1960s Overview

From the 1969 OWLFor the University of Pittsburgh, the 1960s played out a now familiar narrative of protest and confrontation—and the unrest on campus took place in the context of unpredictable changes in administration.  

  • In 1961, Robert Colodny, Associate Professor of History, was denounced as a communist by the Pittsburgh Press. The publicity produced investigations by the Pennsylvania State Legislature, the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, and the AAUP. (Chancellor Litchfield defended Colodny and defended the basic principle of academic freedom.)
  • Throughout the 1960s, the university was struggling to meet its expenses, expenses incurred by Litchfield’s ambitious plans to raise the profile of the institution. According to Robert C. Alberts (Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787-1987), between 1957 and 1965 Litchfield doubled the size of the faculty and doubled faculty salaries. However, in the face of serious questions concerning the university’s financial stability, in August of 1966 the administration negotiated an agreement with Harrisburg that brought financial assistance in return for Pitt’s new status as a “state-related” institution. Some assumed that this would bring in large numbers of poorly prepared students and drive away newly recruited senior faculty.
  • In 1965, Litchfield had a heart attack. With his health in question and the financial crisis before him, he resigned his position. (He would die in a plane crash in 1968.) Litchfield was followed by Stanton Crawford, the University’s 13th Chancellor, and David Kurtzman, the 14th, each serving for only one year. (When Crawford died of a heart attack, Kurtzman was named Acting Chancellor. He was then named Chancellor to span the gap until the arrival of Wesley Posvar.)
  • In June, 1967, Wesley Posvar became the University’s 15th Chancellor.  In January, 1969, the Black Action society occupied his office. In February, 1969, 800 students and faculty staged a demonstration in the Commons Room demanding, among other things, free speech, the removal of ROTC from campus, a revised curriculum, new forms of assessment, freedom from surveillance, and increased attention to the rights of women and minorities. In March of 1969, 350 students and faculty again occupied the Commons Room of the Cathedral, this time for three days.    

The English department occupied all sides of every debate. In retrospect, however, the most important and decisive thing to note about the English department in the 1960s was the striking  growth of the graduate program. In the 1940s, the English department granted 21 PhDs; in the 1950s, 26; and in the 1960s, 89. This growth was planned and supported by new faculty lines, including Mellon Professorships, and by new Mellon fellowships for graduate students. It was part of a push to raise the research profile of the department (and the institution). Since the 1920s, the department had defined itself in terms of teaching and service. Now it had to begin to think differently.     

Rather than write an extended overview, we thought it would be appropriate to invite memories from colleagues who were there, part of the department in the 1960s.  


From the 1969 OWL

From Robert Gale

With Dartmouth BA and Columbia MA and PhD, I was hired by London-born Dr. George Crouch, English department chairman, after an MLA interview in New York. My family and I arrived August 1959. Welcoming me were Charles Crow (Shakespeare), Montgomery Culver (writing), Ford Curtis (drama), Arthur Fidele (Irish literature; associate of Charles Peake), Emily Irvine (literature), Putnam Jones (dean), Lawrence Lee (poetry), Abe Laufe (American drama; Peterson’s associate), Edward Litchfield (brilliant, highly sociable chancellor; his wife loved mine), Ed Peterson (composition), Richard Tobias (Victorian), Donald Tritschler (American), and Ralph Ware (American). Slight trouble started, and persisted a while: I learned through Crow that though he admired me sufficiently, Crouch hadn’t consulted anyone before hiring me (starting pay $5,700). Ware died in 1961. Crouch needed another Americanist, soon hired Tom Philbrick (1963?). The relatively small department socialized well, had cocktail parties, picnics, Christmas parties. There was probably too much drinking. In due time, my wife helped newcomers find housing.  WWII veterans in the department were Evert, Fidele, Laufe, Lee, Markman, Tobias, Whitman, and my wife and I. Department divorces shook social amiability somewhat.

Crouch was notorious for saving Pitt money, not helping us get substantial raises. He hired Jim Simmonds (17th century), uniquely paid him a year when he was stuck back in Australia. Later 1960s chairmen were Fred Mayer (1966-1967) and Bob Whitman (from 1967; drama). Mayer hired Jim Knapp (1966). Frank Wadsworth, dean, domineered the department; Mayer couldn’t even quote salary to Knapp. Wadsworth brought Walt Evert (Romanticist, Bible; associate dean). Whitman hired Marcia Landy (Milton, film), Cynthia Matlack (18th century), Chris Rawson (drama), Bill Searle (American); Ray Lee Siporin; Whitman was sometimes speedy, asking little committee input.  During Whitman’s absence, to accompany his wife to Washington, D.C., Evert was acting chairman. 

A big feature of the 1960s was the requirement that each MA candidate had to write a thesis. I directed 23. It was soon thought such thesis writing cost too great a percentage of student time. I was asked to introduce new American lit courses, initiated (1960s and later) Hawthorne, Melville, James, Twain, and Naturalism seminars, and undergraduate courses in Civil War lit, Roaring Twenties lit, and Western lit. When Philbrick asked me if he could take over my Melville seminar, I agreed courteously. He knew sea fiction better than I did. Whitman made me the department’s first graduate studies director (1967-1973), with no secretary and no committee. I made decisions on applicants, sent recommendations to Evert (Wadsworth’s assistant dean); he usually agreed, sometimes over-rode rationally. The best of the 39 students whose PhD dissertations I directed, starting in the 1960s, were Ronald Emerick (Indiana PA), Edward Grejda (late of Clarion), Raj Kumar Gupta (India), James Haines (Point Park), Granville Jones (late of CMU), Fred Koloc (late of Pitt), Janet McCann (Texas A&M), Bob Papinchak (didn’t get tenure and went to Boise State), Irving Rothman (Houston), and James Watson (late of Tulsa).


From Richard Tobias

When we first heard about the Mellon professorships, I sat through weary sessions of faculty complaint. Probably no one in English was earning more than $7000 or $8000. One of the Americanists said to Mrs. Sheedy as he came for his monthly check, “Well, where is the latest insult?” The Mellon professors were to receive $20,000. “Why doesn’t the foundation give the money to the University so that we could all get better salaries?” When we found out that the English Department would have a Mellon chair, no one moved a muscle. Crouch wrote a letter to Lionel Trilling, but the $20,000 over his $18,000 (and an apartment) at Columbia was not sufficient to intrigue him.

From the 1969 OWLProbably the old Pitt faculty feared new, strong appointments as well as new ideas. Lionel Knights came because Charles Crow was the only person that Knights would compete with. At Ohio State, I could read a book by one faculty member and find ideas that I knew originated in three or four others.  Pitt faculty –except for Charles Crow and Alan Markman—never talked to one another or to me. They had nothing to say, I suspect. I always thought that Charles Peake had been the responsible party for selecting and persuading L. C. Knights to come.  British scholars were available because their salaries were even lower than in the U.S. The British scholars talked to us, they were all more alert than the Old Pitt faculty, and they brought fresh perspectives. They made a difference. In addition to Knights we had … Kenneth Muir (Shakespearean), and the wonderful Will Matthews (a medievalist).  Matthews had a wee touch of cockney still in his speech, and he could speak wonderfully about allowing or not allowing Black students to use their own language.

In my first year, I had met members of the Old Pitt philosophy department at lunch on the 17th floor. One was a heavy, profound German gentleman who resembled Immanuel Kant. He was a Lutheran, and he let it be known. Another was a skinny, wispy man who talked to me about poetry. He absolutely proclaimed that Aesthetics was not a division of philosophy. There was a serious man who always wore a shaded baseball cap because his eyes hurt. Except for the heavy Lutheran who was just short of retirement, they all disappeared, and the new crew that Charles Peake recruited at Yale came in. Mellon professorships altered the moribund department.

I am sure that the Old Pitt faculty thought that they too would lose cachet as unceremoniously as the Old Philosophy people. In those days, it was still possible to locate at a more congenial place. The sweet gentlemen went to places where other sweet gentlemen could be found. Charles Peake was the Power. I don’t know what his title was, but later the position would be defined as the Provost. Charles was an English professor who had passed into administration at the University of Michigan. Alan Markman had known him at Michigan, and Alan’s position in the department (and quick promotion to associate professor with tenure) might have been a hope for the department to keep control of [its] own destiny. Alan had invitations to Chancellor Litchfield’s country estate in northern central Pennsylvania. Charles Peake would turn up at Markman parties. We also knew a young man, Bernard Schroeder Adams, who Litchfield had hired as the first Head of Admissions. University spaces were still limited after the post-war glut, and the Registrar could make a simple decision.  Adams was the son of a professor at Franklin and Marshall College, and Bernie’s baby-sitter had been Richard D. Altick, my professor at Ohio State. Bernie was a Princeton graduate (and basketball star) who had worked in Princeton’s admission office. Bernie enrolled in our graduate program and earned a degree while running admissions. He sat at Litchfield’s cabinet meetings and relayed judgments, plans, proposals to Alan Markman and others in the revolutionary group. “Charles Peake will get a Mellon professor; Charles Peake will reform this antiquated curriculum.”

From the 1969 OWLPeake was the instrument that brought the Philosophy department in to the second half of the twentieth century, but he never could succeed with English. When Frank Wadsworth came as Faculty of Arts & Sciences Dean, he may also have secured some of these men for us. The earlier Brit, Herbert Howarth, might have been a young candidate for a Mellon appointment, but Howarth had only a temporary visa. Howarth went to Canada to re-enter in two years on a permanent visa, but at the end of two years Penn wooed him away from us. He died shortly after.  Knights came several times and he was a wonderful faculty member – witty, kind, knowledgeable, and so very encouraging of conversation. Several of us went to lunch with him, and Knights came to our houses to talk about I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis at Cambridge. He had been I.A. Richards’ student at Cambridge and had written examples in Richards’ Practical Criticism. He had published early reviews of Eliot’s work! I admired his work on Ben Jonson. He was a Scrutiny stalwart.  When I made a slightly disparaging comment about Leavis’ moralism, Knights turned to correct me—not about the moralism but about Leavis’ strong influence on him and other scholars at Cambridge. Knights was thin as a rail, and he had wonderful stories about being rejected for the British army during World War II and saddled with humongous teaching loads, air raid station duties, and care for the sick and wounded. He spoke at an angle to every expected judgment. He was always an heroic ideal of what a professor should be. I found him coming out of our Book Centre with a stack of newly-purchased books. “Professor Knights, books are cheaper in England!” “Yes,” he responded, “but there I don’t have the money to buy books.”  We arranged for him to meet Robert Frost when Frost came to receive an honorary degree. Knights was very excited, “He is almost as good, you know, as Yeats.”  Well, yes. He didn’t mind American actors performing Shakespeare, and he declared every new production and every new reading opened up new ideas for him. When I last talked to him in 1994, he was excited about a new book on Hamlet. He fixed my lunch and we talked so happily for several hours. I probably tired him too much, but the talk was so good.

Students would start projects in seminars, and then Knights would disappear back to Bristol and then later back to Cambridge where he was named King Edward VII Professor of English literature. He always announced, “A political appointment, you know; no merit in it all.”  His influence probably brought Kenneth Muir for a visit since they both had been concerned with Labour Politics….

L.C. Knights lived until 8 March 1995. He was always willing to host visiting Pitt faculty in England. He was always a name we could use to open doors for us while we worked in England. He had a son, Ben, who later earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge (his father had only an M.A.) and published a book on Coleridge’s idea of the clerisy as it worked out in Carlyle, Arnold, Newman, and Pater (I’m unsure about the last). Ben was still in his teens at Knights’ first visit, but he did not attend an American school for fear that it would damage his chances to enter Cambridge. Instead he read –chiefly about the American Civil War. My memory of young Ben is his jumping. He bounced like a ball. The Knights had also adopted a daughter, Frances, who was the child of Mrs. Knights’ sister. Mrs. Knights taught at the College of Education in Cambridge (Homerton), and we called her, behind her back, the Duchess.  She had furious stories about how Cambridge ignored her and only thought of Lionel. Her father had survived the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI, and in the 1960s was still alive. Mrs. Knights, however, slipped into senility in the 1980s. Surely she has passed to her great reward. Ben Knights married a faculty member at Durham University, but I never managed to see him on my visits to England. I have not seen any books beyond that first one.  His father explained that he worked primarily with non-traditional students at Durham.  His father also said that Ben worked to undo all that he had done as a critic. Other times, other manners.

On his first visit, Knights came with such a passion against Northrop Frye that he wouldn’t allow any of the words from The Anatomy of Criticism in his classes. A few wiser students derived the terms through William Blake (where Frye had them too) and thus managed to get Frye’s critical ideas into the seminar. Knights approved of William Blake. Knights discovered later that Frye attended Knights’ lectures in Cambridge and thus the resistance to Frye melted. Knights’ last visit to Pittsburgh was the spring of 1977 when he gave a lecture on Eliot’s Four Quartets for the Northeast MLA.

The visitors stimulated us, brought us fresh ideas, questioned our old ideas, but they didn’t stay long enough to produce that quality and quantity of graduates that the Pitt Philosophy department turned out with great and astonishing regularity.


From the 1969 OWL

From James F. Knapp

When I joined the department in the mid-sixties, students and faculty were passionate about the civil rights and environmental movements, and then increasingly about ending the war in Viet Nam. Organizing protests against the war still overshadowed the new feminism, which would not fully announce its presence until the founding of the Women’s Studies Program in 1972. In the early sixties, the English faculty was small-- just 24 men and one woman. The graduate program, on the other hand, was large, with 215 graduate students, though perhaps as a hint of changing times, 49% were women. Nevertheless, the department’s reading list for M.A. students preparing for the final examination was firmly traditional: “We recommend only the following as major figures.” The list that followed specified 51 names, including the undoubtedly lonely voice of just one woman, Emily Dickinson. Course readings in the department were already far more diverse, but the canon wars were still ahead of us, while the initial energies for change in the department tended to focus on a broad range of pedagogical issues.

At first, there were individual experiments. Bob Marshall (then assistant professor, later Dean of the College) and I both taught sections of Early Masterpieces to 120 students, without any TA support, which we thought was a terrible way to encourage student involvement in their own education. So we decided to take things into our own hands, dropping some lectures and dividing the class into small groups for two-hour discussions, all of which we would teach ourselves. In some weeks we would each teach 8 of these two-hour sessions. Earnest and hopeful, but impossible to sustain, our experiment was one moment in a much more general search among the faculty to find new ways of enhancing the learning of our undergraduates. A variety of initiatives began to emerge, many hard to imagine today. One group of faculty decided they could teach their students more fully if they understand better “the subtleties and complexities of group activity,” and so they convinced the Dean to give them a small grant to hire a psychoanalyst, who would meet with them regularly at someone’s house. Dr. Wodnicki was knowledgeable about film and art, as well as psychoanalysis, and he remained a friend of the department for many years.

From the 1969 OWLFar more general in its scope, was the department’s Undergraduate Policies Committee, which met for several years to rethink all the fundamental assumptions about how undergraduates were being taught. In 1969, the committee made its formal proposal to the department, and its premises truly capture the hopes and beliefs of its decade, urging that: “Teaching and learning (like scholarship) occur most rewardingly in an atmosphere of maximum freedom, honesty, trust, and community; that education occurs when real emotional and intellectual needs are being recognized and satisfied; that pedagogical policies should be designed to encourage and inspire rather than to force and punish; that the unfettered quest for knowledge and involvement in ideas and feeling are seductive in their own right and may be counted on to arouse the enthusiasm of young men and women eager to steep themselves in life and art; that our task is to facilitate growth not to issue certification.”

Taking its own premises seriously, the Undergraduate Policies Committee proposed that the catalog would not list any regular courses; that teachers and students would decide what they wanted to pursue and how the group would operate; there would be no required courses and no minimum courses expected of an undergraduate major; there would be no grades and no requirements such as exams or papers “except insofar as a whole group agrees to certain self-regulating disciplines.” The proposal concludes, “At the end of the year the same number of credits goes to the student who has been involved in three contracts or one or none. In effect, the student receives his B.A. for having declared himself a literature major—no more and no less.” Not surprisingly, the proposal failed to pass, but only after many long and heated meetings. The details may have been hopelessly utopian, but at the proposal’s heart was a striking expression of the belief that every student wants to learn, that free inquiry should be the heart of the university, that our task as teachers is to enable the education of the whole person.

The Undergraduate Policies Committee provided departmental drama at the end of the decade, but the issues it took up were being debated across the department (and in departments across the country). The creative writing program decided to leave the choice of literature courses up to its students, but they also voted to retain their separate identity as a program. Although there was as yet no formal composition program, the Freshman English Committee in the same year proposed that the requirement for Freshman English be abolished, and by the early 70’s there were no required courses in English. Some of those requirements would be reinstated in the decades to come, but the in the spring of 1969 the Freshman English Committee concluded that that “there must be a university-wide focus on the need for developing communications skills—a focus that will cause students, no matter what their major areas of study, to be making constant re-evaluation of such needs throughout their undergraduate courses.” Forty years later, writing across the curriculum was a responsibility accepted by every department in the Dietrich School. Some ideas launched in the sixties, such as that one, are now taken for granted; some remain only as cultural history. It was a memorable decade.


From Marcia Landy

From the 1969 OWLI was hired as an Assistant Professor in the tenure stream in 1967-68 by then Department Chair, Robert Whitman. I was to fill the position of a “Miltonist,” and I was to teach general introductory courses in poetry and the novel. I was one of several new appointments in English. My hiring was not exceptional, but for the fact that I was one of only a very few women in the tenure stream.

I suspect that the decision to hire me was in part related to the development of a new professional journal, Milton Studies, to be edited by Professor James Simmonds. This journal was to become a major resource for Seventeenth Century scholars (and would continue long after Professor Simmonds retired through the able editorship of Albert Labriola at Duquesne University). It seemed to me that the department was in a growth mode.  I joined other new faculty: Alexander Welsh, a Victorianist from Yale, and another, also from Yale, Philip Wion in Shakespeare Studies; Barrett Mandell, an advocate of radical forms of teaching Composition and Literature;  Rae Siporin in Linguistics; and a few other hires in American and English literature. 

The department continued to grow into the early 1970s. Initially, the department was conservative, adhering to established methods of scholarship and teaching, but this was to change. I should underline that the department that I entered was an impressive and solid intellectual environment with an enviable faculty. My personal predilections were for Professor Whitman, who was a George Bernard Shaw and drama scholar, Professor Thomas Philbrick, a scholar of the first order in American Literature, and a phenomenal classroom teacher, and Charles Crow, another formidable teacher.  

Department meetings became increasingly lively in the next decade as a forum for discussing changes in the curriculum, in teaching methodologies, and in criteria for promotion. In the next decades, the department was to move into a prominent position in the university and in the profession, through the efforts of faculty to sponsor departmental and interdepartmental programs, including first-class Composition and Film Studies Programs, as well as supporting programs in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies.


From Chris Rawson

Hired by Bob Whitman in 1967, I joined the department in 1968, straight from a year of bibliographic and textual work at the British Museum, anticipating a traditional career of genteel research. But remember 1968? Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, battles over equal opportunity in housing and jobs? I was thrown into the tumult of civic politics and policy, which extended right into what, how, why and whom we were teaching.  I was so bedazzled that it took me a couple of years to write the last few chapters of my dissertation.

For me, the center of these questions was a lively discussion group formed by Bob Marshall in which 10 or 12 of us younger faculty (both assistant and associate professors) debated all the dynamic aspects of teaching that had been absent from my otherwise pleasant graduate training. (This is the group that in a subsequent year met with Dr. Wodnicki about group interaction.)
Pitt was bulking up for the baby boom; so was the department; those were yeasty times. We younger hires lay siege to and overcame the requirement for lit majors of six period survey courses. Freed from teaching the 18th century survey every term, I invented a Satire course that had students singing Monty Python’s “Philosophers’ Song.” We explored small classes, big classes, team-teaching, any variant possible. Phil Wion and I even taught a 200-student, double-credit survey course, Beowulf to Blake, with every small-and-large-group bell and whistle we could dream up. We also took university courses out into the community, which had me teaching on-site seminars for teachers in several high schools, using just about anything they’d agree to read with the covert goal of getting them to actually talk to each other about education.
From the 1969 OWL
Amid all the excitement and the alarums of battle, there were doubtless losses. In my first year, we could have all 25 tenure-stream department members to a party, and did.  A couple of years later, the department was too big – but there were too many battle scars to make such a party attractive, anyway. Some of us younger faculty lost relations with senior people we admired. Differences in principle too quickly became personal.
In retrospect, maybe we were reinventing the wheel. But anyway, we didn’t win: a department where the dominant (in numbers and energy) younger faculty was in love with innovation, teaching and service, was soon reined in and returned to the conventional research model by a powerful Dean. I was the first casualty, denied tenure by the Dean for the same record heavy in teaching and service that had been sufficient the year before.
On the other hand, some of what we advocated soon became common place. So even when you lose, time is on your side. Flash forward a few decades and the English Department has sprouted out in all directions, an inspiring mix of programs. As for me, the national AAUP said I had de facto tenure. So although I developed a parallel, 25-year career as theater critic, I never left Pitt, and now (2014) I’m just a couple of years short of a half-century teaching at this place I love in spite of itself.