Life at Indiana University in the Early 1960s: A Rising Stahr

Indiana University

Modern universities, in a postwar American society that had either ignored or revised a significant portion of the old puritanical code, could no longer function as bastions of the social system.   

Thanks to some research by Carrie Schwier, Assistant Archivist at Indiana University, I was able to find Thomas Clark’s Indiana University, Midwestern Pioneer (quoted here) that will help me better understand the world of IU in the early 1960s for my upcoming short story – “Life”.

Here are just some of the interesting discoveries I made in Clark’s book –

In 1962, after 25 years of acclaimed service, IU President Herman B. Wells announced his intention to retire.  His successor would be John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Army – Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr.  Stahr told reporters he was very happy with the appointment, that he felt like, “a kid with a new toy.”  Clark writes of Stahr’s comments on landing in Indiana –

He assured reporters he might never fill Wells’ shoes, and he refused to answer questions about compulsory ROTC and the Sex Institute. 

His wife accompanied him.  Clark describes her reaction –

Dorothy Stahr answered the astute questions as to what she expected her role to be in Bloomington with the statement, “raising children and pouring tea.”

One of the challenges Stahr saw before him in this Cold War period went beyond education, to politics.  Only two days after he had taken up his post, he told an audience in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia —

So long as we believe in government by and for the people — a concept the communists abhorwe must continue to find ways to exceed in educated brain power.

To chart such an ambitious course would have been difficult under normal circumstances.  But with the rise of restlessness on campus and beyond, there was much to compete for Stahr’s attention.  In his first State of the University Report (December, 1963), Stahr wrote —

My first year here despite “sweating out” the General Assembly session(s); the acrobatics of those terribly exercised in various ways about a now defunct group called YSA [Young Socialist Alliance]; and some of the inevitable, and I fear eternal headaches associated with “football for the alumni, sex for the students, and parking for the faculty…” was a happy one for my family and me.

In my next post, I’ll explore another thing that caused President Stahr to sweat – a student demonstration over John F. Kennedy’s Cuba Blockade policy that turned ugly.

(image above from Beautiful College Campuses, DanceU101 )

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