The fall of 1960 saw me enroll in Ohilo’s Oberlin College.
I applied because it was listed in a Tribune article as the best co-ed college of its size (2,000-2,500) without fraternities or sororities.
And, it also was the college that held the first Mock Political Convention. (One of my back-up colleges was Northwestern, which also had a Mock Convention. Oberlin’s Mock Convention died in the 1970’s. In 1964 it was a Republican Convention and I was its Chairman.)
Oberlin was also the second most liberal college in Ohio, after Antioch.
And I certainly learned there were a lot of people a lot brighter than I.
1960–the year that Richard Nixon and John Kennedy faced off.
I joined the Young Republicans (college groups were not called “College Republicans” then).
We campaigned pretty much every weekend for the local newspaper editor, Charles A. Mosher, who was running as the GOP candidate for Congress.
Door-to-door in small towns just west of Cleveland, putting up 3 by 5 foot Mosher signs on trees at bends in roads, beginner campaigning.
Despite Oberlin’s liberal reputation, the Young Republicans were the largest political group on campus.
That’s because the liberals never could agree.
There were Young Democrats, the Student Peace Union, the NAACP and goodness knows how many other leftest groups, formal and informal. (One sponsored a trip to Cleveland to a meeting of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.)
We didn’t have a TV in the dorm, so listened to the debate.
Nixon won on radio.
We couldn’t see him sweating.
The course I enjoyed most was architecture and sculpture. I took it because I figured a colorblind person wouldn’t do too well in a course on paintings.
Economics was taught by Robert Tufts. He spent long weekends that fall in Washington staffing U.S. Senator Scoop Jackson’s Committee on Government Operations.
Every Monday, we got an insider’s look at the Kennedy campaign.
We studied Super Samuelson and politics.
It really was a course in political economy.
And, then there was calculus.
Not a teaching assistant, but not a tenured professor yet, taught the course for about the first 6-8 weeks.
Then the departmental chairman came back from some trip and took over the course.
I couldn’t grasp the concepts.
C- the first semester.
Campaigning was more fun, but I certainly never studied harder for any course and never got a lower grade.
The second semester was worse.
D+, I think.
Only later did I discover that I had taken enough high school math that I did not have to take calculus.
So my experience leads me to empathize somewhat with the Oberlin College students who signed a petition asking no grades lower than C.
They complain about their activism taking time from their heavy course loads.
And reading the article, I discovered that some students now have cars.
We had to rely on bikes, unless we rented one from the college.
(We used to suggest that at least back seats of cars should be put around the campus.)
Not having gotten a break on grades while I was being as active as any of these students today, I wonder why they should today.
Now I read that during the 1970’s, “Oberlin adjusted its grading to accommodate student activists protesting the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings.”
Much more in The New Yorker. (I guess there are still a lot of students from New York.)
Reading the article I was reminded of the black students who issued ultimatums to the administration.
I graduated in 1964 before the summer of H. Rap Brown and lots of demonstrations.
During my four years at Oberlin black kids were just other students.
When I returned for Homecoming from Ann Arbor, where I was studying Public Administration, I was astounded to see all the black students at one table in the student union.
That did not happen while I was there.
Such self-segregation at the first college in the country to admit both women and blacks struck me as a step backward.
The New Yorker article also contains this quote from faculty member Robert Bonfiglio:
“People are so amazed that other people could have a different opinion from them that they don’t want to hear it.”
Guess they would be astounded at the comments on McHenry County Blog.
A characterization of what Oberlin does to students is that they are “groomed for old-school entry into the liberal upper middle class.”
Guess that didn’t work with me.