Kovner, could you provide me with some information on your background,
your education and what careers you pursued or planned to pursue before
you entered college teaching?
Kovner: Well, Dr. Sweeny my educational background is a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the City College of New York from
1939, and a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940.
I then worked as an engineer for a gas and oil refining company in Catlettsburg,
Kentucky. I worked as a marine engineer for the Navy Department in Norfolk
and in Washington worked as a chemist and chemical engineer in some other industries before
I inadvertently came into college teaching. That was by way of the special
war training courses which were operated by Louis Webb and Lee Klinefelter
and I began to teach for them in 1943 and I came with the college fulltime
Q: Were there any special circumstances that were involved in your
accepting a teaching position at the College of William and Mary in Norfolk
Kovner: Louis Webb
was starting a technical program here and he needed an individual to
handle the refrigeration and air conditioning courses and having worked
together he was familiar with my qualifications and I respected him
as a person I would like to work for, whenhe offered me the job at a
ridiculously low salary I said, "If you don't mind, I will have
to keep my refrigeration business going on the outside while I do this."
He said it was quite all right and I did that for three years until
the salaries caught up to the point where the college salary alone was
could support a family.
Q: I wondered if you taught mainly refrigeration courses when you came to the
Technical Institute and if the curriculum was geared to producing skilled
technicians when you first came?
Kovner: We started
basically with a trade school because in the curriculum we had mathematics,
and physics courses as well as the trade specialties and I taught in
all those areas. Sometimes there was much as forty hours a week of classes.
Among some of the early students in the classes were Bill Thornton who
is now a registered professional engineer and head of our electronics
department in our technology program. Bill has a masters in engineering
from Old Dominion University. He was in the first class we had.
Q: I was wondering how diligent the students were you had in the first two or three
years here? I was wondering if they were older people than your average college student?
Kovner: The first
class had a seventy-one year old, and they certainly were an older group
and rather independent, especially from the point of
view of a young faculty
member. Younger than most of the students. They were quite diligent.
They were there for a purpose and they knew what it was.
Q: In 1947 and for three years after that you served as the Lacrosse
coach at the College of William and Mary. I would like to know how you
became interested in this and how successful the teams were and why the
sport did not gain more popularity and had to be discontinued after the 1950
Kovner: I had been
a player all through college and had helped coach the University of
Pennsylvania team when I was a graduate student there. I played for
clubs in New York and Swathmore and in Philadelphia. It seemed like an
ideal sport for those in the Norfolk Division, since we couldn't play
football since football had been discontinued in 1940 after a season
where we lost eight games and hadn't scored a point. So Lacrosse looked
like a physical outlet for some of our aggressive male students.
We got off the ground
as it were we won one game in the first year. There was harassment all the way.
The existing athletic director didn't want any part of it. He would lock us out
of the locker room, and use every ploy he could to try to prevent our
playing. He would even discourage the visiting teams from using the locker room.
We persevered, nevertheless, and the second season we won again one
game, beating the University of North Carolina varsity. In the third year,
we had a very successful season playing teams like Princeton, Penn State,
Duke, Washington-Lee, and Virginia. Where the other teams on this campus
were playing the Norfolk Naval Air Station and naval base teams. We
won four, lost six in the final season including victories over the
Penn State freshmen and narrowly lost to the North Carolina varsity, beat Washington-Lee freshmen,
beat VPI varsity so it was a rather successful operation for a two-year
Then the Korean War
came and the man power disappeared off the campus. The lacrosse squad
declined to twenty-five to thirty players on the squad. There weren't
enough manpower to have a good team so we very reluctantly dropped it.
We had a fine schedule for that last year which included Yale and Hofstra but
we had to cancel. We then revived the team as a local club. We played
in 1952 with a combined air station team. Then in 1953 and 1954 several
of us from this area played with the Richmond lacrosse team, which lost to the national
champion Virginia team by one point 5 to 4 I think. Then that ended it in 1954, I was
a litle too old . . . and no more.
Q: During the early 1950's you were head of the refrigeration and
air- conditioning department. I was wondering in those days what was the demand for such technicians
in that field? Did the Technical Institute supply enough for the Tidewater
Kovner: We basically
trained mechanics and they were in high demand and were successful in
their careers and I imagine we saturated the area pretty well. Then
inadvertently another field opened. I attended a meeting in Richmond
of the National Education Association and wandering around I talked
with some engineers who were monitoring a display of school equipment.
This happened to be the training company which provided
a lot of school-oriented
heating and air conditioning equipment. They told me of a need for a
service engineer for this part of the country. In describing the job,
it sounded very much like one that our fine mechanics or technicians
could handle. I described the qualifications to one lad who was graduating.
They came down and interviewed him and were very impressed and brought
him up to Richmond and in short he was hired as the service manager
of the Gene Tate Training Service Agency, handling the large training
equipment, big centrifical machines, office type and building equipment
and so on. It was at what was then a terrific starting salary of over
$800 dollars a month plus a percentage of the materials used in the
servicing. This was in 1954. The boy's name was Andy Mueller. As a result
of Andy's success, that opened a whole new vista for our students.
The training company would hire them for these jobs which previously
had been filled by mechanical engineers. They hired them in Atlanta
and Indianapolis and all over the country. Anyone who we recommended
would be hired, these men, most of them, became international specialists.
Andy Mueller became international chief of training. He's in charge and is to this day
of all international installations whether it is in Calcutta, Rangun,
Saigon or what have you, or anywhere in South America. Others of our
people moving out of Atlanta, Greensboro, or the Washington area will
go to Bermuda, they'd go to South America to these tremendous installations. This
also includes the troubleshooting and our people were especially qualified
because in addition to knowing the practical engineering aspects of
the equipment, they also were physically trained where if nothing else
prevailed they could step in and do mechanical work themselves, which
would not be true of an engineer.
Q: In 1953 you established a music camp. I would like some information
about that. Where it was and what your goals were in setting it up and
how successful it was?
Kovner: I don't
know where we got the idea about a music camp. We decided to try it
one summer. We rented a 352 acre farm for a few dollars and the improvements
we put into it. We got the cows off the farm and let a bunch of kids
in. I got up there early and installed the electrical equipment in the
house, a hot water heater, a shower stall, and the range and the washer,
etc. We had a wonderful eight weeks there and set up a barefoot concert
series for local people and it was really a humdinger. This was in Buchanan,
Virginia, a town of about 1400, twenty-five miles northeast of Roanoke.
It was very successful and we began to look into the idea of purchasing
land for a permanent camp. I was going to go out of the teaching business
and into the music camp business. At that time we had a real severe
drought out there. Water became not as reliable as it was and many people
in that area in stead of selling their farms and simply took jobs in the
community to earn a living while they weren't farming. But the land prices
did not go down and since it would involve, I thought, an excessive
amount of investment plus no real reliabilty with a water source. This water supply
was based on mountain stream, not your city reservoir type of an operation. It didn't look too encouraging so we dropped the idea.
Q: During the 1950's you and your wife played in the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra.
I was wondering how
long you played in the orchestra and is it true that you met your wife
in the orchestra and what your specialty was?
Kovner: My wife
had played with the symphony for quite awhile. I'm not at liberty to
mention the first year she played with them, however I can say right
now she's the oldest member of the orchestra in terms of service and
years. I joined when I came to Norfolk during the 1940-41 season. I
played violin it at that time. Later I switched to flute and became a solo flutist. My
wife was head of the viola section, and she also played in the violin
section. We did meet in the orchestra. That's how it all came about.
Later our children all played, and all five of us played in the orchestra
together and they are all string players other than myself and all of
them still participate in music actively. My son is still in the orchestra
with my wife, I'm not in it.
Q: I wondered if the University community supported the symphony and
was interested in it in those days?
Kovner: In short
answer, not particularly. They weren't except for a few individuals
who participated but there was no great support from the University community.
Q: Would you comment on the physical conditions of the buildings and
the equipment that you used and had in the 1940's and early 1950's? I
understand you suffered from serious overcrowding in the old building
in the 1950's?
Kovner: Well, from
time to time the institute started in 1945 until we got a new building
in 1959, April 1959 which was a fourteen year period, we worked in an old
Navy barracks which was certainly unsuitable. They were fire hazards
and several of them burned down. Not the ones we were in, but others
burned down. We collected the insurance on them we blocked out the fire
engines, so they couldn't put out the fires.
There was no hope for
the future until one day a state committee visiting the campus looking
into the needs for the new library, happened to bypass into the wooden
shack that we used as the Technical Institute and one of the gentlemen
walked into a light fixture which was hanging to low and gashed his
forehead. This slowed the group down and they had to take a look around
and they asked if this was what we operated in and we answered yes.
Whereupon the head of the commission turned to Lewis Webb and said,
"Lewis, before you get a new library, you're going to have to get a new
building for this outfit." So that's how we got our new building.
Q: From what sources did you recruit faculty in those days, in the
forties and the fifties? Did you develop a strong faculty?
Kovner: During the
forties and fifties the faculty basically came from retired Navy captains
and admirals. It did not make a strong faculty.
Q: I was wondering if the Russian space satellite, launching in 1957
and the consequent discussion of technical education that occurred in
the newspapers and news magazines caused a heightened interest in the
courses that you offered?
Kovner: On the contrary,
it made us look even worse than we were. All of a sudden education became
very science oriented and we appeared to be more gross than before.
But something went for us. There was tremendous flooding in our shops
under the stadium and we had to go more to the classrooms since we could
not operate laboratories which meant we had to add courses which were
essentially engineering-type courses which had been mutated into technical types.
That is a calculation course which required extensive mathematical work
could be done by other graphical means and so we inadvertently upgraded
the program. Not intentionally but because of the fact that we could
not do the normal shop work. So the time came when opportunity presented
itself to run an upgraded program and we were already there. We never
intentionally planned it that way, it just happened.
Q: Did the faculty in the Technical Institute feel that they were
a part of the college? Were they accepted by the faculty in the more traditionally
Kovner: The answer
is no. They were not accepted. They were looked upon as a thing that
shouldn't be there. As a matter of fact when the college eventually
went up for four year accreditation in 1961, they specifically excluded
the technical program. I think the reason I was later made Director
of the Technical Institute in 1959 was that I was probably the only
one that had a foot in both camps. I was the only one with a masters
degree and the only one that could speak the language of the liberal
arts people in the areas of music, theater and what not. This is sort
of a negative reason for giving somebody an appointment. So there was
a complete dichotomy. They even put us across the street. On none of
the campus plans that were ever developed did they ever consider putting
a technical program in the same complex with the rest of the college.
That's why we are to this day (the Technology Building) is across the street,
across Hampton Boulevard. They wouldn't allow it on this side of Hampton
Q: What criteria did you use in the 50's for the admission of students
and how have these criteria changed over the last twenty years?
Kovner: There were
no criteria for this at all, except that the student should be seventeen or
eighteen years old. When Lee Klinefelter retired and I was given the
position in 1959, I changed that. I required a high school graduation
plus two years of algebra, plus a year of geometry, plus the chemistry
course which would have to be remedied if they had not had the chemistry
in high school. When I put these to the State
Department of Education
declared that they would cut off our state funds, and I said, "Okay,
cut them off." Then they backed off, so they permitted us to set
standards even though they claimed the Vocational Education Act which
supported two thirds of our faculty salaries prohibited such a move.
The other part was to reduce the load of our students. The Veterans
Administration which supported many of our veteran students in those
days specified that programs of our nature required thirty hours a week
of classes. That length of class led of course to low quality work.
We wanted more theory and less shop-type classes. When I reduced that
to twenty-five as a first step, the Veterans Administration threatened
to withdraw the approval of the VA from our students. Once again I said,
"Go ahead' basically. I cited to them where they were wrong, that
their interpretations were wrong and I took up the challenge and they
backed off. So we were able to establish some standards in both ways
by simply standing up to the federal government and the state government.
These criteria I think for a two-year program were quite excellent
and as you see later, it led to our accreditation as a junior college,
by the Southern Association. We were only the second purely technical two-year school
in the country to ever achieve collegiate accreditation, the first being
Oregon Technical Institute on the West Coast.
Q: i wonder what courses were the most popular during the 50's and 60's?
Kovner: Our radio
and later television servicing was what we started with. When I first
came to this school it was nothing but a course for training radio mechanics.
This later became an electronics program, later an electronic engineering
program. It was always the most popular. I would say it always represented
about half the student body then all the other disciplines put together
would represent the other half. There was no real second choice, the
others were more or less equal in small amounts. Electronics was always
the number one glamour field. It attracted the best students, it paid
high salaries. I think the strength of the electronics department was
what really brought this school along.
Q: You mentioned before that you pursued a history degree at this
time. I was wondering was it really at this time in the fifties that you
went for a bachelors in history?
Kovner: No. I
did that around 1962, 1963, and 1964 when my daughter--my oldest child began college
here. I figured it would be a chance for me to come back and take a
few courses, too, but she dropped out after a while to get married and moved to
the West Coast, but I continued towards a history degree.
Q: In 1958 a chapter of the Sigma Delta Phi honorary fraternity was established at the
Technical Institute under your sponsorship. I was wondering what this organization was?
Kovner: Well in
the engineering field there is a Tau Beta Pi honorary fraternity, the
equivalent of the Phi Beta Kappa in the liberal arts field. Well, down in
Atlanta they formed the Sigma Delta Phi honorary fraternity for two-year technical
programs and we were very honored to be allowed to establish a chapter.
It was quite active.
Now of course we've had the four-year tech program for a number of years,
and I don't know what there is in the way of honorary fraternities in
Q: Is it true that in 1953 you did some writing for the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot in connection with programs at the Museum of Arts and Sciences?
Kovner: No, it was
the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch. I covered some of the programs for
the paper, over a period of about two years. I can't say they were brilliantly
written but it was fun.
Q: I want to ask you a couple of questions about the new building. What it meant for the program at the Technical
Institute and were you better able to obtain a more suitable
equipment to go into that new building?
Kovner: Now you
say new building, you mean old building. The old building was a 1959
building, and the new building was a 1968 building. Yes, it was a fabulous
building. We basically planned it ourselves. It was whatever the barracks were
not, this was. It meant a lot of equipment, because the architect, when
the building went out on bid, was very fearful of the high bid and wanted
to cut out one wing of the building. Naturally that wing involved my
air conditioning, refrigeration, electrical areas and I protested and
said lets keep the shell of the building and cut out interior things,
which we could always add later. You can't add a wing to the building
without great expense, so we took out half the lights and took the tile
off the floors, and didn't put any heating in some of the classrooms.
Bids came in $100,000 low, a 25% low and of course the State immediately
grabbed for the money, but somehow we were able to prevail upon them
to leave this alone and we spent that $100,000 putting the tile back
in, etc. Our students installed the heating equipment in the classrooms,
and the air handeling units were done by our students. So the result
was that we got some fabulous equipment, which involved large chunks
of money that we could normally not have accumulated at one time. The
result was that we were very well equipped. We got a centrifugal machine
which put us in the very enviable position of having as a laboratory
piece of equipment, a fifty ton centrifugal training machine that other
schools were happy to show pictures of their graduates working with
one of those on a job somewhere. Here we had one for our own instructional
purposes. But to put a load on it you needed some part of the building
to load it, so we air conditioned the offices and classrooms. We may
have been one of the first in Virginia to do this because it was strictly
illegal. There was no way the State would approve the air conditioning
of classrooms and offices at that time. But we willy-nilly did it and we claimed
it was the only way we had of putting a load on the equipment.
Q: In 1959 you became the Director of the Technical Institute upon
the retirement of Lee Klinefelter. Could you give me an estimate of Mr.
Klinefelter's achievements as director?
Kovner: In 1950
the five year old Technical Institute was headed right down the drain
under its previous director, and Lewis Webb who had started it and still
had a strong feeling for it, persuaded Lee Klinefelter, who was teaching
in the engineering program, and our engineering program then was just
the first two years of VPI. He asked Lee to take over and develop this thing which Lee did from 1950 to 1959. We must say that it was entirely
due to his efforts that the thing flourished, succeeded, and was able
to grow, so you can't say much more than that. He sort of lifted it
up on his back almost entirely on his own efforts.
Q: You already mentioned the change in the curriculum and entrance
requirements for the Technical Institute when you took over. I wonder
if you felt positive about your responsibilities in 1959 and what goals
you had for the technical institute?
Kovner: I mentioned
the immediate changes which I thought were necessary to upgrade the
program. We had been a very disorganized group. Lee Klinefelter was
not a strong leader. He was very gentle man and he would defer to President
Webb on everything and was easily discouraged. He lacked the ruthlessness
that was required. I didn't lack any of that at all. What we needed
in the position now was somebody who would knock all the heads together
and be a dictator and would organize things regardless of whose toes
were stepped on and whose feelings were hurt, so I guess that's why
they selected me.
The first thing I did
unfortunately, was fire the most important faculty member we had, the
man who headed our electronic department. Whom, I saw as a block in the
organization of the school into an efficient basis. So he had to be
let go, which produced a minor revolution which quieted itself very
quickly and from then on we had a good operation. The support of the faculty
I think became evident in the fact that we had almost zero turnover during
the many years that I headed the program. It was not a democratic operation, but
I think the faculty appreciated the work that was being put into it
and the fact that we could do a better job. I think if I had felt I
had lost the support of at least 20% of the group, I would have resigned
the position. But I felt that I always had 100% support or very close to it.
So that was how we operated. Of course those things don't operate that
way today. Today nobody has that authority.
I might mention for
instance talk about freewill that we decided to give an associate degree. I just decided
we would give an associate degree, and fortunately the college was so busy with its own populations,
they didn't pay too much attention to what we were doing. We didn't
go to the State Council of Higher Education, and we didn't go to the Richmond office of education,
we just started giving the associate degree. I don't know to this day
if they ever discovered in Richmond that we never did it illegally. There
may be a couple thousand people in the community who have illegal associate
degrees. But this was what was required, the forcefulness, the making
the move without approval of other people.
Later on when we talk about
Dental Hygiene, I will give you an indication of how we put the Dental
Hygiene program in against the will of the state legislature, against
the will of the medical college and a few other people.
Q: In 1961 you were
quoted in the Virginian Pilot as saying, "We want a man who
can do anything with his own pair of hands" and you noted that today's
engineers cannot repair complicated machinery. I was wondering if you felt theTechnical
Institute provided that kind of assistance to engineer in this tidewater area?
Kovner: Well, industrially, yes. On the campus, no. When the committee came
down to investigate a possibility of setting up a four-year engineering
curriculum on this campus and one of the main points in favor of setting
this up was the operating technical program. They thought this would
be a strong base upon which to build the expertise and the assistance
that the engineering school would need.
Of course, when the
school was set up, they didn't want any part of us. They didn't want
to even speak to us. But this was envisioned by the group that set it
up. But that is true that our graduates have had to bridge the gap between
the theoretical engineer on the one hand and the mechanic on the other, they tried to be a bit of the two.
we're talking about the fifties and the sixties, that's not true today. Today
even we cannot do that. The spectrum is so wide that we've been forced
to move along with the engineering spectrum and our graduates to this day are losing
a lot of the manual skills that we used to train. One of our strong
points is now going by the way.
Q: By the early
1960's was the Technical Institute beginning to attract students from
beyond the immediate Tidewater area?
Kovner: Only on
the same basis as the rest of the college. It wasn't until dormitory
facilities became available that any appreciable number of students
would relocate from other areas. So I would imagine our proportion of
out-of-the-area students would be the same as the whole.
Q: Did the Technical Institute begin to have a close relationship
with the industries in the area? Did you have any difficulty during the
early 1960's in placing your graduates?
Kovner: We never
had any difficulty at all except in certain areas, now in the early 40's
we trained aircraft mechanics and aircraft engine specialists. After
saturating the local airport, we found there were no jobs for them and
we discontinued the program. We trained some fine machinists but they
weren't used by the local federal facility because they had their own
apprentice programs and didn't want to hire anybody from outside. So
we dropped that program. But those that survived and as it happens,
they have to survive the crucible of time, and the job market which
is really the main one, they had no problem really at all. We
furnished a fine service to this area and to the country. Our graduates,
of course, have been hired all over the country. At the Sandia operations
in Albuquerque, this Dr. Sweeney is one of the brain operations of IBM for nuclear research
and that sort of thing. We had an interviewer call up and he wanted to come visit our school because
he had heard about it and he couldn't understand why such a fine school
was at that time not accredited.
So he came out of curiosity
and hired two of the students, and they went to work out at Sandia.
I think if you were to check with the alumni and check out the geographical
locations of our graduates right down to the first class in 1947-48
you would find our students all over the country.
Q: Did you have a good working relationship with the department and
later the School of Engineering? Specifically how did your program differ
Kovner: We had no
relationship whatsoever unfortunately Dr. Lampey who built the engineering
school here despised technician training and was instrumental in its being
downgraded in the state of North Carolina, where he came from. He just about destroyed our
program. After we had become accredited as a reward, President Webb
ill-advisedly put us under the Engineering School and in a year we were
almost out of operation. In fact at the end of that year we didn't even
have contracts for the faculty. Lampey wouldn't send in the requests
so I had to go to Webb and get special permission to go to Richmond
and discuss it with the people up there at this late date. Finally they
set a salary scale.
In January 1963 I resigned.
I sent Webb a letter and told him, "No way. Get somebody else.
I'll go back and teach history." Well, I don't know if you want me to answer this at this time but this led to the formation of the
community college division. i can discuss it later The Engineering school not only didn't want
us around, but they actually tried to put us out of business. This was the policy
of one man. When he was replaced by Dr. Rotty the policy reversed itself.
Dean Rotty was very much in favor of coexistence, in fact I think he
became a good supporter of our program. The new dean, Dean Weese,
is really a very fair man. He sees no difference in equality between
the two types of programs. The engineering program being more mathematically
oriented, our four-year tech program being more applications oriented.
He thinks they are entitled to equal treatment and I think we are getting
Q: In 1962 the Technical Institute was the first such school accredited
under the "special purpose" classification of the Southern Association
of Colleges and Secondary Schools. How did you go about getting this accreditation
and were there regular standards to meet? Also, what did the accreditation
mean to your program?
Kovner: I mentioned
to you earlier that in 1961 the college ignored us in going for Southern
Association accreditation of a four-year college. They couldn't do that
today because after awhile the Southern Association got tired of that
Mickey Mouse stuff and all future accreditations by colleges and universities
in the Southern Association area had to include everything in the program.
They couldn't put anything under the carpet.
The "special purpose"
classification recognized the fact that a school of this type would
have a different slant or would carry a slightly dif-
in its distribution. Remember now, this was junior college. Our distribution
in the areas of social studies would have to be different from the standard
junior college which as the first two years of somebody's four year
program, usually in the liberal arts. Most junior colleges at that time
were liberal arts oriented. So we put in, as soon as this "special
purpose" classification became available, we put in for it. The committee
that inspected us was headed by Gordon Sweet, who was head of the Southern
Association. The man with him was a professor of moral philosophy from
southwest Memphis. Another member of the committee was Georgia Tech's
chief of extension work for the School of Engineering, and the fourth
man was a junior college man from Pensacola who was pretty active in
junior college technical work. This committee came up and really put
us through the grinder.
For instance, the professor
of moral philosophy came into my office and said, "Mr. Kovner,
I want you to sit down while I watch. I want you to write a one page
dissertation on your philosophy of technical education. So I had to
do that right there while he was looking at me. It was a very traumatic
They didn't appreciate
the fact that our English was being taught by a retired admiral. Well,
I explained the fact that he was a cheap man, and we could get him for
low salary because he was on a Navy retirement. Dr. Sweet said it was
not acceptable. At which point, being the kind of person I am, I told
him what he could do with his accreditation in a less than polite way.
Whereupon Lewis Webb, who up to this time had said, "No, we can't
afford it. I can't get you an English teacher. There's no budget for
it", suddenly said, "Well, now, wait a minute. We can work
this thing out. Now if we hire an English teacher for this purpose,
would that meet the objections of the Southern Association?" Dr.
Sweet said, "Yes, it would." The man we hired by the way was Conrad Festa, Dr. Festa who is now on the faculty.
He was the man I hired for this purpose. So by throwing a temper tantrum, I was able
to get what I wanted when I couldn't get it any other way.
We went through it
with flying colors in 1962 at the meeting and as a result I got a nine
week vacation in Europe. I caught Lewis Webb at a weak moment. We had
just gotten the accreditation, he was feeling good, Vernun Peale was feeling good and I was feeling good. So I said
I want to go to Europe for nine weeks, so he asked if someone could
cover my work and I said, "Sure". So that was my reward for
all the years of vacations missed and everything.
Q: In 1962 you pointed out in a speech that today's engineering technicians
"supervise, instruct, sell, plan, design and inspect, and many technicians
rise to even more responsible positions, some carrying engineering titles."
Did you feel that some of your own students might go on to become graduate
Kovner: Before they
became graduate engineers a lot of our early graduates even from the
forties went on to top positions. Mason Gammage, out of the 1950 class,
went on and became the planning commissioner for Princess Anne County.
Tom Noah became planning commissioner for Hampton, and I saw just last
week he was designated Assistant City Manager for the city of Hampton.
Cliff Holstrum became the
engineer for the
city of South Norfolk, before there was a city of Chesapeake. Another
lad named _______became city engineer of Covington, Virginia out in the western part
of Virginia. So many of our graduates went on and assumed engineering
designations or positions, in jobs that were really routine enough so
they wouldn't require modern research oriented engineers. A certain
number of our people became graduate engineers by passing the professional
engineering licensing examination. Others went on into other training
and did go on to, for instance, North Carolina State and take graduate
engineering degrees. Incidentally, when Dr. Lampe found that they were
giving us credit for our two years of technical work, he blew his gasket,
stormed down to North Carolina, and soon I got a very reluctant letter
from the gentleman down there saying they could no longer give our students advance credit
even though they were doing fine because of the objections Dr. Lampe's made.
Q: By 1962 the Technical Institute could hardly be described anymore
as a "trade school", but I wonder did its image in the community
Kovner: Not really, not really.
I would expect to this day, and here we are in '75 there will be faculty
here who will come in here wanting to know if we still grind scissors
or they need television sets repaired. I don't think we've changed everybody's mind.
The community is a hard thing to work with. There is a lot of inertia
in it. I would expect that people old enough to have seen us grow and develop
to think of us as a trade school. Of course, that's not really what counts; what
counts is what does industry think of us. The situation now is where
I would suspect short of the B.S. in Graduate Engineering, the B.S.
in Graduate Engineering Technology is a high-dollar man. In the Philadelphia
area it's even better than that. The tech man is behind only the chemical
engineer, but the tech graduate in the Philadelphia area is ahead of the graduate electrical engineer,
graduate civil engineer, and graduate mechanical engineer, so it's one of the
top things now. With the economic situation the way it is, the area least
affected, is the applications engineering. So again where I would suspect PhD engineers and masters degree engineers are hunting in vain for jobs,
the B.S. engineer B.S. engineering technology graduates are
finding plenty of jobs right now.
Q: What elements of the liberal arts did you include in the training
of the technician?
Kovner: I gave a
speech on that subject at the American Society for Engineering Education
meetings of 1966. I became an advocate of a large liberal arts curriculum.
When I was on a committee that went down to Georgia Tech to accredit
their technical program under the special category I had to make some strong recommendations that
they upgrade their liberal arts curriculum; As a matter of fact we did
them a favor. They were in a situation where Georgia Tech was pushing
for a large gym, athletic facility, first, and a library, second. After
inspecting their facility, we demanded a meeting with the president
of Georgia Tech. Having established that meeting, we informed him, remember
now I was then a representative of the Southern Association, as a spokesman I informed that unless they
reversed the priorities and put the
library first, we
would not recommend accreditation for a southern technical institute.
He was very agreeable, and he said absolutely and he would reverse the priorities and they got the library first. This was really a need then; they had a miserable library situation. So, I think the answer is yes, we
required social studies, history--we had our own social studies/history faculty, physics, mathematics.
Q: You remarked in a 1962 interview that you were having some difficulty
presenting the Institute's case to students during high school career
days. I wonder why this was so and did this problem continue
throughout the decade of the 1960's with so many technological advances going on?
Kovner: The then
director of admissions was another gentleman of years who had no use for our
program. So when he would present the merits of the college at career
days, we would not be mentioned. He would lose no opportunity when he
could to explain that our program was only temporary, we would be discontinued
very shortly, and it wasn't worth having.
The only presentation
we could make on career days and class days was to get our own representative in. Sometimes
this was difficult to do. They very often wouldn't want two representatives
from one campus. It was an uphill fight. I would imagine that perhaps
to this day it's still an uphill fight to achieve a reasonable amount
of promotion or support from the admissions office. I hope that has
changed and I hope now with the four-year program, we receive the same support
that any other program receives. But just in case we're not, Dean Weese
has set up two-man teams to visit schools. For instance, Dr. Goglia,
head of the mechanical engineering department and myself as head of
the mechanical engineering technology department, visited some high
schools and gave a joint presentation in engineering, engineering technology,
the differences, the merits, the disadvantages in a very dispassionate
way I think since we are very good friends. And we can support each other's program.
Q: During the spring of 1963 the Atomic Energy Commission announced
a grant of $10,000 to the Technical Institute to begin a program of training
nuclear technologists. How did you go about determining the need for such
a course and what the significance for the Technical Institute was in developing this program?
Kovner: I will have
to back up on that. When I sent the letter of resignation to President
Webb in early '63, 1 heard nothing from him for two or three months
which was very disconcerting. Then I received notice of an appointment
to a committee of three including Parker Bell from Chemistry and Webb from
the School of Business. We were to travel up and down the coast looking
at junior colleges and community colleges. We had to do a survey on
the needs of industry for technical types in the Virginia area and report
back. So we travelled very widely up the coast. We did a very comprehensive
survey on industry.
As a result of our
travels a new division was formed. All the less than baccalaureate programs
were lumped together in one school called the Community College Division
and I was made the dean of that. This
was before there was
a community college system in Virginia. Unfortunately when they set
one up, they didn't particularly want to look at us. I suspect we were
too high a model for what they would attempt. So they set up a community
college system completely disregarding us and we of course had to change
our name later, because we no longer could use that name. As a result
of this survey, we detected a need for chemical technicians, and nuclear
We applied to the Atomic
Energy Commission for a grant. We received a grant of $10,000 which
in those days was a large grant. We were one of two technical schools
and fifty-three universities to receive them, which was quite a feather
in our cap. As a result of it, we obtained a program. Eventually we
discontinued it as we began to retrench.
There was a story about
how we reached our peak of students which was four hundred technical
students. About this time the college made a pact with the State Council
of Higher Education where we would go into doctoral work, more heavily
into the masters and doctoral work in return for giving up our associate
The first I knew of
it was an article in the Pilot, a big headline "Old Dominion
to Discontinue Associate Programs". Of course we haven't really
discontinued that. There are some that are still phasing out, but of
course that cost us students right and left, when it appeared in the
paper. Our student body immediately went downhill and we had to begin
to consolidate and become more efficient and we lost the nuclear program because of that. We couldn't
afford the option. It was a matter of retention.
Q: When you mentioned about your resignation that resignation was from the faculty as a
whole or just as director of the program?
Kovner: No, that
was just as any kind of administrator, but I would go back into teaching.
See, I had tenure as a teacher, but there's no tenure in the administrative
Q: Did many women begin to enroll in the Technical Institute's courses
in the early 1960's? I noticed that a Helen Soo Hoo was the second female
graduate of TI. Who was the first? How did women compare to men students?
Kovner: We never
had many girls in the program. Irene Colas was the first She married
another graduate which very often happened. She married Hiram Ferguson
and Irene is still with the Corps of Engineers in Norfolk. Helen Soo
Hoo graduated and married a classmate. I have to admit that when she
went out she commanded quite a bit higher salary than he did. I don't
know where she is now. Last I knew she had been offered a job at Sandia, she didn't
take it. She did go with the Newport News shipyard, but I've lost track
of her. I don't know where she is now. The women we've had have been very good, they've been top students.
Q: In 1963 you took
a trip to Europe and the Virginian-Pilot wrote it up and they said
you travelled under a "pay-as-you-go" plan. I wondered if you could
Kovner: It wasn't
"pay-as-you-go", it was "play-as-you-go". We had
the nine weeks off and we got a Eurail pass and no budget to speak of.
We had the directory from the amateur Chamber Music Society people who
played music in various countries, so we corresponded with some of them
and had firm dates. Others we simply would pick up the phone and call
up and say, "Hey, hey hey, here we are let's play some music." The experience was unbelievable.
I don't know how the
newspaper got a hold of it. I really don't know. We got a call from somebody who wanted to
hear about it, so we related our experiences. Like we go to Switzerland, we went to a small town
in Switzerland where the gentleman spoke German and my wife spoke German
and knew some Spanish from having lived in Argentina, and my wife's
Italian speaking, so we got along fine because the Italian and Spanish can mingle right nicely. We played chamber music them and wound up sleeping in their bed for a two days, we couldn't get away. We were playing concerts in the area.
We had similar experiences everywhere. We missed more streetcars, and
busses at two and three in the morning when we would finish a session
and go out to find there was no more public transportation so we would
walk a mile or two through a city which you could do in Europe without
any fear of transgressions or anything. It was quite an adventure. I carried my
flute with me and anywhere we went we either borrowed a violin, or
in London, we rented some instruments and played some concerts with the London
Q: In the mid-1960's your son, Fred, became the star player on some
outstanding Old Dominion College baseball teams. I wondered how you feel about
your son's achievements, and did he pursue a career in professional baseball?
Kovner: I had always
contended that you can mix sports and music, so Fred had to, as a youngster,
more or less force to participate in both sports and music. He is to this day
a cellist in the Norfolk Symphony. He played baseball all through his
growing period and when he came to Old Dominion he set his heart on
a professional career. So he neglected his studies, we might say. He
was the second choice of the first baseball draft for the White Sox
and a very high bonus, exceptionally high. It was way up in the five figures, which made
me the poor father of a rich son.
The first year in the
minors was not exceptional. The second year he was playing good AA ball,
then he was in an auto accident. He played out the season and at the
end of it the White Sox put him in the hospital and he was in traction
for a month or so, for a back injury because of the accident. Eddie Stanke, the following
year brought Fred and Bill Melton down early with the White Sox as pitcher
and catcher, He said they would be his hitters in the future. Fred was an outfielder. He was an outstanding glove man; he wore a major
league glove but he wasn't a major league hitter, so Stanke wanted to
work on him. Fred got in condition and played in the
and was doing real well. He was batting .333, and then I got a phone
call from him, and he was almost in tears. He had been doing calisthenics
and his back went out. The ligaments had stretched and a nerve had been
caught. From there it was straight downhill: AAA, AA ball, he finished in AA ball, swinging
one-handed. He couldn't hold the bat with two hands ____ _____ ____.
The next year when
they offered him a contract I said, "Don't take it. Your back is
out and you can never be a professional ball player again. Everytime
you slide, everytime you put any strain on there, you are going to stretch
those ligaments again and pinch a nerve, downhill see." So he went back to school
and got his masters degree and became a systems analyst now with the Norfolk _____. He still plays
fast-pitch softball up and down the coast. He's gone out to Washington, he's been to Seattle in the world tournament
so he's keeping active. His professional career only lasted three years.
Q: In 1964 the Mace and Crown reported that the Technical Institute
was placing more of a stress on liberal arts, and you had mentioned you hired hired a
teacher competent in history and economics and one who taught English.
My question on this is why did the Technical Institute hire a faculty in areas where the college already had several instructors? Why did the Technical Institute seek to become, what the college newspaper
Kovner: Because as I said,
we were across the street and they didn't want to have anything to do
with us. Our students were not welcome into their classes. They would
bring entering freshmen in give them a library orientation. But we had
to fight like the dickens to get them to take our freshman to an orientation
at the library. At graduation ceremonies, their students would receive
their diplomas individually and our students would just stand up in
a group. There was always this dichotomy, we were always treated as
So when the Southern
Association accreditation came up, we hired our own people. But it was only after
we became accredited, then the college said, "Tut, tut, tut you
know after all you are college-level. Oh well, why do you have to have these
separate departments? Let's merge." So we did, so we merged. Then Conrad Festa
went back into teaching in the English Department. _____ _____ taught in the history department. Others we phased out as they _______ _______ _______. So, we did merge. When
they left to go on to other jobs, we didn't replace them.
I think the catalyst
for the merger was John Johnson, the Provost at that time. He was a
man with no prejudices and no pre-conceived notions and it was his concept. He didn't know
about the past history; he had just come in there. As John said--do you know the history? He was president of a PhD college which merged with another PhD college and he was offered the number two post which he did not want to accept. The
only reason he came to Old Dominion. . . was because it was so disorganized
and so badly handled, he just wanted to see if it was possible for anybody
to pick up the pieces and reorganize. It was more of an intellectual
pursuit for John Johnson.
He would approach
everything on a factual basis. When he saw a program that was accredited
(we had just been accredited before he came), and he saw--by reason of the Association--and he saw a a college here
and saw no reason for the duplication. I must say that John went overboard
to give us first-class citizenship. He went overboard. He went above and beyond the call
of duty to try to redress previous wrongs.
Q: In 1964 you remarked that you needed a new building badly. Did
the administration see this request as premature since you had only been
in the other new building since 1959?
Kovner: This was
projected on a growing enrollment plus since we now had a Division of
Technology, we were going to add a complete spectrum of courses. So
we tooled up to present two-year programs in theater, arts and crafts,
dental assisting, dental hygiene, law enforcement, and we even looked
into opthalomological work, but decided not to go into that. We looked
into other needs partly because of a survey and so on. It was obvious that our
facilities could in no way handle it.
For instance you couldn't run
a theater or arts and crafts operation on a campus that had zero theater.
There was no theater for anything. There was hardly a meeting room of
any kind. The reason we built a theater in there was ostensibly for
the two-year Theater and Arts and Crafts operation.
I don't know if you have any more questions about the building but I would like to make some remarks about the building if I may. The state saw that it was
reasonable to give us a new building, now the way the State operates
they say, "Here's a lump sum of money, get what you can, you can't over spend it."
I can't understand it. The lump sum they gave us was $500,000, which
was no way near enough. We wanted to put a dental clinic in there for
instance, plus classrooms, the theater, an arts and crafts center, a place for
woodworking, locker room and a dressing room, a wing area or stage area. So I asked Lewis
Webb to hit somebody for matching federal funds and he came back after
checking into it and said there was no way. So, I asked permission to
go to Richmond myself and he said go. I called the architect, Ray
Pentacost, who was a VPI graduate. i said ray, "Let's go to RichmondI." He said "Listen, I know the guy who was head of the State Engineering section,
he was a classmate of mine from VPI", so we could go talk to him.
So in Richmond we talked
to this gentleman and some of his assistants and had some discussion
on this. They agreed on our merits in requesting additional funds. So
we then brought in Larry Hill who was the state man representing federal
money. We put him through an inquisition. It was Larry Hill against
about six of us, and every objection he raised was countered by somebody else. We really had him on the defensive and finally the gentleman who
was the head State Engineering Office said "Mr. Hill why don't
you take a chance. Why are you so negative? Why don't you take a chance
and o.k. this money? You have so many "ifs" and "becauses",
why don't you just go ahead and do it? The money's there." So finally
Larry Hill said, "All right , we'll do it."
So I came away with
another half a million dollars. Instead of a half a milion dollars we had a million dollars. We set the thing up and of course, the first of
the spirals began and in the middle of it, the design period, we got
a note from the governor saying, "Shrink everything ten percent,
we won't allow you one dollar over." So we had to move in from
Hampton Boulevard and our stage got jammed because we had a truck passage
behind which we couldn't shorten too much and the dental hygiene clinic got
squeezed up,some inequities got into the design, but by and large it
came out great. So that's how we got the building.
Q: You declared in the same interview, "The lack of extracurricular
activities is due directly to the lack of facilities for them. That's
the biggest complaint of our students." Had you foreseen that the
TI students would be interested in such activities? Did it seem these students were becoming more a part of the college than previously in the mid-sixties?
Kovner: When Bud
Metheny became athletic director, Bud opened up all sports to the tech
students. Bud's a very good friend of mine. It was great. There were no problems then; intramurals we got a fair shake. We could put any number of teams
into intramurals if they paid the fee they got equal billing, equal opportunity as everybody else. So that picture changed and it changed well.
Other than athletics,
the theater became open--opened up the doors and there was no problem in extracurricular
activities. Our students carried the same--had the same opportunities as others did on
Q: You mentioned this before I wondered if you wanted to add anything about the development in 1965 of the Old
Dominion Community College?
Kovner: Well, we
have already covered that, why we had to get rid of the title of course
because of the state's going into the community college business. It
was renamed the Division of Technology and had the less than baccalaureate
curricula. Our tech programs by that time were three years, and the
others on campus were two years. We discontinued it--I maybe getting ahead of some of your questions--I think I'll hold off on that and you ask me another one I think--did I play any part in grouping of the curricula?
Well, again these programs were given
to me to develop and I think I really went after them and developed them and later on when
we discontinued them, my function was to protect them. It was to see that we
didn't drop them off campus, but that we built them up to the baccalaureate
level. In all except one instance we were successful.
Q: Were you involved in securing the dental hygiene and the law enforcement
Kovner: The law
enforcement program was already in effect when I became Dean of the
Community College Division. It is the one program that really
never developed and eventually was discontinued. Dental hygiene is a peculiar
story if you would like a real long story. I was called into a meeting in July 1955 by President Webb, completely
unprepared, and I met a bunch of dentists who were looking very angry and a lawyer who was a
the Dental Association. They more or less jumped on me and wanted to
know why we didn't have a two-year dental hygiene program. I said I
didn't know what that was. It turned out that these men had been frustrated
for some fifteen years trying to set up the program and train dental
auxiliaries by one gentleman, Dr. Lyons, who was head of the dental school
at the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Lyons had no use for medical
auxiliaries. They were venting their frustrations on Lewis Webb and
Lewis Webb decided to pass the buck to me since I was now dean of this
new division where a two-year dental hygiene program would fit. So I
said I would start one. I didn't know which way was up, though.
We had lots of meetings.
I had full support from this group. They would do anything including
building a building. They had to have it. We began to organize our thoughts and one
of the first things I had to do was to go to Richmond and argue it out
with Dr. Lyons. It was a very ludicrous situation. Here is Mr. Dentistry
himself on the one side and myself on the other side, knowing absolutely nothing
about dentistry except what I read in a real cram course, and we were
arguing about whether we should have a program down here. I won't say
I lost the argument, but I will say that when we left, Dr. Lyons wasn't
speaking to me. Though in later years when I met him, he was just as
cordial as could be. But at that time, he wasn't speaking to me.
He used his influence
to have a committee report written--I think I see it down--very down in the files there--where a state committee recommended
that there by only one school of dental hygiene in Virginia and it be located at
the Medical College of Virginia. He got that ran through and he got
Senator Willey, who's been very controversial recently on this Ferrard
X. Green thing, to assure him that the legislature wouldn't appropriate
any money for this.
We got that killed
in the legislature by having friends of our local dentist who live in
Richmond pressure Willey by threatening to withdraw their patronage
from his pharmaceutical firm. We put an economic push on Willey. It
was very reprehensible and very unorthodox to get him to reverse his
"muscle" push on the legislature. We felt that once the legislature
declared that we could not have the program, we were sunk. But if they
didn't say anything, it was still a possibility. Now as far as equipment was
concerned, we were getting very liberal budgets in the technology program
at that time and so I diverted money from the budget, picked up state
money on three to one ratio, bought equipment, dental machines, chairs
and stored them over on 48th Street. Nobody in Richmond knew it, the
State Council didn't know it, the legislature didn't know it, the Medical
College of Virginia didn't know. Then when the new building was being
designed. We designed all the utilities for it, even some of the equipment
we designed and had manufactured, and when we came to the State Council
they stalled as long as they could and finally said, well, we'll approve
the program but can't give you a dollar for equipment." We said, "We
don't care, we've got the best part of two hundred thousand dollars of
equipment already purchased and ready to install." This was how we got
the dental hygiene program.
Q: Then your duties
as the head of the Community College Division were to coordinate and see
that these programs were developing along the right lines?
Kovner: My duties
were to do whatever I wanted to do. There was an area committee in Hampton
Roads called the Area-- Committee for Area Wide Cooperation. It was headed
mostly by a man named Kilgore of Hampton. He was quoted in a newspaper
article as saying we ought to have a police academy for all the areas.
It would not be law enforcement, it would be a police academy to train police
recruits. So there would be a more uniform type of operation in the
city. So I wrote a letter and said I would be ready to do it for him.
Meetings were set up and we got police chiefs from various areas. Not
all the departments went in but Norfolk did, Hampton, VA, Suffolk came in, plus
we picked up auxiliary police departments from the Bay Bridge Tunnel and park police
and that sort of thing. Newport News and Portsmouth would not come into
the thing, they wanted to run their own.
The police academy
was very successful. This is an example of how you push things together.
We felt it was needed in the community and somebody had to knock it
together. The thing began to drag and in November there was a meeting,
unfortunately covered by news media, and nobody knew how to get the
thing started. I said look, we were going to start this thing in Feburary 1968. I said we were going to start no ifs, ands, or
buts. That how I was quoted in the newspaper no ifs, ands, or buts and in February 1968 we started the first class.
Q: I have read that the Technical Institute's curricula in Civil Engineering
Technology and Engineering Design Technology were the first in the South
to be certified by the American Institute for Design and Drafting. What
was the significance of this accreditation?
Kovner: None whatsoever.
It was just another feather in our cap. We were one of the few schools
that could be certified, so we said well, we had collegiate accreditation,
we can get this by just filling out a form, why not?
Q; In your programs in electronic engineering technology, engineering
design technology and mechanical engineering technology were later accredited
by the Engineer's Council for Professional Development. Could you comment
on the significance of that accreditation by the Engineers Council for Professional Development and if your upper division
offerings had been so accredited?
Kovner: We didn't
have any upper division offerings. We were an associate program. There
was no upper division at this time. We have an upper division now and
we go for the baccalaureate accreditation this coming Fall in 1975.
We're getting way ahead. So, no see, we couldn't go for that until we had graduates out in the field. We're a very new four-year program.
The ECPD accreditation
was first attempted in 1961. Prior to that time we were ineligible for
it. Because there was a provision that said any program which receives a
large part of their support from federal
vocational funds is
ineligible. Then they relaxed that a little bit. They said they would
consider these programs, and so we applied and discovered after we'd
been examined and turned down, that they didn't mean what they'd said
at all. They were only going through the motions. It was after that
I went for the collegiate accreditation since I saw us blocked in the
professional accreditation. So then I went for a more difficult accreditation
which we got, the one relative to complete collegiate competence rather than _____. So I didn't bother
with ECPD accreditation because I didn't need it. The other accreditation
opened all the doors we needed. Everything had to be ECPD or regional accredited and now we were regional accredited. I resented the way we had been treated; I think the committee simply came down to get a vacation. They
brought their wives and didn't really go into our program.
About the time it looked
as though we were going to go into maybe a four- year program, Dean Rotty
suggested that when we became a four year program, it would be easier
to get a four-year accreditation if we had previously had an associate
level accreditation. This was during my last year as an administrator.
So, I said ok, we'll go for the accreditation just to have it and it
might give us a better transition than the other. We went for the accrediation
in I guess 1969 and '70--'69 I guess it was and we got it, so we do have the ECPD accreditation. That doesn't
mean a whole lot, because we are not an associate degree school. So
it no longer has a lot of meaning. But when we do come up for accreditation
in the Fall, the fact that we are an accredited program for the past
four or five years isn't going to hurt us any. [Inaudible]
Q: You probably already answered the next question and the fact that you were offering these associate degrees and then in 1968 the Community College Division changed
the name to the Division of Technology. I understand that was because of the development
of the community college system under Governor Godwin, and the program
did not change any and your duties remained the same. Also, you talked about the new building, so we can go on to 47. There was an interesting point there that occurs to me; I didn't read about it anywhere but I know that a fast number of people are using the services of the Dental Hygiene Clinic and I wondered when you--the program was instituted, if you forsaw the numbers that would use it and also how the members of the dental profession
locally reacted to the establishment of this clinic and the fact that certain services are provided rather inexpensively there which cost a lot more if they are obtained at a dentist office?
Kovner: In a dental
hygiene program, clinical work must be supervised to a very high degree.
I would say as I remember it, having been out of the program now for
some years, that no more than eight students per dentist would be tolerated.
Well, we couldn't hire these people on our faculty so we had to depend on
free clinical services from the dental community. Where they would come in
during clinic hours and devote their time free of charge to supervise
the work of the student clinicists (sp). There never was any problem with that. We had waiting lines
of dentists volunteering to come again and again. Henry McCoy who was
a member of the Board of Visitors of Old Dominion and may still be, I'm not sure. He may have left because now he is on a community college board. He was one of our most
ardent supporters, Eddie Myers who has been famous in dentistry for
many years, and now retired, ww couldn't keep them away. He was always asking
if we had another vacancy so he could spend some more time here. There
was no resentment whatsoever. It is true that the clinic does furnish
services at a very low rate to people in the community, but there was
no loss of income to the dentists because by and large the people
who come for these services are people who have never had this service
Whose teeth have been
neglected except when extraction was required. They are now learning
preventive dentistry, how to maintain their own oral hygiene and in
fact it may accelerate the business for the dentists, not for them but for the dental hygienists whom they hire. Almost no dentist today can afford
to do dental hygiene work because the rate of return for the pay is
too low for a dentist. He was must pass this to his dental auxilliary namely the dental hygienist who is trained for this. So this program was instituted because of pressure by the dental group here. It has been supported 1000% by them and I expect will continue to be supported. If somebody for instance would threaten to
remove it, there would be a revolution.
Q: Why was chemical engineering technology dropped from the technology
program in 1969?
Kovner: We had a
real gung ho lad named White run the program for us, and he was a real
enthusiast, very laboratory-equipment oriented and who the students had a great deal of respect for and the program was really moving, then John decided to
go back to Connecticut and get a doctorate. We got supportive services
from another member of the engineering school, who was competent in this area,
but the students couldn't respond to him and all of a sudden we lost
most of our student body in this field at a time when we were retrenchiing as I had mentioned before and it seemed a big step to take
to discontinue a program that we had just geared up, but I felt we had
better do it now, than keep throwing good money after bad as the saying would go. It was better to make a surgical cut a la Machiaveli, so we cut it.
What happened to us
had been true all over the country. Many successful programs up in the
Connecticut area, New England, and other parts of the country had dropped
their programs too. They said there had been a drop in the requirements. Maybe
because the chemical program, the chemical industry, more than any other, has become automated.
It is really right for automation. When you have pipes and equipment
and very few people, you can automate then without many individuals.
Q: Why was general education dropped from the associate arts program
Kovner: Well, that
wasn't really a program. General Education is what it all started with
in 1930. The first two years of somebody's liberal arts program. When
the college became a baccalaureate degree institution and gave a four-year
degree in liberal arts, and when we were dropping our two-year programs,
it seemed a very logical thing. Who needed it? A community college can give
anybody a two year liberal arts degree. There was just no purpose for it.
Q: In 1971 the Division of Technology was abolished and the Department
of Engineering Technology was established while the law enforcement and
dental hygiene programs continued in the Division of Continuing Education.
I was wondering if favored this move and if you were included in the planning of it?
Kovner: I was not
included in the original decision to go for doctoral work and drop the
associate programs. From that point on the handwriting was on the wall,
whatever we did not promote to a four year status would die and
would go to the community colleges. Law enforcement didn't have any
potential for development and that's why law enforcement went into the Division of
where it could die quietly. Dental Hygiene did not go into the Devision of Continuing
Education, it went into the School of Sciences. Dental Assisting, which
is a program I haven't mentioned, it's a lower level program and is
more vocationally oriented requiring one year of training, and not being considered college level, we do this is as a courtesy to the dental community. There was no other place for
it so that was put into the Division of Continuing Education. But I believe that is still operational but that is not a college level program, that's more of a service program like the police
academy. You see, its not considered any type of collegiate work it is just a service to the community.
Q: According to the 1971 catalogue civil engineering technology was
no longer being taught. I wonder why was this dropped?
Kovner: Again as
we were phasing out the associate programs, our enrollment dropped from
a high of 400 to around 100 and we just couldn't afford the luxury of
having small departments. Something had to go and this was one of the things that went. They
almost wiped us out. I can say, I guess this can be record it doesn't matter; Dr. Bugg didn't have any use for our program when
he first came here. It's expensive. He looked at the dollar signs, the
student credit hours, and the costs and said, "Wipe it out."
Only through long argument by Dean Rotty and especially by Dr. Stanley
was Dr. Bugg persuaded to give it a chance. Of course now what we are--we have one of the highest
growth rates on campus. But we almost got wiped out, we were just on the verge of disapearing. We couldn't afford the young programs that didn't have a large enrollment.
Q: I was wondering why you didn't become the chairman of Engineering Technology Department?
Kovner: Well, you
know by now how I operate. I am a dictator, I don't administer, and
with the new decentralized authority here, there was no way. I said decentralized one way. It was
decentralized from my point of view. It was completely centralized from
the point of view of the new President. He was gathering everything
to his bosom, and it meant nothing could be approved without his close inspection.
The State Council had its finger on everything. I didn't want to be
part of that. The way I look at it an administrator is simply a punching
bag and he simply--many forces are applied upon him; and he tries to shuffle paper
and resolve those forces. I don't work that way, so I wouldn't want any
part of being an administrator. When Dean Rotty offered me the job,
I said, "Thank you, I don't want it, I would just rather teach."
So he suggested Dr.
Stanley, he told me about Dr. Stanley and his qualifications. Dr. Stanley's an unusual person.
He functions at the highest realms of research, in fact he was at that
time in charge of all the graduate electrical engineering on the campus, graduate level enginering.
But he also had a foot in the practical aspects of it. He'd come up
as a ham radior operator, and he knew the _____ __ ___. He seemed like an ideal person, he also had a doctorate, which I didn't.
He had some clout with the President to keep the program going, plus
he had respectability in any field, Rotty sent him over and it was my
job to con him to hoodwink him in any way I could to see him take the job. I'm
happy to say I was able to fool him. He took the job, not knowing what
he was getting into and he has proved to be a gem. Due mainly through
his efforts that we have a four-year program; through Stanley's efforts. So my decision not to
take the job may have been the best thing that happened at that time.
Q: This new administrative
organization, I was wondering if it brought the engineering technology into closer contact in the last few years with the
School of Engineering of which it was now a part? Was this one of the
purposes of the reorganization or whether are they still pretty distant as they used to be in the past?
Kovner: Under the
new dean, Weese, there was a very close merger, in fact, there even
was a discussion which was a proposition that we merge the departments
completely. So all the mechanical tech became part of the mechanical
engineering school and so on down the line. We decided not to do it at this
time, but there was very close coordination between the two. We have
had a number of instances of cross-teaching. For instance, several of us including myself
have taught in the engineering courses, we've had engineering faculty teaching
in the tech courses. We were getting a fair shake on budget, right down the line we carry equal clout and representation in the engineering council and so on. In fact, in some areas Dr.
Weese has given us more than our fair share to make up for past inequities.
For instance last year's salary increments, we got higher in proportion
than the engineering faculty did because of the fact that we'd been allowed--our scale had been alowed
to drift lower than ____.
This was one of the
purposes of the reorganization and the reorganization has since been
reorganized and I think it is significant area of
Q: It would seem then that you don't really try to maintain a different
emphasis in the engineering tech courses from that in the regular engineering
Kovner: Yes we do.
Our engineering basically is geared to the engineering of thirty years
ago. Engineering today is more a science, that is though there is a wide
spectrum that all graduates cover, there is an area at one end called
research that few of our tech graduates go into. At the other end of
the spectrum there would be maintenance and operation which relatively
few engineers go into. But the areas in between, that of design and
development and production, they function equally, the engineers and engineering
technologists. They all work in that area. There is a mathematical differentiation.
They approach things more mathematically from a design point of view
with more research and less laboratory orientation. We are more lab oriented
and more applications. Our purpose is less to discover new things than to
apply what somebody else has discovered, but it's a very wide spectrum
and no individual today can function in but a small area of it, anymore
than a doctor could. You can't train a doctor in everything. He's either
a doctor of the left ventricle or the right ventricle or the left ear,
or so on. He must specialize. How in the world can he a body of knowledge that exists? Similarly in engineering today the body of
knowledge is so vast, that individual can only function in a small spectrum
Q: In 1972 then you began to offer these upper division programs leading
to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology. I was wondering if you could go over the justification for this program and specifically what its goal is?
Kovner: I don't
know what you can really mean by "justification". I don't know if
there is justification for anything. As to why did we want the program,
well the concept of the four-year engineering technology degree had
just begun to sweep the country. Many schools much inferior to ours
were achieving this plateau. Many schools were starting programs from
scratch with this degree and here we were, one of the three or four
schools in the country with three-year programs we had obtained that plateau; we and Houston and Temple University and the University of Dayton. These schools were three-year programs;superior to the two-tear programs and our
graduates were getting superior salaries, so we felt it would be a shame if we were left out of the picture. We were one of
the ones most qualified for the program. Plus if we had dropped the program, you see we had to drop our three-year program--associate degree program--If we dropped it we would have a bunch of faculty out on the street, we'd have a bunch
students out on the street; facilities and equipment, so it seemed much more logical to go into the four-year degree. ____ ___ ___ than anyone else.
And so, did I have a part to play? No, this was Dr. Stanley's baby. He was the man who put
Q: The entrance requirements and the continuance standards in
the engineering technology program, are they the same or comparable to those in the regular engineering
Kovner: Yes, they
are the same. Many of the courses in the first year of
engineering and the first year of technology are similar. I
suppose they are about 50% or 60% similar. So that a transfer--one student from engineering to technology or technology to engineering
in the first year involves very little loss of credit.
Q: In 1973 civil engineering technology reappeared in the catalogue
and mechanical engineering technology was changed to electromechanical
engineering technology. I wonder if you could you explain these changes?
Kovner: Well, the first one civil
engineering tech reappearing because we were able to pursuade Professor Beck
who headed the civil program back in the old VPI days and he was very practical oriented and he was
a big supporter of practical registration in the civil engineering field.
At this time engineering had abandoned all the traditional civil engineering
courses such as surveying, etc., and we were able to pursuade Professor
Beck that if he came into our program he would have an opportunity to
reestablish these courses which were the love of his life and they were in is practical field. So he agreed
to come into our program, plus his reputation in the field immediately
attracted a lot of students, so we were able to reestablish a civil
engineering program and its very successful now.
We changed the mechanical
engineering technology to electromechanical with the idea of attracting
students from community colleges who had some of this electromechanical
electrical background. It didn't work out too well and we have since
dropped that term and we just now have a mechanical engineering technology program.
It was an experiment to see if it would attract certain types of students
and it didn't. The name proved to be very confusing so we just dropped
it. It was sort of an evolutionary process that went the wrong way.
Q: What courses
have you been teaching over the last five years?
Kovner: Well, when I first came back I taught
calculus courses, I've taught specialized senior level courses in air-conditioning equipment and refrigeration
systems. Next fall for the second time I'll be teaching a course in
power and combustion. I've taught status courses, dynamics courses,
and I'm now teaching a senior course in automatic electronic controls. I guess it's a wide spectrum with a little bit of everything and it's very enjoyable
because it's forced me to go back and become a little less obselete, shall I say.
Things have changed a lot since my time and I've been forced to hit the books and re-learn my trade, as it were. That's always a challenge.
Sometime you wonder if your mind can take it, or has it lost all its sharpness
and then you discover occasionally that you still can function.
Q:How about the students today in the program if you compare them to the students in the old TI and are there more women taking technical courses today?
Kovner: The latter part, no, there
are almost no women. Students today are much more academically oriented
than in the old associate degree days. I expect that comparable to any
group on campus, and I expect they're sharper. Certainly mathematically
then the general college students except those who might be in physics or engineering or that type of science. For instance, our students would
be more mathematically oriented than biology majors or the business or the liberal arts. So they may
lack a little in their liberal arts orientation, I expect very few of them could become
technical writers, again, though in the past a few of our students have become
excellent technical writers but by and large our students are not literature-oriented, they're not social studied oriented or
they're not philosophy oriented and so on. But they are very, very high, they're a very select group.
Q: You've already mentioned that you are no longer involved with the
Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, but I noticed in an article that appeared
in a Sunday, March 23rd edition of the Virginian-Pilot that your
name is listed as the treasurer of a new opera company which is being
formed. I wonder if you might talk a little about that?
Kovner: Well, I
put nearly thirty years in with the Norfolk Symphony but it precluded
doing other things especially since it's grown in scope there are more
concerts and more services involved. I retain my position with the Newport News
Symphony, what is called the Peninsula Orchestra, which has only about half
the services of the Norfolk Symphony. So, I'm solo flutist in the Penninsula Symphony, which takes care of my requirements
in that end, and the rest of the time--I have now become a singer. I do a lot of solo singing,
and I direct musicals and have done a lot of acting since I retired.
I have done a lot of acting in the dinner theaters in the area. It's quite extensive I expect I've
done maybe some 300-350 performances on stage. Next month I'm directing "Finnigan's
Rainbow", the musical end of it for the Portsmouth Little Theater
and I expect to be active with the Virginia Beach ______Theater one
way or another and as a matter of fact, this past year I've been playing violin with the Virginia Beach
Symphony Orchestra when I can find time. So I am still keeping quite active,
I expect I will the rest of my life. But staying with one group, like the
Norfolk Symphony--when you sign a contract, and you live up to the terms of it youit means you can't do anything
else. You're blocked out...
Q: And finally, this is interesting, in 1960 a little pamphlet that was brought out. . .you wrote,
"If the progress of the next fifteen years even approximates that
of the period of development just ended, the Technical Institute of the
College of William and Mary may well become one of the outstanding schools
engaged in training the Engineering Technician for industry." I would
be interested in your comments on that statement fifteen years later.
Are the engineering technologists we are producing today what you had
in mind then or an improvement over your previous goals?
Kovner: When we
trained technicians in the associate program we thought they were very
outstanding. I have in my possession for instance a letter from Newport
News shipyard which hired many of our graduates in which they said in
reference to our drafting and design program, which is what they desire mostly, that it was the best in
the country. When you consider that they recruit from colleges all the way down the west
coast, we thought it was a nice gratuitous thing to insert in a survey and we even
had a tape where an engineer from Newport News Shipyard, giving a talk
to a technical society mentioned that the technicians he got from
what was then Norfolk William and Mary were the best he had. That plus the way they were gobbled
up by industry, plus the salaries we commanded (we always commanded
high salaries in this area, and we're not in the North, which is a high salary area, we're right here in the mid-atlantic area) still,on any national survey
we always hit high salaries. It was a very, very rewarding aspect od it.
Many of our graduates
achieved good transfer into engineering schools. I mentioned the arrangement
we had with NC State until that was nullified. But we still got transfer. . .I can think of schools--University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee, and Newark College of Engineering schools like this accepted
our graduates into their programs, giving them basically two for two years and
many of our graduates went on to get industrial education degrees on
a complete transfer basis you know, credit for credit. So with experiences like this, plus our what I thought was a phenomenal
accreditation by the Southern Association, we had a pretty good opinion
of ourselves, and we felt we had established a successful program.
Now, our four-year program
was difficult to measure--the four-year program because we are so new, we have no yardsticks. If the yardstick is the acceptance of industry, it's fabulous. The dollar amount paid to the graduates is great, and the
positions they are getting are good. So, I think we have a very successful
operation and under Dean Weese who is not going to tolerate us but is
going to support and promote us and under Dr. Stanley who is certainly one of the most competent
people around on campus in any area, it's got to get better. We really will blossum and as I mentioned last year we were cited
for having the outstanding growth rate on campus percentage wise.
This was at a time when programs on campus were beginning to drop in
enrollment and ours is suddenly beginning to blossom out, which is recognition of the fact that ours is
a field where there are finding opportunities plus it's a high level field and very, very rewarding. I guess that's about all I can say.
BY PROFESSOR KOVNER 4/3/75
1. When he was asked
to succeed Klinefelter as head of TI, he stipulated that he make the decisions
and not be required to call Dr. Webb constantly for his approval as Mr.
Klinefelter had been accustomed to do. Webb agreed, and in fact declared
that that was the way he wanted it.
2. When he took
on the new position, he determined that something would have to be done
about Mr. O.B. Dickerson who taught the radio courses. His "freewheeling
approach" was not acceptable he didn't turn in grade sheets, course
outlines, didn't teach what was supposed to be taught. He decided he would
give Dickerson one year to shape up; he worked hard to get Dickerson to
change his ways, but was unsuccessful and so he fired him. Dr. Webb had
predicted a revolution among faculty and students, but allowed Kovner
to go ahead and administer his department as he saw fit. There was discontent
over Kovner's actions, but only one student quit.
Kovner himself taught
Dickerson's radio courses for one year and did not take any action to
destroy this program as Mr. Dickerson had forecast. Dickerson had seen
Kovner as the enemy of the radio courses. Then Kovner appointed Mr. William
Thornton to teach the courses. After getting over his unhappiness at Dickerson's
dismissal, Thornton accepted the responsibility and was highly successful.
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