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Copyright & Permitted Use of Collection Search the Collection Browse the Collection by Interviewee About the Oral Histories Collection Oral Histories Home William Gerald Akers, professor emeritus at Old Dominion University, served from 1931-1972 as a faculty and chair of the Foreign Language Department and also the head of the Division of Humanities. Among several interview topics, Akers discusses Old Dominion University from its beginnings; the influence of William and Mary; faculty salaries and other issues; the Dean Hodges administration; and the American Association of University Professors.

Oral History Interview

Norfolk, Virginia
July 10, 1974
by James R. Sweeney, Old Dominion University

RealAudio InterviewListen to Interview

Today’s interview is with Professor W. Gerald Akers, a professor emeritus at Old Dominion University. For many years, he was a member of the Foreign Language Department of the school and also the head of the Division of Humanities.

The first questions that will be asked and discussed will be about the professor’s own background, concentrating upon his preparation, academic and otherwise, for a career in college teaching, and for any other careers he might have considered or that he actually may have pursued before he entered the field of college teaching.

Akers: I had been interested in foreign languages, among other things, from my earliest childhood, and prepared to teach them, first the romance field in my college work at Ashland College and Asbury College in Kentucky, and later at the University of Kentucky, where I did a master’s degree in Spanish, as it happened. During that year, I became interested in German, and specifically in the matter of going to Germany to study, which I was able to do in 1928, spending three years over there in Germany and Austria and receiving my doctor’s degree from Heidelberg University in 1931. At that time I had secured, in advance, a position at the University of Cincinnati in the German Department, but my father, who happened to be president of Asbury College in Kentucky, started angling around for what he thought would be a better job, and I ended up finding I had an offer from William and Mary for their new Division here in Norfolk, which had been founded the year before 1930. So the upshot was that after coming home from Heidelberg and marrying in Kentucky, I proceeded at once to Norfolk. At that time the College consisted of one abandoned school building, the former Larchmont School, and a big black sign with gold letters was on the front saying "Norfolk Division College of William and Mary." I started that year teaching German and Spanish, and also at the parent college in Williamsburg, where I was asked to commute three days a week by boat and train to teach a couple of classes of Spanish in the newly restored Wren Building at the College.


Sweeney: When you came to the school in Norfolk, what were your first impressions of the students here?

Akers: Well, they were a pleasant bunch. It was in the beginning of the Depression; everybody was poor. Those who came here were those who, for the most part, didn’t have money to go away to school. I would not say the level of academic interest was particularly high. I would say about average. On the other hand, it did happen in those early years that those who finished a two—year course here at this college, which was until the mid-l950’s a two—year college, provided a high proportion of the Phi Beta Kappa crop each year in Williamsburg. Many of the small group who did finish here went to the parent college in Williamsburg, and I recall that, in one year, the figure in the early 1930’s was something like this of 16 Phi Beta Kappa seniors, 11 were products of the Norfolk Division, and this was a majority of the total number from the Norfolk Division. But, on the whole, I would say that they were about average.

Sweeney: Did you teach any advanced literature courses in those junior college days?

Akers: No. There were courses only through the second year, and there were no course numbers higher than the 200’s, and while these included a survey of literature, it was hardly even that, say, an introduction to German literature or French literature or Spanish. In those days, interestingly enough, the College of William and Mary, including the Norfolk Division, of course, required one year of Latin or one year of Greek to be taken in college by every student studying for a bachelor of arts degree. So, in those days, the enrollment in Latin and Greek was rather high, and, when some people came to school with some background in Latin, there were occasionally advanced courses in Latin. I taught these for a few years.

Sweeney: In those years of the Great Depression, could you give me some information on the faculty compensation?

Akers: In my first year here, which was 1931 to 1932, four of us came new to the faculty having Ph.D. degrees, and I was the second highest paid of these four, with a salary of $2,500. There were two persons, all told, on the faculty receiving a little more than this. Most received less, and, if I’m not mistaken, one instructor received as little as $1,400. This was augmented slightly, in the case of some, by teaching evening classes.


Sweeney: In those days, of course, the faculty was quite small. Today it’s much larger. Did they seem to be very close knit? Do you recall any extraordinary personalities from those early days?

Akers: Yes, we knew each other fairly well. Of course, being a small number of 20 or so, there were a number of very striking personalities. One was Dr. Ernest W. Gray, who died just a few months ago, April 1974, who remained here from 1931, about the time that I came, until 1947, being assistant administrator in the latter years here. He was Head of the English Department, a very incisive, keen mind, greatly respected by his students, inspiring, interesting, and remembered vividly by hundreds of former students in this community and elsewhere. I recall that among the little group of new people who came in that second year as faculty members, of whom he and I were representatives, I, as a brand new teacher with my diploma hardly dry, thought of Dr. Gray, who must have been nearly 30 years old, as an experienced man of the world who had been around. He had his doctor’s degree from Harvard and had taught for two or three years at Brown University, so it seemed to me that he was a man of experience. As it turned out, the farthest point west that Dr. Gray had ever been in his life at that time was Norfolk, Virginia. There were other interesting and notable people. Dr. Perry Y. Jackson, in chemistry, who remained until the time of World War II, when he went to Annapolis to teach in the Naval Academy. There was Dr. David Prosser, head of the department, actually probably the only teacher of economics, a man who commanded a great deal of respect and who was considered a competent and interesting teacher. In the field of biology there was Dr. E. Ruffin Jones, Jr., son of a prominent local clergyman and known for his severe standards. The rumor was that he considered it a rule to flunk 1/3 of his biology 101 class each semester. I don’t know if that was true or not, but he was certainly a very competent and very demanding teacher. There was Professor Arthur George Williams, the only older man on the faculty. Most of us were in our 20’s or early 30’s. Professor Williams had been head of the Department of Foreign Languages at the parent college in Williamsburg but had been lured away from there by the newly—founded Atlantic University at Virginia Beach, which was established in 1930. He remained there one year, having been attracted there by a higher salary offer, but came back to William and Mary after one year, namely in the fall of 1931, his place in Williamsburg having already been filled by Dr. John R. Fischer. He was offered the job of the head of


the Department of Foreign Languages, such as it was, at the new, small Norfolk Division, of which I was the only other full—time member. Professor Williams was a very remarkable man, another one with high standards, a deep background of scholar ship, and a very colorful and interesting figure. He died of a heart attack in 1937, and I succeeded to the headship of the small Foreign Language Department. I remember him with great affection.

Sweeney: What were your impressions of the early directors, H. Edgar Timmerman, Dr. Gwathmey, and Dean Hodges?

Akers: Mr. Timmerman, who was here for two years, his second year being my first, was from New York State. He said he had been trained for the Episcopal clergy but never entered that field. He was a blustery, get—it—done sort of fellow. He seemed to be well liked by the students, and the High Hat, the new student paper of those days, referred to his getting out in the hall and bellowing to the boys to quiet down, but they loved it, and we thought of him as a reasonably efficient director. Incidentally, the tiny office in which he held forth and his successors after him, a little room or small double office on the main floor of that old school building, the Larchmont School Building, which was the only building of the college in those days, was the entire administration section of the campus. That tiny room was the director’s office and his secretary’s, and the business office and the registrar’s office and the dean’s office all rolled into one. He was followed in 1931 very briefly by Professor Edward Gwathmey. Dr. Gwathmey of the English Department of William and Mary, described as a Virginia gentleman and scholar, was a very charming man of whom I don’t remember much because by Christmas— time of the same year, after only a couple of months with us, he was called to the presidency of Converse College in South Carolina, where he served for many years, having retired, I believe, only recently. He was followed by Dr. William T. Hodges, who had been Dean of Men at Williamsburg, the parent school, and who was also in charge of the Norfolk Division and other extension operations of the college. He came here rather unwillingly, leaving Williamsburg where he had been at home for many years. He immediately took over and devoted himself unstintingly to the development of this small, poor, and struggling two—year branch of William and Mary. The story of his tenure from then until 1940 is one of hard work, diligence, keen interest, and certainly a great deal of sympathy and personal interest in the students. The latter days were clouded by dismissal on charges of grade


tampering and other matters, which were a very tragic finish to a career of devoted service. I think most of us were fond of Dr. Hodges as a person, and there probably has never been a more popular citizen of Norfolk, both among the students who knew him and the people of the city. We sometimes disagreed with Dr. Hodges on financial matters on priorities, as the word would be nowadays. He was interested in campus beautification, for which I think we still have to thank him, and also in athletics, which was not very popular in those days even among the students. Those not directly involved in athletics tended to resent in those Depression days the great amount of attention and financial backing that Dr. Hodges devoted to that activity. But, I think, if one were to characterize him in a word or two, it would be: kindhearted to a fault.

Sweeney: Did you feel that William and Mary held too tight a rein over the Division?

Akers: Yes, I did, and I think we all did. This was probably not intentional, but was the result of the unnatural and artificial, as it seemed to us, relation between the two schools. The actual reason for the founding of this Norfolk Division was, it was commonly believed and still is, the wish of the late president, J. A. C. Chandler of William and Mary, to forestall the taking over of the lower Tidewater area in the higher education field by the newly founded Atlantic University in Virginia Beach in 1930. President Chandler moved to establish the college here to give William and Mary a foothold. He need not have worried, as it turned out, because Atlantic University lasted only a little over a year, folding up at Christmas time in 1931. In fact, a number of its students came here to the Norfolk Division and finished their two—year college career with us. The College of William and Mary then found itself in the possession of a branch in Norfolk, the nature of which was found to be very basically different from that of the parent college, which was a rather small I think the enrollment in those days was somewhere around 1,400 ancient school, well known in its small way, and respected in a quiet semi—rustic setting in historic Williamsburg, which at that time, 1930, had not yet been restored as it is today, though it was in the process. The newly—founded school in Norfolk was a small urban junior college and was destined to become, as it now is, an urban university. Its functions, then, were very different from those of the parent school. But it seemed to us that, right or wrong, the administration in the parent school and perhaps to a lesser extent the faculty had no great interest in this Norfolk Division. Their primary interests, quite properly, were in the parent school, William and Mary, and, to put it bluntly,


I think at times they must have felt us to be a kind of annoying, irritating excrescence. This may be a little harsh, but it always seemed to us that on the rare occasions when administrative officers came from Williamsburg to visit us that they had, perforce, but a small understanding or even concern for the problems and work of this urban school; that their primary interests were in William and Mary proper, and they conceived of this Norfolk Division as a small feeder of students from the lower Tidewater area to William and Mary proper. A striking exception to this would be Dean Hodges, who, of course, was a Williamsburg man much of his life and devoted to the College of William and Mary. When he came here and even before, he was sincerely interested in the development of this school. And to his name I might add that of Charles Duke, which will come up later, bursar of the College in the 30’s, who in 1940 was sent here to succeed Dean Hodges, no doubt also against his will, but who took tremendous interest in developing the school here and who was a very able and efficient administrator.

Sweeney: Could you describe the library facilities in those early years and, if they were meager, did the faculty members themselves build up the collections in their areas of specialization?

Akers: They were meager indeed, I think a thousand volumes or so, and as late as the mid—30’s, if I recall these figures are available in the little three—volume history, Annals of the College of William and Mary in Norfolk, covering the first three decades —— there were perhaps only 5,000 volumes in the mid-30's. The faculty contributed a little, but on their meager salaries they could not contribute much except perhaps an occasional textbook or reference book which they felt they could dispense with. But the facilities were certainly meager, as were all the facilities here in those Depression years.

Sweeney: Were there any extra—curricular organizations dedicated to the study of German literature or any modern foreign language literature?

Akers: No, there were not. The enrollment was small. The students were only first and second—year students. There were only a couple of literary organizations: the boys’ group, which was the first one, called itself the Byrd Literary Society, named for Senator Harry Flood Byrd, Sr.; and the girls’ organization, which called itself Philomathia, was organized in 1932 or so but, I think, lasted only a couple of years. There were some student interest groups in other fields like chemistry and biology, and there were, of course, social clubs from almost the very beginning. It was an interesting thing, however. The college had a population of, when


I came, about 500, and this shrank in the following Depression years until war time when it was down to less than 400, perhaps 350. There were no dormitories. The entire student population lived in the city or in the vicinity, so they commuted to school and there was extremely little social or organizational life on the campus. It was a rare and difficult thing to lure a group of students or others to the campus at night because it meant a long trip by streetcar. Also, a large portion of the students worked. Classes were held on Saturday mornings as they were in Williamsburg in the first few years, which was a great problem for many of the student body here, many of whom had jobs, and classes on Saturday morning were unpopular and often poorly attended. But at noon on most days, and by four o’clock on all days, the campus was quickly emptied.

Sweeney: Down through the years, how did the method of instruction in foreign languages at the school change? Of course, in more recent years you’ve used audio—visual techniques, I suppose, but could you briefly describe this?

Akers: I’m afraid there wasn’t much change in the early years. It was mostly what would be called traditional approaches to foreign language teaching. Most of us kept abreast of the latest literature in the field. It was not until the 50’s that serious interest in things like foreign language laboratories, recordings by records and tapes, became the rage. This rage has subsided a little bit in quite recent years. But I would say that fairly traditional methods prevailed. Under that term, however, I would include emphasis on oral practice, which was at least an aim if not always actual practice in the classroom, but serious changes did not come until the advent of language laboratories in the 1950’s.

Sweeney: It seems that, from an early date, the faculty participated in events planned for the edification of the community. How did the lecture series the public series in which you participated during the 1935—36 academic year —— come about?

Akers: Well, in those days the city had a population of about 130,000. There was pretty strict segregation, so that one thought in those days in terms of a white audience for a gathering, not that blacks would have been forbidden to come, but the tradition was very strong, so that there was perhaps a public of 80,000 people that would be white people —- in the city of Norfolk on whom the college could draw or conversely who would draw upon the college for a portion of its cultural life. The resources then were rather meager, as the audience was, so that the new college, small and feeble as it


was, was regarded as a source of cultural activities, lectures and so on. And it made some effort, also, to make itself available to the public. I don’t remember exactly how that particular series in 1935—36 came about. I was just back from Panama, where I had been on leave for a year teaching in the Canal Zone. I remember I was one of those asked to give a lecture and show a film of the Panama Canal Zone and so forth. This was attended by a very small audience in the only auditorium we had, which was the auditorium of the Old Larchmont School building, which was in the early years the only building of the College the same auditorium, by the way, where Lewis Webb, later president of the College, had as a first grader recited poetry at school programs. I think that lecture series was not any very notable event. Some of the lectures were extremely interesting, including particularly one by Dr. Gray which I dimly remember, but somewhat more important were those a few years later given at the new Norfolk Arts Museum building downtown, which filled the auditorium with several hundred people. By this time the College had become a little better known. Also, the Norfolk Society of Arts and various other clubs, including men’s service clubs and others in the city, had from almost the very first begun to ask the faculty for lectures on various subjects, and this has persisted to the present day.

Sweeney: Professor Akers, how long did faculty members at the Norfolk Division continue to travel to Williamsburg, and if you might recall it must have been rather difficult to travel up there in the winter with the ferry and the various delays and hazardous driving conditions. Do you have any recollections in respect to that?

Akers: Yes. As for teachers from here going to Williamsburg, I was the only one whom I can recall who did that. And this was in the year 1931-32, my first year here, second year of the Norfolk Division, when I traveled to Williamsburg three days a week to teach a couple of classes in second—year Spanish. They happened to be short—handed in that department at the time. I remember Mr. Timmerman’s laughing over how pleased he was that this little school which had been supported in respect to its faculty by commuting faculty from William and Mary in Williamsburg was reciprocating by sending one of its own faculty (since I was officially Norfolk Division) to help out in Williamsburg. This made a very interesting experience for me, and a very pleasant one. I would take the steamer Virginia at the foot of Brooke Avenue, which belonged to the C & 0 railroad, to the dock at Newport News, get on the train there and proceed at once to Williamsburg, and then usually walk from there to the College, three days a week, and come back in the afternoon the same way. On the boat, which was an hour’s


ride from the railroad dock in Newport News to Norfolk, I would have an hour in which to correct papers and otherwise pass the time. This was not unpleasant, even in the winter. Now and then, when I went by bus, which I occasionally did, if the bus were late or if I missed connections it was disconcerting. The reverse process, by which the parent faculty provided instruction here at the Norfolk Division often three days a week or perhaps more, was much more important in the first year. Most of our small faculty were commuting teachers from Williamsburg in the various departments, including foreign languages, and of those who continued to come from Williamsburg, I think over a period of perhaps six years at the most, one was in foreign languages, Professor Robert McClellan, who taught Greek and Latin and later on French and who, incidentally, was the compiler of the first three books of annals of the Norfolk Division, covering the first three decades.

Sweeney: How large a role did foreign language instructors play in the 30’s and 40’s in the Extension programs? Was there a demand in the Norfolk community for instruction in the basics the fundamentals of foreign languages?

Akers: Yes, there was some, and in foreign languages as in other fields, our local faculty was used by the parent college for extension courses in Portsmouth and in Norfolk and outlying places. There were courses in first-year and second-year Spanish and French. I remember teaching courses in second—year Spanish in Portsmouth, for some reason or other, several years in succession, and of course in the summer school, there was considerable demand for this from school teachers and others from the city.

Sweeney: In 1937—38 you participated in a series of radio talks on literary or social subjects. Do you recall the occasion for these talks and any of the subjects you lectured on?

Akers: I can recall only one or two. We were invited to do this by station WTAR. One was a talk about foreign languages and their influence on English. As I recall, it was a rather stilted and not very interesting talk to the general public. But this was before the days of television, and radio made some attempt to provide cultural as well as more popular programs. Another one which I was asked to do just before World War II involved a rabbi from Portsmouth who was also a student at our college and who was a Hungarian by birth. He and I did a small series impersonating Hitler and the Chancellor of Austria, Dr. Schuschnigg, I believe, conversing about the forthcoming Anschluss, or union of Hitler’s Germany and Austria. There were a good many appearances by faculty members on radio programs in the late 30’s and during the 40’s.


Sweeney: In those early years, did you get the impression that the people residing in Norfolk were proud that there was a school here or even conscious of the role being played by the school in the area’s intellectual and educational life?

Akers: My impression was that they were quite conscious of it and to a certain extent proud. The school, of course, was small. It had its share of mediocre students and faculty, but there was at all times, I think, a noticeable group of gifted faculty members, like those I mentioned awhile ago, to whom I might add the name of Miss Alice Burke, a teacher of government, and several others whom I should have mentioned, who were quite respected in the community, and rightly so, and remembered still by their students. I think the attitude of the community was very favorable and even affectionate toward the dear old Norfolk Division, as it was rather laughingly called (also "Larchmont Tech" and other less complimentary but affectionate names)

Sweeney: In those early days in the 1930’s, as you mentioned, faculty salaries seemed to be very low by today’s standards, certainly at the instructor level. Was it difficult for the faculty member to live on his salary?

Akers: It was not easy even then although by, say, 1934, when the Depression was at perhaps its deepest, prices were quite low. I remember a pound of very high grade of bacon cost 22cents, but even that was somewhat of a luxury. In that year, 1934, if I recall correctly, the salary of all state employees, which included William and Mary faculty, was reduced by, I can’t recall whether it was 20 or 25%, which meant that most of us were living on a salary of less than $2,000 a year, so that even in those days this was not a very magnificent reward.

Sweeney: How was tenure granted in the early days? What criteria did the faculty member have to meet?

Akers: There were no clearly—defined rules of tenure. We were not even given contracts. We were given simply a letter of appointment each year, and as far as I know there was no definite regulation about tenure. This was a source of irritation on the part of the faculty, who felt that, at least in the days of President J. A. C. Chandler, one could be fired at the whim of the administrator. I do not recall that anything of the kind ever took place at the Norfolk Division or that there were any unjustified or tyrannical firings. But tenure was a kind of a dream of the future in those days.


Sweeney: Was there any accountability as to teaching ability?

Akers: Again, not clearly defined. But I believe it was recognized by the faculty and others that on grounds of obvious in competence a person could be discharged.

Sweeney: As World War II approached and during the War itself, did you participate in any language training program for the military in Norfolk?

Akers: Yes. There was demand for courses in Spanish, in particular, and French, I think, but particularly Spanish before the War and I think throughout the War. Also, later, courses in Portuguese and German; no Russian that I can recall at that time. But there were evening courses which were fairly well attended by members of the military, particularly in Spanish.

Sweeney: Now we’ll take up the problems that Dean Hodges had at the end of his career at Norfolk Division. First of all, let’s take up the faculty’s reaction to Dean Hodges’ problems with President Bryan of the parent institution. Was the faculty generally dissatisfied with Dean Hodges’ administration and did they sympathize with him in this specific problem that he was having?

Akers: These matters are fairly fully dealt with in volume two of the annals of the College of William and Mary in Norfolk, covering the second decade from 1940—1950. I will only corroborate what is recorded there that there was a good deal of dissatisfaction on the part of the faculty in the matter of priorities. The effects of the Depression were still being felt in the late 30’s, and let me see if I’m getting my dates right yes, and the fact of the low salaries made a constant irritant so that, when it was felt that an undue amount of time and money was going to athletics, for which we felt the school was hardly suited, this was perhaps the major irritant. When you say was their sympathy felt for Dean Hodges in his problems, I’m not sure what you have in mind there.

Sweeney: Did the faculty feel that Dean Hodges was being unjustly treated or that there had been a problem in regard to grades for a long time and that it was about time that somebody did something about it?

Akers: The matter of grades is one in which I had no direct connection. I learned about it after it had been revealed by someone in the registrar’s office, but I think most of the faculty did feel that


this was a serious matter on the grounds that, for one thing, it was unfair to award unearned credits and grades specifically in the case of, say, a boy who is trying to get into a military academy and who by this device would inevitably win out in the competitive field over other boys who might have had an honest justification for getting into the academy. It would also hurt the good name of the college, as in fact I believe it did, because rumors were abroad for some time after this that students’ credits from this college would be questioned by colleges and universities throughout the nation. So it was regarded as a serious matter.

Sweeney: Why was it that Hodges had such support in the Norfolk community and did this support continue even after the grades situation became known?

Akers: Yes, it did. Dean Hodges, as I said before, was an extremely kind—hearted, hard—working man who unquestionably had the welfare and interest of the students at heart. He was generous to a fault, and was naturally liked and even loved by the citizenry and by the students. I don’t know to what extent this attitude was changed when Dr. Bryan, President of the College, sent out a letter to several hundred people who had written to him supporting Dean Hodges, and explained to them the facts of the case. This must have, at least, enlightened many of the citizens who probably hadn’t before known or given very serious thought to the actual issues involved. But I’m sure that, even so, whatever their feelings may have been about Dr. Hodges’ guilt in this particular matter, their feeling of affection toward him survived this.

Sweeney: Dr. Akers, you served on the committee of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors which presented a list of grievances and suggestions for improvement of conditions at the school to Dr. Bryan and Dean Miller in Williamsburg. What was the nature of these recommendations, and why was the matter of grades omitted from the agenda? Was this possibly an oversight?

Akers: This again is set forth in volume two of the annals, and there is more there than I can remember at this date, some thirty years later. The grievances mentioned included primarily those I mentioned a while ago about financial matters and over—emphasis of athletics. On this point I might say that in those later years of the 30’s, for instance, I attended a football game in the new stadium, Foreman Field, at which there was a total attendance of about twenty, including fourteen students. We felt that with this lack of interest in football, for such a small school it was wrong to devote a large portion of the school’s budget to this activity. This seemed to be also the attitude of most of the student body. About the matter of grades and the fact


that it was not mentioned at the interview with the Dean in Williamsburg, I think indeed it was an oversight. I don’t know why that particular matter didn’t come up. It was mentioned on the way home as the three of us came back, but there had been so many questions about athletics and the honor system and salaries —there was of course no definite salary scale, which was not the fault of Dean Hodges. Bu the fault of Dean Hodges. But we felt that there were problems with a great many matters of faculty—administration relationships. For example, the fact that the Dean would call the faculty to decide on some matter like: shall we continue to have football, accept the faculty’s decision of "No," then the next day unilaterally reverse this decision. All this took up the hour or so that was spent in the discussion and since we had, as I recall, written down no specific list of grievances, somehow the one concerning the grades was lost in the shuffle.

Sweeney: Could you give me some insight on the origin of the AAUP Chapter here — on how many members it might have had, what its goals were, and how successful it was in attaining its goals?

Akers: I can’t remember when the AAUP Chapter was founded. It must have been probably in the late 1930’s and included a majority of the membership of the small faculty. It was probably as much of a social club as anything else because it had very little influence. It was favorably regarded by administrator Lewis W. Webb during his days as director and provost, and we always felt we would get a fair hearing from him. In fact, I think he regarded himself as a member of the organization, but it was not until quite recent years in my memory that it became the influential organization that it is today and commanded respect and was given a hearing at higher levels. I remember it was a small and rather struggling organization. I was president for two or three years by default, simply because it was hard to find anybody to take the office. There were many discussions of academic matters and sometimes of salary and so on. But my memory of the early years is not very vivid.

Sweeney: In the 1940’s, certainly by the end of the Second World War, ‘47, ‘48, ‘49, was there any considerable sentiment in Norfolk and at the Division to sever the ties with the parent school in Williamsburg?

Akers: Yes, there was. As I remarked earlier in this interview, there was perhaps always a feeling here, at least after the first year or two, that the aims and functions of the parent school, William and Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which also planted a division here in 1931, were so different, almost incompatible, that the relationship seemed an artificial one. I suppose this was only natural, especially on the part of the child institution, to feel some resentment toward the parent. But this was certainly true.


Sweeney: Did the faculty respond favorably to Mr. Duke’s administration of the college, and what were some of his greatest achievements and failures?

Akers: On the whole, yes, they responded favorably. Mr. Duke on his taking over in 1940 (I believe it was) established a small advisory committee of the four senior professors and others elected by the faculty who met with him weekly. While we didn’t exercise a great deal of influence, Mr. Duke at least kept us abreast of what was going on, occasionally asked our advice, and soon. Later some differences of opinion developed between him and Dr. Gray, for example, who later became one of two co—directors of the school following Mr. Duke’s tenure here, on matters that I cannot very well define. I remember that Dr. Gray made a statement that Mr. Duke had more of an "institutional" approach to curricular matters and others than a student—oriented one —— I’m sorry I’m not very clear on the points of difference that emerged. I do recall this, that in his later years and after (Mr. Duke had returned to Williamsburg as a business manager bursar, it was called), he quite adamantly took what I might call the Williamsburg position, that this College, the Norfolk Division, must never entertain the idea of becoming a four—year college. It could expand horizontally, he said, but not vertically. It must continue to regard itself as a division of the College of William and Mary. I suppose that this was the most serious point of cleavage between Mr. Duke and the faculty members here, who couldn’t help envisioning the growth of this college into a four—year institution. It was, after all, the only institution, barring the new Norfolk unit of Virginia Union (which later became Norfolk State College), in this whole southern Hampton Roads area, and the thought that it should remain only a small two—year college feeding the College of William and Mary, which was after all rather a national than a Tidewater institution, seemed to us illogical. But Mr. Duke felt that this was the way things should be and that any activities or expressions on our part about expanding this school into a four—year college, much less an urban university, were, in a word, treason.

Sweeney: During the 1940’s and 1950’s, was there any appreciable improvement in the library’s holdings in foreign language materials?

Akers: This again is recounted in the annals. I think the growth was extremely slow, and not until the late ‘50’s was any serious effort made to increase those holdings. The library was housed


in one large room on the ground floor of the Old Administration Building in those years, and even at the time when the college was looking forward to becoming a four—year institution, which was in the mid-5O’s, it was realized that one of the most serious obstacles to recognition and accreditation was the gravely deficient size of the library. I can recall that the library budget, if you could call it that, in the ‘40’s, was likely to be a few hundred dollars and in, say, the philosophy department it might be fifteen dollars for the year.

Sweeney: There was no counseling for the college students in those years. Did the students often consult faculty members with their personal problems?

Akers: I don’t know whether I can respond on the word "often." They did, certainly certain faculty members in particular who were the confidants of the students. But I would guess I’m only guessing now less so than in later times when counseling services were provided. I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, in these latter years, including the latter years of my tenure here which ended in 1972, that an enormous proportion of our student body have at least perceptibly valid problems, family, home, and personal problems. This may have been true in those days too, the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, but I think we were less aware of it because there was less organized attempt to offer counseling services to the students.

Sweeney: In respect to the organization of the Department of Modern Languages, when was a separate department created?

Akers: Frankly, I don’t think there was ever any actual pronouncement of creation. In fact, though, there was a department containing two members and certain part—time members from my first year, which was 1931—32, and the Head for the next six years, approximately, was Professor Arthur George Williams. But, while the various departments were unofficially referred to as departments and had unofficial heads, I think this simply grew over the years rather than that at any time it was officially announced that, e.g., the Foreign Language Department is headed by Dr. Akers, or the English Department by Dr. Gray.

Sweeney: In continuing with the question on the department chairmanship, as chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages, did you encounter any difficulties in recruiting faculty members?

Akers: Yes. Not in the early years, when there was not much recruiting to be done. In the late ‘40’s, following World War II, we expanded a little bit, and I remember spending a


good deal of time trying to acquire a new Spanish teacher, but this was not particularly difficult. It became particularly so later on in the ‘60’s. By this time I was no longer chairman of the department, having been away for three years and succeeded by Dr. Rogers Whichard (who just recently retired) in the ‘60’s, it became quite difficult to find faculty members because the Depression was over and our college was not very competitive. I remember going to a South Atlantic Modern Language Association meeting in 1966 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and almost being laughed at by the few candidates that were available for university jobs in Spanish because of the low competitive rank we had in salary offerings among other Southeastern colleges and universities.

Sweeney: In May of 1953, you completed a self—evaluation study with Professors MacDonald and Pliska. Could you recall why this study was undertaken and any difficulties you encountered, and the conclusions that you reached?

Akers: Here I’m embarrassed by my poor memory because I can recall being considerably concerned at the time, and I’m only hoping that Dr. Pliska perhaps may be of more use to you here than I am. I know that one of the concerns, as always, was that of faculty salaries, and it must have been about that time that I undertook, whether as a part of this study or an independent activity I don’t recall at the moment, a salary study of salaries here as compared with other occupations in the community. I came up with the discovery that the median salary for the faculty of the Norfolk Division of William and Mary—VPI in the early 1950’s was a little less than the average for the better—paid stenographers in the city, such as those of the C & 0 Railroad. But as to the remainder of that inquiry on self—evaluation, I am sorry to say that I have not been able to locate any files on this, and I again can only hope that Dr. Pliska will help you out a little more.

Sweeney: Unquestionably, the feeling was growing in 1950 that the College should become a separate four—year, degree—granting institution, both in the community and at the school itself. Did you play any role in this movement in the ‘50’s?

Akers: I don’t recall my playing any active role or anybody else’s doing so, though the feeling was certainly growing in the community, and I was interviewed, as were others here, by an official from the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities, which was making a study of the matter. I remember he asked me this question: Do you think that, if a four—year college should be established here, it should be on the basis


of this present William and Mary institution in other words, should grow out of it? I told him I certainly did, but I don’t recall my having taken, or any other faculty member having taken, overt action or publicity in this field in the ‘50’s. It seemed to us that it was only a matter of time until it would happen, and this indeed proved to be the case.

Sweeney: During the late ‘50’s and the decade of the ‘60’s and even the early ‘70’s, the College grew tremendously in faculty, and it seems that they may have become more involved in their own pursuits. Did you notice a decline in a sense of community among the faculty during that period of about 15 years from 1957, say, to 1972?

Akers: I think probably so only to the extent that might be expected from sheer growth. We were no longer quite the small, closely—knit group that we were in the early years. During three crucial years of that period, I was absent in Turkey from 1962—65, during which time we did break loose from the College of William and Mary and become Old Dominion College, and this happened in August of 1962, but I’m not sure the sense of community declined. I think that the faculty still felt a certain esprit de corps. During my absence the faculty senate was formed, which was an evidence of this. I was pleased to see that this was already a vigorous, if new and perhaps fumbling, groping body in 1965 when I returned to the college.

Sweeney: You served as the Head of the Division of Humanities in the 1950’s. What were your duties in that capacity?

Akers: This was rather a figurehead position. It may have been more important in some of the other divisions. The so—called Division of Humanities, which included a number of different departments languages, music, art, history, English and so on lasted until about 1964, when I was absent. And on my return in 1965, the new College had been divided into a series of schools so that the so—called divisions of humanities and so on no longer existed. Actually, my functions were purely nominal and in point of fact were limited to occasional resolvings of small squabbles between departments over use of this or that facility and also the routine making of recommendations for the salaries of the various department heads each year. Incidentally, I almost automatically recommended the highest possible raises on the grounds that anybody would deserve such raises as were available because the limits were so tight that almost anyone who had given reasonable service could be expected to deserve such increases as were available. But the Division of the Humanities was largely a ceremonial title.


Sweeney: President Webb in a recent newspaper interview said that he advocated the school change from college to university status even though it wasn’t ready for it. Do you feel that in the 1960’s and when you came back from Turkey that the school was progressing too quickly for its own good and that it didn’t have adequate planning for the steps that were being taken?

Akers: I suppose that criticism could be made, though I am hardly inclined to be one to make it. It would be very difficult and, I suppose, just at a guess, there have been few colleges in the history of this country who have carefully, step by step, planned for their evolution into university status. Certainly there have been many more which have been given that title or which have taken that title with less grounds than we had. This is only a negative comment, but I tend to be very uncritical on this point, whatever solid grounds it may have. I think certainly by now it was high time that we should be a university. I am inclined to think that the title was deserved when it came and that such rapid progress as took place, perhaps headlong, was inevitable.

Sweeney: President Webb served as the director and president of the institution from 1946 to 1969, and he seems to have done an extraordinary job. Are there any comments you would like to make on his administration?

Akers: I remember when President Webb, then a young instructor, first appeared here on campus in the summer of 1932, say, nine months after I did. He was very well liked and respected in those days for his hard common—sense, no—nonsense approach to things. He kept this up all through his long tenure, first as director, co—director, and then provost, and finally president of the College. I think there had probably never been in the history of education a harder—working, more devoted and dedicated administrator than Mr. Webb was. The faculty, all through that period, I think I can honestly say, felt that he was devoting a great deal of his time and energy to their interests. He fought hard, of course, for improved budgets from the state government in Richmond, which was always an uphill and very frustrating, discouraging fight, and I think he richly earned the honor and esteem that he holds today for his long years of devoted and dedicated service.

Sweeney: You mentioned the state government in Richmond, and that brought to mind the subject of my doctoral thesis, which was the Byrd organization. I was wondering, in those years in the 1940’s


and ‘50’s, did the faculty here bear a great deal of resentment against the political organization that was running Virginia because of the meager funding that the institution was receiving?

Akers: The answer is yes. Very much so.

Sweeney: Could you provide some background on your teaching experience in Ankara, Turkey, when you were associated with the George town University Program there?

Akers: Yes. I must not say too much about that, at the risk of being too personal. I was tapped by Georgetown University in 1961 to go over there and serve as vice—director, as it turned out, of the so—called Georgetown University English Language Program, which was part of U. S. Aid under the State Department and which had two major functions. One was to train in conversational English those Turks in government positions, about 200 every year, as it happened, over a period of some 15 years, who were sent by their government at our government’s expense, to the U.S. to study such things as public administration, irrigation, education, airport management, and everything that was one function of this Georgetown program. Another was to train Turkish teachers of English for the schools of Turkey, and I was instrumental in sending perhaps 30 such people, carefully selected, to the United States to various universities to work for master’s degrees in the teaching of English. Another function was to provide textbooks in English for the schools of Turkey. I was there three years and did very little teaching, actually. This was an unofficial job. Some of us officials in this little Georgetown group were asked to teach at the University of Ankara in the department of English. I did this for three years, but only one hour a week a great pleasure and unpaid. I look back on those three years as ones of great enjoyment and reward, and came back to Norfolk to Old Dominion College in 1965, after a very pleasant experience. I remember that when I was first approached in 1962 to take this job, I was not at all eager to do so, having had dangled before me the prospect of a Fulbright job in Germany as an administrator, but my wife and I finally decided, We’ll go to Turkey. I was sorry it had to be for two years. I wished it could be for only one because who wants to go to Turkey for two years? So I finally decided I would say yes, and approached President Webb with this request: "Lewis, I’ve been asked to go to Turkey, and they want me for two years. I guess the dear old Norfolk Division can struggle along without me for that long," and he


said, "Yes, and you should know that we can only give leave of absence for one year, but I will guarantee that if you wish, when the time comes, let me know and I will go before the Board and they will undoubtedly approve my request for your second year’s leave." Well, this happened, but then came the third year because the Georgetown Program was not due to phase out until the end of what would have been my third year. I was asked to stay on, and wrote a rather flippant letter to President Webb back in Norfolk saying, "Dear Lewis: they want me to stay on a third year to save the expense of finding a new man for filling out this job until phase—out time, so I do hope that the dear old Norfolk Division can struggle along for a third year without me for a third year without me," thinking, of course, he would answer, Certainly, go right ahead. Instead, I was surprised to receive a letter somewhat as follows: "Dear Gerald, I’m surprised you didn’t know that colleges never give leave of absence for more than two years, and I’m not willing to go before the Board making a request for such a dangerous precedent. I’m afraid you’ll have to come back. Also, it seems to be difficult to find German teachers nowadays, and Dr. Whichard says he needs you." I was very disappointed at this, and my colleagues over there on both the Turkish and American sides said "Try again." So I composed, without much hope, a very tearful letter to President Webb, telling him how Turkey was going to fall apart without me, and they wanted me to stay and so forth. To my surprise, a few weeks later a letter came back from President Webb, as follows: "Dear Gerald: I have decided to go before the Board and ask for a third year for you, not because I think Turkey needs you as badly as you say it does but because you have been here 31 years, and when I make this request to the Board on your behalf, I don’t feel that I’m setting myself a very uncomfortable precedent." So I stayed in Turkey the third year.

Sweeney: When you came back to Norfolk in 1965—1966 and then on into the late sixties — of course these are the years of the Vietnam War —did you notice a change in the students here, and did they reflect national trends toward student activism?

Akers: Yes, this was noticeable to a very slight extent in my first year back on the campus, which was 1965-1966. There were hardly any long hairs in that year. They appeared a couple of years later. But it was certainly a revolution that took place in the attitudes, not to say the appearance, and the activities of the students in the next few years, although I think it’s safe to say that it was much less violent upheaval here than on


many other campuses. I might say in this connection, going back 20 years or so, that just after World War II a very noticeable change in the atmosphere took place in 1946 and 1947 as a new wave of veterans of the various armed services flooded into our campuses, swelling our ranks. The attitude of these boys (and one or two girls) was so much more serious and purposeful than that of the average happy—go—lucky American high school graduate that it imparted a very wholesome atmosphere to the campus. While it didn’t increase the proportion of geniuses, it did have, I thought, a very salutary effect upon the serious attitude toward getting something out of college.

Sweeney: Continuing on this line, in the last couple of years of 1972 and 1973 have the students, with the changes in the curricular requirements and the doing away with so many required courses — do you think there’s a tendency on the part of the st a tendency on the part of the students to just not really plan out their courses of study and just take the degree as kind of a matter of course?

Akers: Yes, I would guess so, but here I’m guessing because I’ve been retired for two years, since the summer of 1972, and I’ve only done a little substitute teaching since then. So I can only give from hearsay the opinions of my former colleagues. I’m a little worried by the reports — I don’t know how accurate they may be— of the students’ attitude toward the need to learn anything serious or difficult. I don’t know whether they even worry about the word "relevant" any more. But, as an old—timer, I think that some time we must, and they must, come back to the feeling that four years at the university is not just a time to play around and go through the motions but that some things need to be learned for one’s own use and enjoyment of life. As my late colleague, Dr. Gray, said, "Education is for the purpose of increasing our ability to enjoy," and this ability can be won, I think, only through knowledge, which, though hard and sometimes toilsome to attain, is, like virtue, "its own reward."

Sweeney: Did you notice a change in the atmosphere of the school, and especially the relationship between the faculty and the administration, after President Bugg assumed control in 1969?

Akers: No, I can’t say that I noticed any great change in attitude. There are always some stresses between administration and faculty under any administrator, and this happened to be a time of readjustment and restructuring, what with the abolishing of the new faculty senate and the creation of the university senate, which involves students, administrative staff, and faculty.


But this came at the end of my career, and I don’t feel able to make an adequate or valid comparison of this period with the years preceding.

Sweeney: As a last question, then, reflecting upon your career, could you describe your greatest satisfactions and disappointments, and did your career at the college leave you with a sense of fulfillment?

Akers: On the whole, it did. I look back on the years and think of many shortcomings, ways in which I might have been a better teacher; perhaps the most important one would have been to demand more of the gifted students. But on the whole I have no serious regrets. It’s been a very pleasant and happy life. I made many friends, some of whom have died in recent times, and I have come to love Norfolk very much. My wife is a native of Norfolk, and while she and I after our three years in Turkey had become so enamored of the Turks as a warm—hearted people that we seriously thought of retiring in Turkey, we have changed our minds and are happy to remain here where our roots are. And I find great pleasure in being able to come to the campus where I still have an office and use the library and associate with my former colleagues on this piece of ground which I’ve seen grow and change very remarkably in the last 43 years.

Sweeney: Thank you very much, Professor Akers, for this most informative and enjoyable interview.

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