Citation for this article is: Record Group FS0000, Series 1 Mary Jo Bratton Papers, Sub-series 1 Oral History Tapes, Robert Holt Oral History, June 7 and 8, 1982.
Robert Holt came to ECTC in 1950 as the Director of Religious Activities, a position he held for four years. He left campus and returned again in 1958 as registrar and director of admissions. He also served as vice chancellor of administration and planning and later became a member of the philosophy department retiring in 1984.
The interview describes his early work as director of religious activities; administrations of John Messick and Leo Jenkins; ECC's growth in the 1960's and struggle for attaining university status; SACS accreditation; parking; and the North Carolina Board of Higher Education.
A discussion of events at Mars Hill College is not included here.
The entire oral history is available to researchers in the Special Collections Research Room.
Holt: You were asking me about the religious climate on the campus in the early fifties. And I would say that Dr. Messick had as much to do with that as anybody else. This seems to have been one of the major thrusts so far as he was concerned. I was not aware of any real opposition to it. Of course, the YMCA and the YWCA were Christian organizations as such, but they tried to be as non-denominational as they could be. At that time we didn't have very many people from different cultures or backgrounds, hardly enough to question it. I suppose that made it easier. When I arrived on campus, I found that Dr. Messick was very much interested in promoting this kind of thing and providing opportunities for students.
Bratton: Was that a common officer in state colleges at that time? A director of religious activities?
Holt: No. Some of them had them and some of them didn't. In fact, I suppose it was not common in all of them. Somebody was doing a little bit of it, some teacher or somebody, was helping with it.
Bratton: And the churches had their campus . . .
Holt: Yes. When I arrived in 1950, the churches had what they called their campus ministers, many of them. Some of them had homes around the campus here and nearby. Some used their own churches if they were close enough by. Some of them just met in classrooms, they had permission to do this.
I think part of the reason Dr. Messick wanted a director of religious activities was not just his own interests, but these organizations were becoming rather powerful. They were beginning to encroach upon one another, each one. Well, not encroach on one another, but each one wanted its own programs.
Bratton: You mean the denominational as well as the "Y"?
Holt: Yes, and Dr. Messick was of the impression that as a state school, this institution could not be promoting any particular one. His idea was to provide somebody to coordinate all of those activities. I think I was called coordinator of religious activities instead of director. I'm not sure now, that was a long time ago.
Bratton: I'll check the catalog.
Holt: But the concept was to coordinate. That was part of it.
Bratton: And it wasn't because there was a lack of religious emphasis, but because it had permeated the campus, that you needed a director.
Holt: That's right. It was rather avid, I would say, and they needed somebody to keep it under control within legal limits, and try to have them all working together instead of at cross purposes or in a competitive kind of sense.
Bratton: I was in school at this time at VPI and we had a very active Westminster Fellowship. The various denominations, but I don't recall a director of the students. But I was impressed there, and I presume this is the way it was here. That the religious life on campus was a very important part of student life in that era more than . . .
Holt: Well, I can give you an example, I think. As I told you previously, Dr. Messick and I talked about the job before I accepted it, before he employed me. And neither one of us could pin down at the moment exactly what it would be. That's why I didn't sign a contract. He didn't want to. He said, "We don't want to be confined to what a contract might say." And I agreed to that, because I didn't know. He said, "You come. Use your intelligence and imagination and see what is needed and let's go from there.
Bratton: Now, you were just finishing up at Duke?
Holt: I was finishing at Duke. I had had two years, well I finished high school at Lee-Edwards at Asheville, then went over and worked a couple of years. Then finished at Mars Hill with an A.A. degree, then went down to Wake Forest and finished my bachelor's degree there. I went out to Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth to become a flaming evangelist and realized in about three months that that was not my cup of tea. I learned real fast while trying to preach on a street corner in Fort Worth that that was not what I was meant to be. No complaint about the people that can do it. I went back to Wake Forest and got a master's degree. I had a fellowship there.
Bratton: Was that in religion?
Holt: No. I taught while I was doing that. A full teaching load there at the time was four classes or twelve hours in a semester, and I taught fifteen hours.
Bratton: Part time!
Holt: Part time. I went to school half time and had a full time church up near the Virginia line. It was pretty tough going. But, no, I majored in English literature for my bachelor's degree and master's degree with a minor in religion. I could take all the religion courses they had as a minor. We were encouraged to do this, really with the understanding, I, at that time, was planning on being in the ministry and they convinced me at Wake Forest that you needed a much broader background than just religious training.
When I finished Wake Forest some of my teachers there were instrumental in helping me a get a fellowship over at Duke. So I did my doctorate there in the graduate school of religion. But there again, crossing over into my English training too. In fact, some of the members of my committee were from the English department, because though I was majoring in Christian ethics, I was doing that in the framework of English literature, and wrote my doctorate on Thomas Traherne and his Christian ethics. He's an English writer and poet. So the English literature stayed with me all the way through as well as the religious training. So I had a little broader background to begin with, I guess, which might have been what Messick was looking for.
Bratton: How did he get up with you?
Holt: Well, I knew something about this school. Jim White who was down here and at that time was dating one of Messick's daughters and teaching, he was dating Rose, was a very good friend of ours and visited us often up there at Durham while I was in school at Duke. In fact, my oldest son is named for Jim. He kept telling me about the school down here, you know, but actually, he didn't play the first role in this. But Dr. Messick called the Dean of the Graduate School up there, they were good friends, and told him what he needed and to select somebody he thought might be broad enough in background that he could fit into a composite situation. Shelton Smith was the person and he got me in a corner one Saturday morning and said, "I'm going to sit you right here in this classroom until you agree to go down there and look at this job." Well, I was not too much interested in that direction. In fact, I already had an opportunity to go to a church in South Carolina as soon as I finished.
Bratton: You were thinking of going on into the ministry as a regular . . ?
Holt: Yes, I was in the ministry. I was preaching at that time at Nelson at Cedar Fork right out of Durham and they wanted me to stay there. They offered me a contract to stay there, nearly as much as I would have made down here considering they would be supplying a place to live. They had built a new house there, hoping I'd stay I think.
When I came down here to see Dr. Messick about the job under threat of Shelton Smith's displeasure, I of course, talked to Jim White too. I was very much impressed with the opportunity and I really had been struggling with which way to go. I knew from my southwestern experience that I was no evangelist and schooling had been in my life. My father was in college work and I had grown up on college campuses. I just felt at home on college campuses and I had been in school most of my life. Well, all my life until that time. But I think in the final analysis that it was Jim who helped me make up my mind which way to go. I talked with him a long time and he tried, and he had already been in college work and tried to show me something of the opportunity.
Bratton: He lived here, didn't he?
Holt: Yes. He went to school here. He's from Scotland Neck.
Bratton: Was he working here at that time?
Holt: He was teaching here in the Business Department and was working on his doctorate in New York. And so, I finally decided this would be the way. As Jim said, "You don't want to waste your life in trying to pacify the old maids of both sexes in some of these country churches." Well, I didn't mind that and that was a little cruel, I guess. But anyway, this seemed to be really what I had been training for without realizing it. So I came down here and asked Dr. Messick if he knew what I was suppose to do and he said, "No, look around."
In fact, he didn't assign me any classwork. I was supposed to teach a half load. He said, "The first quarter just look around and see what needs to be done and work out something and come talk to me about it." So I worked out some things. At that time I could see two things that really needed to be done, well, three. One of them, and we had talked about it, was to introduce some courses in religion. We had in the English Department and taught by the chairman of the English Department a course in the literature of the Bible, not from a religious standpoint particularly.
Bratton: I think Dr. Meadows used to teach that.
Holt: No, this was Lucille Turner. I don't know how long that had been, but other than that there was practically no courses available. I believe a girl was here teaching. We didn't have a Philosophy Department, but I have forgotten her name, but she was teaching a course in philosophy and maybe something in Bible. I can't remember, but there wasn't much offered. So during the fall quarter, I worked out a curriculum which included some introduction to the Old Testament and New Testament and literature of the Bible in a fuller senses, a course in ethics, and a few things like this. I felt that something that a lot of the schools were doing which might be very beneficial to draw the whole campus together would be a Religious Emphasis Week.
Messick really wanted that to accomplish this: to pull all of the different campus ministry groups together, coordinate them under an inter-religious councils or inter-faith council with officers and all made up of the leaders of each one of those groups, and try to aim them toward working together in so far as possible. The first year, I hadn't been here really long enough to get that started underway more than just inviting someone to come and speak for two or three nights and meet some classes. That was pretty successful. It's amazing, if we opened up our largest auditorium over there in the Student Union and said that we're going to have a fellow preaching, everybody come, nobody would show up probably, but Austin Auditorium was full. It was something they were interested in.
I remember Winston Pierce knew how to talk to students. He's written a lot of books and all. He knew how to talk to them. He came and did a good job. A fellow from the Episcopal church in Raleigh came down and did one. The climax of that kind of effort came with the last one I had anything to do with. I had run into an opportunity to go up to Yale University. They were having a seminar for people who were doing the kind of work that I was doing. It was kind of new and Messick let me go. I went up there and stayed several days. I met some pretty prominent people and managed to get in with some folks who were representing the National, what was it? It was so long ago that I don't remember, but I got them to come down here. They didn't come in this direction much and I was very much impressed that they would come. We had Arthur Consolvin (?) and Brooks Hayes and all kinds of outstanding people who came.
Bratton: Was that in 1953?
Holt: The fall of 1953. We had a tremendous Religious Emphasis Week. By that time all the religious groups were working together. They were the ones sponsoring it. I worked on the other end of that and got every unit on campus involved. The art department agreed and made mobile sculpture posters and hung them in all the buildings and classrooms advertising it. The drama department, Lucile Charles, put on for several nights a production of Every Man. She felt that could be her contribution. The industrial arts department hammered out aluminum candy dish things and ashtrays and things to give to these people as tokens of our appreciation. We weren't supposed to do anything, but they wanted to be a part of it and this was a way they could do it. There were various departments that did things like that and all of them had these people visiting their classes. It made, it was a cooperative venture from the standpoint of everybody and it went over very well.
Bratton: It sort of gave a sense of community to the whole.
Holt: You couldn't do that. I doubt if it would work now at all. It is a different time and a different age and I guess that was the climax of things I did while I was here.
Bratton: You left in 1954?
Holt: I left at the end of the spring in 1953. I received an invitation to go back to Mars Hill where I had lived from 1931 to 1936.
I'll tell you how I happened to get back here. I hadn't been there very long before I began to realize that being, I wasn't a college president, but I had a chance to see it in operation firsthand and I hadn't before. And I realized that that kind of administrative job was not what I really wanted to do.
The president and I reached a rather tense moment of disagreement when the civil rights bill was passed and integration became a matter of law. I had always been out preaching about it, God loving everybody, the need for integration, and nobody paid any attention to it until it became a law and they had to. So I just resigned on that basis, that my philosophy of life was just so different from that that I wouldn't stay. As soon as that word hit the newspapers, Dr. Messick called me on the phone and said, "Where are you going? What kind of work are you going to do?" I said, "Well, I don't know yet, I just resigned." He said, "Before you sign a contract with anybody, you come talk to me."
Well, that gave me a little bit of a sense of security, because I had resigned without anywhere to go. That's not a very smart thing to do. Anyway, several very good offers came up and some very fine situations opened up for us right away. We looked at them and came back down here and talked to Dr. Messick. Both of us, Claire and I. It was really no difficult decision.
Bratton: It was another coming home.
Holt: It was another coming home and they made it very clear, Messick made it very clear that we were wanted and needed and he had utmost confidence in us and he would have something for us. As it turned out, he already knew the registrar and director of admissions was not well, and in fact died shortly after we came and he asked me to take that position.
I had left Mars Hill with something of the idea that I would never get involved with administrative work again. I loved the classroom. I loved coordinating the religious activities, but somebody else was doing that and by that time, five years later, the whole tone had changed and there wasn't much religious activity going on. There was no more Religious Emphasis Week and it got to where coordination was mainly to protect the University from any pressures that might get us into illegal activities by promoting religious activities on a state campus. That was not a problem that I had had to deal with at all before that.
Bratton: The whole mood of the campus as well as . . .
Holt: It was nationwide, not just here. So that job was really not a challenge anymore. The things that I had started had gone over into a lot of religion courses being carried on. It gave the basis later on and I was instrumental myself in finishing what I really wanted to do when I was here before. We didn't have a Philosophy Department and there was one person who wanted to join with me in getting one going. But there were only two of us, and they felt that a two person department wasn't big enough. Once I got into a position to do something about it, one of the first things I did was to establish a Department of Philosophy. I didn't know then that I was providing a place of semi-retirement later on. Messick asked us to come back and we accepted it and came back in that position.
Bratton: I imagine there were a lot of changes that were apparent, not just in religious emphasis, but from your first stay at East Carolina, and then about five years later, gone, then came back in 1958. So you were here in the later part of Dr. Messick's administration.
Holt: I came back in August of 1958. I was here a year or a year and a half. From August until 1960, no until 1959. It was a year and a half that I was here working directly with Messick and Jenkins.
Bratton: I imagine your duties were a little broader than admissions and registrar.
Holt: At that time the power structure was centered around about four people: the president; the dean; the business manager; and the registrar and director of admissions. Well, student affairs was somewhere in there, but not on the same level. They reported to Messick.
At that time we were expanding so rapidly and one of the first things I had to do was to reorganize all of that and get it into some kind of way we could handle it. Part of the thing I think that happened to Orville was that it got so massive in paperwork and that was just as computers were coming in. One of the things I was able to do was to get a little bit of it computerized. Just record-keeping, not with any concept of going to the massive computer stuff, but just to have some way to keep up with the paper stuff.
Bratton: The student body had doubled while you were gone.
Holt: Oh, it was such a, yes. It was growing so fast that we didn't have any rooms. It was a pretty tense time, but an exciting time. Then when Messick resigned, that position that I was in had really become so massive and so big that when Jenkins became president and I took his place as dean, we divided the job pretty soon. Jack Horne came in and took it over. But it was just so big that we made it a director of admissions and registrar. Two different functions, which is, well as it reached the size, it should have been.
Bratton: The first time you came to East Carolina in the fifties, can you recall your impressions of Dr. Messick or his style? It seems to me that he was very innovative just hiring you for a job . . .
Holt: Oh, I had a very good working relationship with Dr. Messick and the utmost admiration for him. We all watched him do something that took utmost courage and just expend himself for this institution. He really was the second founder of this institution, coming here at a time when things were at a pretty low ebb. We had had court trials and a former president had gotten into some difficulties. I don't mean as a criminal of any sort, but just probably mismanagement of funds and things as it is so easy to do. But he got caught up in all of that and got branded, and East Carolina was branded as a pretty bad place because of that. All the people in Raleigh were keeping an eagle eye on every penny. We had to be sure that we didn't misuse any of it.
Coming out of that sort of sad situation, Messick came and brought with him that young energetic dean, and the two of them made a good team. Innovative, wide awake, and daring to think that East Carolina could be something, rather than just a little provincial school for teachers. There is nothing wrong with that, but that there was far more out there than that. The G.I.s were coming, changing from a girls' school to a co-ed school. Men coming on campus in droves. G.I. Bill bringing them in here, changing the whole campus structure and concept. Seizing that opportunity, the appropriations were in terms of student enrollment and there had been no need to put a check on that. The sudden burst of growth brought us some, automatically brought us some money which Messick could use in building up the school, new programs, new departments.
Bratton: Your position, even.
Holt: My position, all kinds of new things he had the freedom to do which he took every advantage of. But then he ran head-on into the major problem. Understandably the educational power structure had grown up around Carolina, State and what was called Woman's College in Greensboro. They received the lion's portion of appropriations partly because some of them at least were offering doctoral programs. That is a good reason to give more money, they needed it. They were research institutions. Woman's College didn't have as much of it, but they were third. Carolina got the biggest share, State the next and Woman's College the next. When some of these other schools began growing rapidly and asking for more and more, this created some tensions and a little hard feelings. The people who were on the boards and in charge of the Piedmont educational systems just made it a little difficult for the money to be shared around as some of the growing, emerging upstarts thought it ought to be. I mean up to that time there had been no real problem.
Messick, I can remember the, yet, he would try it out on us and then he would go before anybody who would let him. He'd go to the legislature, legislative committees. He had a chart on a stand, chart after chart, showing how the money was appropriated, who got the lion's share and got the least. And at that time East Carolina was on the bottom practically all the time in everything. We were even below many of the black schools or at least the bottom of the white schools. That was just something that everybody knew but nobody wanted to confront. So he would say, "We're the fastest growing. We're the biggest coming up here. We need help."
I remember one time, I don't know whether this is apocryphal or not, but the word got out that on one occasion Messick got a million-dollar appropriation for Carolina just because he was standing there before the Budget Committee and saying, "Look what you're doing there and how little for us and how much we need it." Somebody said, "You don't like what we do for Carolina?" He said, "Well, we need it more." He said, "Well, we'll just give them another million." I don't know if that is true or not, but it makes a good story. He always said that they owed him a debt of gratitude for that extra million. But he was the one who started upsetting the apple cart by putting it on the line and making it public wherever he could. The misappropriation of funds in terms of need insofar as he saw it. He began to get legislative support.
Bratton: He was a very knowledgeable person of the political climate of North Carolina, wasn't he?
Holt: He was knowledgeable, dynamic, a good speaker, personable, and he just had what it took. He was willing to pay that price to get it told. He really set the stage in that for Leo just stepping in there. A more dynamic and energetic person even who just drove himself to the limits on that same mission.
Bratton: I guess you could call Messick's the take-off though as far as getting over the hump in a lot of things.
Holt: He got it started. He was changing the face of the institution and the direction. He took the direct approach but the gentlemanly approach and somewhat scholarly approach. He was not, it was not in a sense of being derogatory. It was just putting it there as it really is so people would not misunderstand what he was trying to do and gaining support wherever he went. Actually, Leo said it many times, and he's right, that a part of the base for the expansion of East Carolina could be credited to the civic clubs and organizations. When the papers were against us, the news media by and large was against us, the television and all for awhile, that was the forum. The civic clubs all around everywhere and they opened . . .
Bratton: Messick spoke very much, and then later . . .
Holt: Messick spoke to them and to my knowledge I don't know. I was not that close to it right at that point to know whether Messick ever turned down a speech, but I don't believe Jenkins ever turned down an opportunity. Whether it was in the back end of nowhere and five people, or in a massive hall with thousands, he would go and give them the same energy and everything he had.
Bratton: Now he started his speaking during Messick's administration. They were both on the road?
Holt: We all got our start in doing commencement exercises before there was so much consolidation and there were so many little high schools around here and everybody had to have a commencement speaker. We all ran ourselves ragged doing commencement speeches. So we were pretty well known all around, you know. He was well known. Well, all of those principals and superintendents nearly around in this area were graduates of this institution. They knew us and we knew them and they just called on us to go and help them out. We enjoyed it. Then, once you do that in a community, then every civic club and organization needs speakers desperately and they know who is available and all. Then when you need to, you line them up as you need them, when you need to get into an area to explain what is going on.
Bratton: It has been my impression that the Board of High Education which was established in 1954-55, one of it's say "informal functions" was to keep East Carolina in line?
Holt: Well, in their view it was the same kind of concept of Messick's wanting a coordinator of religious activities. It was to coordinate the growth and development of these schools without any apology. To keep each in its own place and not to invade the territories the Carolina, State and Woman's College. I mean no criticism of that.
They had a concept of pyramid structure of higher education. Down at the bottom were the elementary schools and the high schools, then the lesser colleges, and then the universities and that was the concept. Those at the top were supposed to be better than anybody else. That is where Jenkins started tackling them and that was one of his major speeches. And these people bought it, because out here in the hinterland and country regions, he said, "A student taking freshman English at East Carolina, Western Carolina, Appalachian, and any of these ought to have the same quality of English as at the University of North Carolina." You can't argue with that. He said, "Why should we get less simply because we're going to another institution near our home?" He said, "As far as your appropriations are concerned on the undergraduate level, they ought to be the same, because we are doing the same thing." Well, people bought it, but the Board didn't buy that, of course, because they were keeping the pyramid structure. But he made a lot of friends on that kind of appeal. It does make sense.
Bratton: It does. It always does.
Holt: He had no quarrel with the doctoral programs, the graduate programs getting more. His quarrel was "Why should it be across the board all the way down to the lowest? Why should the teacher teaching freshman English in one university make a lot more than the teacher teaching freshman English in another?" You see, it makes sense.
Bratton: Yes, it sure does.
Holt: So, he was a real pioneer in trying to break down that.
But that's right, the Board was to, well, they would say to maintain some semblance and sense of order in the growth. Which I'm sure if I were sitting up there would make absolutely perfect sense, but down here where we were starving to death and just begging for any little help we could get, it looked like something, just another stumbling block. You see, up to that, we could take in enough students, we could start any new program we wanted to. Now we couldn't start any new program without permission from the State Board.
Bratton: But it was not nearly so effective as . . .
Holt: It really didn't have the clout, because they were supposed to, the way around it was if they refused to go to the legislature to get the money, if they wouldn't appropriate it. And that started this thing of going around everything to the legislature. We were forced into it really. And that was the only place to go, because by that time, by saying such things as "Your children out here desire the same education as people there," and pointing out and Messick's pointing out the misappropriation of the funds, as he called it, or the unequal appropriation of the funds, the inequity in it. They were winning mass support. When you talk about the East, you're talking about half the state nearly in terms of size and he had it. Of course, Western Carolina and Appalachian coming in on that, that's covering a big part of the West.
Bratton: Were they coordinated in any way?
Holt: No. They were riding, I don't know whether I ought to say this or not, but they were really sort of riding our coat tails. That is not being unkind, but they didn't have. You see Mr. Plemmons, a good friend of mine at Appalachian was trying to do it another way. He was a product of Carolina, a part of Carolina. He had worked at Carolina and taught and all and he was trying to do it from the inside.
Bratton: The political strength of the West has not been equal to us.
Holt: Not as much. Well, they didn't work the political end of it the way Jenkins and Messick did. They knew that was the only way that we could break through all of this and that's the way they went. They got the political leadership behind them. They were the envy of everybody as they could go before those legislative committees and groups and could really convince them they needed these. Not us, I mean there was never any sense of self-agrandisement. I think they both need a tremendous round of applause. They had to have powerful egos to do what they did, to think that they could do it, but that was submerged.
Messick wasn't in it long enough to see all of that. But I think Jenkins gave it everything he had for this institution and this area, which is remarkable since he wasn't from this area. He was a total outsider to begin with, but I don't think anybody could be expected to expend himself any more than he did for the institution, for this part of the state. He was just on fire with that and that was his obsession and any agrandisement or claim that came was the end result of that. He deserved everything he got, because he paid a lot of tremendous prices for what he accomplished, health wise and everything.
Bratton: In his own way, Messick was as dedicated, wouldn't you say?
Holt: Oh, no question. What I'm saying is that he didn't have as long a time. Oh, he was completely dedicated to doing it, but at that time he was setting the course. No, I don't want to take anything away from Messick. As I said awhile ago, he really turned this school around and set the direction and the tone, demanding academic responsibility so we could hold our heads up with anybody. Trying to help us find our place in the sun.
As I said, the momentum was there. Now, in the background Jenkins was working with that too. He was going with him to the legislature. He was going with him to these places. He knew where the bodies were, so when he stepped in there, the momentum was there. He knew what was there and he just had a head full of ideas. Now I don't know whether he could have gotten it started or not. I don't know.
Bratton: Well, it would have been hard coming cold. I mean, he had twelve or thirteen years of learning eastern North Carolina under Messick's tutelage.
Holt: It wasn't that long was it? Oh, yes it was too.
But see, Messick was from this area. He was from Little Washington and around here and he knew and he had been in North Carolina. He was the natural one to step in there, right into his own region. He knew the whole thing.
I don't know if it had been just an outsider from New Jersey whether he could have done that right at first or not. But you're right, the number of years that Jenkins made himself at home here and won his way into the community and became a part of the church community and the social life of the community. He had led in helping to build the new hospital and all this sort of thing, so that he was quite active in the community and he had his base to start operating on, too. I doubt if he expected to move into that job as fast as he did. I don't know whether he had any ambitions. I never heard him mention anything to that effect until Messick resigned. Then he applied for it along with others and others recommended him and he came in. But there is no question that he was, that Messick was the man for the hour and Jenkins was the man for the hour.
Bratton: It is my impression that Dr. Messick probably had more involvement in the daily campus life than Dr. Jenkins. He was on top as president, not just in public relations, but he was . . .
Holt: Well, even though he brought Dr. Jenkins in here to rebuild this from the inside and day-to-day, that's what Jenkins was doing. He was working with him on the outside some, but as dean, he had charge of the academic program. Well, practically everybody reported through him to the president. But there was the informality of going right to the president too and all this. I guess because it was just starting out. You see, I don't know what was happening those five years in between, but just at the beginning, Messick had a whole lot of contact with the day-by-day operation. He was present at committee meetings and working with the faculty and knew everybody and was constantly in touch. In fact, he was known to hire faculty members and bring them on campus and introduce them to the department heads who were going to have them working for them and things like this.
It was a small, intimate group, but it was small enough and he could do that. Right at first, Jenkins had some of it, but by the time I got back here, it was so large and growing so fast. Of course, he was maintaining more and more in touch with it as Messick was moving around. When Jenkins then went in and I went into his place, it had gotten so large that it was almost natural to leave more and more of it to delegated responsibilities. No one person could look after it.
Bratton: But because Dr. Jenkins had been in that position for so long, he grew up with it, and therefore, he understood and knew the workings of it.
Holt: It was his workings. Oh, you mean for the president's job.
Bratton: No, I was talking about the academic. Because he left that when he became president, he didn't have much to do, is my impression, with the daily academic.
Holt: Not the daily, he left that to me. Of course, from his experience I was free to call on him at any time. I was in constant contact with him and working with him and kept him in touch with what was going on and felt him out on this and that and the other, but you see while he was out working with the legislature and traveling around. But whenever he was here, he would meet with the councils, administrative councils and academic councils and things, when he could. He was there pretty often, but so far as the day-to-day operations and so far as presiding over the committees and councils, he left that pretty much to me.
Well there was just too much for one person to do. And in turn, I was delegating as much as I could just as soon as I could, because it was still getting too large. I don't guess that I had been in that position but about three years before, well we used recommendations from that first Southern Association visit. They were astounded at the workload that piled into the office I had. Since I had, Jenkins had grown up in it, he hadn't realized how large it had become. Delegating it as I could, we were growing so fast that it took a little doing, but we finally reorganized it. And the major thrust was, I was torn between so many different things, was to try to get some kind of structure under me where I could still be reporting all of it to Dr. Jenkins, keeping him informed, but having somebody doing the immediate academic work. We divided it up. I was the buffer between them and Dr. Jenkins. He was free to go to them and they were free to go to him, but by and large we worked together as a small council. We had somebody representing the student affairs, somebody doing admissions, the registrar's office and the academic programs and the alumni, little promotions in alumni things as we had.
Bratton: The important thing at least was communication.
Holt: Communications. I think the secret of the success of the internal growth of this institution was in communications and the group working together. We had some outstanding people and they did a tremendous job. They caught the spirit of recognizing that what Jenkins was doing was for the school. We just sort of got lost up in "We we are doing is for East Carolina, not for ourselves at all." It just set the tone and the framework for an intimacy and an easy communication on a first name basis that really astounded a lot of people who came in here and visited with us. In a lot of schools where if the person in charge of academic affairs was approached by the person in student affairs, it would be "Dr. So and So" and on a formal basis, and "May I see you at ten o'clock and discuss so and so?" If any of them needed to see me or I them or they needed to see one another, they would just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, John, what about so and so?" and you've go an answer and it's all over.
We could grow fast. Decisions could be made. Everybody had the information they needed insofar as we could get it out. On one of those tapes that I'm giving you, you will hear me saying to the administrative council as the group got larger and larger, "I've given you this information. Here are the NTE scores. Bits of information, you'll know how to pick up from here and what to do with yours. Here are the SAT scores of students coming. You'll know what to do with this." We just kept it going all the time insofar as possible.
We had the basis for making decisions. Each person responsible for the budget in his area, not financial aid, it would come through me and be coordinated and then to Jenkins. But by and large, they had it. And they had the information on hand. We knew how many teachers we would be allotted for the coming year and that small group would get together and work out how to distribute them. And as long as we all had a little say in what we were doing and how we were doing it, when we finally made the decision, it might not be what anybody wanted, but everybody would understand why the decision was made, where the pressure points were and why we had to do it this way or that way. We just worked together very well as a team and I give them all the credit they deserve for doing it. We just pulled together.
We had a small group and a larger group. We had that little group of the ones immediately in charge of each area. Then we had a larger group representing all of those areas. Then we had an academic group with all the chairmen of the departments meeting together. This way we were able to keep information going. We grew faster and I think, in a healthier way than any other school that I was acquainted with. And I attribute it largely to the cooperation and coordination of all the people.
Bratton: Both the caliber of the people who were there and the trust that they had in each other and the communications and the fact that everybody it seems to me, all, and I presume we are talking about you and [Robert] Williams and [John] Howell and . . .
Holt: . . . and Jack Horne and Worth Baker and . . .
Bratton: . . . [Fitzhugh] Duncan. None of those people were over concerned with their image and their identities. Then Dr. Jenkins completely agreed with . . .
Holt: I don't think anybody was at first. Right toward the last, that didn't show up until it became obvious that Jenkins was near the end of his tenure, and then began to build the aspirations and hopes and the feelings that maybe one or two would be the ones to fill in or so and and so. But there was none of that, and I think that, I mean there was no, I had absolutely no personal ambition to move into Jenkins' position, even if I had been qualified or had been asked, which I wasn't. I mean, that was just not in the picture. I had already decided that that was the kind of job that I didn't want. Most of my training up to then had been in coordinating, and so, when I was in a position of coordinating, it was just a natural thing to do without having every decision clouded with "How is this going to advance me to something else?" It was not there. That was what I was trying to get at awhile ago, it wasn't with any of them. They were doing it for the school. And as I picked each one of these persons and Jenkins agreed, you know I would recommend them to him and he would approve them. They understood the role that was to be played and they saw the opportunity to do something for the school. It was just a tremendous team. You talk about exciting times!
Bratton: You're talking about from 1960 until 1967, 1968 or 1970, the whole sixties was on their . . .
Holt: You see it was quite lucky that in the sixties, that right after I got into the position that Jenkins held as a dean, we started our self-study for the Southern Association. It was a new kind, we had done it before and I had been through it before as a student, but it was just a question and answer thing. Now it was that new system of self-analysis, self-study and a visiting team and all that. Jenkins put me in charge of all that and that gave me a chance to round out knowing everybody and everything going on in the institution. The team came in here in 1963 and they were my first acquaintance with Gordon Sweet. We had developed a fast, lifetime, close personal friendship. He was really astounded at what he found here. It was just a school that was just blossoming and working together. They did us a real service, that team. I was able to plant some of these things with them and trying to get some things going, but they gave us some recommendations that we could pick up.
Bratton: That you wanted to hear.
Holt: That's where we got the organization going. I was carrying it all until 1963. Oh, I mean there were some other people there, but I mean it was all right there. And one of the recommendations, and I have to admit, I had a good part to play in helping them appreciate that, was that the school had gotten so large that it was impossible to do what I was doing. Some of the others around couldn't understand, well, Dr. Jenkins had just been in there, and three years before it wasn't that big. They really didn't understand how much had piled up in there. I was doing the catalog, and everything, all the classroom assignments, all the scheduling, where every class was and where every class would meet.
Bratton: You had all of it?
Holt: All of that was headed up. We had a big chart there and Doris Lamb and I would work until the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out where the classes would go. That is ridiculous to pile all of that on one place.
Bratton: Dr. Jenkins has done that before?
Holt: He had done all of that, but when you didn't have but just a little handful, it was not anything. Of course, as it got so big, it was beginning to be a burden when he left the office, but he had a lot quicker mind than I did. I guess he could just do it a lot easier than I did, but I just had to pour over it and study it and try to work it out. But anyway, we picked up on a lot of those recommendations and that's what set the aims for us the next ten years.
Bratton: That was what prepared us for the university status. You had the organization for it. Didn't that begin in 1963?
Holt: It began in 1963 and they gave us, they really helped us. They recommended some changes that I was able to get through that brought about the move toward university status. And they sensed that we had what it was going to take to do it, if we could just get the support. Well, they didn't put that in writing. They didn't talk about university status even. They were just talking about making it what it ought to be.
Bratton: Whether it went to university or not, it needed that organization.
Holt: Oh, yes, there is no question about that. I knew that before they came. I had been at Duke and Wake Forest and other places and I knew that it couldn't stay a little closed fellowship. I probably shouldn't make this a matter of record, but I had to maneuver it that way to help Mr. Duncan and Dr. Jenkins to understand why I needed to hire some extra positions. They hadn't had to do it. It hadn't been that large and it hadn't grown that big. The time was right and with the recommendations from the Southern Association, with a little help from the people on the inside, we were able to get it moved.
Bratton: Did you get a little feisty?
Holt: No. It was just, it was for the school. It was no way, it sounded like I was not able to do my job.
Bratton: But it gave it more authority coming from the Association.
Holt: My job was how to get it broken down to a different arrangement from what Dr. Jenkins had known without him thinking that I was unequal to the task. Anytime that I would say, "Well, I'm just not able to go any further," he would come up, "Well, I did it." The only thing that I would say was, "You're a better man than I am. I need some help."
Once it started, he was all for it. He realized what it was. I don't mean to say that he was a stumbling block. I mean he had so many big things to do, why go try to create three new positions when they needed things everywhere? The first move was to set up somebody in charge of the academic program. We put Bob Williams in charge, and that took a tremendous load off of me and let me go ahead and do some other things I was supposed to do.
Bratton: Because I imagine that Dr. Jenkins was increasingly doing less than Messick had done as he had broader responsibilities at the time.
Holt: Well, he was having the same experience. His was getting so large and demanding. He was not able to be concerned with the everyday things.
Bratton: He put more on your office than Messick had done.
Holt: Well, again, this is the way it is suppose to be, delegation of responsibilities. And I again say that one reason, I attribute a large part of the success of this school to Jenkins having the vision and the wisdom to delegate responsibility and leave it there.
Bratton: And stand by people.
Holt: And stand by it. He did that. His concept, which I was totally in agreement with and which I tried to practice the same way, was hire somebody who can do the job and then let them do it and support them. That's what we tried to do.
Bratton: Don't you think the secret of that was that Dr. Jenkins had come along through the whole process and knew it, so he didn't have to have to have it explained? A new person coming in and delegating so completely is a different situation than knowing.
Holt: This is one way that we could work so fast. He had no patience with wasting time just talking about something. He is a person of fast decisions and fast action, and as soon as he had something to base his decisions on he would make it. I was extremely fortunate in my relationship with him. If I had a problem, I didn't have to go in and spend a half an hour giving him background. Almost all I would have to do is mention what it was, he'd know, he'd been there and he could just say this [snap of the fingers] sometimes without getting all of the information. And then when I'd go back and if it didn't work out, he'd say, "Well, I goofed. How about trying it another way?" No criticism, no complaint, okay. And if any of us made a mistake, he'd say, "Well, all right, so we made a mistake. Let's try something . . . " He never tried to recross bridges or lose time mourning about something. He'd just pick it up and go, which is remarkable. Well, the rest of us, well he just filled us all with that kind of spirit and we just moved. If something didn't work, we'd try something else. No fussings or complainings or criticizings or this kind of thing. I guess what I'm trying to say that we just had a very close-knit group of friends who were interested in East Carolina and we all worked together, not for ourselves, but for the school. There was a long time in there that none of us had to worry about the other one cutting our throats or doing anything to disrupt what we were trying to do.
Bratton: Things were stable.
Holt: Very stable group and I think one that I would like to think helped to build a lot of confidence throughout the University.
Bratton: Well, certainly, that was a contagious thing.
Holt: Well, as it grew fast, we always had the trouble of some feeling, sometimes we had to make fast decisions and then it would come back at us that not enough were involved. There were sometimes when Jenkins would call me from Raleigh and say, "I'm before a committee right here, can we do so and so?" I'd get a little group together and call him right back and say, "We'll do it." He'd get it. Then we'd have to go to the people and explain "We're going to grow." Then they'd say, "Well, where were we?"
I can understand that, but that is why. Whenever we did something without reference, it was the only way we could get it, to say "yes" right now. And we always said "yes" when we had somebody handing us some money. It's good money and nothing illegal and nothing bad, but just a step upward, and we'd grab it and then try to work it out. But by and large, we tried to involve everybody.
You'll listen to one of those tapes that I'm going to give you and you'll say, "When are they ever going to get through?" But we tried to let everybody have his say. I remembered when I listened to that tape yesterday, the end of one of those long sessions, that I made a statement in humor, "You see, you can make a decision, and you did it in just one hour." Everybody laughed and broke what tension we had and went on. Everybody had to have his say and they could do it no matter how far out of what. Then when we voted we knew what we were voting for. Of course, we didn't ever solve all the problems. We had some like parking which we never solved.
Bratton: No, you've still got that one.
Holt: But some of the people, I disagreed with the person in charge of the appropriation of how you use the land. We disagreed constantly. I always figured if you give a person a sticker for his car, that meant that he ought to have a place to park. The other concept that ruled the day for many a year was: If we don't provide parking spaces, there won't be a problem, they won't come on campus. It didn't work that way, of course, because the new generation had to have its car. We're finally coming around to providing, we still don't have quite enough, but it's better. We're finally winning something I never won when I was in there.
You were asking about the Southern Association and my contact with it. I think that was one of the fortunate things that happened along the way, so that we could be helped in many ways in our growth and development. Somehow or other when we had our visit back in 1963, I was thrown into close contact with Gordon Sweet, who was executive director, on several occasions. Then, when he came and visited here two or three times, we got to be right good friends and he appointed me to serve on the College Delegate Assembly and then to be on their council.
The outgrowth of that was that very shortly I was chairman of that group and state chairman for five years which kept me in close contact with the people in the main office in Atlanta. I got to know the staff very well. They began to use me as they did many other people and a lot of them from our campuses I recommended to them. But they used me, as much as I would go to serve, as chairman of visiting teams to many of the schools all over the South. What was fortunate about that was that as I visited each one of these schools, I was able to get an indepth look at each one as to how things were done and what programs were advantageous and how things were going. Anytime that I would see something that might work here, then I would come back and present and try to get the same things going here. So this enabled us to pick up a lot of ideas and concepts that gave us that added impetus as we grew so rapidly through those years. Part of the things that we developed just came right out of other schools, they were successful there. And part of our organizational structures we selected as we went to different schools and saw what was working and wasn't working. We were able to put these into play.
So I think that it was quite fortunate to have that contact and breadth of experience. I guess not too many people have that opportunity and it just served us well. I stayed in there as long as the law allowed. You can only serve six years, and I stayed my six years. But that didn't stop my going out to other schools and I kept doing that, the minimum of two a year and sometimes three. That's a lot. In fact, I still get calls every once in a while, "I want you to go somewhere," but I say, "I can't dismiss classes and be gone for three or four days. I'm sorry, but I can't go." I don't do it anymore. But I enjoyed it. It was good contact.
Bratton: Yes, it was.
Holt: Now, you wanted to ask me about something else?
Bratton: Yes. Another thing that I'm very interested in and realizing that it is very complicated, is the relationship of East Carolina with the Board of Higher Education and then it went into the Consolidated University. Did that complicate your job?
Holt: In the sense that part of that move was an effort to get the up and coming schools under control. That complicated it because we no longer had the freedom to just do whatever we had the money to do with.
Bratton: This is what I was always surprised, that it seemed like they were fighting it at Chapel Hill. Yet I was under the impression that they would benefit more than we would from the consolidated system. Yet I thought they were against it.
Holt: Well, in a sense, it could have curtailed them, too, though they seemed to have more clout than we did and were able to get things that we were not able to get. I guess looking back at it in retrospect and a little more objectivity, I can understand what they felt they had to do, given their concept of what the system of higher education ought to be in this state. I was talking the other day about the pyramid structure and this was very dear to those people and there was nothing, it was that way and there was nothing to disturb it until people like Messick and Jenkins came along and began to attack it. It was not a very appropriate system. We were losing too much by it. And if you look at it from the standpoint of preserving that, as suddenly these other schools were growing rapidly and therefore taking more money, because the appropriations were in terms of enrollment, then to preserve what they had, I suppose they felt they had to do something to curtail enrollments and to curtail programs so the big cry became "Avoid Duplication." It got silly from some quarters from people making a big to do about that, saying, "We ought to teach English at Chapel Hill and math at State and history at Women's College and not duplicate." Well, anybody who knows what a college is, knows that each college teaches English, and math and so on, but they were talking about, they didn't understand duplication in that sense. But what they were talking about . . .
Bratton: Was that coming from UNC or HEW?
Holt: That was coming from all over, just the opponents. No, HEW wouldn't have said it.
Bratton: That was a later thing when they . . .
Holt: Yes. This was just an attempt to curtail the growth and to keep things as they had been. I think, mostly to preserve the structure as it was. And remember the pressure we were under on the other hand was the enrollment was there, and the growth was there, the demand was there, so Jenkins was just going out here and talking to the parents of the kids wanting an education. He said, "All we went to do is serve you." So there are two sides to it and we were not just deliberately trying to be ugly about it. The pressure was there and not everybody was taking care of it.
As I understand it, the Board of Higher Education was an attempt to get some order in the system. To try to give quotas on enrollments and try to establish, try to have some board responsible for saying what new programs would be started to avoid having a dental program in six different schools or a school of forestry in three or four different schools.
There was some push to try to get some agriculture down here. Jenkins didn't want that, but we were in the heart of it. Of course, they said, "No, all that ought to be at State." He agreed. There was pressure to put a law school down here and he said, "Well, we already have a law school." There wasn't that much demand and he sort of turned that off, but the pressures were on to keep building new programs.
Well, we did put in a lot of new programs, but they just were ones that were basic to any good college, things we hadn't had. Mainly, we were shifting from predominately a teacher education institution to being a multi-purpose institution. There was a move afoot to keep us as a teacher training institution. Well, that was already a thing of the past all over everywhere. They just didn't recognize it yet. So, we were just building a multi-purpose university, meeting the demands of the G.I.s coming back who didn't want to be teachers. They wanted to be in business and in other things.
So the pressure was there and we were meeting the needs and we were able to develop these programs on our own with the money coming in because of the added student enrollment until the board was finally established to approve every new program. That slowed things down very drastically. As it was, we could just start a program in September and go with it. Now we had to prepare it and give all the justifications and the demands and show that there would be jobs for the people after they got through and all this sort of thing. It did slow things down.
Bratton: Complicated it, anyway.
Holt: It complicated it very much. Things were pretty tense, because the pressure was on the board to hold the line, but the pressure of the real world out here was "Give us these services." Jenkins and the rest of us chose to go with the pressures of the real world as much as we could. So we devised new programs and presented them as they were needed and some of the were approved, but sometimes it would take us months and months instead of shorter times that were needed. There were some pretty tight struggles, a lot of background in-fighting and things of this sort.
The thing that probably kept that board from being entirely successful was that it really didn't have the final power. They could be circumvented by going directly to the legislature and if you could win enough friends there to get support for a program or something or more money, you could get it. You can imagine what kind of situation that was for political maneuvering. We were pretty successful in this kind of thing and that's why when Dr. Jenkins started on his, once we became the multi-purpose institution, then he started that business: "Here stands a university, why not call it so?" He was right, it was. He had to go to the legislature, the board would not accept it.
That's when I got into my big argument with the board. Dr. Jenkins finally did not go to the board meetings. The tension was just so great between the leadership there and the leadership here that I think, as a point of wisdom, it was just too explosive for them to be together. So he always sent me to the meetings. Most of the times there was not much dialogue. You were there to answer questions about any new program that you had presented. About all you could do was provide the answers or clarify things. A lot of times Bob Williams, who was in charge of academic things, and I would go up there and deal with them.
But when the university thing came, they then had the burden of trying to stop it, they felt. Their plan was to send a team in here of experts from all over the United States to evaluate us in terms of whether we were a university or not. I was assigned the role to play to go up there and find out on what basis we would be judged, what would be the criteria, the guidelines.
Guideline was a big word back in those days. The accrediting agencies were using it. And we were to be evaluated by guidelines, but we never knew what they were.
So I had to go up there, and when they made this announcement, then I raised the question, "On what basis will we be evaluated as a university? By what criteria? What will be the standard?" And they didn't want to say and I kept pushing it until they finally almost as much as said that that would be something they would establish. They tried to say that they had no guidelines and my response was, "There are always guidelines if you are going to have some criteria." It got pretty tense. They did send a team.
Bratton: That's when you got your picture taken?
Holt: Oh, yeah. The newspaper flashed my picture on the front of the page and carried on about it. I don't know where they got that picture. I certainly didn't give it to them. My main effort in working in public was to stay out of the newspapers and avoid any publicity that I could, because I felt all of that belonged to Dr. Jenkins. He was the image of the university and we tried to centralize that image so that people wouldn't be confused. There were some comments from outside about my being in the paper. Not Dr. Jenkins, he never did say anything about it.
Anyway, the upshot was that we were not a university according to the standards made up after they did the evaluation. They said, "no," and then Dr. Jenkins went to the legislature, and there all kinds of maneuvering came about.
That's when I learned to really appreciate Bob Morgan as a forthright, able statesman. I started to say politician, but statesman, because he was a gentleman throughout. He carefully worked with group after group after group and the smoke-filled rooms and so on and really carried the day for us on that.
Of course, there were others, I don't mean that. But he was also a member of our board and was very much aware of what was needed and so on.
But anyway, they attempted to block that, as you know, by saying, "If you insist on this, we are going to make all the schools universities." They thought that Dr. Jenkins would throw up his hands and holler. He said, "Fine!" That just stunned them. So the vote carried and everybody rode in on our coat tails. As one of the presidents of one of the other colleges said, "I didn't even know I was a university until I woke up this morning and there I was."
But many of the others were not at that level, but they did this. This brought us all under the umbrella of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System. We were all part of the system. This meant that everything had to be approved by the board and they did have the authority and the clout then. We were under the system. Everything had to go through Bill Friday's office and his staff and pursued and clarified and it did take a lot longer for things to get done.
Now a lot of people criticized us by saying that we always acted too fast. That we didn't do enough planning and I take issue with that. We did move fast, but we had the inner team that knew how to move fast. It didn't take us forever to get information and decide what to do with it. Our inner core group by and large was knowledgeable of things. They had all had a lot of experience and training in their backgrounds and they kept abreast of what was going on. And we just didn't have to take weeks to plan something. It didn't mean it wasn't carefully thought out. It just meant that we were a fast moving group.
Well, they were keen people, in mind. Then their relationship with their people was such that you pass the ball to them and they were ready to run. It wasn't as haphazard as it must have looked to the people who had to go through many, many channels. All our channels just meshed you see. But they weren't working that way, and they couldn't comprehend how we could develop something so fast and know what we were doing, because they were not set up to do it that way. They were demanding that we do it the other way.
Bratton: Can you see any advantages to us, East Carolina, being in the consolidated university?
Holt: Oh, I'm sure that there are advantages. Now that, it was tough on us at first simply because there was such strong feeling against Dr. Jenkins and against us because we had been so successful in skirting around all the opposition and getting the thing done. Again, what we were doing was just desperately meeting a need. It was not any agrandisement or personal gain in it at all. It was hard work. But the fact that Dr. Jenkins had been able to outmaneuver and succeed in spite of the opposition left a lot of wounds. Not that he attempted to make any. He was always of a mind to do it aboveboard, be a gentleman about it. You never heard him attacking people. He just said, "What we are doing is right. We'll just keep positive. We'll just keep going with what is right and right will win." And of course it did.
Of course, the others thought they were right too, because they wanted to maintain the status quo with little schools being where they were. We were to be teacher-training and that's all. Because of that tension and the wounds and the hard feelings and the folks feeling that they had been defeated to some extent, it naturally built some barriers of resentment. Now that's on the part of the board. I'm not talking, I want to say that my relationship, personal, I did a lot of the immediate contact with Bill Friday and his staff, John Howell and Bob Williams also did, and Bill Friday was always the perfect gentleman and his staff was always very cordial.
They did do things slower and they did turn down things and they did stop us from doing things, but it was partly on the basis of the fact that they were under pressure then of coordinating the whole works instead of just their three institutions. I think everybody was trying to adjust and feel his way and find out just what it was going to do. There were just limited funds and they had to appropriate them as they had them. But we could no longer decide where the funds would go. We could no longer decide which programs would go, whether we felt one was more important, the other needed more than the other. All the decisions had to be made up there and finally by the Board of Governors themselves. They had their committee and whatever the committee recommended to the full group, they generally accepted. But it slowed things down mightily.
Now, so far as advantages in the long run, I'm sure the advantages far outweigh those immediate disadvantages. Obviously the state could not continue forever in the terrific tension and struggling for funds between the different institutions. I just don't see how they could. Once the situation settled down, once the administrations changed so that the people who had the ill feelings were not as predominant, and I'm talking about some of the members of the board and so on.
It's slower, but I think by and large, you see once it was their responsibility they couldn't be fighting us, because we were part of it. I think that in the long run that really helped us get the final solution to the medical school for instance. They had to complete what was started and that meant appropriating the money and providing the buildings, and it was finally done without so much of the tension that was involved with the earlier stages of it when they were trying to stop it and starve us out and everything else.
Bratton: That was in the early or was that later?
Holt: That was in the later stages I'm talking about when it was finally all settled and simmered down. The focuses changed. We don't go to the legislature. We go to the Board of Governors through Friday's office and we're still in there. Everybody getting his say and everybody trying, but they finally have overall control. But it doesn't seem to be so bitter anymore or so much opposition but just generally, "What is the best?"
I think in the long run probably all of the smaller schools benefit by it. I don't know whether anybody else agrees or not, but you don't find any of the knockdown drag out battles going on anymore. In fact, now that we have grown, the fast growth rates are over, those pressures are not there anymore. Now, we can begin to function as a family group and "what's good for the state." So I see it in the long run as something good. Of course, I am far removed now from that inner struggle. I don't know, I have deliberately stayed out of the way. I didn't want any accusations of meddling whatsoever and I am delighted not to have to worry with it or to know. I don't know what kind of struggle is going on for this and that and the other. But you don't see the bitterness anymore that was in the newspapers for so long.
Bratton: But even after the med. school was approved by the legislature, there was still resistance.
Holt: Yes, because you see it is the legislature doing it. But once, and for awhile then they had to set it up under the medical school at Chapel Hill. Then they switched it around another way. They were giving us impossible things. We were to establish a school and have it accredited in one year. Well, you can't do that. That is not even the way the accrediting teams work. They didn't understand. The legislature didn't, of course, they were not accustomed to working with that angle of it or maybe that was an attempt to stop it, I don't know. They knew that we couldn't meet some of these. But, whatever, once the ongoing situation was there and the law says it should be done, even then we were in a vulnerable position until, I mean opposition from the others, but once it became the responsibility of the board to carry it out, they had no choice.
I really think that finally was a good thing, because look what we have. It's not a minimum thing that we would have to scratch for and they would reluctantly finally do. When they finally went ahead and found it was to be done, then we went first class. It was much easier to do that once we were under that umbrella, I think. Now, I may have a total wrong picture on it, I don't know.
Really, and you see the old pyramid is there a little bit, but there are other schools now open for doctoral programs and that breaks down the pyramid. I think gradually each school will do as it is able to do.
Bratton: Then of course, another whole facet of the complication that came in with the board is the HEW looming and its emphasis on, their concern with duplication and the whole thing. Did that affect mostly the board or have we had on our campus a lot . . .
Holt: Well, it affected everybody. The main thing though is that people forget histories of medical schools. Practically every medical school that has been started in the last fifty years met the same opposition. Wake Forest met opposition and I understand the one at Carolina met opposition when it started. The reasons are many, but partly, and I have friends in some of these other schools and they just let me know that they only had enough money to operate on themselves and they were getting a large part of it from the government, and if another one comes along, where is it coming from? They were afraid of diluting the resources. I can understand that, but it didn't hold true. The others are still going. But it was that dread of losing those resources, that's part of it.
I think the other side of it was the part of that old, and it may still be there, I don't know, but the philosophy for awhile was to keep those doctors scarce and they become as gods. I think that is it. It's not a concept of really providing what the public needed, but keep them scarce and they can become highly respected and very wealthy. For those who are desperate, that's a bad philosophy, but that's true. And that's part of it too.
So, just as the others met the same opposition, we were meeting the same opposition. It's irrational, I think. Obviously it was needed here. Look at what's happened. When they built that hospital out there, they wondered if they would ever fill up all the beds and they have already added a wing and are begging for more wings. It is no longer a county hospital. It's a regional hospital. So we needed a regional health center, obviously, if in just a short time it can become what it is. But I suppose there was some rationality to their fear that it might drain some resources.
Bratton: I think they attack us by this, by saying 1) You weren't ready for university status, you weren't a university. I guess this is the only way they could attack us.
Holt: Well, they tried to downgrade our academic status and I knew that that was invalid. Then they, I don't know who was doing it. It was the newspaper partly. The News & Observer just led a very bitter fight against it. Well, they were against us even starting a school down here in the first place back, when was that? 1907.
Bratton: Well, they fought from 1901 until 1907.
Holt: They have fought every move that we have ever made that was positive, which is strange. They should be for the good of the state instead of that. It looks like they would learn after awhile.
Bratton: Daniels came from Washington and grew up in Wilson.
Holt: It looks like they would learn after awhile to get on the winning side. But anyway, they would do such things as proving that we were extremely weak, because our SAT scores or NTE scores wouldn't match those at Duke or Carolina for instance. We had to counter that with the reality of the situation. I remember one time that we beautifully hushed them with something that really wasn't a good argument, but they didn't know how to answer it. They said, "Look, all of Duke's students made in such and such a figure, and East Carolina's average was way down here." So our counter to that was: "We had more students who made as high scores as Duke did, and besides that, reached out and served all of those good average students who are really going to supply most of the classrooms in this state." They had no recourse.
Then we said, "If Duke wants to cut out all those who want to teach, that's their problem. We're going to serve these people who need us." So they couldn't, if we just took in a handful of students and screened them, we could hit the top, but that wasn't what we were trying to do. Of course our admission requirements were less than those at Duke. They kept their enrollment down to a very small number and we were trying to reach out and help all these first generation kids whose parents had never been to school. They didn't have the cultural background, but they had the desire and the ability and most of them proved it.
So I would think we had the academic backgrounds. In fact, I never did understand that criticism about academic, a lack of respectability in academic areas, because they were by comparison trying to elevate Carolina and State and Greensboro. But by and large, and Jenkins finally told them, "Well, if we don't have any academic respectability, it's your fault, because most of our teachers are graduates from Carolina." At that time they were. He said, "Don't blame us if our teachers can't teach, it's your fault." Well, it was just a dodge, just a subterfuge, just to try to throw off the track. Well, of course now, we didn't have a doctoral program and therefore, when you take those who own Ph.D. programs, they have been screened very arduously, and it is a different kind of person from a freshman down here who is meeting average admission school. They try to compare apples and oranges. They couldn't do that.
No, we weren't all that poor. We weren't that bad off. I mean, I thought we were developing a very good program and in fact, our students were going right off into graduate schools all around everywhere. Not all of them, but not all of them were going from other schools either. Those that wanted to, went right on, and in fact, came back here to teach. Some of them became senators, some of them became representatives, leading lawyers, leading business people and they have taken their place. They got something here.