappings have changed. Today the fads are long hair, bare feet, eccentric dress. But many years ago the trappings, the fads, were raccoon coats, bell-bottom trousers, Stutz Bearcat cars and hip flasks. Is there any real difference?
A more important change is that students today are probably more serious about their studies than they were 20, 25, years ago. Certainly they are more concerned about society and its failings. It amuses me that when I first came as dean the cry of the alumni was, "What's the matter with your students? All they think about is their football games and their beer parties." Then when students began to become involved, often through mistaken methods, with problems of society, the cry of the alumni became, "What's the matter with your students? Why don't they stay where they belong and stop butting in? Why don't your students go back to their house parties, their beer and their football games?" You can't have it both ways.
I still hold that if there is such a thing as a typical Hamilton student, he had not basically changed. He is an earnest, hard- working, relatively eager student who, given the proper stimulus, is ready and more than willing to learn. He may be a little uncertain of himself, coming as he does often from a somewhat sheltered background. But he is more than willing in proper fashion, to tackle the problems of this campus and of society. If he needs anything in his coming battle with the world outside it is the development of confidence in himself, in his ability and in the training that he has received at Hamilton.
The fourth and last question that I shall discuss is the extent to which Hamilton has changed over the last 25 years. Despite the valued presence of Kirkland, I reply similarly to my judgment on the students, but with somewhat more certainty, that Hamilton has changed in many ways yet it remains basically what it was in 1947 -- indeed in 1907, in 1857 and even in 1812.
The changes in the College in the last 25 years have been many and important. Kirkland is here, there are more students, and students have become much more influential, as they should be, in the philosophy and activities of the College. The curriculum has been altered to include more courses, the development in the social studies being particularly significant. The stress on independent work has increased greatly. When this program was introduced in 1952, many of my colleagues thought this was the beginning of a decline in Hamilton standards, but it has not worked out this way.
The removal of distribution requirements has made life happier for many students and faculty, but student programs remain basically pretty much as they once were. The introduction of 4-1-4 has meant an increased stress on intensity. These and many other changes have taken place. Yet, I believe, Hamilton has remained basically the same institution that it has been since its founding, particularly the same that it has been for almost the last century.
The singleness of purpose, this unity of aim, is, I believe, one of the great strengths of Hamilton. Steadfastly over the years, under able leadership, we have sought to remain a small liberal arts, residential college for men of high quality. We have not been tempted by the lure and fame of graduate work, something that Hamilton is not equipped to take on and do a first-class job as we are not constituted. We have not been tempted to enter into extension programs. We have not been tempted to overextend our enrollment, even as we allow it to increase. It is this unmitigated concentration of purpose and objectives that is something that Hamilton should seek to maintain. If I had one wish for Hamilton, it would be that over the next decade or more, Hamilton's aim should be to do what we are doing now even better.
But such a philosophy should not lead to smugness. Changes, which alter the present basic philosophy, should not be neglected. If I were to express one fear about Hamilton and its curricular approach, something that I will not stress, it would be that wherever we try curricular experiments they are almost always abandoned within a relatively short period.
Thus, I believe Hamilton should hold its hand steadily on the wheel as it moves ahead. However, it should not be afraid to make changes that support its purpose rather than abandon them, often it should seek to adjust the changes so that they fit the pattern.
What I am trying to say has already been said very well by the headmaster of St. Alban's school from whom I now quote. (Quotation by Charles Martin, headmaster of St. Alban's school in his "Headmaster's Letter" of Sept. 8, 1971.)
"We do change, but we remain the same. We are still concerned with the individual and his growth; we still teach the three R's as the fundamental tools of learning; we still hold to values that to us are abiding; we still live in the spirit of the Teacher. Today we may use methods different from those of the past, offer more opportunities for growth, develop means of learning outside of the classroom, see and understand ourselves as part of the community, indeed as part of our total environment, but we still hold to the essential purposes that have always been ours... It is only as we have roots that we can move securely, confidently, freely into the new."
I close with a story of Hamilton College. It is doubtless apocryphal, but if it is not true, it should be. The time is early in the 20th century on a very icy day in February. The story begins at the top of the Hill as a professor of the dignified old school, a true gentleman, emerges from him house and starts a walk down the hill. After taking but a few steps, his feet slip out from under him, he lands on his back, and starts down the hill as a human sled, firmly holding on to his derby and clutching at his Chesterfield overcoat.
About half way down the hill, just below the Psi U house from Anderson Road, there emerges the portly, matronly wife of another professor. As she reaches the walk, the human sled arrives simultaneously, cuts out her feet from under her, and she lands on the professor's stomach. Now the human sled has a passenger and continues down the hill, with the professor still holding on to his derby and the matronly wife gasping for breath.
On and on the sled goes, picking up speed with each second, until it crosses Bristol Road. Now, on the level, the sled begins to slow up until it crosses Oriskany Creek and comes a dead stop. Our professor, gentleman to the end, looks up at his passenger, tips his hat, and says "Pardon me, madam, this is as far as I go."
Ladies and gentlemen, this is about as far as I go. It has been a fine trip for 25 years and I am happy to have had the experience. Thank you.