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Dr. David Hager has served ODU since 1969, when he began teaching in the Political Science and Geography Department. During his time at ODU, he has held a variety of administrative posts since 1973, including Department Chair (1975-76), Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (1973-75), Dean of Graduate Studies (1976-81), Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs (1981-2005), and has served as acting provost and vice president for academic affairs on five occasions, most recently in 2001-03. The interview discusses his various roles on campus, his views on various administrations, university and campus developments and transitions, streaking and "protests" in the 70s, racial integration with Norfolk State University, and ODU's role in the community.

Oral History Interview

Norfolk, Virginia
February 23, 1999
by Julie Hale

Audio Unavailable

1. Could you talk a little about your education and background?

I came here in 1969 as an instructor in political science and geography. And taught courses in international relations and comparative government. During my first year here, I finished my Ph. D. at the University of Virginia. I remained in the department for about three or four years, and then I became assistant dean of what was then the School of Arts and Letters, worked with E. Vernon Peele. He had been here a long time-he came in with President Webb. And he had presided over the division of what was the School of Arts and Sciences-the School of Arts and Letters and the School of Sciences at that point. There were no associate deans at that time. I was assistant dean probably for another three or so years, and then I became department chair of political science and geography. Did that for a little while and was asked by then-provost Chuck Burgess to become the acting Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. This was an acting position for about a year, and then there was a recruitment process and I was selected as the permanent dean. I stayed in that job until the early eighties. And then the school was dissolved. Because basic decisions were made that the deans of the schools that were to become colleges were to have full responsibility for their total curriculum, undergraduate as well as graduate.

A lot of the functions that my staff and I performed in the School of Graduate Studies were distributed out to other offices. For example, the people working on admissions went to the Office of Admissions and so forth. But what was retained was the position I moved to--Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies. So I became for a while the chief university officer for graduate studies. From then it evolved into a whole variety of titles to the one I'm in now. But there's been a variety of incarnations of Associate Vice President for Faculty and Curriculum. I was the Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs once. Two Provosts ago, we settled on Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. I've been acting Vice President/Provost four different times. The first time was in 1983, and then in 1986-87. 1990-92. And then, about two years ago, when President Koch was on leave and Provost Gora became president for the better part of a year or so. Now I'm doing this job with Provost Gora, and in some ways all of the jobs from the past keep tagging on. I still get queried and sometimes get responsibilities for graduate matters. I'm working with the Ph. D. in Urban Services program to help them move through how they're organized and how they operate. I handle research compliance for the university. I work with faculty on the development of new program proposals, graduate and undergraduate.

On the Academic Affairs staff there are two people like me. One of them went back to faculty, and that was Bob Ash. And we've both been here a very long time, both kind of grew up with the institution and that's made it possible for me to do things here that would've taken me several different moves to do in my career. It's also given me the opportunity to help build the institution. I've been where the action is in terms of what Old Dominion has become, and for me that's been a very satisfying part of my career. And like Bob-that's one reason we haven't left. Because every year's a whole new year here!


2. You came here during a period of transition. Lewis Webb was leaving, Jim Bugg was coming on board, and the school had just become a university. What was the atmosphere like on campus?

Lewis Webb was indeed on his way out. Jim Bugg had just become the president. I first met Lewis Webb when I came for an interview, and met him on the walk of what was then the Norfolk Regional Airport. He was coming off, and I was boarding and my then department chair introduced us. I got to know him and Virginia very well. When I came, he was no longer president but he was still a very prominent feature of this university. Because his personal style was very open and accessible and friendly. But I came when the state anointed Old Dominion a university. In fact, I was one of six that year hired by the Department of Political Science, and now I'm the only one left. There were lots of multiple hires in several departments in '69 as the institution amped up to becoming a university. It actually took several years for it to become a university. Its orientation and its style was still very much that of a small college. Things like the importance of research and scholarship were not yet part of the culture here. But even when those things happened to Old Dominion, one of the things that's always attracted me-it's never lost sight of where its roots were.

It's a strong teaching institution, it's an institution that reaches out aggressively to the surrounding community, provides services and programs. All the things I see today-TELETECHNET for example-in scale, it's larger, in scope, it's larger, but it's connected very intimately to the kinds of attitudes and values we've always had here about teaching courses off campus. We've added technology to it, and now we can do it in Roanoke and Big Stone Gap, whereas before Kempsville was a stretch because you had to drive there. But that was always just the style of this university.

3. What were your first impressions of the physical plant?

Two pieces of background are important here. I was an undergraduate at Wayne State University in Detroit-a prototype urban university smack dab in the middle of the city. When I was there as a student in the late 50s, early 60s, it was about 25,000 students. And then I went to UVA for grad school when I left the Air Force. I was in the Air Force for about five years. And that place is very traditional-all red brick, serpentine walls, columns and a lot of tradition. Wayne State didn't have much tradition. I came here, and one of my first observations was that the place was comfortable to me because it felt to me like a city. It was an institution that I could understand its mission-what it was trying to accomplish. It impressed me as not having too many pretensions about itself. Even today it still undervalues itself. I thought it had the potential to grow. I remember looking at the area. I flew in from Charlottesville for a day-long interview and I saw the area from the air, and I thought it was an area that would grow. I thought that this was an institution that was going to grow, and I could probably grow with it. The place made a lot of sense to me. And I turned down a job at Virginia Tech because I didn't care for living as far out in the wilderness as Blacksburg then was.


Even though it was a larger institution, more prestigious, I felt that long-term, this was a better deal for me. I even came here for less money. I just thought there was more potential.

It was not the prettiest place physically. My office that I was assigned to actually stood on this spot [where the New Administration Building is now] and it looked like a Navy barracks building. Sort of an h-shaped building. Downstairs in that building were two or three others who were hired from that six in political science. Plus historians across the hail, historians upstairs, geographers down the hail. It was the social studies building. And it had classrooms and it was an interesting old building. You couldn't smoke on the second floor because the floors were impregnated with oil and the place was a fire trap. We came back from Christmas vacation and there'd been an electrical fire in there, and we found out the wiring was barely within code and always subject to being shorted out. So there was a fire that did a lot of damage to people's books and things. It didn't bum the building down.

It just generated a lot of smoke. Every spring, if you taught a class in there, sometimes when it got warm, the termites would come out of the walls and you'd have to take all of the classes outside and teach out on the lawn or teach up in the stadium. And there was one large lecture room in there that was actually primarily used by the history department. But the inside of the room was surrounded by murals someone had painted of famous scenes in American history. When the building was torn down, the physical plant took charge of the murals and allegedly put them someplace-they may still be in existence today. But it was a fun building. It had concrete floors, no carpet, used furniture. We used to get second-hand furniture from government agencies around here. That's the way life was here. It was a little bit grim. The department office was down at the end of the walk where public safety is. There was a building that was commonly called Fink's Flats and it used to be a two-unit apartment building that was smaller in area than the building that's on that site now. That was the department office, the department chair and about four faculty members. We had, you know, the bathroom was the file room. It was a nutty little place.

The buildings on 49th Street were there, the three buildings, all covered with that solarblock. The Fine Arts Building had exterior entries to all its classrooms. It looked like a 1950s-style motel. The very front part, the center part of what was Webb Center-all that added on the back and on the sides wasn't there. I guess Kaufman Hall was across the mall there and the Education Building was being built. The mall was nowhere looking like it does now. It had a great big depression in it. When we started to build the mall, when the Kaufmans provided all that money, the biggest expense in building the mall was putting in drainage underneath it. Because if you get down in it a little way, there was kind of a loose muck under there. So a lot of the money went underground when that mall was built. Now what used to happen here, you'd get a good summer thunderstorm and that depression would fill up with water and it became commonly known in the neighborhood for the kids as Webb's Lake-there was this great place for kids to fool around.

And then we went through the whole business of rebuilding that mall with all the piles-it seems like for years we had piles of dirt every place. And it just happened to coincide with the streaking phenomenon. So running between piles of dirt became a great place for the streakers to go. There's a photograph someplace of Dana Burnett-of him in his double-knit suit, the young Dean of Students with his long hair sort of supervising the streaking. It was a great time. We'd go out at lunch and there'd be announced streaking! So the whole faculty and staff and students would turn out and watch the streakers.


Nothing ever happened to them. The campus police tried to do something. I remember at the height of it, Friday nights were a gas over there by Rogers Dorm. I mean people would streak sort of lazily, or in their cars, and sort of parade in their convertibles, both men and women. It was kind of a symptom of the 70s. It gives you a sense of what the 70s were like here. Students here got involved in the war not as much as they did on residential campuses. I remember the most significant event with regard to Vietnam here coming on the heels of the slaying at Kent State. I think the only march that happened here-and I was involved in it-we marched to the Old Administration Building, now Rollins Hall, to confront President Bugg and demanded something be done. What, I don't know. Bless his heart.

So the mall was barely developed. And the rest was just houses. There were houses all over and there was the technology building across the street. The university was on the verge of a building boom because I was shown a master plan when I was being recruited that stretched the university all the way to 38th Street. And that never happened on this side of the street, but it may happen on the other side of the street. But if you notice the design sometime of the bank building on 3 8th and Hampton-it was first the Virginia National Bank and it was a two-story brick building sitting on that corner, looking very much like the termite company, Get 'em. Then they tore that down and built the building that's there now. If you notice the design of that building and then come back to campus, you'll see they built that deliberately so it would match the campus architecture. Because they thought the campus was going to be a neighbor. But there were lots of houses all along here, lots of neighborhood that slowly was removed as the institution expanded that way. But it was not the pleasantest of places. I was also shown the plan for the Arts and Letters building-Batten Arts and Letters. I was shown where my office was going to be. Of course it was several years before that building was finished and I moved.

4. What are your impressions of presidents Jim Bugg and Al Rollins? How did their roles in the development of the university differ?

Jim Bugg had an almost impossible task on his hands. He was literally charged to make this an urban university. And he had come from St. Louis. He was experienced, a savvy guy. But he was in the process of changing the culture of this thing called Old Dominion, and his tenure was not all that long. There are various stories about why Jim Bugg resigned or was fired. Take your pick. He was dismissed by the board. It was done by a phone call, which was really rather brutal. And there was some real evidence that his executive vice president, Harold Eickhoff, had undermined Jim with his own board. But on a broader scale, Jim was a change agent, and change agents don't last long in an environment. They bring about the change and then they leave. There's mixed kinds of things going on here. Rollins was then able to come in and capitalize on the things that Bugg had done. And he was a little bit more academic in his orientation, a little bit more like the faculty. He looked like them, talked like them. He was a very powerful man. But he knew how to use his power. He did a lot more persuading in his leadership than this sort of leading by main force all the time. It was with Al that I really went through a sort of mentoring experience as an administrator, because he was the one I served my first acting tour as a vice president with.


And he was--and still is--a gentle person, an intellectual. He likes to think of himself as a radical. Did he tell you the story about his plaid sport coat? He met Frank Batten in the airport for his initial interview wearing a plaid sport coat. His point was- you're going to take me for what I am! Think of the context. If you're interviewing me for university president you expect me to come in wearing a business suit, probably stripes, white shirt, red tie, polished shoes. Al gave this institution an academic soul, I think, and he gave it some humanity. He was a good administrator. He knew how to make tough decisions, but he also remembered that there were people involved, and he surrounded himself with administrators and staff members who also understood those things. And some of them have gone on to become quite successful. John Moore has been president of two institutions now-John was his executive vice president. He went out to Cal State in Stanislaus, and he's now president of Indiana State University. Mark Perkins, who was budget director, is now president of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. Mike Malone, who was admissions director, is now president of Troy State University in Alabama. So these were a great team to work with. I had a growing-up experience, but I also had a very rewarding experience. This was a real team Al had put together, and we operated as a team. We all shared the same values about the institution and the kind of things we wanted to accomplish. What in later years looked like mild problems--I had a 1.4 million-dollar budget reduction I had to execute in academic affairs. The team being what it was, the other vice presidents bought off half of that debt for me out of their own areas because of the value on the academic side of the institution.

But the two men were very different. They each had a very different role to play in the university. Bugg was really charged with saying, "Okay Old Dominion College, pick yourself up. You're now a university, we gotta do these things. This is the way the university game is played. Yes, we need to value teaching, but we've got to now add research as a responsibility. And we need to think about doctoral programs." We brought the engineering doctoral program out in the early 70s-'72-'73. That changes the nature of the university. The question of tenure for faculty became much more of a rigorous evaluation than it had been; promotion became a much more rigorous evaluation. Research and scholarship became important. Fund-raising became important--things that this institution did not think about, Bugg had to begin introducing into this environment. And that made a lot of people uncomfortable--a lot of people had grown up here in the past life of the institution. And there was this whole group of new faculty who were coming, myself included, sort of young turks who had been brought up on these values in their graduate schools.

But also for a lot of us, we saw this as a very happy compromise between an institution that valued teaching and valued scholarship and had not gone overboard as other places have done where teaching is of minor value. Here, there's a greater equality between the two and a notion that everybody can't do everything. And it's interesting. In thirty years, I've seen us come into a cycle where we started as this primarily teaching institution, and we developed a very potent research program. Now teaching is again assuming a greater part of our attention-the teaching-learning process-and part of that is directly attributable to the success we've had with distance education and TELETECHNET. And in a larger sense, I think that same revolution is going on in higher education generally-that more and more attention is being placed on teaching and instruction, not just research. There's a better balance now. I think it's taken that thirty-year cycle to come around again here.


Or maybe it's a different cycle, but teaching is definitely emerging again as a primary focus. So Bugg laid a lot of those foundations, and he made people uncomfortable. There were a lot of jokes about "urban this" and "urban that." You know, "What's urban art? Are we gonna study manhole covers? Are we gonna look at graffiti?" And on and on. There was a lot of craziness here. But it was symptomatic of a community that was going through change. And a lot of those people made it, and they retired. The English Department was full of people who called themselves mossbacks and said, "We're not gonna change." And by God, even they changed.

5. Could you talk about the issues Old Dominion faced on racial integration with Norfolk State and the Office of Civil Rights in the 1970s?

We had some real tough problems to deal with in 1979 with the desegregation of higher education and issues as they emerged here when the Office of Civil Rights and Virginia and several other states were made parts of the Adams case. The dual system of education was going to be dismantled in Virginia. Something curious happened. The then-governor, John Dalton, decided that the problem didn't exist anyplace else except here in Hampton Roads, or Tidewater. Other institutions were held harmless from dealing with this issue, by and large. And it was Old Dominion and Norfolk State, and ultimately Tidewater Community College, that joined forces in sort of self-protection to deal with this issue and to deal with the Office of Civil Rights. That began a process that stuff goes on of cooperation between the two institutions. But it was born out of necessity and self-preservation. We went through a very tough decision process of eliminating programs here, and they eliminated programs there.

And we traded programs and got down to curricula offering degree programs that, even though for them to offer and for us to offer. But that started a whole line of cooperation with Norfolk State and joint degree programs, student and faculty exchange. The bus that goes back and forth was born in that era. That's another feature that Old Dominion has developed over time. It cooperates with almost everybody-that's another part of our culture here, I think. Whether it's Norfolk State University or TCC or Eastern Virginia Medical School, you name it, we've got some kind of relationship with them. And again it's an easy and natural part of this institution. It's no stretch for us to start a program with somebody. And TELETECHNET is just an expression of that. It's another one of those long-term values that's now seeing itself explicated in a different way. But that was a real crucible for the institution's growing up very rapidly and dealing with very tough problems. Al Rollins has some real insights into this because he sat right there at the table. And Chuck Burgess-he and his counterpart, Paul Moore, from Norfolk State had one very productive meeting where they settled a lot of the issues in a hotel room in Atlanta. It's a fascinating history in itself, the relationship between the two institutions. And a lot of it ultimately fell on the two presidents, Harrison Wilson and Al Rollins, to make these things work.


And it was the kind of things that, even when I was sitting in a meeting representing the president when I was acting provost here, and Harrison was representing Norfolk State-for example, we have this organization called CHROME that was developed, which was the Cooperating Hampton Roads Organization for Minority Engineering, to provide opportunities for minority high school kids and women to get involved in science and engineering. Well, there was an issue on the table about providing a place and a budget for this organization, and the cooperation was such that Harrison would look at me and I looked at him. And he said, well let's do something, and before we left the room we had agreed that we would provide a space for them on one of our campuses, that we would provide budget resources and it would be a joint responsibility. And it wasn't a big deal, all kinds of negotiation. Same thing with the Hampton Roads Naval ROTC unit, when we built that.

We built this unique concept-a single Navy ROTC unit supported by three institutions each being co-owners, two public, one private, two historically black, one historically white, with the express mission of bringing on-line, not only a quality stream of men and women to serve as officers, but a quality line of African American men and women, and other minorities. And it's still the only unit like it in the country. And it's now the largest unit in the country. And there were lots of people in the Navy who thought that this would never fly. And it's been a very, very successful operation. But those are examples. And you've got the M. A. and the M. F. A. in Visual Studies, which is now probably twenty-five years old, that's a joint program. The M. A. in Applied Sociology, which is almost that old. And it's not to say that there hasn't been problems-the problems have just been worked out. There's no hostility. We even discontinued one joint program together because it didn't have enough enrollment.

It wasn't a tough decision to come to-it was a logical decision that two partners made about one of their ventures that wasn't working. And so the same thing's happened with EVMS over the years: the doctoral program in biomedical sciences, all the joint research, the joint operational things we do with EVMS-the joint security, using each other's faculty. We haven't come to this one yet but it's going to happen-at some point we're going to find the right person, and we want to have a joint appointment between the two institutions. It's a little harder to pull off but they have some faculty needs like we do. We just have to find someone who's willing to live between the two institutions.

6. What role do you feel Old Dominion has played in the Hampton Roads community over the years?

It was always part of the culture of this university to be involved with this community. The community's just gotten bigger. So what I see now, thirty years later, is an institution that has pretty much kept the values that it had about being the kind of institution dedicated to serve its region, and it has really expanded on that vision using technology and taking on new challenges in instruction using satellite technology, for example. And in its research, it's always had an applied nature to it. The kind of things I see going on with the College of Engineering and the College of Sciences, working with modeling and simulation-it's all applied to the development of business and industry in this region, helping resolve their problems. Research in the social sciences and arts and humanities-it's all addressing issues that are part of the community's fabric here, the social and cultural and economic fabric.


Economic development is not a new thing for us. The institution was put here sort of deliberately by the influentials in Norfolk, not so much because they had a value for higher education, but they saw the value of having an institution of higher education in their midst for a variety of reasons-one very important one being because it would add to the economic strength and value of this region. We encountered the same thing with the city of Virginia Beach when I was involved with developing the Virginia Beach Higher Education Center. Because to them, they saw its presence as a central part of their economic development strategy. Interestingly enough, with the TELETECHNET sites spread across the state, many communities have taken Old Dominion on as an economic development partner. It's always been part of what we've done.

Look back at the early history of the institution. It was training men and women in a variety of skills that would contribute to the economy. What we've done has changed, but the why of the contribution is still the same. I think there's a lot of consistency that I've seen with the development of worked with. And we've all kind of caught the spirit of this place, and all helped build it in different ways. Koch inherited-despite all the turmoil that preceded him with the firing of President Marchello and the interim presidency by Bill Spong-he inherited an institution with some real strengths that he could then capitalize on. And probably one of the things that this institution has always attracted is a faculty that really is very adept at changing and being ready and willing to take on creative challenges. There are a lot of places I'm convinced you could never make something as radical as TELETECHNET work. I'd like to see you try it at William and Mary or the University of Virginia.

But here you've got a faculty that buys into it. And I've seen this over and over again in all sorts of initiatives. Whether it's building a research program for the university or getting involved in televised instruction very early with the Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Network. In fact, we even pre-date that. Back in the 70s, maybe early 80s, we did some radio on PBS. And again, it wasn't a stretch for anybody. It was all kind of natural. Working with the businesses downtown or with the shipyard or with the military-it's part of the way things are here. And we've attracted people who buy into that kind of environment. There's lots of change. This institution has changed more times in thirty years in terms of things that it has reached out to do than any comparable one in this region. Maybe Norfolk State is comparable. But certainly if you take an established institution like William and Mary, they've barely changed at all compared to what we've done. Not to say they're not good.

They're good at what they do and we're good at what we do. But we took on a vision that we were going to be a responsive institution. And what was popular then was the urban university-now the metropolitan university. That says something very special about what we are, what our goals and our values are. We're basically here for one reason, and that's to serve the folks in this region. And we do other things as well and we do them on a national and international level, but that's still our primary focus. So when the city of Virginia Beach needs to have support in the development of a higher education center, or there's a need for development on the Peninsula, we go out and do that, and it's not a big deal. It's been my experience for thirty years that we've always had this intimate relationship with the community.


It's sort of our reason for being. And that's not fancy ideology, that's not great philosophy. That's just a good practical reason why you need a university. And the communities here, they've come to understand the role the university plays. What we have been about is educating the leadership, we've been providing educated men and women for leadership in government, in professional life. And as we've matured, our influence has gotten to be larger and larger. Lots of influential positions in this area are filled with people who are graduates of the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary. Now they're being replaced by graduates of Old Dominion College. And they'll be replaced by graduates of the university.

In all the areas that affect Hampton Roads. It used to be very difficult to find an Old Dominion graduate in an influential place, because they were young. And there weren't many of them. But they're older now and they've been seasoned, and they are leaders all over. Old Dominion has an almost adolescent attitude, a we-can-do-anything attitude, and I hope we never grow up. I hope we never acquire traditions because then we'd have to say, "We don't do that here." It's a dynamic place, and I hope it never becomes geriatric."

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