In the 1940s Edwin Peterson created an annual collection of student writing. In the first year it was titled, Student Writing, but after it was titled MSS: Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. A reviewer in College English said that MSS contained “some of the finest university writing we have seen in a long time.”
The first issue was dedicated to Percival Hunt:
He taught us much about writing and reading, even more about thinking, feeling, living. More than any other person, it was he who created the interest which the department of English has in good student writing. The department of English, for that reason and for many others, wishes to dedicate this first number of Student Writing to Professor Percival Hunt.
He will know that the writing is not professional and that it does not pretend to be. It is the work of students, some of them his students, and some of them his students’ students. They are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduates writing sincerely of their own experience. Perhaps, sometime, a few of these students will become professional writers. Should that time come, we hope they will remember what they are learning here at the University and what Professor Hunt, these many years, has taught—to write always sincerely and always honestly of the things that matter.
Below is a selection of entries:
“Autobahn Stop,” by William Grayburn
“Five Veterans Remember,” Charles Fischer, Horace Umberger, Michael A. De Marco, Morton Fine, William Grayburn
“Part of Home,” by Patricia Hodgkinson
“The Windy Sky for Breath,” by David Craig (a 1948 Doubleday Award winner)
“The Air-Conditioned Nightmare,” by Harry M. Schwalb
“The Besieged,” by Tere Ríos (a 1948 Doubleday Award winner)
“Los Carilargos,” by Tere Ríos (published in Prairie Schooner)
“Conversation Piece,” by Edward Speth
“Four Veterans Remember,” Dexter E. Robinson, Paul Morgan, Harry W. Elwood, John Morrissey
“Science and the Eighteenth Century Poet,” by George F. Schindler
Raymond Howes, the Low Point at Pitt, and Ronald Reagan
In his history of the university, Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787-1987, Robert Alberts gives a chapter to the final years of Chancellor Bowman’s administration, “The Ordeal of the Chancellor.” In it, he alludes to Raymond Howes,
a disaffected instructor in the English department in the middle 1920s [who] wrote as late as 1972 that Bowman’s problem “was the extent to which [he] was willing to bow to what he thought were the desires of the Pittsburgh industrialists."
Howes’ story provides an interesting view into the department, the institution, and the tensions on campus in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
Howes was one of many to come to Pitt from Cornell. He arrived as a graduate student in 1924, soon after completing his BA, to join the Speech division in the English department. He completed his MA two years later, in 1926. In his two years in the department, Howes taught speech and he coached both the men’s and women’s debate teams. He studied with Wayland Parrish and Hoyt H. Hudson, both Cornell PhDs. Hudson was his MA thesis advisor. Hudson would leave in 1927 for Princeton; Parrish would leave in 1936 for Illinois. Both men left for good jobs in fine departments, but there is also evidence that they were discouraged by the political climate in Pittsburgh. According to Howes, Percival Hunt, the department chair, said to him one day in the hallway, “You Cornellians worry me. You always speak right out.”
In 1929, Howes published “Sweetness and Light in Pittsburgh” (Outlook) and, in 1930 he published “A Poet in a Cathedral” (The American Mercury). Both essays were critical of Chancellor Bowman and make the argument that to finance something so grand as a Cathedral of Learning, Bowman had to court the Mellons and the power-brokers at the Duquesne Club. As a consequence, he had to sacrifice the fundamental ideals of an academic community, including tenure and academic freedom.
Howes had an argument to make about how progressive thought was silenced on the Pitt campus in the 1920s and 30s, and he was certainly not alone in making it. Howes, however, wrote about Bowman and his ambitious vision for the university with sympathy and care. Bowman remains an enigma for Howes; he is not a caricature. The essays are worth reading.
But the story doesn’t end there. In 1972, Howes reprinted the two essays as a pamphlet, Low Point at Pitt, with a brief introduction, “My Two Years at Pitt,” and he circulated the pamphlet as an attempt to forestall then California Governor, Ronald Reagan’s attempts to cut the budget of the University of California.
Governor Reagan is merely a convenient symbol for a widespread phenomenon. Domineering governors, who think they represent the best interests of the taxpayers, are not the only menace. Undue influence may be exerted by any source of major amounts of financial support—individual donors, groups of donors, organizations, foundations, or Federal agencies. It may even come, as in New Hampshire, from an extremist newspaper. The results are always the same—distortions of the institution’s academic program and impairment of its ability to pursue true educational goals.
In 1926 Howes left Pittsburgh for Washington University. In 1941 he was teaching Engineering Journalism off the tenure track at Cornell. In 1960 he became the editor of The Educational Record, a publication of the American Council on Education. In 1962, he served as the Assistant to the Chancellor at the University of California, Riverside. He edited a number of volumes for the ACE. He was the author of Debating (D.C. Heath, 1931), Coleridge the Talker: A Series of Contemporary Descriptions and Comments with a Critical Introduction, with Richard W. Armour (Cornell, 1940), and the editor of Historical Studies of Rhetoric and Rhetoricians (Cornell, 1961).
The photo of Cecil Wicker was graciously provided by The University of New Mexico Archives Faculty Files Collection, University of New Mexico, Center for Southwest Research.